ETC Eos finds its dance partner

Date Posted: 1/29/2015


As other reality TV shows struggle to find their feet, Dancing with the Stars is waltzing into its 19 th season. Those of us who grew up with British TV of the 1960s will remember it as a competitive ballroom dancing show called Come Dancing . The men wore bowties, tails and patent leather shoes and had a huge number pinned to their back. Their perfectly coiffed partners wore sequined but demure calf-length ball gowns. Lighting was a few fresnels and a follow spot.

Quickstep into 2014 and Dancing has become the wild child of primetime. As the costumes get skimpier and the judges become more eccentric, the production values and the ratings soar. Emmy-award-winning (2014) Lighting Designer Simon Miles and Video Director Michael Zinman combine their considerable talents to create a visual playground that blends spectacle with whimsy. Now in his ninth season with the show, Miles and lighting programmer Matt Cotter lay down an exciting light-design framework that partners perfectly with the show's strong video elements. Zinman and video programmer Jeff Shood work their video magic using ETC's Eos® lighting control system.

Zinman (described on his website as the 'enigmatic visuals producer/creative director' of the Zinman Company) has previously brought his magic to the Miss USA pageant, the GRAMMY® Nomination Concert Live , car launches for Lexus, and many outdoor events. His 3D image-mapping can turn the dance floor from animated pinball machine to Monopoly board to burning building to boxing ring. When the audience gasps or applauds, it might be for the couple on the floor or the jaw-dropping animated effects. At times the floor can act like a dance partner. The cascading projected images leave the viewer with the 'how did they do that?' question forever unanswered. Media servers are like magic tricks that keep working even after you know how it is done.

Video designer Jeff Shood

In the center of all this is Zinman's school friend and programmer Shood. A self-proclaimed geek ('before geeks were cool'), Shood first worked in audio and built computers when Zinman was still doing lights. After Shood built Zinman's first computer to run WYSIWYG, they soon became a media-server team where Shood would program and run the shows, and Zinman would concentrate on the overall looks and content creation. "We are always writing new media content for specials like Halloween or other events - there can never be enough," adds Shood. 

Shood uses fourteen PRG M-boxes driven by Artnet directly from an ETC Eos console to control six projectors on the dance floor and countless LED devices on the set. "The Eos fits our needs perfectly - we have yet to find a situation where it is not equal to the task," he describes. With only a Sunday rehearsal and a thirteen-hour shoot day on Monday, the video content is preprogrammed in layers using the macros and submasters on the Eos. Cues can then be created quickly as ideas flow from the director and creative team. 

Shood was introduced to Eos by Zinman early in their working relationship. "He gave me the console, a manual and a DVD of the show and let me take it all home to learn on," says Shood. "It was the first console I got to understand really well and I am still impressed by its capabilities." In rehearsal, Cotter and Shood work closely to maintain consistency of mood between lighting and video. "Sometimes I follow his lead, but often the video imagery is the dominant element," says Shood. They sound a lot like the contestants who are struggling to reach the finale!

Shood explains that in the high-stakes world of fast-paced live television, "a mistake could be disastrous. Above all you have to trust your console." So, as you watch the dancers twirl by in a sequined, spray-tanned blur, spare a thought for the stressed-out content-creators, programmers and their trusty console.