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DIY Lighting Setup

After I won an M2PC in the 2014 Young Lighting Design contest, I began searching for a flight case to carry it to shows. There were already some cases back then for the M2GO that provided support for a touchscreen monitor, but I also needed space for a computer, since the M2PC is only a wing, thus requiring a PC to work.

Before winning the M2PC, me and my father had already in mind the idea of building a custom console for lighting. Therefore, we merged these two projects into one: build a custom setup for lighting control based on Martin Professional M-Series.

Requirements

  • Support for a laptop
  • Space for the M2PC + MIDI controller (BCF2000)
  • Embedded wireless router
  • Easy access to DMX output ports
  • Single power connector

Hands-on!

Selecting the flight case

The first step was to search for a case. After measuring both controllers, we concluded that the Thon Mixer Case Behringer SL3242 FX was the perfect fit, accounting some space for foam in-between the consoles and on the sides, plus leaving a margin on the back for the cables.

Fitting everything inside

Firstly, the most important aspect: protect the controllers! Naturally, the foam that came with the case was not appropriate for these controllers, since the case was made for a single mixer desk. So, we used the foams and cut them at will to the shapes we needed. Moreover, we used floor insulation material (which is very light) to lift the controllers up to half of the flight case height, to avoid hurting wrists in the case closing extrusion.

Between the case and the controllers, we used more floor insulation material wrapped in black cork, which provides a great texture to rest the hands. Below the space for the M2PC, we cut a rectangle of the insulator to leave some space for the transformer, the router, and to hide cables.

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Then a section was created on the back with Medium-Density Fibreboard (MDF). Two aluminum profiles were used to create a rail for the top section. This allows us to create modules for the top section at will, plus place them whenever we want. In fact, when we were building this, we still didn’t know where was the best place for the Laptop support. Using this rail, it is possible to put the laptop anywhere from the left to the right of the case. This MDF was painted black to give a more professional look.

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And a final touch on the back…

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2 DMX Outputs were made available on the right end of the box, using 3-pin XLR panel-mount Neutrik connectors (as these are the most used). Inside, a cable connects these panel connectors to 5-pin connectors that plug in the M2PC directly.

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To power everything, a multi-outlet has been placed inside the MDF box, which includes a power-surge protector and a main power switch. Its extension cable can easily be pulled outside through a hole on the left side of the case. In the end, it is also easily wrapped back inside.

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Upgrade: Microsoft Surface Pro 3 + Docking Station

One of the problems with the first version of the setup was the laptop. Being touchscreen and not convertible, the screen was too far away, not being very comfortable to use for long periods of time. The alternative could be a convertible laptop to have the monitor closer to the operator. However, it was not a very safe support for any laptop, in fact.

So we came up with the idea of using a Surface Pro 3. It meets the hardware requirements of M-PC and has a Docking station with dimensions that perfectly fit the MDF box. This way, the touch screen would be pretty much near the controllers.

We designed a new MDF module for the rail that provides a way to securely hold the docking station. The docking station securely holds the Surface, so everything is firmly secured. All USB connections go through the docking station, so if I want to leave the area, I just have to release the Surface and take it with me.

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Connecting the MIDI controller to M-PC

To connect the BCF2000, I use my own application RD/MPCTools. It is installed in the computer and allows me to control different playbacks and have instant feedback from M-PC. If you wonder about responsiveness, I haven’t noticed any lag, even during very long shows (+7h straight)!

Conclusion

All requirements for this project were met! All in all, I find this setup very comfortable to use, especially after the Surface upgrade. Right now, I have a whole bunch of motorized faders to play with. Also, if one day I get tired of the BCF2000, I can fit another MIDI controller in its place. This setup was field-tested and is always ready to go! :)

Permanent link to this article: http://ricardo-dias.com/projects/diy-lighting-setup/

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