LDI2002 Maps Out the Industry's Future

Would LDI return to normal? That was the question on the minds of many exhibitors and attendees this October, as LDI 2002 opened in Las Vegas. Last year, of course, was anything but normal, as the show was held in Orlando, FL, under the colossal shadow of 9/11. (The fact that LDI 2001 happened at all was a kind of miracle; even though attendance was down, the general buzz was good and, in a funny way, the show helped kick-start the industry's morale as it entered into a most difficult year.) Twelve months later, with terrorism still occupying the minds of most Americans and a shaky economy roiling the markets, LDI, like the entertainment technology industry as a whole, was in a state of modest recovery. In other words, we may be looking at the new normal.

Approximately 7,900 attendees were on hand to check out the latest in lighting, sound, staging, and projection technology — nearly a thousand more than last year, although many less than in the peak years of the 1990s, when the numbers topped 10,000. Still, the vast majority of exhibitors expressed satisfaction with the quality of attendees. Furthermore, much business was done (one exhibitor claimed to have written $600,000 worth of orders before noon on the first day alone). Plus, the show's management has stated that in a world where attendance at many trade shows is down 50% or more, LDI continues to perform well above average for the meetings/conference industry.

Beyond that, the mood was better this year. There were plenty of parties: Rose Brand hosted a bash at the WB Stage 16 restaurant in the Venetian. High End Systems commandeered the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay for an event that was wall-to-wall people, with none other than James Brown showing up to entertain. ETC hosted a reception for its student award winners (more about that later) at Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, also in the Venetian. Local distributor 4Wall Entertainment didn't exhibit, but hosted a party at its headquarters. And Lighting Dimensions and Entertainment Design presented a cocktail party in its booth on the trade show floor. (In what is perhaps a sign of changing times, there were two separate ice cream socials as well, one hosted by ESTA in its booth, and another courtesy of Walt Disney Entertainment at the ED/LD booth.)

On the trade show floor, plenty of new products were introduced; however, it must be said that it was not a news-filled event. Instead, the main developments at LDI were culminations of ideas and themes expressed at trade shows all year long. Once again, there was a legion of new LED products; so many, in fact, that one cynic wisecracked that the show should be renamed LED-DI (see sidebar). Then again, most of the new products had been seen elsewhere and experienced lighting designers continued to express skepticism, maintaining that LEDs are still not bright enough for most uses. Again, there was much interest in the marriage of lighting and video projection; following the success of High End's Catalyst system, there were several new video products on exhibit.

Among the new faces at the show were two new and potentially major players that had found US distributors. OmniSistem, based in Kent, WA, is now handling products from Pearl River, the Guangzhou, China-based maker of moving lights that introduced itself to the international market at SIB in March. (In other developments, OmniSistem has created its own laser line, called Pulse, and will also distribute products from the Italian company Telenia, maker of the Stark, a remarkable architectural exterior unit that can cover very large surfaces with high-quality projections.) Also, Los Angeles-based Elation is now handling Robe, the moving light company from the Czech Republic that also launched itself at SIB. (See “New Faces at LDI2002,” to learn more about new companies exhibiting at the show, as well as those looking for US distribution.) Compulite, the Israeli manufacturer of lighting consoles, made its first appearance on the Coemar US stand; Compulite's new Rave console will probably get a big push from Coemar marketing.

There were a few other developments as well. SGM, the Italian lighting company that makes the Giotto line of moving washes and spots and the Regia line of consoles, is now being distributed by Florida-based Techni-Lux; the latter company is now distributing the moving light products made by the Taiwan-based company Geni, as well. And Bright Lighting, which handles the Color Stream LED-in-a-tube concept, and which premiered at Lightfair in June, is now called Pixeon. AC Lighting Ltd., the UK-based company, announced that it had purchased Spectrum Lighting, the Canadian OEM that manufactures AC's Chroma-Q range of scrollers and other gear.

Otherwise, there was very little in the way of business news, other than the rumor of a merger/buyout between two major moving light companies, which has been spreading through the industry without resolution since September. At least one of these companies has been here before, as the subject of a much-whispered-about deal that never came off, so we will all have to wait to see what happens.

This year's LDI product awards also went to technical innovations rather than the latest, flashiest developments in automated lighting technology. The awards committee selected products that will make the lives of designers and technicians easier, rather than gear that will provide new aesthetic thrills. This was also the first year under revamped awards guidelines, which resulted in a flurry of Promising Prototype awards (See “The LDI2002 Award Winners,”). The winner of the highly-coveted Wally Russell Lifetime Achievement Award was James C. “Jimmy” Fuller, longtime president of the Toronto chapter of IATSE and, for 30 years, chief electrician at the O'Keefe Center, as well as the head of Canadian Staging Projects.

