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Thread: Where to start learning laser hard&software

  1. #1
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    Question Where to start learning laser hard&software

    Hi all,

    I'm an aspiring laserist, i have always had an obsession with these lights at party's, festivals etc, and i find them to be some of the most beautiful things out there.

    I would love to start learning how to control them, how to use them, set them up, how to use them SAFELY (because lord knows these things are dangerous) - But i simply have no idea where to start, and how to start

    Any guidance on how and where to start and advance forward in learning would be greatly appreciated <3

    Thanks in advance,
    An aspiring laserist

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    Welcome

    this is the one stop laser show information site! check in any time you like, but you may never leave.

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    ... especially, if you get in touch with "material processing" or "high energy lasers"

    Viktor
    Aufruf zum Projekt "Müll-freie Meere" - https://reprap.org/forum/list.php?426
    Call for the project "garbage-free seas" - https://reprap.org/forum/list.php?425

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    Welcome to PL! This is the place to learn everything about lasers and more importantly, how to empty your bank account in 6 seconds, flat.

    I was exactly where you are almost 8 years ago (nearly to the day) when I joined PL and made this introductory post:

    https://photonlexicon.com/forums/sho...noob-questions

    Please ignore my noob questions in my first post because none of that actually happened because I didn't know what I was talking about AT ALL!! But do read everyone else's responses on how to get started with hardware, software and just having fun with this awesome hobby and community.

    And if you are able, try to attend SELEM in early August in Newark, Delaware. I went that first year I joined PL and it was mind blowing, and I've never missed one since. (I also spent $1500 to buy two laser projectors there to get me started). Here's info on that: https://photonlexicon.com/forums/sho...Sign-up-Thread

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    Welcome to PL! This is an outstanding place to learn exactly what you're hoping to learn - and even some stuff you never knew you'd want to. There is a ton of very knowledgeable, helpful people here to help answer your questions. We're scattered all over the world and, one of the things we often suggest is letting us know where you're located. Often there is someone that may live close to you that would be happy to give you a demonstration or, help with something you're trying to figure out.

    As Hank mentioned above, if you're in the US - or even if you're not since people do come internationally - and have the time in early August, SELEM (South Eastern Laser Enthusiast Meet) in Newark, Delaware is an awesome, life changing event if you have any interest in this silly addiction at all. More can be found in the Meet & Greet thread.
    PM Sent...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Whiskymancer View Post
    I would love to start learning how to control them, how to use them, set them up, how to use them SAFELY (because lord knows these things are dangerous) - But i simply have no idea where to start, and how to start
    Welcome to PhotonLexicon!

    As others have already said, you are in the right place to learn more about everything on your list. Go ahead and post your questions.

    Also, it would be very helpful if you filled out your user profile so people can see where you are located. Often if someone is close, they will offer to meet up for lunch or something so you can chat about lasers.

    Then too, there are several "Laser Enthusiast's Meetings" (LEMs) scheduled all over the globe, so if one happens to be close enough for you to attend, that would be an excellent way to jump-start your progress with this hobby.

    Finally, the answer to some of your questions will depend on where you live. For example, in the USA the laws that regulate laser projectors and laser shows are very restrictive compared to other nations. So it's important to know where you're located (at least in general terms) so we can provide more accurate information.

    Learning how to set up a projector and control it depends to an extent on what you want to do with the projector and what sort of control scheme you'll be using. Regarding control schemes, at the most basic level, there are projectors that can operate in stand-alone mode with no outside control. Then there are projectors that can be controlled via DMX commands from a lighting desk.

    But when most people talk about "controlling a laser projector", they're referring to a combination of software running on a computer that is linked to a laser controller that converts the digital signals from the computer to the analog signals that the projector needs. Even so, there are several software and hardware options to choose from. Here's a link to a legacy website (LaserFX.com - no longer actively maintained) that has some good basic information about laser shows that you might appreciate. Just keep in mind that the site is 15 + years out of date, so while the basic concepts are still valid, technology has improved...

    Before you buy anything, it would be good to list your goals first. Think about your answers to these questions:

    1) What do you want to do with your laser projector? Are you mostly interested in graphics shows (that is, animated line-art style images), or abstract shows (geometric patterns and spirograph-style images), or beam shows (aerial effects with fans and sheets of light)? Or perhaps you are interested in all types of shows?

