In the fickle world of Las Vegas show business, Lance Burton has been working magic for the past decade. Considered one of the best magicians of his generation, he performs his successful, award-winning show, Lance Burton Master Magician, in the 1,274-seat legitimate theatre at the Monte Carlo Hotel and Casino on the famed Las Vegas Strip. Lighting designer John Morgan of Design Partners in Los Angeles has given the show a new look, bringing in a rig of automated fixtures and adding his own illusions in the lighting to complement Burton's magical moments.
“Lance and I had been talking about relighting his show since I lit his last television special a few years ago,” says Morgan. “I thought I could give the show a new visual quality. The magic is fantastic but was performed under a lot of flat, white light with a rather old-fashioned look. I wanted to add more interesting visual layering.” Morgan saw this challenge as an opportunity to bring in new technology, most of which did not even exist when the show was first lit, and bring Burton up to date lighting-wise. The show re-opened with its new lighting, after a fast-track installation during a two-week period when the show was closed.
Morgan is also an amateur magician himself, which helped in the process. “I know how the illusions are done and what needs to be hidden from the audience,” he reveals. “I worked with Lance on the magical elements, and he would sign off when we were clean, in terms of the lighting.” Morgan became interested in Burton's work over the years through the lighting of three television specials for the master magician and seeing the show in Las Vegas.
“About a year ago, I saw the show one more time then met with Lance and showed him brochures of exciting new lighting and media technology,” says Morgan, whose goal was twofold: first, to add color and texture and, second, to make each scene look different. “I also added haze to give depth to the beams,” he says. “I also wanted to highlight areas that needed to be lit for each act rather than provide general stage washes that are less interesting.”
To accomplish these goals, Morgan knew he needed a rig of robust automated fixtures. “I wanted to blanket the theatre with a strong automated system so we could deliver whatever we wanted wherever we needed the light,” he notes. His first task was to remove all of the old conventional fixtures from the theatre. Then, working with 4Wall Entertainment Lighting in Las Vegas, Morgan put in a rig that is essentially made up of the latest technology from High End Systems. The only conventional fixtures in the new rig are 36 ETC Source Fours® with High End Systems ColorMerge® units.
“Since the show is theatrically lit, we had to have a quantity of front of house lighting from the coves and box booms,” says Morgan. “The original design only offered a light pink or light blue gel wash.” To add more flexibility, Morgan opted for 750W Source Fours with ColorMerges as well as top hats to cut the hilation, or halo effect. “The amount of transmission on the saturated colors was surprisingly great. Even in Congo Blue, I had to dim the units back,” he says.
The High End Systems portion of the rig includes eight DL-1 digital lights, four Catalyst™ media servers, two Flying Pig Systems Wholehog® 3 consoles, six x.Spot Xtreme® luminaires, 30 Studio Spot® 575 CMY Zoom luminaires, eight Studio Spot® 250 fixtures, 22 Studio Beam® fixtures, 12 Studio Color® 575 wash luminaires, 30 ColorCommand™ units, and Lightning Strikes Strobes. In addition, 12 Color Kinetics LED ColorBlasts® fixtures were placed on the back of a large moving set piece to help uplight the cyc. Special effects machines include six DF-50 hazer units by Reel EFX and two High End Systems F-100 foggers.
The x.Spot Xtremes are hung on the balcony rail, and Morgan used them to stack innovative combinations of colors and gobos. Some of the Studio Spots are also used from front of house with a concentration also over the stage and on the stage floor. This gave him the ultimate flexibility in covering all bases from all angles.
“I was surprised at the saturation and the colors,” says Morgan. “They deliver a UV that's incredible for an incandescent fixture.” The fact that the automated rig is entirely from High End Systems (via 4Wall) has to do with the hotel wanting to deal with only one vendor. This situation didn't upset Morgan, who thought it would be good for the electricians to only have to deal with one vendor for parts, maintenance, and training. “The DL-1, as well as the Color-Merge, is what sold me on High End,” he says. “They were the company that had the best all-around range of products at that time.”
Morgan decided upon the Catalyst media servers for the cyc treatment in order to add moving visual texture onto the scenery as well as the performers. “I wanted something our eyes aren't used to seeing,” says Morgan. “The large moving images look good on the cyc, and there aren't too many white moments. And the media server allows you to create new content, which is important as this is a show that is continually changing.”
In fact, the opening moment of the show is the only time that a white cyc is actually used. Morgan uses the DL-1 to fill the cyc with a graphics background. “There is just one prop on the stage, a Plexiglas box that serves as a smoke chamber,” says Morgan, who explains the sequence of the magic as: first, there are some girls in the box; then, it fills with smoke; and presto, the girls are gone and Lance appears. “The color palette goes from blue and white with textured patterns to a star field and a cross fade to swirling textures right before he appears and to fireworks at the moment he appears,” Morgan adds.
Another moment where the lighting really helps create the illusion is in a levitation scene, where Morgan has the beams from the DL-1 shining through a layer of ground fog or banks of liquid nitrogen. “It is visually stunning,” he says. “It looks like moving clouds with colors and textures that help create an ethereal dream sequence.”
4Wall Entertainment Lighting in Las Vegas helped develop the lighting system and installed an infrastructure with 32 universes of DMX, with Mike Mancuso as sales manager and Buddy Pope as project manager for the install. “We had all the gear delivered to our shop and got it all show-ready when it came in,” says Mancuso. “We tested it all and put on connectors, if necessary, to avoid taking time to do it on site.” 4Wall also organized the gear on carts that corresponded to the various electrics positions in the theatre. “That made it easier to hang the equipment quickly and start data runs,” Mancuso explains.
Three racks of data network gear, video servers, and lighting control components were installed and configured as part of a show relighting package. The tri-rack control system designed by 4Wall was needed not only to distribute data for one control system, but also for a complete tracking backup system. This intricate and efficient system is completely user-configurable.
High End Systems also supplied additional support by sending programmer Mike Hanson to help Morgan and Brad Spooner, head electrician in the Lance Burton Theatre. “Hanson is very well-versed with the Wholehog 3,” says Mancuso. “Things went very smoothly in spite of the short turn-around time.”
For Morgan, one of the things that makes the lighting successful is the cueing. “The system is only as good as the cueing,” he offers. Morgan also stripped out all of the original gobos that came in the High End Systems fixtures and replaced them with over 300 custom, high-resolution, two-color and three-color gobos from Apollo Design Technology. 4Wall installed the gobos in the automated luminaires according to Morgan's specifications.
“These are patterns you have never seen before spitting out of these lights and creating beautiful textures,” he says. “My understanding of magic and cueing helped create a memorable show. But Lance is still the real star.”