Reviving a dead pet (project)

I’ve been working on a problem for more than a decade on and off now, and last week I decided I was going to take it seriously.  Seriously enough to set up an Office 365 subscription attached to the project’s domain along with an Azure DevOps subscription for keeping everything in one place.  I’ll regularly be blogging about the project so I thought it’d probably best to write this to provide context for future posts.

History of the project

It’ the first week at university (did I mention I went to Drama School?) and I’m being forced to use a lighting control desk called the ETC Express. It’s like an idiots version of the Strand 500 series, which is the system that I know and love. If you’re not experienced with lighting control then know that lighting programmers often define themselves by their tools, just like we programmers frequently do with our languages and frameworks of choice.

 

Programming a show on my parents dinning table on a Strand 520i.

 

I was whining profusely about how limited the ETC Express was and my tutor said: “well why don’t you build your own then?”. In hindsight, she probably said this out of frustration but I agreed that I could do a better job, and thus commenced my journey back into .NET development and ultimately a career at Microsoft.
Lighting control systems haven’t advanced past the innovations of the Hog 2 created by my good friend Nick Archdale. I wanted to create something unique, but most importantly it had to be as intuitive as the light switches we use at home every day. Initially, I was picturing a huge multi-touch screen, but the technology wasn’t available back then (the original iPhone hadn’t even been announced). I wanted to create a console that could be played like an instrument as lighting can be just as expressive as any musical instrument but frankly, I lacked the skills required to deliver my vision.
Hog 2 Lighting Control Console
Non the less, I started building lots of proof of concepts using WPF to see how it might work. Eventually, had a pretty solid idea of what I wanted to build but I couldn’t even match the features of existing systems with the knowledge I had at the time.
An old screenshot of a proof of concept.

Rebooting the project

Earlier this year I visited Nicks business in West London to discuss licensing some of his technology for a mobile app. One of the chaps there asked if the app would control any lights. It wasn’t in my spec as controlling lights is much more complex than you’d reasonably imagine, but this simple question has derailed the app and reminded me of an itch I’ve been ignoring for years.

I went home and started creating some POCs using my experience gained from a decade of .NET development. I think I’ve cracked the secret sauce for creating a workable, scalable control system. The system HAS to be modular in every aspect from C# projects to physical hardware.

The future

Right now I’ve got the beginnings of a the important components of the control system working and I’m tying them together to build a minimal viable product before I start on the multi-touch instrument like parts that I’ve dream of for the last decade.

I’ve not yet decided how it’ll be released yet. I’m hoping to release bits of this as OSS but can’t promise anything just yet but if you’re interested in getting involved then ping me a message and we can chat!

Right now my UI is HEAVILY inspired by Nicks Hog 3 console but using Prism makes this insanely easy to change! Below is a video I recorded showing one of my small bugs in the windowing system so you can an idea of where I’m at (very early days)

 

Special Thanks

I feel a need to thank a few influential people who’ve helped me over the years to reach the point of being able to tackle this technical problem with some degree of competence.

Rachel Nicholson for the idea and belief that I could create a control system.

Nick Hunt for mentoring me through my dissertation as I investigated what an intuitive lighting control might look like.

Nick Archdale and Richard Mead for hiring me out of university and encouraging me to be a better developer and licensing their fixture data to the project while I develop the control system.

You can reach me anything DMX related at mike@litemic.com

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