    2) How much are you willing to spend on this hobby? Because lasers are very expensive... True, they used to be ruinously expensive before all the recent advances in solid-state diode lasers, but even so it's not uncommon for someone to spend several thousand dollars on their first projector. (And that's before you consider the cost of the control software or the controller hardware to go with it.)

    3) Do you want to try to build your own laser projector? Building your own projector is a great way to learn, especially if you are interested in some of the more technical details behind how lasers and laser projectors work. You don't need to be an electronics expert, but you do need to know how to use a voltmeter and basic hand tools. Being able to solder is also helpful, but not strictly required.

    4) Are you interested in creating your own content (images, animations, and aerial effect or beam sequences) and choreographing those effects to music to create your own shows, or would you rather just watch shows that others have created? Or are you interested in "live" laser show performances, where the operator creates effects on-the-fly to accompany a band, orchestra, or DJ?

    5) Do you have any desire to perform laser shows commercially for the general public? (Warning: it is quite difficult to be profitable doing laser shows commercially. Also, as soon as you cross the line from hobbyist to commercial laserist, the regulatory rules change, especially in the USA.)

    Once you've got an idea as to what you want to accomplish, share your thoughts here and we can suggest the next step(s).

    Adam

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    Quote Originally Posted by buffo View Post
    Welcome to PhotonLexicon!

    As others have already said, you are in the right place to learn more about everything on your list. Go ahead and post your questions.

    Also, it would be very helpful if you filled out your user profile so people can see where you are located. Often if someone is close, they will offer to meet up for lunch or something so you can chat about lasers.

    Then too, there are several "Laser Enthusiast's Meetings" (LEMs) scheduled all over the globe, so if one happens to be close enough for you to attend, that would be an excellent way to jump-start your progress with this hobby.

    Finally, the answer to some of your questions will depend on where you live. For example, in the USA the laws that regulate laser projectors and laser shows are very restrictive compared to other nations. So it's important to know where you're located (at least in general terms) so we can provide more accurate information.

    Learning how to set up a projector and control it depends to an extent on what you want to do with the projector and what sort of control scheme you'll be using. Regarding control schemes, at the most basic level, there are projectors that can operate in stand-alone mode with no outside control. Then there are projectors that can be controlled via DMX commands from a lighting desk.

    But when most people talk about "controlling a laser projector", they're referring to a combination of software running on a computer that is linked to a laser controller that converts the digital signals from the computer to the analog signals that the projector needs. Even so, there are several software and hardware options to choose from. Here's a link to a legacy website (LaserFX.com - no longer actively maintained) that has some good basic information about laser shows that you might appreciate. Just keep in mind that the site is 15 + years out of date, so while the basic concepts are still valid, technology has improved...

    Before you buy anything, it would be good to list your goals first. Think about your answers to these questions:

    1) What do you want to do with your laser projector? Are you mostly interested in graphics shows (that is, animated line-art style images), or abstract shows (geometric patterns and spirograph-style images), or beam shows (aerial effects with fans and sheets of light)? Or perhaps you are interested in all types of shows?

    2) How much are you willing to spend on this hobby? Because lasers are very expensive... True, they used to be ruinously expensive before all the recent advances in solid-state diode lasers, but even so it's not uncommon for someone to spend several thousand dollars on their first projector. (And that's before you consider the cost of the control software or the controller hardware to go with it.)

    3) Do you want to try to build your own laser projector? Building your own projector is a great way to learn, especially if you are interested in some of the more technical details behind how lasers and laser projectors work. You don't need to be an electronics expert, but you do need to know how to use a voltmeter and basic hand tools. Being able to solder is also helpful, but not strictly required.

    4) Are you interested in creating your own content (images, animations, and aerial effect or beam sequences) and choreographing those effects to music to create your own shows, or would you rather just watch shows that others have created? Or are you interested in "live" laser show performances, where the operator creates effects on-the-fly to accompany a band, orchestra, or DJ?