Having honored the past, other companies placed bets on the future. ETC again sponsored a number of student attendees at the show, presenting them to the industry at a party at Madame Tussaud's in the Venetian Hotel and Casino. The lucky students were Julie Ballard, an MFA candidate at the University of Florida; M. Scott Grabau, a third-year graduate student at University of California, San Diego; Michael Myer, an Arizona State University graduate currently studying at the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, NY; Justin Partier, an MFA candidate at the Mason Gross School for the Arts at Rutgers University; David A. Stoughton, an MFA candidate at University of Arkansas; and Elizabeth M. Zernechel, a second-year graduate student at the University of Cincinnati's College Conservatory of Music. The ETC scholarship gave these young people an excellent chance to see the latest in technology and to network with industry people. In addition, Martin has begun giving lighting technology grants to schools and universities. This year, the second of the program, the grant went, appropriately enough, to the theatre department at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. The grant, valued at $50,000, consists of a variety of Martin units and control products, which help give students a leg up in learning about the latest in moving light technology.

All in all, it was a good, if not great, LDI, a slickly produced, well-attended show, with many international players, lots of new technology, and a fairly active party scene. Most of all, it reflected the entertainment technology industry at this particular moment in history — better than last year, but still hesitant, unsure of the future, thanks to ongoing business turmoil and an increasingly uncertain geopolitical situation (There's nothing wrong with the industry that a stunning burst of revolutionary technology and an outbreak of world peace wouldn't cure, but there you are).

Looking to the future, LDI returns to Orlando, FL, next year; the show dates are November 21-23. There are changes afoot; in an effort to reach out to more sound and projection companies (whose technologies are increasingly intertwined with lighting, thanks to the modern miracle of show control), the show's title has been revised to The Entertainment Technology Show: LDI and Beyond. Quite a mouthful, that; however, it's more of a marketing matter than a practical reality for those in the lighting industry. Anyone used to attending LDI may, in fact, not notice any difference — the ETS tag is meant to be used to broaden the list of exhibitors and increase attendees in these affiliated but somewhat different markets. One thing is certain not to change — LDI will continue to be a reliable barometer of the industry's state of mind.

New Faces of 2002

Robe and Pearl River, LDI debutantes mentioned elsewhere in these pages, were not the only new faces on the show floor. This was an especially interesting LDI for debuting companies and for international players — not necessarily newcomers — looking for US distribution. They included:

APIAS (www.apias.it), the umbrella title for the Association of Italian Manufacturers for the Entertainment Industry, showed products from several companies, including COEF, DTS Show Division, Euromet, Lampo, Reference Laboratory, Sixtema, Teclumen, and Telenia. ADB (www.adb.be), well-known in Europe, had Axis, a variation on the ellipsoidal reflector theme, to be marketed in the US in 2003. The DA's Office, a new company based in Thousand Oaks, CA, sells Formatt Filters, made in the UK for the film market. Gear-Source (www.gear-source.com) is the new firm launched by Marcel Fairbairn, formerly of Coemar USA. Gear-Source was designed to sell used equipment. Now Fairbairn has done a deal with AVR Colourmaster, the English maker of architectural color-changing units. Goboland (www.goboland.com) is a Belgian manufacturer of high-quality standard and custom glass gobos. Marumo Electric Co. Ltd. (www.marumo.co.jp) is a well-known Japanese company that here launched a new ellipsoidal unit, the J-Ray. Marumo is looking for a US distributor. Pixeon (www.pixeon.com), formerly known as Bright Lighting, was founded by Nils Thorjussen, formerly of Flying Pig Systems/High End Systems; Pixeon makes the Color Stream, the tubular LED device that won a product award at PLASA. QT Cases (www.qtcases.com), a Winnipeg, Canada-based company. has branched out from household products into cases for the entertainment industry. Spotlight (www.spotlight.com) is an Italian company that regularly shows at PLASA, SIB, and, occasionally, LDI. This year, it was looking for US representation. Its products include the Hyperspot, a moving yoke that can hold a digital video projector. Ultimate Lighting Solutions (www.ultimatelightingsolutions.com) makes the Ultimate Gobo Rotator, another entry in this already crowded but popular market. Xilver (www.xilver.nl), based in the Netherlands, markets the Droplet, a tiny LED moving-head unit.

The LDI2002 Award Winners

This year marked a new beginning for the LDI Awards. Under new guidelines, a product launched at the show was not eligible for Product of the Year status unless it was already shipping. If not, it was eligible as a Debuting Product/Most Promising Prototype, and will be eligible as a new product next year — that is, if it has begun shipping. The system is based on twin premises: (1) that the awards committee cannot fully evaluate new products based on a quick look on the trade show floor; and (2) only fully-realized products, now available for use, should be considered for Product of the Year.

