Fundamental QLab Tips - Broadway Media Distribution

QLab Tips
Broadway Media Distribution
Written by Quentin Sanford and Chance Croft
BMD’s Fundamental QLab Tips
From Figure 53, the makers of QLab: “QLab® runs shows of all sizes, all over the world. From
intimate storefront theaters to televised events reaching billions of people across the globe, QLab
is the tool designers trust to make their live shows come to life. Flexible, reliable, and easy to learn,
QLab is the industry standard for a reason. QLab makes it simple to create intricate designs of light,
sound, and video, which you play back during a live performance. There’s a good chance you’ll find
QLab in your favorite local theater. You’ll also see it on Broadway, the West End, and in churches,
sports stadiums, and museums. From high school students to seasoned pros, QLab is what they use
to make the show go. QLab is designed specifically to handle the needs of live events, like theater.
The person running the show each night can react to what is happening on stage, such as waiting for
a scene to finish before they trigger a scene transition, or even to handle the case where a performer
accidentally skips a few lines and jumps ahead. QLab can react dynamically to what is happening on
stage, or it can be programmed to play back precisely the same way every night. Most shows will be
a mix of both.”
This manual was created to help amateur theatre organizations learn more about the fundamental tools of QLab and how to integrate BMD’s scenic projection content into the software. Figure 53
provides internal technical support and wonderful customer resources, which in all instances should
supercede this manual. If you’re new to QLab, visit to download the software for free.
You can develop your first show alongside the review of this manual. A daily license of $4.00 USD
or purchase of the software $399.00 USD is required for usage of some of the required features and
should be purchased prior to your production. If you have any questions, feel free to contact BMD at
1-800-277-0343 or
QLab is a Mac-only program. Version 3 requires Mac OS 10.8 or higher, and will work on any Mac
that can run 10.8. QLab 4 requires Mac OS 10.10 or higher. QLab doesn’t support “hackintosh” computers at all, so it is best to avoid those.
QLab has been run on Core 2 Duo and newer processors. However, be aware that the more work
that QLab needs to do, the more processing power it will want (or in some cases need). Large numbers of simultaneous video or audio cues, much like we offer, benefit from an i7 processor and its
improved handling. Contact figure53 with any concerns about the power of your Mac.
When working with a Mac and your projections, GPU considerations depend on how much is trying
to be accomplished. Many Macs only have a single GPU that will be shared between the display and
the projector. If this is the case, then lowering the resolution on your display can lead to greater performance with the projected content. If your Mac has multiple video cards, then dedicating a modest
one to the display and a higher-end one to the projector will work most effectively. As is true with any
technology, testing is key.
Loading and playing cues uses RAM, so the more cues you are using, the more RAM you will want.
4 GB of RAM is a nice minimum to use QLab 3 in general, which is convenient because that is the
baseline amount any new Mac comes with. However, given the content BMD provides, we suggest
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BMD’s Fundamental QLab Tips
having around 8 GB, just to ensure there is no issues. The more RAM, the better!
Hard Disk
QLab works best with either a 7200 RPM hard drive or a solid state drive. It is not recommended to
use a 5400 RPM drive. That being said, your best option will be a solid state drive. To put it simply,
SSDs are extremely fast. Also note that Apple’s Fusion Drive option technically includes an SSD, but
should not be used. The user has no control over what is sent to the SSD vs the HD, or any say in
when the operating system decides to shuffle data between the two.
Video Output
The best way to output video from QLab is to use the built-in video connections on your Mac. We recommend using only Macs with discreet GPUs when doing a lot of video work.
There are a plethora of programs that your Mac will run in the background by default. Many of these
programs are essential to the operating system, but many are not and disabling them will increase
the amount of resources your computer allocates to QLab. Below is a list of processes that Figure53
recommends disabling in order to get the most out of QLab. This section will require a basic understanding of Mac.
