It's funny how something like a huge metal gas tank on the outskirts of a town can become an important and even sentimental landmark to its inhabitants. With its colorful stripes painted by the artist Corita softening its hard metal skin, the Boston Gas tank has stood as an icon for years. It can be seen from downtown, Interstate 93, and from aircraft landing at Logan International Airport.
Boston Gas, the former owner of the tank, asked Marlboro, MA-based Preston Productions Inc. to create branding for the new owners, Keyspan, a New York-based energy company, which wanted to use the tank as a billboard to garner attention from local broadcast and print media. The tank was the perfect spot for thousands to see the new identity.
The goal for Preston Productions was to create an exciting laser and light show using the tank as a canvas. The team from Preston included Bill Hedden, laser designer/programmer; Blair Howell, technical director; Jenny Morris, show director; and Steve Santomenna, producer; from Testa Lighting Design was Rich Testa, principal lighting designer. Jeff Hubbell, of lighting supplier High Output, was lighting programmer. The overall show aesthetic was guided by Barry Schneier, Preston Productions' creative director.
A storyboard was developed, telling the history of Boston Gas using photos from its archives, leading up to the new Keyspan identity. In addition to the public display, the six-minute laser-and-light show was transmitted via microwave to Boston's Prudential Tower, where Keyspan executives from New York and Boston were celebrating the company's integration.
The lighting design consisted of several layers. Laser images of the Boston Gas logo transforming into the new Keyspan logo created the core of the presentation. Ten each of Coemar CF1200 HEs and Martin Professional MAC 500s created a colorful framework for the lasers to dance around in. The Coemars have a greater lumen output than the MACs, so the LD kept their intensities in balance. The circumference of the tank was lit with eight each of Coemar CF1200 Spots and Martin MAC 600s, providing a wide range of color-mixing capabilities. Images from the Boston Gas archives were projected from two Pani BP6 Golds, mounted about 200' (60m) away from the tank; 20 High End Dataflash AF-1000 strobes created flashes of light between transitions in the storyline. Everything was controlled from a Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II, with a second as a backup.
The install posed several unique problems. Since the tank contains a volatile substance, precautions had to be taken. An unexpected spark could set off a catastrophic event, so any object placed within 15' (4.5m) of the tank had to be rated explosion-proof. The weather also played havoc with the project. The morning of load-in was overcast with a slight chance of rain, but quickly turned into a Nor'easter. The FAA closed Logan Airport due to strong winds. By 10pm the team received a call to quit for the night. By the next morning the rain had stopped, but several items, including two 600A Whisper generators, were in lakes of water. Thanks to the outstanding efforts of production electricians Gordon Manson and Brian Pratt and several electricians from High Output, feeder cable was rerouted and new dry cable laid out.
The laser and light show played for several evenings last November. The Boston Globe declared it “a bold, colorful diversion for motorists.”