A long time ago in Chesapeake Virginia I saw my first laser show.
This show was at the Chesapeake Jubilee, a community carnival-ish
"celebration" of the City's Birthday. An outdoor beam and graphics show was sequenced
during a fireworks presentation. It was rather weak, but it was the first
laser show I saw. The way the beams were able to illuminate in "thin air"
was neat. It was strictly an argon-ion system. The technicians said it could
burn through a key near the source. It could have.
The main things I remember now that I can relate is that they displayed the 8kpps
test pattern on the huge outdoor screen. I'm not sure if they were using an Amiga
or not. I also remember one of the beams was terminated on the metal sign of a
junk-food vendor. Towards the end I remember seeing some lady on her husbands
shoulders swaying around with her arms waving trying to get into the beam path.
It didn't cause damage (although it could have been VERY serious if she looked
down the beam path!). She wasn't quite tall enough. Point to be made? People will
do very stupid things.
This slightly got my interest in lasers going. It wasn't a life changing experience
or anything. Just neat.
The next show I saw was the Grand Illumination display at Epcot center in Flordia.
Stunning! Period. Well done (but what do you expect with that kind of money).
If it wasn't stunning it would be a let down. Very nice display. I actually saw this
twice, once when I was young with my parents and once during high school on a
school sponsored trip. During the school sponsored trip I caught a show at
Sea World in Flordia. It was pretty bad. The smoke from the fireworks totally
covered the projection system and there was this huge cloud with bits of laser light
shooting through. I've heard they improved it or removed it, I will probably see it
again in the not too distant future.
Next I caught a show done at Virginia Beach twice. It was an advertisement
for AT&T TrueVoice most likely performed by Science Faction of NYC. The show was
projected at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront on the side of a hotel.
The technicians told me the system used a 20 watt argon and 20
watt krypton laser. Three scan systems were used after the argon lines were split into
blue and green. Each scan system was driven by an AT&T unix 486sx PC. Each PC
was synchronized by a SMPTE card listening to a time track from a DAT machine
which contained the audio. This is strictly quoted from the technician, and I
could have the company wrong. It was a very cool presentation telling the story
of the history of communications. They came two years in a row, and I believe the
show was slightly different year to year.
Lastly was a travelling Pink Floyd laser show at the Chrysler Hall.
Paramount sponsored this laser show, but my guess is it is an independant
company doing the work. The system contined a 5 watt argon and 5 watt
white light Coherent Purelight, ADATs, 8mm VTR with 3 gun CRT projectors,
6800HP scanners. It was the real deal, and made me feel WEAK. The show was
tight and entertaining. 6 or 8 HES Intellibeams backed up the lasers and
were driven from a HES LCD controller.
They have never returned. They always advertise on 96X, WROX. I emailed them
and suggested maybe the advertise on 106.9 WAFX and 98,7 WNOR, as they might
be missing their potential audience. The company never responded, and they
cancelled the shows for the future due to lack of interest in this area.
Regal Cinema's Funscape also had a laser show system. I contacted them after
this system was decommisioned but pretty much got a run around. Funscape is
a lame arcade/family entertainment center. The only loss with this place is they
wouldn't sell me the system cheap. It
supported R + G + B if I remember correctly. If I remember there was an Amiga 2000
/ 2500 and a rack mount card cage involved. The system was normally offline as they said
it was always broken. It used a water cooled laser. No other details are
For a period of time Nauticus also had a laser show. I never saw this, but
it was leased system during the summer of 1994. The system shot onto a
waterwall. The system and show came from Audio Video Imagineering from
Northern Virginia. This is all the infos I have on it, courtesy of a return
Email from someone at Nauticus. I have respect for the awesome quick and
informative response received from Nauticus. Nauticus, you impress me.
Lasers? Hobby? How?
First laser I picked up was thru Dr. Bob's Theatricity in Virginia Beach.
It was an American DJ Black Widow. 5mw solid state diode, lijasous pattern generator.
I now had a laser. Not a bad unit. A nice introduction. This was before the
wave of the laser pointers and mega cheap diodes.
Next came Ebay. There it was. Living with parents, a little extra cash. The
temptation built over a year. I dropped about $700 on a 16mw 488nm Uniphase
(Cyonics) argon laser head and Spectra Physics power supply. I didn't know
what to think when I first got it. A little nervous at first thinking "this is
a very high powered laser." After seeing it in action, I was a bit dissapointed.