    5) Do you have any desire to perform laser shows commercially for the general public? (Warning: it is quite difficult to be profitable doing laser shows commercially. Also, as soon as you cross the line from hobbyist to commercial laserist, the regulatory rules change, especially in the USA.)

    Once you've got an idea as to what you want to accomplish, share your thoughts here and we can suggest the next step(s).

    Adam
    1) My main interest would be live control / timecoded beamshows as usually seen on concerts/electronic dance events.

    2) I don't really know how much i could reasonably spend on equipment so long as it's strictly hobby, it would be nice to eventually have even a single laser, and some form of hardware to control it with, but as of right now, i hardly know anything about laser control, so i'd like to have basic knowledge of how to operate stuff, before actually getting into buying something

    3) I pretty much have no experience building anything electrical, so i'll pass on building my own (for now)

    4) Live control! I'm very much interested in branching out to doing this as a profession, should i get experience and skill enough to do so. Obviously that also means that knowing how to make your own effects will likely be a requirement too, but my main focus for now would be to actually do live control

    5) I won't rule out the possibility of me wanting to do this commercially. I'm lucky i live in a country that is very big in Electronic music and both indoor and outdoor festivals/parties being done pretty much every weekend. I know of a few company's in my country that do lightshows, so if i end up wanting to do this professionally, those would likely be my first place to go to. But for now, let's imagine this as just a hobby and me wanting to learn

    (I should have edited my profile to have my location, this forum very much reminds me of old school social media's and i'm having a bit of trouble finding my way around the settings etc)

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Whiskymancer View Post
    1) My main interest would be live control / timecoded beamshows as usually seen on concerts/electronic dance events.
    In most cases, the lasers for concerts and electronic dance events are not pre-choreographed. Instead, the show is performed live by the laserist. That means there's no time code. The laserist is selecting cues and effects in real time to both match the beat of the music and the overall look of the rest of the show (including lighting and other special effects that may be preset). This obviously requires a good sense of timing and rhythm. Here's a short video that shows what this might look like. (They're using an external control surface in the video, along with a lot of other equipment, but you can do these same effects without all the add-ons by just clicking on the controls on the monitor.)

    Admittedly, some of the largest concert and stage productions will have a "click track" that is used to synchronize the tempo of all performers. This can be SMPTE time code, or more commonly just a simple audio track. Either way, most modern laser show software can support an external BPM sync signal, making things a little easier for the live laser operator if the signal is present. Even if there isn't a click track, most software also supports "tap sync", where the operator hits the spacebar (or some other key) repeatedly to set the beats-per-minute. (Starting at around 21 seconds in the video above, you'll see the operator repeatedly tapping a button on the APC-40 midi control surface; he is using the "tap-sync" feature to set the BPM of the software to match the beat of the song.)

    Regardless, if this is the area that most interests you, then you will be best served by purchasing a commercial laser show software and controller package so you can start learning. You'll also need a computer (or laptop) to run the software, and of course, at some point you'll also need the laser projector itself.

    2) I don't really know how much i could reasonably spend on equipment so long as it's strictly hobby, it would be nice to eventually have even a single laser, and some form of hardware to control it with, but as of right now, i hardly know anything about laser control, so i'd like to have basic knowledge of how to operate stuff, before actually getting into buying something
    It's going to be difficult to learn how to control a laser projector without having the hardware and software to practice on. Fortunately, you can run the software without a laser projector hooked up, and you can use the show preview window on your monitor to get some idea as to what the show would look like.

    Most commercial laser show software will require that you have at least the controller hardware connected to the computer before you can launch the software. (The controller is the piece of hardware that sits between the computer and the laser projector and converts the digital signals from the computer to the analog signals that the projector needs.) Expect to pay $300-$600 for a complete package that includes both the laser show software and the hardware controller.

    To that, you have to add the cost of the laser projector itself. I don't know what prices are like in Belgium, but here in the USA you'd be looking at a minimum cost of about $1000 for a low-power projector, and most people end up paying closer to $2000 for their first projector.

    3) I pretty much have no experience building anything electrical, so i'll pass on building my own (for now)
    Fair enough! Not everyone is comfortable working with electricity, and that's fine. Just keep in mind that there is a wealth of expertise here on the forum if you should ever decide to give it a try.