This year's LDI Awards focused on technical innovation rather than sexy lighting gear guaranteed to dazzle the masses. After carefully considering dozens of submissions, the committee chose products designed to make life easier for everyone.

For example, the Entertainment Lighting Product was the Intelligent Raceway from Entertainment Technology Group (www.etdimming.com), a division of Genlyte Thomas Group, which replaces a conventional dimmer rack and connector strip with one lightweight raceway that provides both. The Lighting Accessory winner was the WDS Wireless Dimming System from City Theatrical (www.citytheatrical.com). In the Tools and Software category, the winner was Design and Drafting's (www.design-drafting.com) Lighting Assistant Ac with VIZlink, which allows the user to link from LD Assistant AC or PL into Autodesk® VIZ.

In the Rigging and Hardware category, ACT Enterprises' (www.act-ent-inc.com) Moving Light Hanger won: It makes the hanging of automated gear much easier. Honorable mention in this category went to H&H Specialties' (www.hhspecialties.com) Rope Lock and Safety Lockout. The Widget of the Year went to TentTec (www.tentec.com) for its O-Bag, which holds down and neatly dresses a boom base all in one shot. And an on-the-spot designation, the Cool Product Award, went to the Optispace (www.spacewriter.com) iball, an effect that projects imagery on the inside of a clear glass ball.

There were many products cited in the Promising Prototype category, including Philips Lighting Company's (www.philips.com) ceramic ST250HR lamp (Lighting/Entertainment category), Lighting Services Inc.'s (www.lightingservicesinc.com) BP150 Series Metal Halide Framing Projector (Lighting/Architecture), the Derksen Lichttechnologie (distributed by Image Projection) Gobo Top (Lighting/Accessory), John McKernon's Lightwright 4 (Lighting/Tools and Software), the Pani Projection and Lighting Vertriebs GmbH E-Slide Video Accessory (Scenic Effect), Diagonal Research and Delicate Production NEV Series 6 Video Switcher (Product Innovation), ACT Enterprises Inc.'s (www.act-ent-inc.com) Locking Swivel Coupler (Rigging and Hardware), and Total Structures Inc. (www.totalstructures.com) New Wave Truss (Rigging and Hardware). Both Lightwright and the ACT Locking Swivel Coupler are distributed by City Theatrical.

Of course, people win LDI Awards, too, and this year featured a notable lineup. Lighting Designer of the Year, Entertainment, went to Bill Klages, one of the top TV LDs, whose career spans virtually the entire history of the medium. In the Architecture category, Steven Rosen, of the firm Available Light, was cited. Tracy Eck, a key player in the development of the new gate at Disneyland Paris, won in the Themed Project category. John Leonard, a major figure in the London theatre, was named Sound Designer of the Year.

Oddly enough, among the most coveted of LDI Awards are those for booth design. This year's winners were Penn Fabrication (www.pennfabrication.com), for the small booth category, with Coemar (www.coemarusa.com) taking the award for large booth; honorable mention went to Robe Lighting (www.robe.cz), with its lovely water display. The High End Systems (www.highend.com) booth was recognized for Creative Use of Light and the Laser Show award went to Omnisistem (www.omnisistem.com), with honorable mention going to Laser Fantasy International (www.laserfantasy.com).

ESTA (www.esta.org), the Entertainment Services and Technology Association, also gave out its Dealers' and Manufacturers' Choice Awards at its annual dinner, held the night before the show's opening. The Dealers' Choice Customer Service Awards, voted on by ESTA dealer members, went to three companies: Doug Fleenor Design (www.dfd.com), SSRC (www.ssrconline.com), and Apollo Design Technology (www.internetapollo.com). Conversely, the Manufacturers' Choice Dealer of the Year Awards, voted on by ESTA's manufacturer members, went to Miami Stagecraft (www.miamistagecraft.com), StageLight (www.stagelight.com), and Vincent Lighting Systems (www.vincentlighting.com). (In both cases, there are winners in three categories based on numbers of employees: 1-6, 7-25, and over 25.)

Also at the dinner, the Eva Swan Award was given to Bill Groener, northeast regional vice president of PRG. The Swan, according to an ESTA press release, “is presented to a member who has put forth exceptional efforts in time, expertise, and personal resources on behalf of ESTA; been instrumental in shaping and promoting the strategic direction of the association; made major contributions to the realization of the mission, goals, and objectives; and enhanced the value of membership for all.” Groener was honored for his work in the development of ESTA's Technical Standards Program (TSP), and on the budget and long-range planning committees, helping to raise funds for the TSP. Said Paul Vincent of Vincent Lighting Systems, who presented the award, “I guess Bill takes the idea of being a ‘Renaissance man’ seriously. He is the only ESTA member representing at one time or another all of our membership categories, except International. His many years of steady volunteer service to ESTA, despite the changes and commitment in his work and personal life, have had a major impact on the members of our trade association and our industry.”

