In Egypt, conservationists strive to maintain the majesty of the centuries-old Great Pyramids of Giza. In Las Vegas, entertainment technologists work toward a different goal: to enhance the drawing power of the great pyramid that is the Luxor Hotel & Casino, by removing and replacing some of its original attractions.
The Luxor was celebrated as an eighth wonder of the world when it opened five years ago this month. But, while Egypt charms eternally, the Strip dazzles unrelentingly, with bigger and splashier fun palaces opening every year. To keep pace, Luxor management decided on a policy of out with the old, in with the new.
To jazz up the hotel's striking looking, but forbiddingly dark, exterior at night, the Luxor hired Las Vegas-based lighting contractor Hiett Designs to create a strobe light display that runs up and down its 31 stories. The light streams also change direction, move side to side, and crisscross each other at different speeds. Using 500 standard 5' strobe tubes, all weatherproofed, and a controller from his longtime associates at Los Angeles-based American DJ Supply, LD Jim Hiett reports that the lighting helps match the activity and excitement elsewhere along the Strip.
Within the Luxor, the lower-level attractions have been demolished and rebuilt. Gone are the River Nile canal ride that snaked its way through the hotel and the Pharaoh's Dinner Theatre, home of the Winds of the Gods arena show. In their place are restaurants and shops, plus two new venues--the Ra club, and the Imagine show, which is housed in a new theatre built outside the pyramid. Both are designed to give Vegas newcomers a run for their money. Lighting Dimensions broke open their seals for a look inside.
Classical and fantastical Egypt come together at Ra--and the mummies are rolling over in their tombs after seeing the results of the $1 million lighting budget. "That's more than some clubs cost," lighting designer Tim Brennan says.
Brennan worked as the general manager of the Las Vegas branch of Towards 2000 Inc. at the time he sold the Ra project design to Sound Solutions, a company contracted by Circus Circus Corporate Development. In May, Brennan became general manager of the Nevada office of Burbank, CA-based Matthews Studio Group, which has expanded into the Vegas market (see "Group activities," page 76).
His family, which founded Cinema Services of Las Vegas Inc. (now part of the Production Resource Group) has been selling, installing, and designing lights in Sin City for more than 30 years. "Every show in this town was touched by a Brennan," he boasts.
The Brennan touch came in handy at Ra, which was built from scratch in 60 days within the Luxor. "Go hard or go home" was the motto on the Circus Circus hard hats. And that motto was obeyed by all as common law. Brennan says that everyone lived on-site, 24 hours a day for two months. "It was incredible that everyone was able to work around the clock and stay on track," he says. "We hung the lights and had them programmed in three days. After plugging in all the data lines, and turning on the console, every light worked. With a project of this size and scope, you clearly need the support of a company like High End Systems because they have a solid product," Brennan says.
Once inside the 3,500-sq.-ft. (315 sq. m) domain of the sun god, patrons are enveloped by a starship atmosphere that blends the ancient with the futuristic, as bartenders blow flames into the air, and go-go dancers perform in 35'-tall (11m) mobile cages custom-made with a lived-in look by Dark Horse Enterprises of Las Vegas. Metallic wall panels that represent Egyptian scrolls and beveled glass panels front 4,000' (1,219m) of Tokistar tape light, which streams in from behind the walls, and can chase the entire room in a circle or split it down the middle.
Part of Ra's allure is that the actual club isn't visible from the entrance. As per the instructions of project architect Klai-Juba, patrons are brought into a small room that opens into a larger space. After being enclosed in the circular chamber, they enter a room with 24'-high (7m) ceilings. "When you walk into Ra, it takes your breath away for about two to three minutes," Brennan says.
This UFO-styled dance club resembles a sarcophagus gone space age, reminiscent of the movie Stargate. Brennan describes Ra as a high-tech, Egyptian rock-and-roll touring show. To conjure the look and feel of an ancient spaceship on the move, he and his crew used faux-rust truss and other touring gear. When the action is in full swing, Brennan describes the techno rave room as insane. "We wanted this room to be psychedelic. We love it when the waitress comes back and tells us someone got sick when they were talking about the lights."