Disable Display Sleep, Disk Spindown, and System Sleep
It goes without saying that a computer going to sleep during a show would be problematic. The Mac
OS has separate sleep cycles for the display, the hard disk, and the system as a whole. To prevent all
three kinds of sleeping, open a Terminal window and enter this command:
sudo pmeset -a displaysleep 0 disksleep 0 sleep 0
Disable Screen Saver
Just as before, we will want to avoid a screen saver appearing while QLab is running a show. To prevent this, open a Terminal window and enter this command:
defaults -currentHost qrite idleTime 0
Disable Software Update
Software updates can be important, but having it take over your Mac during curtain call is something
we largely want to avoid. To turn off automatic software updates, enter this command in a Terminal
sudo softwareupdate --schedule off
Disable Dashboard
Dashboard can take up a surprisingly large amount of CPU for what it is. Not to mention if accidentally interacted with it will take over the entire screen of you Mac, which can lead to missed cues. To
disable Dashboard entirely enter the following in a Terminal window:
defaults write mcx-disabled -boolean YES
Disable Mission Control
Mission Control is a useful feature that shows you all of the open applications on your Mac, and
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BMD’s Fundamental QLab Tips
allows you to quickly and easily move between them. On most laptops the shortcut for this is F3”. To
disable this, enter the following in a Terminal window:
defaults write mcx-expose-disabled -bool TRUE
Stay off the Internet
Many internal applications have their own internal system to check for updates, and can be turned off
manually. However, the best way to ensure that any sort of network traffic doesn’t interfere with QLab
is to disconnect the show computer from the internet. Figure53 strongly encourages this. If you use a
network to connect the computer to other hardware (and your show doesn’t require internet access)
make sure that network is a closed local area network and has no path to the internet.
PREPARING YOUR MAC: Additional Requirements
The previously mentioned basics are for running QLab in most application uses. BMD’s content features animated video content, and therefore require additional more critical settings to change.
Disable Mirror Displays
When more than one display is connected to the Mac (including the built-in display) you can either
have the displays mirroring each other, which will have them show the same thing, or turn off mirroring, which allows them to display separately. You want it set to the latter, that way you can view QLab
on your personal display, and the content on the projected display. Strangely enough there is no terminal command for this, so follow these steps:
1. Open “System Preferences”
2. Choose “Displays”; Choose “Arrangement”
3. Uncheck “Mirror Displays”
Disable Displays Have Separate Spaces
If your displays are set to have separate spaces, the Menu bar appears on all Displays, and that becomes visible to the audience when no cues are playing through QLab. To set your displays to share
Spaces, therefore keeping the menu bar out of the picture, enter the following in a Terminal window:
defaults write spans-displays -bool TRUE
Blackout the Desktop
When QLab is playing a video cue, it places a black “backdrop” over any screen that it is being displayed on. However, when no cue is playing this backdrop isn’t placed, revealing whatever else is
going on with the Mac. Therefore, in order to prevent the audience from seeing anything they aren’t
supposed to, you will need to set the desktop background on the projector to black. This can be done
in two ways. First, QLab provides a utility to do so. Simply choose Black Out Desktop Backgrounds
from the Tools menu. Alternatively, you can manually set it by following the steps below:Desktop
Backgrounds from the Tools menu. Alternatively, you can manually set it by following the steps below:
Open “System Preferences”
Choose “Desktop and Screen Saver”
Choose “Desktop, on your projector (or other display)”, “Solid Colors”
Click “Custom Color” and set to black
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Preparing a show in QLab can take quite a few clicks. See below for a list of shortcuts that are designed to help save you time in the long run. It may take a little while to learn, but you will end up being thankful that you did. Note that not all hotkeys listed are specifically for BMD content, but learning
them will still help with the overall navigation of QLab.
For a more comprehensive list, visit
Load to time...
Shift + CMD + Z
Renumber selected cues...
Panic All
Delete numbers
of selected cues
Hard stop all
[Escape, Escape]
Jump to cue...
