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Winter 2000: Selected Articles

Dot.Monkey Swings Into the Future
By David Lytle

It’s called Dot.Monkey and the idea behind it is to get the hand-digitizing monkey off the back of overworked laser artists. The new software by Laservision Macro-Media is designed to achieve two sweeping goals: it allows laserists to work with virtually any type of computer graphic image while at the same time automatically optimizing those images for playback on laser projectors.

It now takes a laserist about 20 minutes to fine-tune a frame of laser artwork through the painstaking process of moving individual points until the image looks acceptable. Dot.Monkey, in contrast, can automatically transform a single raster or vector image file into a projection-ready laser image in about 10 seconds. The images used to create the laser graphic can be imported from almost any commercially available imaging program, including AutoCad, Flash and 3D Studio Max, as well as standard ILDA vector files. Hand-drawn images and other artwork can also be captured directly from a document scanner. The files are exported in either ILDA or Laservision formats.

New Worlds of Artwork
The ability to use existing computer graphics software opens new opportunities for laserists to access a vast library of computer graphics imagery and to take advantage of the advanced animation tools offered by today’s mass-market graphics and animation programs.

Although the capability to import and optimize images created by non-laser animation programs was first demonstrated at last year’s Lighting Dimension’s International show by Lightspeed Design Group, there has, as yet, been no commercially-available program for the laser industry. Lightspeed’s program, called PrestiDigitize, was developed for in-house use and has not been licensed to other companies. Pangolin Laser Systems will unveil a pre-release version of a 3D Studio Max laser conversion program at the Stuttgart ILDA Conference in October. Scheduled to be available for sale by the end of the year, Pangolin’s plug-in will let users directly convert 3D Studio Max images to ILDA laser files.

Dot.Monkey, which will be offered for sale at ILDA’s Stuttgart conference, is sold on a unique per-image basis using a hardware security device to monitor the number of images processed. The hardware “Actuator” plugs into a computer’s printer port and is loaded with a predetermined number of image processing transactions. Actuator pricing starts at just under US $1,000 for 500 images. Per-image prices drop to 99 cents when 2,500 image transactions are purchased; an Activator with 30,000 images costs about $12,000, or about 40 cents per image.

Under development for two years, the program benefited from an alliance between Sydney-based Laservision and the University of Western Sydney. The school’s Department of Mechatronics and Laservision developed models to simulate the behavior of different scanners used in laser displays. Using these models, Dot.Monkey can optimize images for projection on Cambridge 6800 or 6210 scanners.

Laservision President John Eustace says he sees “no discernible difference” between the results of Dot.Monkey’s image processing and the hand digitizing previously performed by the company’s artists. Laservision’s artists have put away their digitizing tablets and done all their work exclusively on Dot.Monkey for the past month, he said.

Sydney Olympics Show
An example of their work, called The Gift, will be seen daily at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. A 7.5-minute laser animation sequence in the show contains 800 hand-drawn frames and 1,500 animations frames created with the Flash graphics program. All 2,300 frames were batch processed by Dot.Monkey on an on-going basis, allowing artists to work on new frames as just-completed ones were sent to Dot.Monkey for conversion. Once processed, an artist spent one-half day reviewing the results and accepting the images as meeting the company’s quality standards. Productivity gains of 600 percent, said Eustace, have been realized after two weeks of using the program.

Although Laservision artists chose Flash for their Olympic’s piece, Dot.Monkey users can access the advanced features of popular animation packages such as 3D Studio Max and Corel Draw. The file types that can be imported include AutoCAD (DFX), Windows Standard and Enhanced Metafiles (WMF and EMF), and a host of raster formats such as BMP, TIF, JPG, PCX and TGA. When it comes to text, Laservision says Dot.Monkey is fully compatible with Microsoft’s Rich Text Format (RTF), allowing the program to create laser-ready images from True Type fonts. Images can also be scanned into Dot.Monkey from desktop scanners.

The Dot.Monkey software can be downloaded at no charge (hardware Activator not included) from Laservision’s website at:

Laservision Macro-Media: (+62) 29-658-1000

LOBO Laser Show Brings Spain to Norway

Bergen, Norway's Fjord capital, August 26, 2000: The earsplitting dark sound of a ship's horn interrupts the peaceful heart of Bergen city. Bright shining laser beams cut through the night. In the background, a ghost-like frigate appears mysteriously in the middle of a lake.

This is the opening of a special event created to thank Norwegian citizens for their order of three frigates from Bazan, the Spanish ship- building company. Bazan entrusted the multimedia artist Albert Ripoll i Coca and the Germany multimedia company LOBO to create a Spanish- Norwegian dream in the center of Bergen. Coca arranged a gigantic event combining laser, video, water and pyrotechnics.
A 250-meter long tunnel, created in yellow laser light, is enhanced with six high-powered fog generators.
In addition to video and laser projections, Maria Rosa, the Spanish Queen of Flamenco, brought Spanish flair to the evening with a dance performance on a floating stage surrounded by laser beams.The show, seen by 39,000 people (nearly one-fifth of the city's population), took place on a lake 250-meters long and about 150-meters wide. For the projection of laser and video, LOBO installed a floating rectangular water screen in the center of the lake that provided a smooth projection surface 30-meters wide and 11-meters high.

