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Rack layoutDocumentation

Last updated: September 30, 2019

1 Rack layout basic instructions (Pro version)

Rack layout in Finale 3D PRO is analogous to a CAD tool like Visio for visually laying out the racks in a top-down view, except the racks are logically connected to the effects in the show and the firing system addresses.

You begin by creating or customizing racks by defining their numbers of tubes, the arrangement and angles of the tubes, and constraints to control the kinds of effects that go into the racks.   From the set of racks you define, Finale 3D produces an initial rack layout with the minimal number of racks to accommodate the show you’ve designed.  From there, you can drag-and-drop the racks to organize them into pods or groups.

Finale 3D’s addressing functions like “Address show” will assign pins and tubes to the shots in the show, taking into consideration the racks and layout so ematches don’t need to stretch between groups of racks.  If you want to fine tune the wiring, you can drag-and-drop individual pin assignments between tubes and modules in the rack layout window after assigning addresses.  The final output is a set of reports and diagrams for the crew to follow to setup the show.


The three-step process

From start to finish, scripting a show with rack layout is a three step process:

  1. Design show
  2. Add racks for show
  3. Address show

Figure 1 – Three step process: 1) design, 2) add racks, 3) address show.


The order of these three steps is significant, because it allows you to re-address the show after making changes (step 3) without blowing away the rack layout that you may have spent a lot of time arranging just right.  If the pin assignments from re-addressing the show no longer fit in the racks as you’ve laid them out, you’ll get a warning indicating the number of “racking errors.”

Figure 2 – “Racking errors” are the effects that don’t have assigned tubes.


When you look at the Rack Layout window, you’ll see unracked pins highlighted in red, as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3 – The red pins in the module diagrams are missing tube assignments.


You can add racks from the rack palette at the top of the window, and you can manually assign tubes to the unracked pins by clicking “edit pins” and then dragging and dropping the pins onto the matching rack tubes, as in Figure 4.  Or you can repeat the “Address show” command to assign the pin and tube addresses automatically again with the additional racks that you’ve added to accommodate the changes to the show.

Figure 4 – Drag the red pins to a tube to assign them manually.


An advantage of the three step process for rack layout is that if you have rack arrangements for a show venue that you use over and over, or if you have fixed equipment that you re-use like a trailer with built-in racks, you can copy and paste these rack layouts from older shows or between positions in a show to avoid the redundant work.


Adding racks for the show

Returning to step 2 of the process, if the “Add racks” function indicates some devices remain unracked in the summary dialog as shown in Figure 5, the problem is that none of the available racks “match” the effects in the show.  The common explanations are, 1) the collection of effects in the Effects window doesn’t include the racks you need, such as if you’ve selected the My Effects collection and your racks are in Generic Effects or your company inventory, or 2) the effects in the show have a Type that doesn’t match the structure of rack that would otherwise accommodate the size, such as if you have 20mm or 30mm single-shot effects whose types in the Type column are “comet” or “mine” instead of “single_shot”, causing them not to match the single-shot racks, or 3) the effects or racks have an optional “Rack Type” field that isn’t matching (The “Rack Type” field is hidden by default, so unhide it from the blue gear menu of the effects window and script window if you need it).

Figure 5 – If some effects don’t match racks, click the Details buttons to find out why.


When you try to add racks and get the warning message of unracked devices, you should click on the “Details” button to find out the explanation.

Figure 6 – The Details tell you why some effects don’t match any racks.


The details will help you determine why the effects couldn’t match any available racks.  Sometimes it is tricky to figure out, but there is always a clear, logical reason once you find it.  The most common reason is the second explanation, (2) above: that the Type doesn’t match.  The Type column for the effects in the Effects window determines whether the effect is compatible with the structure of the rack.  Single-shot racks are only compatible with effects whose Type is single_shot; candle racks are only compatible with effects whose Type is candle; cake racks are only compatible with effects whose Type is cake or ground.  All the other mortar racks are compatible with the other possible rackable Type values: shell, mine, comet, and other_effect.  The three remaining Type values, not_an_effect, rack, and rocket, are not rackable. (See Why is ‘Type’ important?.)  The Type of an effect is specified in the Type column in the Effects window.  The structure of the rack — whether it is a single-shot, cake, candle, or mortar rack — is specified in the rack’s VDL, which you can most easily see or change from the “edit rack” dialog.

If explanation (2) is indeed the problem, the solution is usually to change the Type of the effects to single_shot if in fact the effects are single-shots.  This requirement sounds a little bit arbitrary because an effect can obviously be both a single-shot and a comet (or mine or shell) at the same time.  Since Finale 3D uses the Type field for determining rack compatibility, you need to set the Type field to single_shot for all effects that you want to rack in single-shot racks.

We’ve mentioned cake racks a few times.  Finale 3D makes the assumption that cakes and ground effects require racks, so when you do the function “Add racks for show”, make sure the effects collection includes a cake rack definition for your cakes, even if in reality your cakes don’t don’t use racks.  Otherwise you’ll get a warning message as in Figure 5, complaining that some of your devices do not match the available racks.

