A Sound/Show Control Guy's Take On the grandMA2

After years of work by my CityTech colleagues Charles Scott and John Robinson, we recently got a brand new MA Lighting grandMA2 system at the school. We got two main consoles: a GrandMA2 Full Size, and a GrandMA2 Light; a VPU Video Processing Unit; and network DMX processors.  I was lucky enough to sit in on the excellent training session, done by Jason Baeri of A.C.T. Lighting, and I'm going to give you a little perspective on the console from a sound/show control guy's perspective. 

I used to know the ETC Expression series pretty well, but the last moving light console I really knew well was the Compulite Animator (for which I actually wrote a user manual when working for Production Arts).  I never learned the Hog, or the original GrandMA, so my notes here are from that perspective.  Also, the GrandMA2 software isn't quite 100% finished, so the training was in the original software, although we did see the system 2 software (some photos are system 1, some 2).

The consoles are heavily touch screen oriented, and the 2 even has a multi-touch screen built it:

The system uses an efficient and flexible entry system with a "Please" key for Enter:

Patching the console is very straightforward, with lots of help from the system to make things as easy as possible.  Cues are built into "Sequences", which are then run using "Executors".  "Pallettes" are like a modern version of focus points, allowing Cues to reference a point or state that can be changed globally across the show. 

One interesting thing about the console is that the faders are grouped into groups of five.  This makes perfect sense, but it's also strange to me because so many audio consoles are in groups of eight (consoles are 8, 16, 24, or 48 inputs, outputs are in groups of 8, etc).  There are 30 executor faders on the full console, although multiple faders can be used to run a single sequence (for example, on a chase, one fader might be used for rate, and another for intensity).  There are over a hundred pages of executors, all capable of running simultaneously.  Much like with complex digital audio consoles, the days where you could easily track everything from one screen or layer are gone (but 3D visualization might solve that problem).  Executors all have their own go buttons, or can be assigned to a global "Go+" button.  (There is also a Go-). 

Fixture, parameter, and channel selection is done in a very sophisticated way, with lots of options, layers, and even conditional selection.  Notice above the "Please" (Enter) key, there is an "If" button.  I only saw this used for conditional selection (for example, select every fixture with an intensity larger than 50%), but this is a very encouraging development, meaning that we can easily get more and more conditional kind of operations into lighting.

The console has a number of local hardware DMX outputs (and one input), analog remote input, Ethernet, LTC, audio in, a bunch of USB ports, and a built in keyboard hidden in the armrest (Yamaha, please learn this trick!) 

The time code implementation is very well done.  Basically, you just create a Sequence, and then assign it a time code time. You can have many sequences available for operation simultaneously, and you can either record the cues on the fly, or enter each cue manually (click for larger photos):

Time code can come in locally via LTC or MIDI, or over the network (we weren't clear on what MIDI protocol was used for network transmission, but I will follow up on that).

The console also features a pretty full MIDI Show Control implementation:

However, I won't likely ever use MSC on this console, since the grandMA2 makes everything available via a command line and  telnet interface over the network.  I was a big advocate for MSC, but now I'm an advocating to get rid of it (see my write up here). I plan to use the network interface for the Gravesend Inn in the fall and will write that up when I get there.

A very exciting (to a control geek) feature is streaming ACN

This is exciting, and lays the groundwork for some very cool stuff in the future with full ACN.

This is also very cool:

These X/Y/Z positions are used today for the in-console visualizer and other functions, but more excitingly, this lays the ground work for 3D targeting of moving lights, something I've been advocating for since about 1987.

The system has very cool PC-based software:

This software is apparently available free online, and with it you can do everything with this software except output real control data to physical lights (to do that you have to put some grandMA hardware on the network).  However, the GrandMA 3D visualizer software is also free, and you can control that (Charles Scott programmed this virtual version of our light lab):

All in all, the grandMA2 is a very impressive, well thought out, and well designed system.  MA Lighting obviously "gets" the potential and the future potential of sophisticated control. I definitely commend them for that and look forward to really pushing this thing forward.