What is a Moving Light? – Learn Stage Lighting .com

What is a Moving Light?

Go to any concert, corporate event, tradeshow, theme park…even churches and you’ll see moving lights(ML’s) gracefully coasting their beam across the venue.  Patterns flying, colors changing and intensities fading on and off as you watch.  Moving lights are flexible, versatile fixtures that have a movable beam as well as gobo wheels, prisms, iris’s, shutters and frost.  Moving lights typically have an arc-based lamp, but some are tungsten, and some are LED-based fixtures.  Moving lights can be very helpful to create a variety of interesting looks, and can take the place of multiple conventional lights in a lighting rig.

Types of Moving Lights

Physically, there are 2 ways that moving lights are able to move their beam.

This is either via a moving head or a moving mirror.  You may have also heard somehow call ML’s intelligent lights or wiggle lights.  I prefer to stay away from the term intelligent, because the lights don’t move or program themselves.  There must be an intelligent operator behind a pretty smart console.  If you’ve spent any time working with movers, you’ll agree that they are certainly NOT intelligent on their own!

Moving heads are a fixture where the whole “head” is able to rotate and tilt to allow you to point the light.  These are the most popular type of moving light, as it offers a greater range of movement than the moving mirror light.  These have a fixed-position mirror that tilts in 4 directions.  The moving mirror is limited to around 180 degrees on each of the 2 axes, but can move the beam very fast.

A popular moving head wash light. Photo by Zera on Flickr

Features of Moving Lights

Moving lights, like conventional lighting, are separated into wash and spot fixtures.  Wash fixtures typically feature color mixing, and are brighter due to the more efficient optical pathway.  They also have a larger aperture at the lens, and typically have a frosted, fresnel style lens.

Moving wash fixtures are best for washing large areas with color, but don’t look the best as a spotlight on an actor, band member or speaker.  Wash fixtures are also more likely to have zoom, but that is not a hard and fast rule.

Spot fixtures, on the other hand, don’t always feature color mixing, but have many more optical features, such as gobos, prisms, animation wheels and rotating gobos.  Spot fixtures are great for aerial effects, using gobos to texture scenery and lighting band members.  Both spot and wash fixtures can feature zoom, strobe and color mixing- always do your research before buying a moving light as different manufacturers use different features in different lights.  Some new moving lights combine both wash and spot capabilities, and some have entirely new features, like a built in strobe lights, LED highlighting and pixel mapping for video content.

A newer type of ML that is worth mentioning is the beam style fixture.  In the past few years, many manufacturers have introduced these large aperture, narrow beam angle lights that put out a fat, defined beam of light.  These fixtures usually have color mixing and gobos, and are a hybird of both spot and wash fixtures, but in a whole new way.  These fixtures really “pop” in large lighting rigs, and the beams may even be somewhat visible without haze.  In the next few years, I think we will see more unique types of ML’s coming into the market.

Use of Moving Lights

Image by soundman1024 on Flickr.

Image by soundman1024 on Flickr.

You can use moving lights to create a variety of lighting looks.  Moving lights will look the most interesting in haze, creating large beams in the air, made even more interesting with gobos.  Mixing wash and spot units allows you to bring greater complexity to your looks.  By  using focus positions, or pallets, you can vary the look on stage greatly with simple programming.

But moving lights aren’t just for haze-filled, moving, band-style lighting.  If you look at the use theatrically, you can replace many conventional lights with a few moving lights, allowing changes in sets to be quicker and keeping dimmer quantities and power needs down.  Moving lights can be used to texture scenery, create specials for actors, speakers and musicians, and do special effects such as an underwater effect.

By thinking creatively, you can make ML’s do a lot for you, and open new possibilities in your lighting rig.


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