Lighting the Dodge booth at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January 2003 was a challenging drive for LD Bob Barnhart. “It's the largest auto show in the world,” he notes. “Thirty-seven percent of all car sales take place there, with a lot of fleet owners buying new cars.”

Dodge had the largest booth on the show floor, with 34 vehicles displayed on 30° banks of reflective steel. “I was approached last summer and was told they didn't want typical car show lighting,” Barnhart recalls. This was no problem for the designer, who had never visited a car show. Barnhart would provide his theatrical lighting style. But therein lies the rub.

“I had designed circular truss to follow the shape of the circular banks of steel but they cut it,” he rues. “With the cars on an angle like that we needed to come in at 90° angles to hit the steel properly. But they took that option away. It was a big disappointment.”

To save the day, he used a large rig of automated luminaires including 75 Vari*Lite® VL6Cs, 160 VL2000 series (which Barnhart calls the “VL9”), 75 Martin Professional MAC 2000 Performance fixtures, and 12 VL1000 arc lights to accent engine cutouts. The rig was run by a Virtuoso console, with Matt Firestone serving as lighting director and programmer. The entire rig was automated.

“It was hard to make the steel look the same from all angles,” says Barnhart, “but Matt spent a lot of time just grazing the steel and making it look good.” The booth design included a dozen-song, 24-minute soundtrack. Barnhart tied into the SMPTE cues and used color changing and liquid textures or soft-focus, rotating gobos to create reflections as in a pool, to accent the cars and give the set some movement.

“The idea was to draw people into the booth,” he says. “We called attention to the cars when the booth would strobe to the music, or go to black followed by a circular chase of the cars, one through 34. It was very theatrical for a car show.” In spite of the challenges, Barnhart's lighting took the booth from zero to 60 in no time.