Anybody working with lasers?

  • Hello,
    I've been asked to design a light installation for the outside of a building. I usually use projection for this kind of work, but the building is painted pretty dark and it would go way over budget to hire a powerful projector for the period. I was thinking of buying a laser and installing it in a nearby building and squirting some interesting patterns on the walls - maybe with some mapping to highlight the shape of the building. 

    Thing is, i have no experience of this kind of kit, beyond reading about the different types of laser available, and the different communication protocols involved. does anyone here use lasers in an interesting way for performance or installation? could you share some advice of what to take into consideration - both technically and artistically?

    It would be nice to use Isadora and control the unit through DMX, but i think ILDA is probably more powerful, so would that take me in the direction of specific laser control software?

    all the best,

  • Tech Staff

    I know @fubbi has worked with lasers

  • Tech Staff

    ILDA is the protocol you will need if you wish to create custom patterns. With DMX you can generally choose between pre-programmed patterns and change other parameters.

    You can also set x y position. So you can move the laser pattern around. In this way you can create some custom  shows. I have done things where  I have installed translucent  figures that i targeted via the x y position and programmed patterns of these positions s.

    I'm sure you can find laser software that provides ILDA functionality and has either midi or OSC input allowing integration with Isadora. target 

  • @dbini I have used lasers quite a bit, you are on the right track, dmx will only let you trigger patterns, but may be a better option. ILDA does let you feed real time commands for frames to a laser but it is also a bit outdated and although widely supported strange things may occur, like the Ilda may not let you get the same speed or fov as another protocol on hte same device. Unfortunately other protocols are proprietary, but they are accessible. Pangolin has a protocol and they make a large number of lasers and software.

    Depending on what you want to display there are different kinds of lasers, just show lasers or animation lasers. Animation lasers will have much higher points per second and this is important, if there are too many points in an animation frame, or the points are not correctly distributed around say a tight angle the laser will warp the image. It can take quite some work to get used to real time control and often the kind of janky show software may be a better way to go.

    Unfortunately laser world is nowhere near as standardised as video and you can well get locked to a software that comes with a laser and it's proprietary protocol. This is not always the case but it is definitely more complex than just plugging in HDMI. Ilda tried solve that and it mostly works but it is also not always supported and then you need an Ilda interface and the input protocol varies. I use an open source Ilda interface called etherdream ( and write my own software to run real real images. Etherdream does let you 

    Many lasers can also just store a show or images on an SD card and you can trigger them with DMX.

    Apart from software hardware is also tricky. The points per second is important and also the wattage and how it is distributed between the different coloured diodes. Many lasers are not RGB but can come in strange combinations like yellow and purple too.

    You are right that lasers are cheaper than video projection and they do look cool, make sure you have time and the opportunity to test the software and hardware before you buy, or have a good talk with the rental place.

    Lastly I have sometimes had issues that the places that rent high power lasers don't want to just rent me the hardware. Citing safety issues they want to rent a system with operator, I have managed to get many lasers but it's not like renting a video projector.

    Here is some footage of a system I made that analyses a real-time video input and traces the outline in a laser and calibrates the laser projection to project back onto the LED wall that shows the video feed. This was done with ILDA and the etherdream.

    Video is here

  • thank you Fred and Ryan - lots of great advice. i did a site visit today and it seems impossible to work there, even with a laser - but i had an idea for a light intervention in the church next door.

    Maybe i'll get into lasers at some point in the future - i'm really interested in the process of creating images with a single point of light, and want to revisit some of my early 90's animation experiments using sculptural gauzes.

  • Here is my 2ç

    first of all @DusX is absolutely right. There is no way you can make a good laser show with DMX, don't be tempted. Triggering one premade look after the next is a moronic process. I learned that the hard way.

    The future of laserwork is generative geometry via a laser DAC. Sollinger in berlin has an interface that uses sound over AVB to speak directly to their lasers (just a ethernet cable if youre on mac since apple supports AVB natively). The new(ish) laser chop in touchdesigner has been updated for this (in collaboration with sollinger). It basically allows you to send any geometry to a AVB sound card modified to send this directly to their lasers, or convert it to ILDA for analog control. 

    It is goodbye to the limited options of 90´s rave or childrens birthday party. All this stuff is not quite on the shelves yet but you could contact sollinger. Alternative you can use other cards like etherdream or helios. One of the big differences is that Sollingers interfaces in addition to their precision has an (amazing) interface for geometrical mapping and correction as well as masks. All controllable via OSC I might add.

    I asked @mark about support of lasers in isadora in an open chat after a guru session, but I never followed up with proper information, this has been on my list for a feature suggestion. I believe it could be a powerful feature for Isadora at possibly a manageable labour cost. Its essentially making oscilloscope shapes plus color. Drawing laser highlights of filtered video is an example of the possibilities. Ps. I would be happy to provide the hardware and make an introduction, should the @troikatronix team ever run out of obviously more important stuff to do.

    For example feast yer eyes on this: 


  • @fubbi the Tundra show is cool, the AVB system also looks good, although the sollinger implementation looks heavily abstracted. I have also used pangolins proprietary protocol and ILDA, but there does not seem to be any standard for lasers as far as I can tell, (other than just what is popular at the time) which kind of sucks. I am using an OF addon from Seb Lee (some large scale although kind of lame laser mapping here that lets me use a variety of interfaces and has amazing tools basically kind of like video mapping for lasers built in.

    Definitely generative or programatic geometry using code or TD is the way to go, but I do have to say I have seen some OK stuff made with the pangolin software that can be triggered remotely and it does have some cool features. Not my thing, but it would be possible to run a show with Isadora in combination with a system like this, it could also be possible to make an OK DMX based show, but it would be risky work, especially if it was architectural, it would mean generating the SVGs on site and not moving the laser ever and then creating a show in a system that can upload the SVGs on board, so yes not ideal.

    I think to achieve this Isadora would need some more complex procedural drawing tools first and that would be a great addition- then the conversion of points from Isadora's rendering process to ILDA or some other protocol would not be such a big issue.