STONE MOUNTAIN LIGHTING GROUP ILLUMINATES PITTSBURGH'S CATHEDRAL OF LEARNING
More than 1,000 University of Pittsburgh alumni were in for quite a surprise when they returned to campus late last October to attend a gala fundraising event during "Discovery Weekend." Seated under tents with clear tops, the guests were treated to a 15-minute sound and light spectacular, complete with dazzling pyrotechnics as the grand finale of the evening, which kicked off a $500 million campaign.
LDs Joe Zamore and David Groves of Stone Mountain Lighting Group in Stone Mountain, GA, lit the University's Gothic architectural icon, the 400'-tall (122m) Cathedral of Learning, with over 70 automated luminaires perched on rooftops and parapet ledges. "What a fabulous building," says Zamore. "But it has a layer of soot and dirt, and we were concerned about getting the light to read. We had to make sure we had enough fixtures to get really good color."
Groves, who is Stone Mountain Lighting Group's president, conceived and directed the event and served as executive producer. Before designing the plot, Groves, Zamore, and other members of the Lighting Group spent a lot of time thinking about how to approach illuminating such a monolith. "It's extremely difficult to get good coverage above a 200' (61m) throw," Zamore says. "But because of the way the building is structured there were a lot of places to put the fixtures."
The exception to this is a sheer face on the front of the Cathedral, which called for a 300' (91m) throw from the 10th-floor parapet. "We did most of the light in layers," explains Zamore, who opted for a mixture of automated tools that would give him different ammunition. High End Systems Studio Colors[R] were used to light the first 60-80' (18-24m) of the facade, along with Coemar CF 1200 washlights, whose brighter lamp proved effective for the 100-200' (30-61m) range. High End Systems Cyberlight[R] Turbos added light at the top of the building, with Syncrolite 7kW automated luminaires focused in a diffused mode as washlights or used as aerial searchlights. Coemar Panoramas provided a broad color wash at the base of the Cathedral.
A 40-minute preshow ran while the guests were dining, with 48 different color and image combinations in the automated fixtures providing visuals to dine by. "The looks faded slowly from one to another," says Zamore, adding that there was no music during the preshow. Two Pani BP projectors added abstract patterns on the stone building and surrounding trees, as well as projecting images of the University's panther mascot and logo.
The 15-minute light show was programmed on a Flying Pig Systems Wholehog[R] II console and run via SMPTE timecode to the score of Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man. Thirteen firing positions located on six separate levels of the Cathedral served as the launching platforms for the cascading explosions of pyrotechnics, using pyro product from MP Associates in Ione, CA. "It was a fast-paced show with 60 to 70 cues in a two-song set, and pyro on just about every cue," says Zamore.
THE LEARNING CURVE To plan for this show, Groves went to Pittsburgh to see the buildings and brought back photographs that Zamore used to create his basic light plot. "We flew out to verify the plot, and we were pretty close," he says. Power came from throughout the building and from rented generators. The lighting equipment came from Active Production and Design in Atlanta, which brought three tractor trailers of gear to the site.
With the Cathedral of Learning in the foreground and the clear-topped tents in the center, nearby Heinz Chapel was also lit to provide a dramatic background to the event (with a lighting console/projection position placed between the tents and the chapel). Zamore reports that the Heinz Chapel has the largest contiguous stained glass windows in the United States. "We opted to backlight them, using Mole-Richardson 2,000W Molefay fixtures running on an NSI ML16 console (no dimmers) placed inside the building. They provided bright white light on the stained glass which has a dark blue background," he says. A soft wash from the Studio Colors was added to the outside of the Chapel.
The load-in began eight days before the event and culminated with two nights of programming and a 12-hour session to transfer to SMPTE time code. The programming was done by Todd Turner, using the Wholehog II. "People went wild while we were doing the looks," says Zamore, who kept his fingers crossed that it wouldn't rain during the process. "The night before the event, we left the Cathedral illuminated in white light so as not to give away the colorful show programmed for Saturday night," he notes.
But as luck would have it, on Friday evening, the skies opened up and it poured rain. "We had 110 indoor lighting instruments outside in a rainstorm," says Zamore. "We thought about trying to bag the lights to protect them. We were scared, but amazingly we didn't lose a single fixture."
Since it would have been difficult and unsightly to run cables from the console, which was located 250' (76m) from the Cathedral (on scaffolding 16' high and draped in black Duvetyne), the decision was made to use wireless DMX transmitters and receivers from Interactive Technologies in Orlando, FL. The receivers were placed on the building parapets along with the lighting fixtures.
Despite their original fears that the dark building would absorb too much light, Groves and Zamore found that they had "so much firepower that we got the colors to read beautifully. In fact, the lighting was so bright that we had to balance it with the Pani projectors so as not to drown out the images," comments Zamore.
The Pittsburgh Gazette described the event as "the most spectacular architectural light show this city has seen." For the Stone Mountain lighting team, who flew home to Atlanta the next day, it was great to see their work featured in the Sunday paper. "After all," Zamore says, "this was eight days of work for one 15-minute show. But it was truly a unique opportunity for us to light a building with this kind of architecture. The site with both buildings lit throughout the evening looked truly surreal."