    4) Live control! I'm very much interested in branching out to doing this as a profession, should i get experience and skill enough to do so.
    A word of caution: it is difficult to be successful doing laser shows, especially if you're trying to make it your full-time career. The laser show market is very small when compared to lighting, sound, and stage production. Costs are much higher, regulatory requirements are more stringent, and in general, clients are less inclined to spend money on lasers compared to the rest of the production. Even as a part-time endeavor, there are significant challenges to launching and operating a laser light show company. And due to the small size of the market, competition for laserist positions with large, established laser companies is fierce. Most of the time those positions are filled from within; someone who has proved their worth as a roadie, or stage hand, or lighting assistant, is given the chance to learn about the laser show side of the business...

    That being said, it is possible to start out with a single laser projector and "learn by doing". I can think of quite a few professional laserists who started out with very humble beginnings, and who eventually climbed the ladder to become successful laserists. These people all had a keen eye for the art form, and they all spent a great deal of time perfecting their abilities. They also ended up doing a lot of traveling, and I'm sure they spent many late nights loading and unloading trucks full of equipment. So it's certainly doable. The fact that you are in Europe (where laser shows are more common) certainly helps.

    5) But for now, let's imagine this as just a hobby and me wanting to learn
    Then as I mentioned above, your best best is probably to purchase some laser show software and start experimenting. In my opinion, Pangolin's Quickshow is a good place to start. (Pangolin is by far the biggest player in the industry.)

    Another thing to consider is trying to meet up with other laser enthusiast's in your area. I see you are in Belgium; there are several PL members in the Netherlands, and they host laser enthusiast's meetings (LEMs) from time to time. The folks in the UK also host LEMs now and then. Attending one of these events is a great way to meet other, like-minded laser hobbyists and get a sampling of the types of shows and effects that can be created with a laser projector. (Look in the "Meet and Greet" sub-forum for information about upcoming LEMs.)

    Adam

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    Hello Whiskeymancer! Welcome!
    I like your enthusiasm. Jut stopped in to check out the latest posts and yours caught my eye. buffo's advice and guidance is pretty much spot on, IMO.

    Quote Originally Posted by Whiskymancer View Post
    1) My main interest would be live control / timecoded beamshows as usually seen on concerts/electronic dance events.
    What you're seeing during public beamshow events is only the tip of the iceberg. Even during the 1980's, I had to provide 1 months notification in writing to local safety counsels to arrange pre-show safety inspections of the equipment, all beam paths, and exposure levels to the audience.
    buffo is also correct regarding how much productions are willing to budget for lasers, the additional crew, their food, per diems, and hotel rooms. Of course, the stars decide, then sound and lighting don't like tightening their budgets, either. Getting started with small gigs and discos usually means inadequate advertising and insufficient door money to pay everyone at the end of the night. Lasers are only the 'cherry on the cake' and the first to be cut.

