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Written by Scott Reagles

Rigging 101

The term “rigging” can mean a few things.

For our purposes here today we will discuss rigging as how stuff is suspended or hung overhead.

Any time an item is suspended over people’s heads the first priority is safety. So, our event planning checklist for rigging all starts with load ratings. This is how much weight something can safely support. Everything has a load rating, starting with the point that something will be hung from, called a rigging point or a hang point (often just referred to as a “point”).

riggingEvery facility is different when it comes to rigging points. Some facilities have predetermined rigging points, others have a variety of steel beams in the ceiling to hang from, some have very limited or no rigging options. How many points are available and how much weight they can support will often determine what is possible for a production. A rigging point may be rated at only 200 or 300 pounds, or might support over a ton. Even ground supported rigging has a load rating, which is usually no more than 500 pounds.

Once hang points and load ratings are determined there has to be a way of getting everything off the ground and into the air. The most common way is with chain motors. With a chain motor a chain is taken up and attached to a rigging point, usually with a wire rope called a “steel”. The motor then pulls itself and its cargo up the chain. Multiple motors can be hooked up to a single controller so they all go up at the same time. Chain motors have load ratings as well ranging from 300 – 2000 pounds.

The gear being hung has load ratings too, including truss. Truss comes in different shapes, sizes, and lengths. Truss is not only rated by how much weight it can support but how far it can span. Sections of truss can be bolted together for longer lengths. In general, the bigger the truss the more weight it can support. However, most truss is rated to span no more than 40 feet. That means no more than 40 feet between rig points (or grounds support points). So if you walk into a room and see a long stretch of truss in the air with a big smile shape to it (meaning that the middle is sagging), be afraid. Be very afraid.

How everything attaches to truss or to a motor is also rated. Ropes, steel wire, straps, and fasteners all have ratings. Lights attach to truss with clamps and usually have a safety wire attached (often just referred to as a “safety”). Speakers and projectors often have rigging hardware built in with sufficient rating. All cable must be tied off and secured as well.

So, let’s do a little exercise.

Let’s say we want to rig some truss with lighting to do a stage wash. We have a wide stage and will need 60 feet of truss. We can’t span more than 40 feet, so we will need at least three hang points and chain motors. We will need six 10’ sections of truss, the lights, lets say 12 ellipsoidals, and all the electrical cable to run to the lights. Now, let’s do the math. Chain motors weigh about 120 pounds each. The truss weighs 55 pounds each. The lights weigh 15 pounds each. The cable will be about another 150 pounds. Then we factor in another 250 pounds for odds and ends that might be added later. That all adds up to 1090 pounds. If we distribute that evenly between the rigging points (remember there are three, one for each chain motor) that’s about 365 pounds per point. Where we attach those chain motors to the ceiling must have a load rating of at least 365 pounds. But wait, that’s assuming an ideal setting and all things being perfectly weighed out. A safety margin needs to be thrown in. So we would round up to a load rating of 400-500 pounds. The facility needs to approve that rating. Coordination is a must.

It may sound like a lot, and it is. Rigging is serious business and one of the most critical elements of your event production.

One rigging mistake and people can get seriously hurt.

There’s a lot of liability in rigging. A lot of facilities require the use of in-house riggers. It is now common that AV companies must use in-house chain motors and rigging supplies as well. None of which are not free, mind you. In fact, it can be down right expensive.

Whatever you do, make sure the company you use is competent. Rigging is critical to safe event management should never be taken lightly… no pun intended.

Progressive Scan

Progressive Scan (also see “Interlaced Video) – A method of displaying a video or computer image where every row of pixels (or “lines”) are drawn in order, or progressively, from top to bottom. A video image is made much like typing a page: one line is drawn from left to right and when it gets to the end of the line it goes back to the left to start a new line. When it gets to the bottom right corner the image is complete and the next page or “frame” is started in the top left. This happens at least 60 times a second, sometimes more. Since progressive scan video displays all of the rows (or “lines”) at a time rather than half like interlaced, it is usually better quality than interlaced. Most computer displays are progressive scan.

Tech Head Note – With the advent of HDTV you see a lot of commercials for 1080p displays. The “1080” part is the number of lines from top to bottom that make up an image and the “p” is for Progressive Scan. Interlaced scan would have an “i”.


PAR Can – A lighting instrument that actually looks a lot like a can and has a PAR lamp (a specific kind of lamp, much like a round car headlight) mounted inside. PAR lamps come in 3 varieties: wide, medium, and narrow which indicate how wide the light beam is. The actual “can” is what houses the lamp and has all the mounting hardware, power cord, and gel holders. PAR cans may be used for a general stage wash, or for effects and color washes. Tech-head note: PAR actually stands for Parabolic Aluminized Reflector and is used to describe the actual lamp which is round, has an aluminum reflector, and a glass cover, very much like a traffic light.

