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How Laser Shows Work - Outboard Equipment

    It takes more than the laser, projector, console and graphics system to present a spectacular laser show.  Laserists need smoke machines, fiber optic beam delivery systems and other outboard equipment.

Smoke Machines

A "hazer" type of smoke machine
A "hazer" type smoke machine that makes very fine particles - Photo courtesy of MDG

    One of the most important pieces of outboard equipment (for laser beam displays) is the smoke machine. Since light itself is invisible, the eye only sees the reflection of light from objects and surfaces, laserists need to put particulate matter (haze or smoke) into the air to make the laser beams visible.  The fine particles from the smoke machine deflect the light from the laser towards your eye so you can see the beam effects in the air.
    The two most common types of smoke machine in use are "water based" machines and "hazers".  Water based smoke machines use a water based fluid that is pumped through a heated evaporation chamber.  They typically produce dense clouds of large particles which do not remain suspended in the air for long.
    Hazers typically use an oil based fluid that is forced at very high pressure through a very fine nozzle to "crack" the fluid into ultra fine droplets.  Hazers produce a very fine haze that is often invisible to the eye but which makes lots of microscopic particles which remain suspended on the air for a long time and reflect the light from the laser beams towards your eyes.


Fiber Optics

    Laser light shows may make use of fiber optics to transmit the laser beam from the laser system to the projector or (more often) from the projector to a remote scan head. The hair-thin glass fiber acts as a "pipe" to transmit the light from the input coupler, through the fiber, to the output colliminator.
    'Side Glow' fiber  is a thicker type of fiber optic that has no jacketing surrounding it.  The light in the fiber can escape out the sides so can also be used as a special effect where hair-thin, glowing, lines of light are required; such as for product outlines or as signage.

Coupler, fiber optic and output colliminator
Coupler, fiber optic and output colliminator
- Photo courtesy of new Method Lasers


Add-on Effects

  Laser light shows make use of effects such as bounce mirrors, mirror balls, spinning diffraction gratings, remote servo controller mirrors and other effects to manipulate and re-direct the beams projected from the laser projector.  By using bounce mirrors, the beams are reflected around the venue creating the illusion that there are more beams in the space.

An array of bounce mirrors

An array of bounce mirrors hanging from a pipe (the mirrors are turned away from the camera as this photo was taken during set-up)

There are also add-on electronic devices used with laser systems such as geometric correctors which can remove distortions in the laser image caused by off-axis projection  or projecting onto onto uneven surfaces, 360 degree projectors which allows for the projection of the images at many points around the venue rather than in just one location, digital colour decoders, time code synchronisers to synchronize laser effects to video, and laser show storage systems.

ADAT-XT recorder - Photo courtesy of Pangolin

One of the most commonly used add-on devices is the ADAT recorder.  Originally designed as an 8 track digital audio recorder for small studios, it can be modified to record laser signals.  Audio signals occupy a spectrum from 20 Hz to 20 KHz while laser signals are from 0 Hz (DC) to about 10 KHz.  The CADA-MOD board by Pangolin Laser Systems conditions the laser signals and modifies the ADAT recorder so that X, Y, R, G, B, a control signal and left and right audio can be recoded onto tape.  By recording a show on tape, it can be reproduced exactly the same every time or can be sent to other locations or even other countries for playback.

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