At the LDI Awards ceremony, ESTA presented the Dealer's Choice Product Awards. Winning in the expendable category was PerfGel from Apollo Design Technology, Inc. According to ESTA, “These 20"× 24" color filter sheets with easy-to-tear perforations are available in several sizes. PerfGel sheets offer time and labor savings before and during load-in.” The winning widget was Rapid Change Technology (RCT) from Le Maitre Special Effects (www.lemaitrefx.com). Why? “The RCT heat exchanger design, currently available in the company's Show Fogger Pro and Stage Fogger DMX, overcome a fog machine's biggest service issue: a plugged heating block. Now you can quickly make tube changes on the fly wherever your fogger is.” Finally, in the equipment category the winner was Pole Cat from Future Light, Inc. (www.future-light.com). The rationale: “This product provides a temporary yet secure method for mounting lighting, fans, or other elements to structural supports such as tent poles, building columns, and utility poles.”

Finally, the Wally Russell Award, given to a lifetime achiever who has contributed much to the lighting industry, went to James C. “Jimmy” Fuller, whose past includes nearly 40 years as president of the Toronto chapter of IATSE, 30 years as chief electrician at the O'Keefe Center in Toronto (he was there for the theatre's opening in 1960, when the musical Camelot played its first preview performance), and many years as head of Canadian Staging Projects. As a close friend and associate of Wally Russell, Fuller's award brought past and present together, providing a fitting climax to an LDI that looked backwards and into the future all at once.

LED-DI

They promise much: high-quality lighting, energy-efficiency, no heat or noise. But are LEDs the wave of the future? As we've noted until we're blue in the face, everyone is crazy about LEDs right now, even if not everyone knows what to do with them. Anyway, there was a substantial number of LED products and companies at LDI this year. To wit:

Acolyte Systems Corporation (www.smartlyte.com) develops, designs, and markets wireless lighting systems and devices that can be customized for a wide variety of applications. The company's Smartlyte hand-held LED units can be a big help backstage or wherever one needs to read documents in the dark. Altman Lighting Inc. (www.altmanltg.com) jumped into the LED pool with a new division, Software Lighting, and an initial range of LED luminaires including Spectra-PAR, a 540-LED color-mixing PAR fixture; Spectra-Strip, a color-mixing LED borderlight; Spectra-Splash, a 540-LED color-mixing outdoor PAR; and Uni-LED, A 252-LED monochrome PAR. Barco Events (www.barco.com) showcased its LED screens in a stunning display. Bayworld Industries (www.bayworld.com) showed ColorMax, a proprietary electronic controller that drives energy-efficient, high-powered LEDs. The company's Radiator 3 is DMX-compatible, with USB DMX interface. Color Kinetics (www.colorkinetics.com), the dominant player in the American market, was on hand with, among other things, its iColor® Accent indoor/outdoor linear light, the bColor series of color-changing spotlights and wall-washers, and ColorPlay 1.8, the latest version of its software. Daktronics (www.daktronics.com) is a leading manufacturer of LED video displays. James Thomas Engineering (www.jthomaseng.com) showed its Pixel PAR line of LED PAR units. LED Effects (www.ledeffects.com) is a wholesale manufacturer specializing in LED-based custom and standardized lighting and special effects products. New at the show was a new line of exterior floodlights available in the company's new “slim-profile” fixture. Don't forget Magic Gadgets (www.magicgadgets.com), which uses LED technology to light costumes. OptiLED (www.optiled.biz) has an entire line of LED units and is working hard on addressing the main complaint about the technology — its lack of brightness — with a new series of products that may be available later in the year. Pixeon's (www.pixeon.com) Color Stream, the LED in a tube, is the latest in effects lighting for clubs and retail applications. It won a product award at this year's PLASA show. Pulsar Light of Cambridge (www.pulsarlight.com) has one of the most extensive lines of unique LED products available today, under the omnibus title ChromaRange. These include strip units, square panels, and globe-shaped housings. ShowLED by Amelia (www.showled.com) is from Belgium, currently a hotbed of LED innovation. The company introduced to the US market the RoadStar controller and showed the ShowLED Starcloth System, which was shown at LDI 2001. Space Cannon (www.spacecannon.it), maker of large-scale event lighting units, debuted the Metamorphosis, a bright and powerful color-mixing LED unit for indoor architectural specifications. And Xilver (www.xilver.nl), from the Netherlands, showed the Droplet, the kicky little automated LED luminaire for entertainment, display, and architectural uses (the company is currently looking for a US distributor). Keep your eyes on all these companies to see how they fare in 2003.

Click here for Part 2.