Lavaliere Mic

Lavaliere Mic – Sometimes referred to as a clip-on mic or a lav, this is a small microphone that clips to a presenters shirt, tie, or other piece of clothing. Lavaliere mics can be wired but are most often wireless. Advantages are that a presenter can move around on stage without having to hold a microphone. Disadvantages are that lavalieres are more difficult to use without getting feedback, especially with soft-spoken presenters.

Recording Your Event

The good news is that there are more options for recording your event than ever before. The bad news? There are more options for recording your event than ever before!

So where do you start? Well, to decide how to record your event, you have to start at the end.

Let me explain.

Ultimately, how something gets recorded depends on what you need to end up with…

Do you need a video recording, just the audio, or both? Do you need a simple archive recording? Do you need recordings that can be edited into a final product? Perhaps a recording that can be uploaded to the internet? If so, do you need high quality or small file size? All of these options are readily available as long as you plan for them in advance. During or after the fact is, well, too late.

So let’s talk recording! I want you to remember a quick three-word formula: Why-What-How. Just remember those three words and you’re well on your way to a successful recording.

recordingLet’s get started.





WHY are you recording?

This may seem obvious, but important nonetheless. Here are a few reasons WHY an event would get recorded:

  • For the sake of posterity;
  • As a reference source;
  • Later broadcast or webcast;
  • Posting to social media;
  • Resale;
  • Creating an edited product– such as promotional videos

Or any combination of these.

Determining WHY you are recording helps determine the WHAT and HOW. To record for posterity has supremely different requirements than recording for a project that will be edited or broadcasted. If you’re not sure what you will do with the recording then plan for quality. A low-quality archive recording can’t be made into higher quality for editing later. Be prepared to discuss the WHY with your AV provider early in the planning process as it will effect WHAT you are recording.

WHAT are you recording?

We are going to assume that your event is already using cameras and microphones. BUT, that doesn’t automatically mean it is known WHAT is to be recorded.  Often times an audio visual company will just record what goes to screen (usually called a Program recording). recordingSo what happens if you are recording a presentation where someone has PowerPoint going to screen? Is THAT what you want to record? Or video from a camera shot of the presenter? For recordings that are going to be edited later you may want to record each camera (also referred to as ISO recording).

Also think what needs to be HEARD when recording video. To hear audience applause, laughter, & responses you will need a microphone pointed at the audience (called an ambient mic). Then that mic needs to be added into the audio for the recording without going into the main speakers for the audience. This rigging is essential to quality audio recording.

Another thing to consider is the overall audio mix. Again, most AV companies will just record the program audio (what is going to the main speakers) which has been mixed to sound good in the room and may not sound great for a recording. A separate audio mix might be needed for high quality recordings.

HOW are you recording?

Even though tape formats still exist, most recordings these days are file based, just as songs are now more commonly found on iPods & MP3 players than on CDs or cassettes. The types of recorded file formats, or “CODECS” vary greatly!

The amount of digital information involved with audio and video is huge. As such, most formats utilize a technique called “compression” where duplicated or anticipated data is thrown out. The higher the compression the smaller the file size and lower the quality.

Your basic rule of thumb is this: highly compressed files (such as H.264 files, also called MPEG-4) are grearecordingt for the internet or for archiving but are less desireable for editing. Files that are good for editing, such as Apple Pro Res 4:2:2 files (for use with Apple Final Cut Pro editors) or Avid DNx and DNxHD files (for use with Avid editors) are good editing formats but are enormous in size and will require a large hard drive. Can files be converted to other formats? Usually. But the cost of doing so can often be a lot more expensive than paying to have it recorded in the appropriate format.

On a final note, the recording will never be better than WHAT is being recorded. A terrible looking camera will look terrible no matter how you record it. So quality needs to be considered from the beginning.

The main thing to remember is this: discuss recording with your AV company early! The more they know the better they can help you and the better they’ll be able to determine what sort of AV equipment best suits your needs.


Just how important is that recording? If it is going to be sold, or used to edit a final product, you should plan on redundancy in case there is a precordingroblem. Tell your AV company you want a primary AND a back-up recording. If you are doing ISO recording (where is source is recorded separately) you may just need to have a back-up on your primary video source. The extra recorders will cost extra money, but will not be nearly as expensive as ending up with a recording that had an error.

As always, due diligence is the event planner’s best friend.

