2 May 2019

How To: grandMA2 – That Blank Screen


grandMA2  – That Blank Screen

by Alex Hughes.


Malcolm Gladwell once said “Success is not a random act. It arises out of a predictable and powerful set of circumstances and opportunities.” That is especially true when we discuss the rapid mental transition required when going from a basic digital lighting control system to something like a grandMA or other digital lighting system.


When you first turn on an MA you are greeted with a screen that looks like this:


The blank page with dots on it


A blank page can be just as daunting, or even more daunting as a page with too much on it. This is especially true when you first start with MA. You can quickly find yourself with that feeling of being in over your head. The next step is normally to reach out to someone and ask what to put where.


The answer will normally be a variety of “Well, what do you want on there?” or a simple “Oh, do it like this,” without any explanation.

This article sets out to showcase the two basic ways to layout this page and to get the most from it. In time you will find your own way of laying out a console and the reasons for that layout.

Let’s begin with the first question you ask when you are setting up a page for another person to busk on.


How does your brain work?


This seems like an odd question to ask but some people like things arranged in a vertical fashion and others prefer horizontal. Here are two examples of the same information represented in two entirely different ways.


The horizontal method


The vertical method


Both views here show you the same information in the same space (15 boxes of information) and are both valid ways of displaying and interacting with the information. It all depends on your personal preference.

In both examples we see a variety of the basic programming we need to reference to program a show effectively and with enough space to store and view a fair amount of programming data without it becoming too confusing.

Many people adopt the vertical method (including the author of this article) as that was the way they first interacted with the console. It also seems to make sense to operate left to right as you do when you are reading a book.

A simple process of selecting the fixture, the brightness then position is made easy with this system with some also preferring to put the dimmer preset pool furthest away so that output is the last thing to happen.

Many theatre and even live programmers omit the dimmer preset pool entirely depending on how they are programming a show.

The same methodology can be applied to the horizonal layout where instead of having to dedicate two lines of screen space we can achieve the same with one line due to the fact on an MA2 screen the surface is laid out 8 elements high and 15 wide.

In the same way we did with the vertical method we can work top to bottom depending on what suits the user.


Colour doesn’t have to stop at the stage

In both examples we can see that each preset box type (position, gobo, etc) has a different colour around it. Now by default all of these colours default to the same drab grey and it is a simple manual process to go into each preset type and pick whatever colour suites your mood or thinking.

Again, due to the endless options, the colouring is entirely up to personal choice and there are thousands of ways to colour these presets. There is certainly plenty of room for experimentation.

Some well-known programmers will use similar colours for similar preset types such as grouping gobo, focus and beam into green shades as mentally they associate them together. Others find it easier to try to match colours with ones that match other programming systems that they are used to.

The colouring of information, while not vital, can certainly help you speed up your muscle memory when working with any console, and the faster you can locate and output the required information, the better programmer you will become.

Systems like the grandMA are infinitely powerful in terms of their customisation and way of displaying information. For some, getting over that first initial setup challenge can derail people for hours to the point that many give up before they have even really started.

In the end what your desk looks like is not important. No-one judges you or pays you for your desk layout; it is all and always will be about what is on stage.


In an upcoming Lighting Nerds podcast we will discussing this topic in depth from both an grandMA and a general perspective –



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