A Project For VW Underscores The Rewarding Potential In Niche Markets
It is amazing to me just how many niche markets and sub-cultures there are out there that people shape into their own worlds, working toward providing services or manufacturing product, many of which we've never heard of, thought about, or even considered possible.
Being from the little village of entertainment lighting, we are regularly drawn into our own world in which we think and breathe lighting. Entertainment lighting has not only grown and improved its technology to suit market trends but branched out to service outside the live stage and film/TV areas to special events, various exhibits, and architecture. For younger readers, this may be an obvious statement, but not that long ago, entertainment lighting was specialized and focused on just entertainment.
This transition is allowing our lighting village to explore, discover, and diversify our business into all types of different niche markets. Best of all, it gives us the opportunity to meet and integrate lighting master crafts with like-minds in other working cultures from diverse industries. Consequently, it makes for one happy collision.
The collision of lighting world and the other working culture that I'm referring to in this instance is with German car manufacturer, Volkswagen (VW). VW's “Moonraker” is a fascinating research project that looks at lifestyles within specific consumer age ranges to determine the ultimate car design. The catch is that the lifestyles they are looking at are 20 years in the future.
To that end, the VW team commissioned architectural design firm Graft (www.graftlab.com) to envisage living spaces from 2026, research and create computerized photo impressions, and then construct “Life Sets” consisting of the following: a typical outdoor patio with a garden of deciduous self-watered plants and systems to plant new annuals for the next season; a smart living room using materials that conformed to your body for sitting or horizontal positions; full media access using interactive buttons projected onto a surface; a functional voice control kitchen in which the counter space was elevated, converting another counter below into a projection surface/family game area; and an office desk surrounded by interactive informational HoloPro Screens and innovative archival storage shelves. At the end of the walk-through exhibit was a one-of-its-kind, three-wheel vehicle designed by VW's Alex Earle to suit the outcome of the research.
“Life Sets showed us that an important part of future architecture is that a lighting designer is becoming more and more a part of our design process,” says Stefan Beese, Graft's production designer. “Lighting and multimedia fuse together, as architecture and lighting will fuse together to become one element.” As examples, there are concrete materials being developed that allow light to permeate and stainless steel façades that consider light as an integral design part of that piece.
“Life Sets were there to show what was possible but wasn't yet functional in the many ways that we know will be possible,” Beese continues. “Lighting was really important to help realize a physical set construction into something that needed to appear visually surreal. Paul Dexter's company, Masterworks, provided the lighting design for Sci-Fi Channel's exhibit booth at Comic Con last July, for which Graft won the design competition. It's a very futuristic structure that was enhanced further by a lighting and projection visual fantasy, so we asked him to work with us to help achieve our goals with Life Sets.”
The first call I made was to Hollywood Rentals (HR) (www.hollywoodrentals.com) to provide technical assistance, rigging, and a lighting package. Life Sets was created as a private showcase, but staged inside an industrial warehouse in Chatsworth, CA. It's the first time the warehouse was used for “entertainment” purposes. HR is traditionally a movie lighting company that frequently faces unusual location rigging situations. If they don't have the part, they will make it. Their shelves are stocked with theatrical and HMI fixtures, unique clamps with bail block receivers in odd places, and little lighting effect gadgets that may have been used once on a movie set. I took full advantage of the odd parts of their inventory.
Once the functional issues of rigging were solved, I designed very practical illumination solutions by peppering PAR64, softlights, and ETC Source Four ellipsoidals with patterns, before layering with special effects equipment. The trick for me was to try to make the photo impressions that Graft created and bring them to life. I did this by dividing practical application with natural elements of daylight for the outside areas and where saturated colors would simulate the drawings. I used ellipsoidals to illuminate areas where light could be shuttered off projection areas and break-up patterns on some of the walls to add some dimension to basic white surfaces. The fun began with arranging a few effects.
I am a huge fan of varied color temperature Kino-Flo products and super blue. They are bright, slim, and low power. In this case, I used five 8' 5,500°K tubes to backlight special leaves encased in Plexiglas™ used in the Patio, which accomplished three objectives: conceal the source of light; distinguish the leaves in the glass; and make it look futuristic!
To simulate the waterfall in the garden, I hid a Rosco water effects projector to cast ripples from the front, and you could see it clearly on the Plexi surface, even with the Kino tubes from behind.
In the living room, a phosphorescent QWERTY keyboard was painted on the surface material. A hole was then cut in the set to accommodate concealing a Wildfire Blacklight. With the short light to surface distance, the keyboard really stood out!
From my humble perspective, real life environments and the magic of surreal environments harbored by stage and screen media will continue to merge rapidly. In the future, people will expect architectural designers to create and contractors to construct lifestyle environments with façade and light. Lighting designers beware: unknown creative worlds are about to enter yours.
Design & Art Direction:
Volkswagen of America
Lighting Design Consultant:
Lighting and Rigging:
Glass Screens, 3D Film for Projection:
Custom Acrylic Glass Panels with Custom Cores:
Sorghum Stalk Boards:
Cell Fuse Lamp:
LEDs and House Technology: