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For Sale: Automated Lighting

How one manufacturer changed the automated lighting industry

High End Systems started out as a distributor of European lighting equipment, most of which ended up in nightclubs. For that reason, the Intellabeam was initially perceived by much of the professional lighting community as a “disco” light. Richard Belliveau, one of the owners of the company at the time and the inventor of the Intellabeam, was determined to change the market perception. One day, he copied the Upcoming Tours page from Performance Magazine, a now-defunct trade publication dealing with concert tours, and scribbled “$1000” across the top of it. He made several copies and handed them out to the staff. I was one of those staffers.


Belliveau was offering a $1000 cash reward to the first person in the company who could get at least 16 Intellabeam fixtures and 64 Dataflash strobes placed on any of the half dozen upcoming tours listed on the page. I decided I was going to win the prize. After several unsuccessful attempts to contact the lighting designers through artist’s management over the course of two weeks, I temporarily gave up out of frustration and set aside the photocopy.


A few days later I received a call from a man with an English accent asking for a High End Systems dealership. He was designing and installing a lighting system at a club in Bali and he had heard about the Intellabeams. Because we had semi-exclusive dealer arrangements and because we commonly received several calls per week asking for a dealership, I was reluctant to grant his request for a dealership. But he was very persistent, refusing to hang up the phone. Instead, he played every card he could, finally mentioning that he was the lighting designer for Dire Straits. That immediately set off an alarm in my head, and I madly scrambled through the stack of papers on my desk looking for the $1000 photocopy. I found it and confirmed that Dire Straits was one of the target tours. I quickly reversed course and invited him to Austin at the company’s expense.


Chas Herington, Dire Straits’ lighting designer, arrived in Austin in the fall of 1990 to investigate the possibility of using Intellabeams on the band’s upcoming tour. He spent two days looking at the Intellabeam and talking to everyone in the company, particularly Richard Belliveau, who is a very persuasive man. By the time he left, he had agreed to specify Intellabeams on Dire Straits’ On Every Street tour in 1990–1991.


Knowing Belliveau as I do, I firmly believe that he was so bound and determined to capture this tour that he would not have let Herington leave without agreeing to use the fixture—he would have sat on him if he had to. Fortunately, no one had to resort to physical restraint, and Herington ended up using a system of 64 Intellabeams plus a plethora of other High End gear. His faith in Belliveau and the untried gear was rewarded with a spectacular show, thanks to his superb lighting design skills and the tenacity of a High End System tech named Bill McCarty, whom the company sent on the road with the gear. By the time the tour ended, High End Systems had gained a reputation as a manufacturer of reliable touring gear. Their policy of selling gear rather than exclusively renting it did much to change the concert and touring lighting industry. High End Systems went on to garner market share and develop many more automated lighting systems, including the Cyberlight, Studio Color, Studio Spot, Studio Beam, Technobeam, and x.Spot, before venturing into manufacturing digital luminaires. They were subsequently bought by the Belgim-based manufacturer Barco in 2008.

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