    2) I don't really know how much i could reasonably spend on equipment so long as it's strictly hobby, it would be nice to eventually have even a single laser, and some form of hardware to control it with, but as of right now, i hardly know anything about laser control, so i'd like to have basic knowledge of how to operate stuff, before actually getting into buying something
    I just returned to lasers last year, after a 35 year hiatus. The scanners are called 'galvos' now, but they're basically the same. But, I had no experience with laser diodes. I knew that I would modify the projector, because that has always been my forte'. But, I wanted to start out with a fully functional laser projector, then simply rearrange the bits.
    I ended up purchasing a pair of cheap (~$300 ea) 2 watt RGB projectors. Not the end of the world if I screw up, plus they provided hands on experience with cleaning and aligning, and aligning, and aligning the optics. Unfortunately, the RGB modules had the wrong dichroic mounts and wouldn't stay aligned. You get what you pay for.
    Buffo mentioned Pangolin's Quickshow software that runs on a PC but you will also need an ILDA standard DAC (Digital/Analog Converter) for each projector. Those are ~$200-$500, depending upon which software you run. Pangolin's Quickshow requires an FB3DAC @ ~$500. But, I started by testing freeware like LaserShowGen, Modulaser & others, before purchasing LaserShow Xpress Basic (2 projector license) + 2 Etherdream II DACs for about the same $ as Quickshow. But, the less expensive alternatives and freeware are often contributions made by enthusiasts, who may or may not provide after sales support.
    Now, I'm developing my own laser controller, using the Teensy 4.1, 3 audio shields (X,Y,R,G,B signals) and an Akai APC40 MIDI desk, with Cakewalk's free DAW for timeline work. I'm not an electronics engineer, software developer, nor synthesizer musician. I learned how to accomplish my goal by watching "Notes And Volts" Teensy Synth tutorial series. I recommend that you start there to learn the principles L&R audio = X&Y imagery. Laser cycloids are simply waveforms, with one axis phase shifted by 90 degrees.
    You could build a Teensy synth for less than $100, but an oscilloscope would be required to begin working with XY imagery. Then you could add on more audio shields for the RGB voltages/waveforms and duplicate the code, just as I have done for a laser projector. The learning curve is very frustrating, but far more rewarding when it all comes together.
    Basically, there are 2 paths for doing laser shows. Low budget vs professional. I've already described the low budget option. The problem with going professional is you've got to already be known throughout the entertainment industry with a track record of successful productions under your belt, before anyone will give you a chance. IOW, you need to already be there before you can get anywhere. Then there's all the safety regs and your equipment needs to be compliant. Now, you're looking at ~$7K for each Kvant projector. 8 projectors for a stage show, Beyond software, & road cases = major entry costs.
    3) I pretty much have no experience building anything electrical, so I'll pass on building my own (for now)
    There's no avoiding the need to service and maintain your own laser projectors. I recommend watching Zenodilidon's excellent laser & optics YT videos. He breaks down a wide variety of projectors and explains how everything works. This is a technical artform.
    4) Live control! I'm very much interested in branching out to doing this as a profession, should i get experience and skill enough to do so. Obviously that also means that knowing how to make your own effects will likely be a requirement too, but my main focus for now would be to actually do live control
    Your best shot would be to find a local club that has lasers and hang out with the DJ/lighting jock. But, focus upon a solid education for marketable job skills. During my 10 years in the 'biz', I was either away from home, busting my butt touring or waiting for long periods until the next gig. IOW, designing/developing w/o income.

    I hope that this info helps you to get started with eyes wide open.

    Rots'a'ruck.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by TheHermit View Post
    Buffo mentioned Pangolin's Quickshow software that runs on a PC but you will also need an ILDA standard DAC (Digital/Analog Converter) for each projector.
    Just a quick clarification: The Quickshow package includes both the software and the FB3 controller, although these days the price is closer to $550 for the set. (Inflation and all that...)

    I started by testing freeware like LaserShowGen, Modulaser & others, before purchasing LaserShow Xpress Basic (2 projector license) + 2 Etherdream II DACs for about the same $ as Quickshow. But, the less expensive alternatives and freeware are often contributions made by enthusiasts, who may or may not provide after sales support.
    Great point! I agree that a copy of LaserShow Express (LSX) plus an Etherdream controller is a *great* way to get started for far less money. Admittedly though, the learning curve for LSX is a bit steep.

    Also, as Whiskeymancer is in Belgium, it might be worth his while to investigate some of the commercial and home-brew options that are more popular in Europe. (This is another reason why it's so helpful for a new laserist to attend a Laser Enthusiast's Meeting early on. It gives them a chance to "test drive" the software and hardware combinations that other people are running, before they buy anything for themselves.)

    I'm developing my own laser controller, using the Teensy 4.1, 3 audio shields (X,Y,R,G,B signals) and an Akai APC40 MIDI desk, with Cakewalk's free DAW for timeline work.
    Whoa! Seriously? This sounds *very* cool! Would you be willing to start a new thread in the Programming sub-forum to talk some more about this project and maybe post some pictures? I'm sure several people here would like to learn more about it.

    For that matter, SELEM is coming up in about 6 weeks, and while I recognize that the East coast is a bit of a haul from the American Southwest, I'm sure you'd enjoy the event. Plus it would be a great place to demo your project. Give it some thought! (Details in the Meet and Greet sub-forum.)

    Adam

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