Stone of Orthanc Lightshow


Although graduation from art college in 1970 removed most of the opportunities to be involved in the lightshow scene, there was the odd occasion when equipment and venue came together, and I never ceased thinking about techniques and materials which might be utilised. But the already rare and expensive Aldis Tutor projectors became scarcer and scarcer, along with the glass slide plates and some of the best inks – and we moved north to a remote part of Scotland.

Then, early in this century a chance remark resulted in the unexpected delivery of two Tutors, some plates were found and old inks dug out. More important, I discovered I could still create the slides!

Simultaneously came the PC revolution. Suddenly digital capture, processing and reproduction of both still and moving images became a realistic possibility. It also brought Ebay, and those rare projectors and slide plates came within reach of even a remote corner of Skye. So, on the fortieth anniversary of the Summer of Love and my first involvement with lightshows, I realised an old ambition and the lightshow I had hoped to establish on graduation came into being, with my wife as partner.

Now we do a mixed show. Traditional sixties liquid techniques are the core of the show and include liquid slides, using the film strip attachment with cellophane bags and watch glasses and acetate sheet on the overheads together with tanks. The liquids show is supplemented by a range of videos and slides now usually shown from laptops through video mixers and projectors.

The old Meccano motors are now expensive collectors’ items but I’ve made up substitutes using, amongst other things, cordless screwdriver components which allow rapid change of the wheels due to the hexagonal sockets for screwdriver heads! Similarly, small battery vacuum cleaners available for a few pounds provide both suction and blowers for the tanks along with small air pumps. All are powered by a variety of low voltage transformer/rectifiers – the variable voltage ones being ideal – and some model railway controllers.

We use Optikinetics attachments as well, mainly as background 'wallpaper' and back up – wheel rotators with liquid, colour and pattern wheels, liquid and pattern cassettes, splodes including a 3 chamber one, slide rotators etc. Many of the wheels are home made, some using photos of projected images.

There are 3 Carousel 2050s with a programmable controller I haven’t got working yet together with a growing library of slides, some photographic, others made up on the PC and printed onto O/H transparency sheets then mounted into slides (and in some cases, such as moiré patterns and similar illusion patterns, kept full size for use on conventional O/H projectors or Opti wheel rotators.) The PC makes developing such patterns and distortions like twisted chequerboards so easy.

Two of the three Tutor 2 based overheads carry small turntables built up from Opti cassette drives and cassette cases, with variable speed control. I have developed a basic technique from the sixties using small 50mm dishes on the turntables into which are dropped a variety of liquids, oil and water based, with different viscosities, together with tints. Essentially it’s a matter of balancing miscible and immiscible liquids, colour mixing, viscosity, volatility and chemical reactions. I can now extend the working life of one tank up to half an hour or more compared to the few minutes we’d get in the old days before the mix had degenerated into an unprojectable muddy purple. Overprojected onto the same area and counter rotating, they are very effective, particularly when a gentle sophisticated movement is needed to match the music.

A further development, which I’m very pleased with, has been to video these projections in our studio and then, during editing, double track the image at 50% opacity with one image flipped horizontally. The closest description I can give is ‘similar to a liquid kaleidoscope, but with two symmetrically overlaid images, one mirroring the other, counter rotating and the pattern developing as the liquids move’ as much as through adding colours..

Since acquiring a video projector we’ve also built up a library of liquid slides as back up and for use where the venue radically limits the size of the projection stand and thus number of projectors. The hue, saturation and other effects available in the playback settings of a good video player and mixer add even more options.

Inks and dyes include the old favourite, Dr Martin’s, drawing ink like W&N, supermarket food colouring – which is amazingly good, far better than in the sixties, my precious supply of Flomaster ink, (one can of which I had actually kept all those years along with some Dr Martin’s!), all of which must be at least 30 years old now! Sadly there are few genuine spirit based dyes (i.e white spirit/turps based), most are meths based and thus not totally immiscible with water based. Fiebings shoe dye is good though, superb colours and gives superb volatile reactions with both water and meths in the tanks. Oil/candle dyes, Lamp oil and lamp oil tints are another favourite together with different types of oil – vegetable and mineral of varying viscosities.

Carbon Tetrachloride is now a no-no for a solvent. Acetone works well as does formaldehyde in the diluted state you now get it……………but the best, ether, is almost impossible to obtain. I got a supply 5 years ago from our friendly local chemist, but when he retired Boots took over!

I could do with some chloroform too! Any offers out there?

All in all, we currently have:

6 x Tutor 1000 (for occasional use, limited by lamp life/availability/cost
!3 x Tutor 2, – 3 converted to overheads, 2 with turntables
2 x full size overheads, one with a 650 watt halogen lamp and turntable
2 A4 LED pad + camcorder 'OHP's and an A3 pad
3 x Carousel 2050 now little used
Assorted motors, wheels, fitments, blowers, pumps etc
1 x 4000 lumens video projector
3 x 4500 lumens projectors with various zoom lenses
3 x wide angle short throw projectors
3 dedicated laptops with an extensive library of images ranging from artwork by my wife and daughter, through Celtic patterns, mandalas, distortion patterns, railway, airshow, historic motor racing etc

A similar collection of videos
Various input/output gadgets to link camera, laptops and Rolands
Roland V4 and V8 video mixers plus a Videonics MX Pro mixer

Currently experimenting with speaker driven flexi mirrors, an LED multi colour flood as an alternative to the LED pads,blow plates and long throw lumia effects
Conventional lighting rig with 8 100w Par64 LED, stands, QTX Cob floods and a set of 'flashcans' as footlights which do superb silhouettes of the band onto the backdrop
Strand 200 and MX control desks

I temporarily fitted one conventional OHP with a 1000 watt halogen T19 theatre lamp in a parcan converter base with reflector. It was so hot I couldn’t fit a fresnel stage and had to use a pyrex bowl sitting on a pyrex dish. The bowl being filled with water which then boiled! So much heat energy came off the lamp that without the water heat filter it would burn through a piece of mounting board held at lens height!
I also have a Strand Pattern 52 (ex effects) spot for conversion to an O/H when I get round to it.

At the time I set up the lightshow I became involved in a developing local event support outfit which I now help to manage and act as its lighting engineer. So we also have available conventional spots, scanners etc with dimmer packs. My several Strand lighting desks are beyond my wildest dreams in the sixties and are pretty well capable of the light organ function we wanted then.

Finally in the last 18 months I have taken on the role of lighting engineer in out local theatre, (the only theatre in the highlands outside Inverness), so I've come full circle - Funny how things come around!

I'm also a part of a consortium of local bands/performers which mounts our own promotions.

Pat Myhill - July 2020