January usually means two things to the lighting industry: the Super Bowl and the Detroit Auto Show. And since the NFL scheduled the Super Bowl on February 1 this year, the auto show was the only game in town in early 2004. Held January 10-19 at the Cobo Center in Detroit, the North American International Auto Show, as it is officially known, provided yet another massive showcase for the latest in lighting gear. Apparently, there were cars on display too.

Lighting design consortium Lightswitch was responsible for lighting a massive DaimlerChrysler booth, including brands Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep, as well as several press reveals and a black tie event. Lighting and rigging suppler for the booth was Production Resource Group (PRG).

This was also a major gig for Martin; Lightswitch used some 928 Martin fixtures and four Martin Maxxyz lighting consoles for the event (three on the DaimlerChrysler booth and one for the press reveals — four others were available as back ups). A massive checkerboard grid handled MAC 2000 Profile, MAC 2000 Wash (many with barndoors) and MAC 2000 Performance units, as well as High End Studio Colors and Studio Beams, plus Vari-Lite VL1000s. In the end, it became one of the largest, perhaps the largest, intelligent lighting rig ever put together running off a single system: an enormous 47 universes were created for the booth lighting.

Though it may seem like lighting new cars year after year may be somewhat lacking in challenges, there are in fact a wide range of aspects to consider each time around. For the DaimlerChrysler booth, Lightswitch partner and senior designer Howard Werner, explains, “Our job was to light the vehicles and the environments, taking a key from the exhibitry. The George P. Johnson Company [Jeep + Chrysler] and Exhibit Enterprises [Dodge] designed the exhibits in conjunction with the requirements of the different brands. Lightswitch's collaboration in the designs incorporated many lighting elements. DaimlerChrysler has made a conscious choice to make their exhibitry very brand specific as opposed to other car manufacturers who chose to be more homogenous with their look. Dodge, Mercedes Benz, Chrysler, Jeep all have specific looks, and because of that the theatricality of the looks we've created lends itself to each brand.”

Lightswitch partner and lighting designer, John Featherstone, adds, “Another part of that, which is why we're very happy to have the breadth and depth of the Lightswitch team to apply to a project like this, is the need for a diverse range of looks and feels between the three brands that Lightswitch designs. There are also significant opportunities for savings by taking a synergistic approach to the overall systems that we use to light the three brands and press events. By allowing us to take charge of the lighting at the exhibits and press events, we've been able to mold a system that tailors to the needs of all three brands and the press events and have achieved some very substantive efficiencies.”

Featherstone completed the lighting design for an energetic Dodge area, and in keeping with Dodge's more aggressive, “grab life by the horns” image, incorporated lots of movement and strobing. For Jeep's more organic design, Warner simulated the passing shapes of the outdoor environment using abundant pattern effects to create the look of a park complete with trees and sunlight. Chrysler's more refined look required a cleaner projection. Featherstone used white light with various color temperatures to define the lines of the vehicles and a subtle color-changing effect from Mac 2000 Washes on the Chrysler Pavillions to complement the refined architectural design of the Chrysler stand.

Lightswitch lead programmer Dennis Connors was instrumental in the decision to use the Martin Maxxyz to control the booth lighting. He says, “Around the official release of the Maxxyz in September, a control system decision had to be made for this event. A lot of the reason we went this way was the versatility of the wireless LAN system and the capability of the Maxxyz to handle a large volume of fixtures.

“We're at 47 universes that need to be configurable between three different booths and four integrated press events,” Connors continues. “Martin approached us with a solution. They said, ‘We'll set it up for you, we'll show you how it works, we'll send guys out,’ and they've done a tremendous job. The Ethernet has been a stable, solid network. It's the confidence in the company behind us that allows us to do this kind of work.”

The Maxxyz consoles were located at two different areas, the Chrysler/Jeep control room and Dodge control room, yet with only one Ethernet cable and a power cable necessary per console, a mobile Maxxyz on a pushcart was used to provide even greater flexibility, for focus and programming of sequences for example. “The fact that I can take 16 universes and put it down into one tiny cable is great,” says Connors. “The power line has gotten bigger than the cable line now. Just being able to move — the versatility and the ability to switch between the board is great. A great advantage to having it on an Ethernet DMX system is the ability to unplug the data from the console and not have it go anywhere. If anything happens to your console, if anything happens to your snake, your data drops out and nothing moves.”

A pair of the new, still prototypical handheld Maxxyz tablet PCs came in handy, freeing programmers and making it easier to focus lights and adjust color. The Lightswitch crew were the first to use the units. “Being able to walk around and have full console control remotely, in a size that you can use, getting control of every parameter of all of your fixtures in the entire rig, and being able to run it like you would from a console, is very useful,” says Connors.

It proved especially useful on this project. “They move the cars around every night, and sometimes during the day, and you don't know where they're going to be,” Connors states. “One night on Brad [lighting programmer Brad Malkus], they moved every car. Other booths move cars into dark spots and it takes a long time to adjust the lighting, but “Thank God” for the tablet PCs, we had no problems. We'd be able to do it without them but it wouldn't be as easy and I wouldn't get as much sleep.”

Nobody got a whole lot of sleep during the project, but the event went off without a hitch, a tribute to all involved. “Putting together such a large booth and lighting some 60 vehicles, many of which have never been seen before, is a pretty substantial undertaking,” says Werner. “Collaborating with the exhibit companies, managing budgets and time, and all the parameters that a designer works within is a massive challenge and one of the things that brought the entire Lightswitch team together on this project. Working with the vendors and manufacturers, it's very much been a team effort. The philosophy from our point of view is that we're here to champion what our clients are after and to work to their goal. Because they've charged us with the overall design, not just one booth, we've been able to pull it all together for them in a very successful way.”