DJ Shopper – Lasers: Lighter, Brighter, More Dynamic

May 26, 2007 by Tony Barthel

Developments in laser technology promise more creative options, affordability and mobility

DJs know that their CD players have a huge impact on the audience. Those who use them to spin tunes can affect the way the audience behaves; it’s an easily recognizable fact. But CD players have had a greater effect than most DJs realize. It’s the technology that has made CD players affordable that is now being used in sophisticated laser light shows in Europe…and that technology is coming across the pond to a dance floor near you, at a price that’s not out of reach.
Recently we got an update on the laser industry from William Benner, Jr., who is the co-founder and president of Pangolin Laser Systems and serves on the International Laser Display Association’s board of directors. Much like those BASF commercials say, Pangolin is a company that makes the things you use better, rather than making the things you use. Pangolin’s technology can be found inside a large percentage of laser lighting devices used by DJs and other show designers.

Aiming for Visual Excitement
And what can be done with the new laser lights shows that are on their way? A lot, according to Benner, who described the three major uses for lasers in entertainment being used today.
Laser Graphics. This technology uses scanners and software, and can draw animated figures on a projection surface (screen, wall, etc.) This is popular for use at trade shows and can include scrolling text, animated figures, etc. A laser can project onto any surface, which means that you can even use the air walls in a hotel’s banquet or meeting facilities as projection surfaces. This opens up creative possibilities and widens the potential reach of your visual elements during a show. You could also use laser graphics to display a bride and groom’s name or notes of congratulations, etc. Essentially, the new graphic technology allows mobile users to access some of the excitement generated by large scale laser installations like the famous Stone Mountain’s Lasershow Spectacular in Atlanta, where images are projected directly onto the surface of a mountain
Overhead Beam Effect. Using a very light layer of theatrical fog in a room you can project beams over the heads of the audience. This is often used at corporate meetings and sales presentations.
“A laser does things that no other light does,” notes Benner. For example, a laser can be made to look like water, as in Disney’s Little Mermaid ride. This gives the audience the impression they’re under water.
Audience Scanning. This is something that is currently hot in Europe and Asia and will be coming to the United States soon, as two companies got the approval to do this here. Essentially, this method projects laser light directly into an audience, thus incorporating them into the light show and providing a powerful visual motivator. Using advanced technology, you can project images, color or almost anything imaginable onto the dance floor population.
The Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH), part of the FDA, has required manufacturers to prove that any laser light they’re using doesn’t damage an audience’s eyes and Pangolin was able to do just that. As a result, a whole new opportunity has opened up in the US.
Benner points out that technology is now available to take simple Adobe® Flash® animation routines and turn it into huge laser graphics. “Flash animators can convert their images to laser graphics. This means that people don’t have to learn a new language or technique to create stunning visual images.”

Mobilizing the Laser Show
Other technologies allow laser shows to be controlled by DMX-compatible programming, bringing control of a laser show closer to the mainstream that most mobile DJs are familiar with. And while on the subject of being mobile, the newer solid state lasers are very compatible with the challenges of being on the road: they’re very rugged and much more compact than the previous generation of gas lasers.
It used to be that the lasers used in lighting were the same devices that came from the medical profession. As such, they weren’t really meant to be lightweight, portable and roadworthy. That’s not true any longer with solid state lasers. And it used to be that an effective laser light show required water cooling and a tremendous amount of electricity usually sourced through 220-volt circuits. That’s no longer the case with devices described by Benner as being about the size of a shoe box, which can be plugged into a standard 110-volt outlet.
“What has really propelled the market are the solid state lasers developed for CD players,” reports Benner. “Since there is so much attention to CD-ROM drives, this has enabled solid state lasers that we can use for projection.”

Blue-Ribbon Light
Since lasers are now available in red, green and blue, this means that the same processes that is used to create images with a traditional projector or television set can be used to create full-color laser shows as well. Blue lasers are now becoming more widespread thanks to the development of Sony’s Blue Ray media playback technology, according to Brenner. While they are currently the priciest lasers, as Sony’s technology becomes more widespread it is fully expected that the price will come down to the level of red and green lasers.
While a good laser projector still really can’t be called “inexpensive,” the $4,000 professional laser projector of today takes the place of one that, in the past, cost tens of thousands of dollars, required dedicated electrical circuits, and a constant flow of water for cooling.
For DJs whose budgets and creativity levels support it, a good laser show can totally involve an audience-both emotionally, by capturing their imagination, and literally, by making their dancing bodies part of the show.

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Tony Barthel Tony Barthel (40 Posts)

Anthony (Tony) Barthel has been a DJ since 1986 with a unique take on marketing that has resulted in over 1,000 events personally performed. In that time Tony’s weird sense of humor and unique perspective on the world got him started collecting these stories and sharing them with friends and other wedding professionals. Born in Baden, Switzerland Tony celebrates the unusual and outlandish as part of his lifestyle. He was married to Peggy Sue in 2005 in what his friends describe as the most unusual wedding ceremony and reception they’ve ever been to. The ceremony was in a 1928 movie theater complete with giant Wurlitzer Theater Pipe Organ and the reception lasted for two days including a gathering in an ocean side lagoon with 400 of their closest friends.


Filed Under: Issues from 2007, Lighting