Ten years ago, the first of many copies of LightFactory, the PC-based control system, was put on sale, and the newly created company was off and running. Founder and CEO Martin Searancke developed LightFactory out of a passion for the industry and a knack for writing code. Today, the control system enjoys worldwide success, which is a credit to its power and economy, as well as to the hard work of its founder and employees (one of which is his wife, Helen).
Before LightFactory, Searancke had co-founded a dot com company and then invested the profits in what was then his hobby of lighting design. Before long, the new company was thriving. The motivating factor was his search for the ideal controller.
“What I found frustrating about the lighting work I was doing back then,” Searancke said, “was that every show had a different console dependent on budget. I wanted to use the same console on every job so that I could be 100% familiar with it.”
He then set out to buy his own console, but after investigating the price, he quickly discovered that his budget and the console he wanted were “a long way apart.” So he began looking for a software-based solution.
“When I investigated what was available,” Searancke added, “I found they would often mimic a console on the display, which seamed like a terribly inefficient use of screen real-estate. That meant that you were always using the mouse to move dials and sliders, which is good from a familiarity point of view but a very slow way to work.
“There was another category of software controllers that were essentially moving light controllers, but they didn’t have much depth of features. While they made it easy to grab a light and change its colour, basic ideas like split fade times were unknown concepts in this category of product.”
It was during his investigation that Searancke wrote a small application called “DMX Expander,” which was essentially a patching computer and the embryo of LightFactory.
“I had purchased a small 24/48 scene desk and developed the software to provide access to the full 512 channels,” he said. “The rest, as they say, is history. DMX Expander actually became LightFactory.”
Working with DMX Expander made Searancke realize that the computational requirements of a lighting controller was “a walk in the park for PCs.”
“The PC, even 10 years ago, had so much more processing power than any top-of-the-line console, and I thought there is no reason why a software-based controller could not rival any console,” he said. “It was just a case of figuring out an efficient interface.”
Searancke still designs lighting and operates several shows every year, which gives him better insight into the needs of the programmer. What he learns from these shows informs the further development of LightFactory software.
“Second to reliability,” he explains, “speed of programming is the most important thing in a console. The faster you can get your show programmed, the more creative you can be and the happier the client or LD will be. I often tweak the software because I have found that programming a particular look or effect is inefficient.”
His tweaks have taken the software from the first show 10 years ago, to a full-fledged, feature-rich controller. LightFactory now has more than 5500 licensed users worldwide and it’s seen great success in a variety of applications from running major stadium spectaculars to local theatre pantomimes, night clubs and events, museums and architainment applications. The largest show run by LightFactory used 114 universes of DMX and ran from a single processor in a synchronized cue listed show.
LightFactory blends traditional theatrical dimmer controls with a full-featured, interactive moving lights suite and the latest in multi-media capabilities. Key features include:
• unlimited cue lists, each able to hold millions of cues
• full tracking console or simplified hybrid tracking
• generic and specific palettes
• six different effects engines, including LED/Matrix, with unlimited playbacks
• built-in scheduler, macros, user security and multi-user support
• audio, MIDI, and timecode triggering
• built-in media playback (video and audio)
“The first time that I used LightFactory on a show was just months before it first went on sale,” Searancke tells. “I had done testing at a local hire company but this show was the first real test. At the time LightFactory didn’t have an effects engine so everything was done with cue lists. That’s why it has a strong ability to run multiple cue lists simultaneously without side effects. In the early days it was the only way. By the end of that weeklong event, I got things very stable. I put the software online for sale a couple of months after that show and sold the first copy a month later.”
Searancke says his wife calls him a “lighting geek,” and he says he’s okay with that. “I really am still very passionate about the industry and love hearing about the shows people use LightFactory on.”