Jump to selected
cue’s target
Shift + CMD + J
Edut cue name
CMD + Del
Toggle live fade
Shift + CMD + P
Edut cue target
Select All
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QLab, along with BMD’s content, makes creating your first cue very simple. There are a few ways to
do this. The first thing to do is to decide what kind of content you would like to add to the cue. You
should see a screen that looks like this:
The three circled buttons are the ones relating to video content. The first (from left to right), is general
video content. This button allows the user to input a video that has already been created into the cue
timeline. The second button (the camera) switches to a live feed of whatever camera is set up with
QLab (an interesting feature for live performances). The last is a title sequence, which puts text on
the screen. Alternatively, you can simply drag files from your finder onto the cue list, and they will be
placed sequentially.
This is a good place to test the integrity of the files and see how they hold up with QLab. QLab recommends ProRes 422 Proxy, ProRes 422 LT, and PhotoJPG in that order for videos, ProRes 4444
for videos with transparency, and either PNG or JPG for still images. However, QLab has worked well
with BMDs supplied .MOV files on a plethora of shows.
After placing the cues, you will want to click on one in the sequence in order to manipulate it. Once
clicked, you should see a screen at the bottom that looks like this:
As you can see there is a variety of tools that can be used to make your cue list more streamlined
and readable. Changing the names of the files can be beneficial to keeping track of where you are in
the show, and coloring certain cues or sequences can help bring attention totroubled spots. I will be
going over each of these tabs in more depth later, but I highly recommend taking some time to play
with them beforehand.
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Now that you’ve learned how to create a cue, we need to line them up into a cue sequence. This will
allow you to push the “go” button much less frequently, and will allow cues to automatically transition
into their appropriate loop. This will make the timing much easier throughout the scene/show. For
more information on actions and loops, see BMD’s knowledge base for more information.
The most important things to understand about creating cue sequences are auto-loads and auto-follows:
Since BMD’s content is set up in an “action – loop – action” sequence, this part becomes quite simple. When you place the cues all loops will be labeled with a file name ending in “_loop”, whereas all
the actions are ones ending in something else. So any video file that is considered an action needs to
be set to “Auto-follow” from the drop-down menu in the bottom left hand corner. This is telling the cue
to automatically move into the next cue.
Every cue that is considered a loop will need to be set to “Do not continue” so that it will not move
onto the next cue without hitting the “Go” button. Also, each loop needs to have the “Auto-load” box
ticked so that the cue is ready when the previous cue is completed. Otherwise it will wait until the previous cue is done until it begins to load, which can leave a bit of dead time (black screen) in between
the cues.
So after you have set up an action cue with “Auto-follow” selected and a following loop cue with “Auto-load” checked, go into “Show” mode and attempt to run the cues. It should run smoothly with no
stuttering between the cues.
The “Pre Wait” and “Post Wait” options exist if you want to tell the cue a specific time to begin. If a cue
has a pre-wait time set, triggering that cue will start the pre-wait counter, and the cue will start when
the pre-wait time has elapsed. This isn’t as important with BMD’s content, so it is mainly just a tool
you can learn if you want to adjust the specifics of certain scenes or cues.
Congratulations, you just created your first cue sequence! Next to learn is transitioning between
multiple sequences or scenes via devamping, which will be explained later on.
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When editing a video cue there are seven tabs that can be accessed to alter the settings. This section
will include a short overview of each.
The basics tab allows the user to affect the way they interact with the cue while editing, and some of
the basic properties of the cue (such as follows). Here you can set a new hotkey for a cue, rename
it, add color to the cue list for aesthetic or grouping purposes, create follows, re-number them, and a
few other more advanced options. Please note that QLab 4 now has a new “Triggers” tab, which was
originally placed within the “Basics” tab in the past.
Display & Geometry:
This section will allow you to affect the way a cue is perceived by the audience, as well as where it
is displayed. The most important thing in this tab is the “Video Surface” option. This allows you to
choose which display to view QLab on. Any projector that the Mac is plugged into should appear in
this screen, and you can make any adjustments on QLab for this screen.
Time & Loops:
Due to how much BMD content uses this feature, it is explained in more detail further in the manual.
