Fathering The Catalyst

Fathering The Catalyst

Peter Wynne Willson

Tony Gottelier, my partner at Wynne Willson Gottelier Ltd. (WWG) was designing a multifunction space for a cruise ship, and wanted a projector to show early evening sports in the bar. We chose a high power (for the time) machine from Seleco in Italy. It was expensive, and I suggested that with a movable mirror head on the front, it could double as an effect when the disco took over.

Bruno Dedoro of Coemar was making an orbital mirror under license from WWG, styled in Italy and finely engineered in Russia. These were the units I grafted onto the digital projectors for the two ships in the yard. The combination was called ‘Vertigo’ in our early patent applications, which covered frame store etc. We encountered an artistic Austrian called Rainer Jessl who had foreseen the need to reorient the image in conjunction with mirror rotation and his patent was brought into the fold.

I had designed a 16-color scroller for theatre spots but even with its cassette-loading system, I was finding the medium frustrating. I started to hatch a plan for the next lighting show to conceal the largest available DLP projector in a box truss with just a mirror head left visible. With a fixed circular mask, I would demonstrate a movable spotlight beam with not 16, but 16 million colors, and gobos, and…Our in-house coding could just about cope with framing, but by now, my ambitions were fast spreading to include overlaid gobos, dynamic trails, live feed video, stored graphic, and full color movie content and special effects like ‘searchlight moving over a virtual field,’ etc. Eventually, we caught the attention of High End Systems and Mike Wood cut short our search for a programmer by suggesting Richard Bleasdale, who had written a show-control on a Mac platform. He proved a great choice of hired gun, laying down the zeros and ones at breakneck speed for each idea I took to him. And where he did not have the time to encode an effect, he made a little movie, which could be called up as if it were ‘live.’ My dream to bring control of video onto the lighting desk took shape.

Tony organized the loan from Barco of two of their monster RLM projectors, Andrew Parkes engineered the large orbital heads I had designed for them, and we scraped into LDI. I had spent a little cash on content, a dramatic fire sequence which, when directed onto black velvet drapes, appeared to set them aflame. There were video-black issues, but the demonstration was a show-stopper. I had been so confident that Catalyst (as Tony had renamed the system) would take the prize (correctly) that I had bought tasteless but gorgeous metallic silver ‘winners’ suits for Tony and I to wear at the event.

High End took a license to make and market the Catalyst system, and it took the lighting world by storm; they produced a sequence of derivative products on Microsoft-ware. Subsequently, the server-only Catalyst was sold to Richard Bleasdale. Several other media servers are now available, but there is barely a major tour that doesn’t go out with one or more Catalysts in control.

Topically, High End/Barco have just completed negotiations with myself and Rainer Jessl for exclusive rights to our patents to cover ‘MMS,’ a new moving mirror device with a super-flat first-surface reflector for directing the beam of big digital projectors. Early specs indicate that Richard Belliveau has excelled himself with this product.

Many years ago Rainer said to me, “Peter, in the future, Catalyst will have many parents, but we know who is the real father.” I was touched!

Peter Wynne Willson is an internationally renowned lighting designer and inventor.

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