Barbie has come a long way from her groovy camper van of the early 1970s (my first Barbie product). Now Barbie is a complete lifestyle brand for girls of all ages, with designer-style pink logo-emblazoned luggage, karaoke machines, and Warhol-inspired Barbie portrait T-shirts. The Barbie brand has grown 200% over the last seven years, with nearly $2 billion in sales for 2002. In June, Mattel showcased its brands, including Barbie, Hot Wheels, Matchbox, Masters of the Universe, and Fisher Price at the Licensing International show at New York's Javits Center.

Licensing International is the premier annual trade show where intellectual property owners exhibit their brands to acquire consumer product manufacturing, merchandising, and promotional partnerships. At the show, Mattel occupied a high-profile booth designed in partnership by Johnathan Barhite of Mattel's Creative Design Group and Cregg Cannon of Marathon Exhibits, with lighting design by Clayton Alexander of Radiance Lightworks. In addition to product displays and conference rooms, the booth hosted a fashion show of its clothing lines for girls, boys, tweens, and teens.

Mattel Creative Design Group and Marathon Exhibits designed a sleek, modern booth featuring clean white surfaces with accents of pale wood and brushed metal. The modular system can be custom-configured for whatever space it needs to occupy at different trade shows. For the Licensing Show, the 50'×130' booth was bi-level and spanned an egress aisle.

Some exterior booth walls were white, with glowing inset panels of Mattel's various brand logos; other walls were frosted Plexiglas®. On the floor level, several conference rooms of different sizes were laid out around the perimeter of the space, with tables and chairs scattered around the main area. Two curving staircases led to upper levels displaying clothing, accessories, and toys. The other two second-level corners held large sweeping scrims, one of which showed a continuous video loop of the Mattel brands. The other scrim supported the video material with color and custom gobos.

First, Alexander had to take into account the ambient light level in the Javits Center, due to the sunlight streaming in through the glass walls and the overhead work lights. “The most we can do is shut off the overhead lights over our booth,” the designer says. “I had to approach this lighting design with a lot of wattage to compete with the ambient light in the room, and the [Martin] Mac 2Ks really stepped up to the plate for that. Also, the Vari*Lite VL2402 downlight wash system did a really good job of punching through.”

For the truss design, Alexander says, “I started based on my ideal positions, then I had my associate, Erin, research the rigging points. I try not to let rigging points steer the direction of my design. Sometimes it makes the design process a little longer, but I think it works out for the best. The Javits Center has nodes that you have to pick to, and it's on a 10' × 10' grid system. We had to shift the truss here and there to get to the nodes, but overall it didn't affect any of the design effects.”

Master rigger on the project was William “Stoney” Stonecypher of StonePro Rigging. “They really know all the union guys, and have a good relationship with everybody at the Javits Center, and he knows that space like nobody,” Alexander says. “He was able to look at the design and say, ‘We have a weight load problem here, can we move this over here, we need to add chain motors here,’ and he provided the chain motors and all of the truss. We had approximately 790' of box truss because I needed to get all the angles. Basically, we built a grid system with truss. If you consider it an X/Y system, all the Xs were at one trim height and all the Ys were at a lower trim height. Each length of truss flew up individually with its own chain motors, and it made it go up a lot faster.

“We used a new system by Mike Callahan called Instant Lighting,” the LD continues. “Basically, the entire light plot was built in advance in 30'-50' lengths of pre-bolted truss, fully rigged, fully hung, fully cabled with power, data, everything. They've developed a system that sits the truss up off the ground with dolly wheels, so when the truss comes off the truck in the Javits Center, it rolls right to the booth, you unroll your chain motor lengths, you hook it up to the pick points, and you fly it up. It is amazing, and they have patent pending on their dolly system. Instant Lighting was created specifically as an answer to the Javits Center: How to get a big lighting system up in one day and minimize the labor costs. I've got to say, it's a fantastic system. The [Chain Master] motors were super-quiet and super-fast. It was a fun job, because we were trying out a lot of new things, unique things.”

All of the photometrics were calculated by associate LD Erin Hearne. “On a booth of this size, with such a tight load-in, the precision of her photometrics was invaluable. Every single light fixture on this plot was very well-thought-out in terms of its position and its lens kit. And David Arch is a fantastic programmer. I can give him a small amount of direction, walk away, and come back and it's better than I thought that it could be.”

Alexander adds, “Mike Callahan and his Instant Lighting System was also indispensable on this project.” Callahan got the call to do the Mattel booth and knew that the Instant Lighting systems was perfect for the job. “It was a booth with very elaborate lighting,” he says, “and by any normal standard it was an impossible task because they had essentially one day to loadin something on the order of 250 fixtures, half of which were moving lights. But I knew how we could do it and we did do it.”

A key design concept was brand color-coding, to give each brand its own identity and to tie each of them together under the Mattel umbrella. One ways this was accomplished was the use of Mattel's exclamation point logos, seven of which were hung in the air over the egress aisle that split the booth. “Originally, the exclamation point icons were going to be opaque Pantone colors, then we came up with the idea of using light to color them,” the LD says. “The outside two were opaque and were lit from front and back with Mac 2K Performances with the shutters, one Mac 2K Performance on each side. The inside five were Mattel's key brands, and those were lit in five Pantone colors, with two Mac 2Ks double-hung for each one. All of the Mattel logos that were connected to the bottom of the exclamation points were opaque, and I used [High End Systems] Studio Spots to illuminate all seven on both sides; I irised them all the way in and softened up the focus.” Color-matching was achieved by converting the Pantone to a CMYK formula via Photoshop, dialing it in, and then tweaking it.