Explanation (3), above, probably won’t catch you by surprise because the Rack Type field is blank for all of the default effects, so it won’t create any matching problems unless you specifically change it for some of your effects.  The Rack Type field is used to control the matching between racks and effects according to user defined criteria.  For example, if you have two different kinds of 3” racks for finale chains versus non-finale effects you can set the Rack Type of the finale chains to “finale” and the Rack Type of the corresponding 3” rack to “finale” also.  Then when you address the show, the finale chains will only go in the “finale” racks.  As another example, if you have two separate types of single-shot racks for big sizes and small sizes, you could give the two racks the Rack Type of “big_ss” and “small_ss” (or any two words you make up) and also assign those Rack Type values to the single-shot effects according to their sizes.  A third example is, if you have a wheel rack that you want to use for a particular fan of shots in the show, you could give the wheel rack the Rack Type of “wheel” and also apply the same “wheel” value to the Rack Type of the effect rows in the script that you intend to go into that rack.  Please see Using the “Rack Type” field to make effects go into fan racks for further examples.

This third example illustrates that the Rack Type is actually stored in the script rows themselves, which allows you to set the Rack Type for some specific shots of the show to be a different value from other shots of the same effect.  In the “wheel” example, you may have a fan of 15 shots of a certain red comet effect that belong in the wheel rack, but you may also have other shots of the same red comet effect elsewhere in the show that don’t belong in a wheel rack. You need to change the Rack Type directly in the Script window to assign different values to different rows.

Since the Rack Type in the Script window is decoupled from the Rack Type in the Effects window, changing the Rack Type of effects in the Effects window will not change the Rack Type of existing rows the script.  The full name of the Rack Type field in the Effects window is actually “Rack Type Default,” which is a hint that the value will be copied to the script rows instead of referenced by the script rows.


Addressing the show, taking racks into account

Once you get through the step of adding racks for the show, use the “Address show” function to assign addresses for pins and tubes.  If you haven’t added any racks, then the “Address show” function just assigns addresses for pins, but if you’ve added any racks at all to the show, then the function will attempt to assign pins and tubes.  If it is unable to assign tubes for all the effects, it reports the number of “racking errors” in the summary dialog as shown in Figure 2.  To investigate racking errors, unhide the Rack and Tube columns in the script to look for the rows that have blank values.  Note the launch positions in those rows, and visually examine those launch positions in the Rack Layout window.  Hover over the red pins in the modules to see what the effects are.  If you’ve simply run out of compatible racks at the launch position, you can add racks manually from the palette and angle the racks appropriately using the user interface controls.  Click “edit pins” and drag the red pins from the modules up to the racks to make the assignments manually, as shown in Figure 4.

The “Address show” function has options for addressing constraints that take into consideration the racks and rack layout.  If you want to restrict each module to a single rack, add “Rack” to the modules line in the constraints section of the addressing dialog, as in Figure 7.  If you want to restrict each rack to a single module, add “Module” to the racks line in the constraints section.  If you add both these constraints, then the modules and racks will be assigned one-to-one, which means exactly one module per rack.

Figure 7 – Adding the “Rack” constraint to modules and the “Module” constraint to racks


Restricting modules to racks is just one of the possible constraints.  You can also restrict modules or racks to a single “Part Number” to optimize setup time in large shows, or restrict racks to single “Chain” to prevent multiple chains from sharing a rack, or to single “Chain-Or-Not” prevent a module or rack from being used for a combination of chains and individual shells.  You can use the dozens of other useful constraint options in the menus, or use “Custom Part Field” or “Custom Script Field” to create your own logical constraints.

The “Rack Cluster” constraint option in the modules line is particularly useful if you layout your racks into groups or pods, which Finale 3D calls “clusters”.  Any racks that are snapped together in the rack layout view are considered part of the same cluster.  Adding the “Rack Cluster” constraint to modules restricts each module to the same cluster of racks, which means that all of the module’s wires will be in the same cluster, avoiding problems of ematches not stretching far enough to reach the tubes.  Figure 7 shows the result of addressing a show without the “Rack Cluster” constraint.

Figure 8 – Without the “Rack Cluster” constraint, wires from module 01 serve two clusters.


Figure 9 shows the “Rack Cluster” constraint in the addressing dialog, applied to modules.  If your firing system has slats, you can apply this constraint at the firing system slats level instead of the module level.

Figure 9 – Adding the “Rack Cluster” constraint to modules will fix the problem.


Figure 10 shows result of addressing the same show with the “Rack Cluster” constraint.  Notice that unlike Figure 8, each module in Figure 10 serves only one cluster of two racks.  In particular, module 01, which was a problem in Figure 8, serves only the middle cluster in Figure 10.

Figure 10 – With the “Rack Cluster” constraint, each module serves a single cluster.


Adding constraints sometimes increases the number of racks required for the show, because some of the tubes in the racks may need to go unused.  When that happens, you will notice the “Address show” function reports racking errors as in Figure 2.  At this juncture you know what do from the discussion above — look at the red pins in the Rack Layout window, add racks to solve the problem, and manually wire them by clicking “edit pins” or re-address by repeating the “Address show” function.