  For the creation of the laser effects, LOBO's unique laser truck system came into action. These mobile systems, with self-contained control stations, are pre-installed in large shipping containers and arrive ready for operation. A projector with 60 watts of white-light laser power made it possible to create giant projections and three-dimensional beam effects.
A fog horn sounds, and ships appear on the lake, thanks to video, laser and water screen effects. 
To ensure against possible malfunctions, a complete backup system ran in parallel to the primary equipment. In case of a system failure, a single touch of a button would have been enough to make the switchover. For beam effects, LOBO installed six high-power fog generators on floating rafts equipped with large fans. Due to the enormous distances involved (250 meters at one point) show operators relied mainly on radio-controlled systems.

LOBO's technical director Richard Pollak: "One of the major challenges of this project is the problem of evenly spreading fog over an open area of about 40,000 m2 exposed to the variable winds of the evening hours. In order to be prepared for all eventualities, we installed several pyrotechnical smoke generators around the lake in addition to the floating fog generators."
The scene in daylight, with the water screen being tested near the far shore of the lake.
The public response to the project exceeded the client's expectations. LOBO technical director Bernhard Freyman: "The enthusiastic response by the press on the front page of the most widely read local newspaper was just overwhelming."

LOBO: (+49) 73-61-9678-30;

LDS Unveils Tune-It-Unit; Software Additions

Laserists that need to calibrate their scanners, but who don’t have a dedicated computer available to provide the signals, can now use a stand-alone testing device created by LDS Light Design of Hamburg, Germany. The company’s Tune-It-Unit is the first handheld device that outputs an ILDA test patterns in less than a second. Powered by batteries or an external power adapter, it allows users to toggle between pre-programmed test patterns or custom test patterns added by the manufacturer.

The Tune-It-Unit is equipped with a 25-Pin Sub-D female connector that meets ILDA connectivity standards and provides all necessary ILDA signals including shutter, intensity and six color channels. The 16-bit resolution signal can be scanned as fast as 200,000 points-per-second with up to 60,000 individual points in the test pattern. Patterns can also be scanned at different speeds, such as 12k or 30k.

LDs has also announced several new features to its LasCoNetwork Laser scanning software, including the ability to run shows directly from a locally installed web browser. The web browser feature can be used for interactive control of the shows and for automated systems in such locations as amusement parks and science centers.

The web feature is part of LCN’s new automated control capability that allows users to program a different user interface with Visual basic or any other programming tool. The user, for example, can change the interface so that only a web browser is displayed or buttons that say “Show1” or “Show 2.”
Clients can also purchase new shows via the Internet, using the company’s e-commerce web site. After completing the credit card transaction, LCN uploads the new show directly to the customer’s computer. At the same time, log files with information about laser power levels and maintenance requirements can be transmitted to a remote monitoring site, eliminating the need to send a technician to make hardware checks.

Other new features in the software include: an advanced morphing function with automatic anchor point adjustment; an increase in the number of colors displayed and edited by the user; and a new sound analysis program that visually displays such audio features as beats and high notes. LCN also added a new import feature that allows sound effect files to be direclty imported into the timeline of a show.

LDS Light Design, (+49), 40-8530-7453-03;

Rodin, Lasers and Fireworks

World-famous 19th Century sculptures and laser/fireworks shows usually don’t share the same stage, but the North Carolina Museum of Art chose a high-tech visual display to celebrate the closing of the museum’s Rodin sculpture exhibit.
A standing-room-only crowd of about 5,000 flocked to the Raleigh, NC, museum’s outdoor ampitheater to see the laser and fireworks show by Images in Illuminations and Sunset Fireworks.

The two companies teamed up for the first time three years ago, when they were asked to produce a show to mark the dedication of the new museum. As happened with the first show, the companies created visual displays to accompany a series of musical pieces selected by George Holt, the Museum’s Director of Public Programs.

The mostly French sound track presented quite a challenge for Sunset Fireworks of St. Louis, as music was very lyrical without the strong downbeats and tempo changes that pyro designers use to structure their shows. That lyrical quality, however, worked well for the laser display, as large waves, fans and beam sweeps radiated over the heads of the audience.

Images In Illumination of Chicago used a 40-watt Laser Fantasy YAG with G-120 scanners to create the effects, and located the projector inside a cargo van to protect it from the weather. The laser show module was produced using LaserMedia’s ZAP7 software.

A brief sprinkle hardly dampened the enthusiasm of the overflow crowd, many of whom stayed and toured the museum after the evening’s festivities. To accommodate the crowds, the museum kept its doors open until 7:00 am the following morning. The laser crew faced and overcame the usual challenges of an outdoor show: hot sun; bugs; people wandering into the secure zone, and worst of all, a loss of water pressure only an hour before the show was scheduled to start. Fortunately, the Raleigh Fire Department made a timely appearance with an adapter for a nearby fire hydrant, and the laser’s water-to-water heat exchanger was able to quench it’s thirst with a direct connection to the hydrant.

Images in Illuminations: (+1) 630-595-5692;

Rough Magic By The Sea

Laser Magic Ltd. recently completed what was its most bizarre show of the year, William Shakespeare meets Mad Max on the beach! Brighton, on the south coast of the UK, witnessed a stunning multimedia production by Fireraisers. The performance group constructed a working platform and towed it into position between two 100-year-old piers and then raised it 40 feet above the water.

Laser Magic installed a number of Chroma 10 lasers and high powered YAGs as part of the production. All the laser effects were kept simple and as large as possible to create a very wide audience viewing angle.

The show was based on William Shakespeare’s The Tempest and featured action on land, sea and even in the air with helicopters , skydivers and jet skiers. The core of the show was a gigantic salvage rig moored just offshore and linked to the beach via a swooping bridge. About 50,000 people packed the beach front to see the multimedia spectacle, which featured intelligent lights, lasers, video and a stunning sound system.

Laser Magic Ltd., (+44) 1323-890752;