The theatrical area lighting system employed Vari*Lite VL2402s for a soft downlight wash, “and we threw some patterns in there and layered them with some Mac 2Ks,” the designer adds. TMB Power PARs, ETC Source Four PARs with a retrofit HID system, were used for the product displays in the upstairs areas of the booth. “I wanted the product to be well-lit with daylight color temperature so that it would reflect how the product would look in a retail environment. Those fixtures are fantastic; they're very bright. I actually ended up unplugging half of them because they were way too bright.” Regular ETC Source Fours were used for the stage lighting system and to highlight various items throughout the booth.

One goal of the lighting design was to attract attention from across the trade show floor. On the side of the booth facing the main part of the floor were two large, curving scrims which were illuminated at all times using Mac 2000 Performance fixtures. “The reasons I used these were lamp wattage, lumen output, shuttering capabilities, and scene-machine effects. I don't really know of another fixture that can do all those things,” Alexander comments. “I basically went with the water effects disk; it was soothing, pleasing to the eye, and soft.” On the main scrim, a video system played a constant loop of the seven Mattel brands, and the lighting system was tied via SMPTE from the DoReMi video playback device to a Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II console. On the other scrim, a sequence of custom gobos in Mac 2000 Performance fixtures was programmed to tie in with the video design. “I think we accomplished our goal. Across the trade show floor you could certainly see the scrims and the lighting moving and changing on the scrims, the video on the scrim from behind. Especially since all the other booths in our area were only one story, and the scrims were set up on floor two.”

The project used a total of 53 custom gobos, all manufactured by Rosco, who “did a great job with a very tight turnaround,” Alexander says. “The Mattel Brands group has an art director who does all of the logo design and interpretation of the original logo design for people like me who need some sort of abstract form. She worked with me in creating ways that we could turn what was a five-color logo into a steel gobo. And Rosco's art department threw in some curved connection lines and got creative with making the steel work. I also had 19 colored glass gobos. All the gobos throughout the booth were projected from Mac 2000 Profiles. The reason I used the Profiles was availability, optics, brightness, and the fact that they hold 10 custom gobos.”

A total of 14 conference rooms, 12 on the Mattel side and two on the Fisher Price side, had architectural lighting systems. Alexander says, “I wanted to create a soothing, welcoming, soft light environment, which is one of the reasons I liked the tungsten lamps in there. In contrast to all the HID lighting in all the moving lights I had lighting the booth, the frosted glass doors of the conference rooms had this warm glow to them, and it evoked a pleasing, inviting feeling.”

Every conference room featured both sconces and pendants. The LD chose the Minka Lavery sconce, a curved, frosted glass fixture with a little grid pattern etched in it, for its neutral corporate style and its light distribution. The pendants were Tech Lighting's Biz fixtures, a minimal and modern glass disk. There were two large conference rooms that utilized Tech Lighting K-Hello Kable-Lite fixtures. “I used the Ikea transformer and cable system and saved hundreds of dollars,” Alexander says. “It worked well, and aesthetically, the Ikea transformers look great. It's just a nice silver curved box, and cable is cable, and we affixed the Tech Lighting fixtures to them.”

The fashion show was a challenge in that it was a full-scale production mounted in a corporate trade show booth environment. “One challenge was time, and it was David's speedy programming skills, plus lots of pre-designing, pre-thinking, and prepping everything that made it possible,” Alexander says. “We ended up teching that whole show, tech and dress, in four hours.” The fashion show was comprised of eight segments: Peace, Love, Barbie; Hot Wheels; Project Barbie; Fantasy; My Scene by Limited Too; Japan Collection; Barbie Tees; and Barbie Worldwide. The lighting for each segment was tied to the pace of the music and the look of the brand, with custom steel gobos as titles and icons, projected on the stage walls left and right. For example, says Alexander, “One segment featured a butterfly and we'd throw the prism in it and make it dance. There was a big shift in color, movement, and gobos from one segment to the next.”

The rep plot of the stage lighting system stayed consistent throughout so that faces and clothing were well illuminated. “I used the Source Fours to punch through some warm tones on their faces as a straight front, and the high side positions and the backlight system were the Mac 2K cool color temperature fixtures. And for the Barbie Worldwide portion of the fashion show, we started ballyhooing all the Vari*Lites, and that caused a lot of impact. Raj, the fashion show director, wanted that last piece to have lots of flair.” The director also requested a mirror ball. “At first I was kind of like, ‘Oh, no, not a disco ball,’ but it worked out well. We had confetti blowers, and they were supplied by Artistry in Motion.” Naturally, the confetti was different shades of pink and silver.

“The booth filled up instantaneously to capacity, and people throughout the rest of the trade show floor were looking up at the back side of the scrim where the projections were,” Alexander concludes. “The goal was to attract attention and do something unique. I think we had the most presence, as one big, solid company with a two-story booth and sweeping, curved walls. One of the things that made our booth so different was that we didn't plaster it with graphics, and that lent well to the lighting design, because basically that booth was a canvas for me.” Lighting designer Barbie, anyone?