Audio Levels/Trim/Effects:
BMD content does not use these tabs, as audio isn’t included in the scenic projection packages.
Video Effects:
This tab allows the user to alter the images being projected by adding a variety of effects. For the
most part it is not recommended to use these features with BMD’s content, as it is created with a
specific artistic vision. However, the tools are there, and if you decide to make a scene have a kaleidoscope effect for whatever reason, you can do that. Please note that it is important to note that video
effects, particularly blurs, are extremely processor-intensive and can bog down even the most powerful Macs.
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The “Time & Loops” tab is especially helpful for picking out certain moments within an action or a loop
that the user would like to repeat or remove.
When dealing with BMD’s looping sequences, you will typically come across two different styles
interspersed throughout the show: static images and constant looping action (such as rain). If your
loop has an action that you need repeated until the next cue, then select the “Infinite Loop” option at
the bottom left corner. Alternatively, you can select a specific number of times the loop plays through
before stopping with the “Play count” option.
If you are dealing with some sort of static imagery, or want your image to be static at the end of a
loop, then select the “Hold at end” option at the bottom right corner. This will freeze on the final frame
of that video clip.
You’ll also notice that there is a “Start Time” and “End Time” option that will allow you to cut down the
video without editing the file. This is the easiest way to get rid of unwanted content within a scene.
However, it is important to be aware of the clipping this might cause. BMD’s content was made to
have seamless transitions as created, so editing where an action or loop begins can create a break in
the smoothness of transition.
If you are using a loop within a song, and need it to last a specific amount of time, then you can set
the number of plays before it moves on. This can be a bit tricky, but sometimes having a loop play
through three times and automatically moving on is better than having to click “Go” an additional time.
Every “loop” in BMD’s content should either have “Infinite Loop”, a set number of plays, or “Hold at
end” ticked. Selecting “Infinite Loop” will override the cues ability to hold at end.
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BMD’s Fundamental QLab Tips
Devamping can be a bit of a tricky concept, so we’re going to simplify it. A devamp pertains to when
you are dealing with a “loop” and you want to transition to an action. The devamp is a feature that will
allow your loop to play through one more time before ending, cutting off the potential to stop mid-loop,
which could lead to a jarring “snap” from one frame to the next. If the loop doesn’t devamp, then it will
attempt to switch to the next cue mid-loop, which doesn’t create the clean transition that BMD suggests. Here is a short cue list that shows how devamps will appear in your QLab:
Each loop should devamp into the next action, unless you are going for a “still image” option. If you
want to avoid some of the ambient movement in the loops, or find using loops tricky, you can simply
use the action files and select “Hold on last frame” in the Time and Loops section of a video file.
If you plan on using the Time and Loops section to have the loop play through a specific number of
times, then a devamp will not be required. A devamp is only needed when set to “infinite loop.”
When devamping the “Target” is the cue that you wish to devamp. You will also want to set the devamp to “Start next cue when target reaches the end of the current slice” and “Stop target when it
reaches the end of current slice” or else the loop may continue playing in the background.
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Grouping cues can have a variety of uses and effects once learned. There are four “modes” to determine how cues will behave when triggered:
Start first child and enter into group:
This is exactly how it sounds, and has no real practical uses outside of making the content easier
to manage for the user. It will trigger the first “child” (children are cues within a group) and then
moves onto the next one, which will need to be triggered with another “Go”. This type of group is
shown with a blue outline with rounded corners.
Start first child and go to next cue:
Cues grouped in this mode will be shown with a blue outline and square corners. Cues in this
type of group will get skipped over unless they are triggered through auto-follow or auto-continues. Assuming all clips are linked together in such a way, it will play through automatically, while
getting the user ready to hit “Go” at the next cue outside of that group. This is mainly useful when
dealing with long auto-follow sequences and devamps.
Start all children simultaneously:
Cues grouped in this mode will be outlined with a green line with square corners. If you need to
create a bit of time between the cues, then set the pre wait or post wait times. Changing the pre
wait time will have a certain cue start X seconds after the cue is triggered. So setting a pre wait
time to 3 seconds will have that specific file wait an additional 3 seconds after the “Go” was triggered to play.