It faired well at night outdoors, but didn't have that UMPFH. It ate some power,
put out a bunch of heat and had noisy fans. This gave it a much different personna
over a HeNe. Then I purchased
a fog machine, and that cured the ills and brought forth the rich vibrant beams.
The only downside to the cyonics is the lack of multiline optics.
Cyonics in parents garage
First thing I made was a project from the Laser Cookbook. A servo controller
driven from audio. This at least moves the laser. I managed to purchase some
galvometers from eBay later on. A total of 3 open loop General Scanning, and
two G100PD General Scanning galvos that need mirrors. I also found two General
Scanning CX-600 amps, and purchased 3 Accel 124 cards. Over the period of 4
years I have built an assortment of odds an ends. A few AOMs found their way
from eBay to me, as well as an Isomet AOM driver from a local auction. I haven't
had time to try blanking the beam with the 3rd galvo, or setting up the G100PD /
CX-600 pair, or AOM blanking. I also traded a 20 watt large frame argon system
and power supply to MWK Industries for a 60x refurb. I like the laser alot, as
long as it doesn't fail me I will praise MWK Lasers for a long time.
I started with Pangolin LSD-1000 ont he Amiga. It was okay, but I hate the Amiga.
Sorry, that interlaced TV looking picture has to go. Oddly, the output from the
Amiga was the best I've gotten in terms of smooth results.
The word Amiga from LSD1000 and included clipart
After the Amiga I built a parallel port adaptor from instructions found on the
internet. It faired pretty well, but I was getting noise in the scanning. No
idea why, I was guessing it was the crappy construction of my board. On a
positive note, a local (DJ Ethernet) wrote some new software that is pretty
impressive that will drive the parallel port DAC. Combined with the ALC 60x
laser from MWK, things were starting to look better.
ALC 60x, open loop scanners, DJ Ethernet's software,
John Voltz's interface
So then I bought the Laser Illusions rig from www.laserillusions.com. It is
probably the best as far as hardware that I've had, but unfortunately the
software lacks some features that are supposed to be coming soon. All I want
is MIDI support! We will see. I am still getting the noise in the output.
This could mean that PC's suck and it is a result of timing issues. It
could mean my amps are damaged. It could mean the galvos are damaged from
hooking them to a stereo amplifier. It could be because of the power supply.
Who knows. Free time will tell.
ALC 60x with beams split, 5mw HeNe and 15mw Cyonics
I also happen to buy and sell larger systems to learn about the larger systems,
and hopefully to find some that I can use. I've owned a Spectra Physics 20 watt
argon, 480volts isn't easy to find. The coherent I-90 system came without the
tube. Ooops. Then there was the Continuum YAG that was missing the KTP crystal.
Darnit! Too dangerous anyway. But luck got better. First was the Spectra Physics
265/165 5 watt Argon system. Tube seems dead. BUT WAIT! It hit. The jewel. The
king of kings. A Spectra Physics 2011 and matching supply, complete with RS-232
interface board for the power supply. It was a rare find from the industrial
world. 45 hours! And she attempts to lase. So it needs alignment, and I need to
build a closed circuit water chilling system. Running open circuit is too much
of a pain, and the landlord would most likely not like the water use, dumping
4+ gallons a minute down the drain. The future looks BRIGHT on this one!
The laser hobby is an EXTREMELY expensive one. I have been pretty lucky so far.
Honestly Ebay has made alot of it possible, by finding very rare parts cheap. The
next things required for my system is a $1000 scanner set, and a $2000 PCAOM crystal
for color selection. And a bunch of aluminum machining. It will be a VERY long
while before I'm financially able to add to my display systems. The 2011 laser will
keep me busy until then.
Part 2 covers the large frame argon system and other advancements...
Notes about the pictures
The pictures on the left hand column are mixed from different
years. They range from 2000 to 2002. Truth be told, almost all
of the footage that I have from 2001 and 2002 is on video tape
and not still images.
The top set is old stuff, mostly Cyonics 15mw argon and Amiga LSD-1000.
2nd group is ALC 60x taken with video camera, using DJ Ethernets software
Thanks and links!
Rob Mudryk, NeoLase, the people that used to meet on the LaserFX IRC chat,
and Steve Roberts from LaserFX. Thanks to John Voltz for the DAC circuit and
editor. Thanks to DJ Ethernet for his software. Thumbs up to Chris Favru,
one of the other laser locals.
LaserFX - A GOOD resource!
lasers.757.org - My other laser page
www.lasers.org - Rob Mudryk's page
Check out the links and the indexes on lasers.757.org for complete resources.