The over-enthusiasm of the ravers aside, Ra is certainly a palace fit for the gods, with a $600,000 Ardex dance floor as its foundation. Above, Brennan used projectors from Cerritos, CA-based Precision Projection Systems Inc. on the 32'-tall (10m) dome that hovers over the dance floor. Below, Desert Plumbing installed 36 CO2 ports into the floor. To his knowledge, Brennan says this is the only nightspot in the US that features them.
Ra offers one of the only working lasers in Las Vegas. Manufactured by Coherent Inc. Laser Group, and supplied by Production Design Inc. in Canada, the club's laser shoots out of a bird-headed Ra's neck, hands, and wings onto the east wall. Also pressed into service on this project were six Barco projectors with drop screens.
Sitting about 5' into the performance stage, the circular truss is straddled on either side by two 10' (3m) sticks loaded with two High End Systems Cyberlights(R) and four Studio Colors(R). On stage, Brennan used five Studio Colors that shoot through the back of the scrim and illuminate the club band completely from behind, James Bond-style. Brennan chose to use High End's Status Cue(R) lighting console for this job because of its built-in show control.
Brennan says working on a project supported by a mega-company like Circus Circus changed the entire process. "The people in that corporation have a vision. They're on the cutting edge with Ra," he says. And as the Strip hotels lure a younger crowd, Brennan predicts that Ra will become a tourist stop on everyone's agenda.
Drawing crowds elsewhere on the grounds of the Luxor is Imagine: A Theatrical Odyssey, a new collaboration between Dick Foster Productions and LD Garrett Caine, of El Segundo, CA-based Thomas Gregor Associates. Imagine is a "grander and more expansive" spinoff of the producer's Mystique show, also lit by Caine, which has toured Harrahs properties around the world. "After Winds of the Gods closed, the Luxor was left without any kind of show, and they were hungry for a new one, not a headliner act but a full-fledged production. Imagine is Mystique redeveloped with new sets, choreography, and costuming."
Plus, of course, new illumination. As the $27 million theatre was going up, Caine says he huddled with LD Marc Rosenberg of MarCAD Design, who was developing the 1,200-seat venue's lighting infrastructure, "and positioned things accordingly for what the needs would be for Imagine." The show, which eschews an Egypt theme but brims with magic and athleticism from other realms, opened last November.
Caine's involvement began earlier in 1997, with specifications and an equipment list that he and Luxor management revised to fit the budget for the production. Imagine, which Caine describes as a journey through time, has three acts and runs 90 minutes. The first act, he says, is "very volcanic and primal;" the second, "a water world, with aquatic creatures;" and the third, a "cyberworld, with a lot of UV built into the costumes and scenery that give them the luminescence of computer environments, like in the movie Tron."
Equipment choices were made based on the theme of each act. "I knew I needed lots of modulated textures for fire and water, so I opted for Cyberlights, with their rotating gobos, and the Studio Colors--these were part of my original equipment request, and have proven very reliable. And I broke up my scrollers [from Wybron] according to the three pieces: fiery reds and ambers into watery blues and greens, then more vibrant reds and greens, overlaid with a Wildfire system, for the cyber sequence." Scenic designer Tom Cluff installed a genuine Tesla coil, familiar from Universal's classic Frankenstein movies, to add zaps of electrical arcs to the final sequence.
The show incorporates a number of magic tricks, also designed by Cluff, which happen within the theatrical lighting environment and are organic to each scene. "We don't just dim down to a spot and do the gag, with the performer isolated on the stage. For example, there's a disappearing girl illusion, but this one happens 18' (5m) above the stage. And there is a water levitation scene that happens in a fiberglass aquarium that has been blended into the set. These required careful programming of the different types of lighting across the stage." Imagine has been programmed on two Compulite Sabre consoles, which the Israel-based firm expanded and refined to accommodate the size of the show.
The sleight of hand is intermittently enhanced with fog that wafts from machines supplied by Jem and Reel EFX, more in the first and third acts than in the "lyrical and romantic" aqua segment. Each segment involves specialty performers, including a Chinese bungee-jumping troupe, a pair of court jesters who balance on their hands and do contortions, and Dimensions in Flight, a three-person act that contributes intricate body balancing routines.