Start random child and go to next cue
Exactly what it sounds like. Could be a fun tool to mess around with but I see no real uses for it
when dealing with BMD’s content.
For more information about groups, visit
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When creating a devamp you will realize that when dealing with BMD’s content the next highlighted
cue will be the following cue that already triggered. This is an intended process for other aspects of
QLab, but in order to minimize the number of “Go” presses you will ultimately want the sequence to
look like this before you create the group: Devamp > Action > Loop. If you create this sequence like
any other devamp it will require you to hit “Go” for each of the separate parts of the sequence, where
you will want to only press “Go” once to play through everything. To do that you will need to place all
the components for the devamp into a group, which should look like this:
The border of the group identifies what type of group it is (see “Grouping Cues” above). You will want
to have all devamp groups set to “Start first child and go to next cue.” This will allow you to press “Go”
when the devamp is highlighted, and then move to the next cue outside of the group.
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Sometimes you may want to create your own personal fade in/out that isn’t accompanied by anything
specific in the script. Luckily, QLab has a tool that will allow you to do this easily! The Fade tool has a
variety of functions, but here we’re going to talk about how to fade in or out of a scene.
Fade to black:
If you want to fade to black there are a few things you need to make sure you do. First, create a
fade cue by dragging the fade icon onto the workspace. Then assign the target cue, which should
be the cue you are trying to fade to black from. In the fade cue, if you move over to the “Geometry” tab, you should see a section titled “Opacity” (see below for a visual example). You will want
to make sure the box next to that is ticked, and then set the Opacity value to “0%.” When this is
done, it will bring the targeted video down to a black screen over a default value of 5 seconds.
This time can be edited in the “Curve Shape” section.
Fading In
Fading In is just the reverse of fading to black, albeit you may have to take a slightly different
approach. You will want to set up the fade cue to start at the same time as the target you want to
fade in by using the “Auto-Continue” function. Next, go to the targeted cue and move to the “Displays and Geometry” tab. You will want to change the opacity on here to “0%” much like we did
for fading out. Now you will want to move to the fade cue and tick the opacity box in the “Geometry” tab, but make sure you leave it at 100%. This will have the video start at black and fade in
to full brightness over the default timing of 5 seconds, which again can be changes in the “Curve
Shape” section.
For more information about fades, visit
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“Fundamental QLab Tips”
by Quentin Sanford and Chance Croft
Copyright 2016 Broadway Media Distribution LP
All rights reserved.
Designed in the United States of America
QLab is registered trademark of Figure 53 LLC
Scenic Projections is a registered trademark of Broadway Media Distribution LP
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieveal system, or trasmitted, in any form or bya ny means without the prior written
consent of the owner.
Sources: The information within this document was compiled from sources we deem
reliable. However, the reader is encouraged to obtain independent information to
ensure its accuracy. The content within this document is property of Broadway Media Distribution LP and may not be copied or distributed without the written consent
of the owners. Figure 53 LLC is the owner of QLab software and related services,
and this manual should not be construed as a replacement to their internal support
staff, customer resources or official documentation. For more information about this
manual contact BMD by calling 1-800-277-0343; for information about QLab contact
Figure53 at
Versions of QLab: QLab has been excellent about releasing new versions that hold
a plethora of new features.All the information used in this manual can be applied directly to QLab 3 or QLab 4 video. All of the screenshots in this guide are from QLab
3. QLab is now on version 4, so although the screens may look slightly different the
overall process should be very similar! Any questions about inconsistencies between
the two versions outside of video should be directed to the Figure53 support staff.
They are incredibly helpful and great about getting back to you quickly! With these
tools at your disposal you should be ready to start building your show just the way
you want it. Any questions about BMD content and how it relates to QLab can be
emailed to Take a look at the support page at,
or visit the Figure53 website for more detailed information. For more in-depth information visit Figure53 QLab documentation at
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