HDSDI – High Definition Serial Digital Interface

HDSDI – High Definition Serial Digital Interface (see also “SDI”) – A professional type of video transport that sends uncompressed HD digital video information down a single cable, usually a BNC cable. SDI and HDSDI are the same except for the amount of information per second that can be transported. SDI is also a generic term referring the type of interface, whereas HDSDI refers to an SDI interface that carries HD video signals.

Tech Head Note – These days SDI is generally labeled by the bit rate of the interface (the amount of digital information transported per second). The original SDI interface transferred video signals at 270Mbps (megabits per second). HDSDI transfers video signals at 1.5 Gbps (gigabits per second). Now, terms such as 3G, 6G, and 12G are used (note, this has NOTHING to do with cell phone carriers 3G & 4G). HD video using 1080P resolution uses 3G SDI. Ultra HD (also known as 4K) uses 6G and 12G SDI. Also, the higher the bit rate, the shorter the distance in can travel down a cable and longer runs may require conversion to a fiber-optic cable.

Power UP

AV equipment can do a lot these days. But, with the exception of the flip chart, it will all need power. And believe it or not, it’s not as simple as just plugging stuff in.

Power Distribution

Think of electricity like you would water. In your house there is a water line that comes in and feeds everything from sinks & showers to ice makers & outside hoses. The water needs to have enough pressure so that the shower head shoots water out rather than drizzling, but there also needs to be enough current capacity so that a shower and sink can be used at the same time. The ice maker doesn’t need much water, but the hose outside to wash the car does. You can measure the amount of water used by how much pressure there is multiplied by the size (or capacity) of a hose. You will get a lot more water out of a garden hose than you will a water dispenser in your fridge, even if the pressure is the same.

Electrical power is much the same way. The right voltage, or electrical pressure, is needed for equipment to function properly. There must also be enough amps, or electrical current, to power up all the devices that need power at the same time. Some stuff needs little power, like a video monitor. Some things need lots of power, like lights. powerFunctionality is 100% dependent on proper rigging.

The total amount of electricity used, or watts, is the voltage times the amps.

At home, your outlets are 120 volts and most likely on a 15 amp breaker. That means that (doing the math here, which is 120×15) you can get a maximum of 1800 watts from that outlet. So, if your coffee maker that uses 750 watts of electricity, is turned on at the same time as your 1500 watt waffle maker on the same outlet a circuit breaker will trip, or something will eventually catch on fire.

Confused? Don’t worry. Just know that power distribution is how everything gets the power it needs.

Hot – Neutral – Ground

Using our water illustration again, there is a nifty thing called a valve. That’s how you turn the water on and off (like the on/off switch of a light). When the water is turned off there is still pressure behind the valve, but the water doesn’t actually do anything until you turn it on and it can flow. When you turn it on the water needs to have a place to go. Then, just to make sure there’s no mess, there’s a safety drain in the sink for water to go in case it gets plugged or you forget to turn the water off.

In electrical power, the wire with the electrical voltage is the hot leg. The neutral gives the electricity a place to go so it can flow, and the ground wire is the safety in case something goes wrong.


Most power distribution works using 3 phases, or hot legs. Single phase can be one or two hot legs. It is a little more complicated than that of course. In short, it’s all about how much power is available. Three phases, more power.


Just like the amount of water flowing down a river couldn’t run through a garden hose without blowing it out, a cable needs to be hefty enough to handle the power that’s running through it. riggingOtherwise it could burn up or short out.

Big power requires big cable. 



Wrap Up

So what does all this mean for your event planning?

As you probably know very few things in the meeting and event industry are free of charge, and power is no exception. And when it comes to AV equipment, it all needs power.

A big set with a lot of lights and screens will use a lot of power! Most of the time an AV company will require separate power disconnects for lighting and sound & video. Make sure you during the event planning process that you discuss power with your AV provider and don’t take for granted that it is included in an AV bid. It usually isn’t.

Power is a facility charge that is most often expected to be paid for by the client. So don’t be caught by surprise.

Also know that power has to be run through those pesky cables, some of which can be very big. Those cables can sometimes be a trip hazard or an obstacle for things like catering carts. Often there is little choice as to where the cable can run. So be prepared to work with the technical crew on site.

Feel the power! When your audio visual company says they will need a 400 amp, 3-phase power service you’ll have a little insight into what it is they’re talking about.

Travel Day Rate

Travel Day Rate – The rate charged for travel time of technicians, usually equal to half their day rate. If Technicians travel and work on the same day they will be paid for a full day, unless they work over 5 hours in which case the rate will be both a travel day rate AND a day rate. Travel day rates do not include air fare or per-diems.