"As long as I kept the low-angle sidelight out of the eyes of the jugglers and floor acrobats, they were OK. But the bungee troupe was particularly hard to light," Caine says. "They're 35' [11m] in the air as they spin around the parallel bars that they use, and because they face the audience, frontlight is a problem for them. Backlight on their rig lights up all the mechanisms they need to grab hold of when they're flying around, but just backlight is a problem for the audience. We worked many hours to place frontlight where it would illuminate them but not get in their eyes; when they're down on the ground, we can hit them with frontlights, but otherwise, we used a combination of sidelight and backlight. It's critical, because if one guy falls, the rest end up clobbering him." For performer safety, the only moving light sequences occur in transitions between stunts.
Caine predicts more moving light systems in use in Vegas venues, for theatrical rather than "flash-and-trash" use. "They're highly flexible, can cover a lot more ground in a venue with less real estate than a conventional system, and are getting easier to maintain." Having done his bit to re-Imagine the entertainment spaces at the Luxor, Caine has turned his attention toward an upcoming hotel and casino along the Strip, the Venetian--trading sand for sea, as it were.
Co-author Joy Marie Lofton, a New York-based freelance writer, contributed the Ra section of this article.
Owner Circus Circus Corporate Development
Interior Design Dougall Designs/Terry Dougall
Project/Design Management John Kristch, Billy Richardson Jr.
Lighting Design Tim Brennan
Equipment Supplier Sound Solutions of Las Vegas/Rick Crenshaw
Product Managers Tim Brennan, Adam Gregory
Electrical Contractor Dynaelectric of Las Vegas/Scott Kirk
Programmers Ted Mizarahi, Tim Grivas
Equipment list (55) High End Systems Studio Colors (25) High End Systems Cyberlights (6) High End Systems Emulators (12) High End Systems Dataflash AF1000s (60) ETC Source Four jrs 26-degree (1) ETC Source Four PAR (4) ETC Opto-Splitters (1) High End Systems Status Cue (1) Jands 250 (12) Precision Projection Systems projectors (9) Altman single-cell Ground Cycs (8) Columbus McKinnon 1-ton chain hoists (1) Motion Laboratories 8-way motor control (1) Coherent 113W Multi-Color Laser (10) Clay Paky water columns (4) High End Systems Coldflows (10) High End Systems F-100 fog generators (18) Kim MR-16 uplights (also recessed floor fixtures, garden lights, and floorlights) (2) NSI/Colortran ENR 96 architectural dimmers (2) NSI/Colortran ENR wall stations (7) RSLI 150W illuminators (36) CO2 ports 4,000' Tokistar 5W xenon tape light 90' of Thomas 24" box truss 26'-diameter box circle, Thomas truss Recreational Design metallic walls
SHOW PRODUCER Dick Foster Productions
LIGHTING DESIGNER Garrett Caine, Thomas Gregor Associates
MASTER ELECTRICIAN/AUTOMATED LIGHTING PROGRAMMER Jeff Clark
SCENIC DESIGN Tom Cluff
LIGHTING SUPPLIER Towards 2000 Inc.
EQUIPMENT LIST (26) High End Systems Studio Colors (38) High End Systems Cyberlights (54) High End Systems Dataflash AF1000s (8) Altman 5-degree Shakespeares (24) Altman 10-degree Shakespeares (6) Altman 12-degree Shakespeares (146) Altman 20-degree Shakespeares (64) Altman 30-degree Shakespeares (12) Altman 40-degree Shakespeares (3) Altman 8" fresnels (3) Altman 12" fresnels (12) NSI/Colortran ellipsoidals (298) Thomas NSP PAR-64s (25) Thomas MFL PAR-64s (38) Thomas PAR-46 ACLs (2) Thomas PAR-38s (80) Thomas 4-window far cyclights (8) Wildfire 400/401 floods (68) Wybron 11-frame scrollers (54) Wybron stock templates (4) Wybron custom patterns (Imagine logo) (2) Jem foggers (2) Reel EFX DF-50 diffusion hazers
CONTROL AND DIMMING (2) Compulite Sabre consoles with expanded software (8) NSI/Colortran i-96 dimmer racks