Why Audience Scanning is the next big thing for Lighting Designers

With the recent success of the Justin Timberlake 20/20 World Tour and subsequent Saturday Night Live performance, and with other industry leading entertainers including Drake, Dave Matthews Band, and Jimmy Fallon using audience scanning style laser light shows for their events, an influx of production companies, lighting designers, and performers of all kinds have been contacting Pangolin, asking how to create and control laser effects like the ones used during these performances.


To address this surge of questions, Pangolin has released the following statement to the press, which discusses these events and the effects used, and provides information about the technical and legal aspects surrounding a laser performance like this. In addition, Pangolin, has cooperated with industry leading laser projector manufacturer X-Laser, to create an informational video, which illustrates how to create a laser shows similar to the ones noted above, using Pangolin’s new BEYOND laser control software and PASS hardware, together with X-Laser’s POLARIS laser projector technology. You can access this video below: 

In a statement to the press, Pangolin’s Chief Operating Officer Justin Perry was quoted saying:


    “The Justin Timberlake 20/20 World Tour and Saturday Night Live performance, as well as the Drake World Tour, and Dave Matthews Band tour incorporated some amazing laser effects. However, many lighting professionals might not fully understand how such effects can be created, or the safety and regulatory challenges associated with laser displays like this. To help answer many of these questions, we at Pangolin are taking a proactive approach, with the end-goal in mind of educating the public on how to create similar laser effects, but in a safe and compliant manner.”


To begin, an important item to address is that all of the previously mentioned events use a laser effect which we in the industry refer to as “audience scanning”. In the simplest terms possible, audience scanning occurs when you intentionally create laser effects (laser beams, waves, sheets, atmospheric effects, etc) and project them into an audience area, so that the laser light is actually touching people in the crowd. This effect can also be confined to a stage where the laser light interacts with a performer. Audience scanning is a truly immersive effect, that allows people to actually interact with and touch the light. It’s an effect no other light source can perform, including LED, thanks to the tightness, precision and definition of laser beams. That is why it is commonly considered the “holy grail” of lighting effects. 


For the purposes of this discussion, we will refer to audience scanning laser regulations currently in use in the United States. While regulations vary by country and sometimes even by region, the U.S. standards are widely considered to be the most robust series of safety regulations in the world and accordingly, safety systems that are compliant with U.S. regulations are typically given reciprocity elsewhere in the world. 


In order to perform any sort of public laser display (even without audience scanning), the person performing the laser show must have a special license called a Laser Light Show Variance, which is very much like a driver’s license for high powered lasers. The operator also must be using laser projectors that have been tested and certified to meet the safety standards of the region in which they are being used. Operator training is required, just as driver’s education is required for new drivers, to ensure that operators are able to rig, program and operate the projectors safely. This training is often extended for operators of audience scanning laser shows. There is a lot of documentation available online about laser compliance in the United States, and a great place for anyone to learn more about this is by visiting the International Laser Display Association (ILDA) website at www.laserist.org. ILDA is the world’s largest trade organization for the laser display industry and they are a leading source for laser safety information.


Performing audience scanning effects safely, regardless of the sophistication of local regulations, requires precisely controlling various attributes of the laser beam and Pangolin has developed and patented three technologies to serve this need. 


The first patented technology is called the Professional Audience Safety System (or PASS for short), which is a highly specialized circuit that monitors the health of all critical systems in a laser projector. PASS is tunable to suit most any need and can be integrated by any PASS Certified Integrator such as X-Laser into a variety of laser projector platforms. Once integrated, PASS performs real-time monitoring of all key projector systems and is able to instantly terminate laser emissions if it detects an unsafe condition. 


Another patented Pangolin technology is known the Safety Scan Lens. Often used in conjunction with PASS, Safety Scan Lenses are mounted by projector manufacturers onto the front of certain laser projectors and serve to increase the divergence, (or beam spread), within the audience area. A large beam has a lower power density, and is therefore much safer for direct viewing. 


Now, just because a laser projector has PASS installed and uses our Safety Scan Lens technology, does not mean that it is ready or compliant for audience scanning in the United States. A special variance for audience scanning is required for any shows in the United States. This type of variance can usually be obtained through the manufacturer of the audience scanning laser projectors.  


This is an additional variance, and is not the same as the “general” variance you must have for your laser projector(s) to perform standard shows in the USA. This is discussed further online, on our PASS webpage, and we would encourage anyone interested in audience scanning to read this.


Since performing audience scanning in the USA can be a complex process, we have partnered with several laser projector manufacturers, including X-Laser, who can provide audience scanning laser systems to the public which come with our PASS and Safety Scan Lens technology included. Our partners at X-Laser have taken it a step further though, by including an EZ-Variance Kit. In essence, they help to do the variance paperwork for you (which can be a very arduous and time consuming process otherwise) and offer the highest level of customer support we’ve seen to date for obtaining a certified audience scanning laser projection system in the United States or UK. If you are interested in receiving information about this, we would encourage you to contact us directly by email or telephone (contact@pangolin.com; +1-407-299-2088), or to reach out to the X-Laser team at sales@x-laser.com or by phone at 301-543-1981. 


X-Laser also offers a unique integration of Pangolin’s technologies in an extremely user friendly, turn-key package called Polaris. Polaris is a complete suite of hardware, software and procedures which are designed to get show producers setup and running as quickly as possible, which is essential for touring environments. X-Laser’s patent pending Polaris systems can be setup completely, from road case to show, in just a few minutes, which can be up to 90% faster than competing methods. 


Also, Polaris systems do not require the use of expensive, specialized measurement tools further reducing the cost of ownership, while dramatically reducing the risk of measurement errors, and completely eliminating mathematical calculations. These are just a few of the reasons that Polaris systems are in use currently by top artists and nightclubs throughout North America and Europe.”


Regarding the upcoming July 2014 launch of the third generation of X-Laser Polaris systems, company President Dan Goldsmith was quoted as saying:


“Whenever you need to remove an audience from an effect for their own safety, this makes the creation of truly immersive, dynamic experiences dramatically more difficult to achieve, and much less impactful. Further developments of our patent pending Polaris technologies will serve to bring audiences closer than ever to the enhanced worlds created by our clients, and we are extremely excited to see what kinds of powerful, compelling experiences they create. A great deal of the laser world is powered by Pangolin and we very much look forward to ever greater collaborations, to consistently deliver the best and most innovative tools to today’s designers and event producers.”


Aside from the equipment one would need to create these types of effects, another question Justin Perry of Pangolin goes on to address in his statement to the public, is how “how” to setup, create, and control lasers to perform spectacular audience scanning effects. 


Perry continues… “Pangolin’s all-new BEYOND laser control software can be used to create these audience scanning style effects, and using BEYOND, you can achieve stunning results very quickly. BEYOND also has additional safety features built inside of the software (such as our patented Beam Attenuation Map – BAM for short), which provides operators with an additional degree of safety when performing audience scanning.


The BAM allows you to reduce the output power of laser beams when projected into a given area (for example into a crowd or onto a performer), while not reducing their power when projected into a “safe” area (for example over the heads of those in the crowd).”


For more information on audience scanning, and the equipment, procedures, and processes involvoed in getting started, feel free to contact us here at Pangolin at anytime. We are more than happy to help.