To celebrate the holidays, the Time Warner Center in New York City was decorated with 12 lightweight brushed aluminum stars, 12'×14' (3.65×4.27m). Brooklyn-based Holiday Image designed, built, and installed the stars, which were lit by LD Ted Mather. “The points of the stars are an acrylic laminate designed to transmit as much light as possible, while achieving uniform brightness,” says Mather. Hung from 3/8' steel aircraft cable to chain motors attached to existing hanging points in the 75' (22.9m) high ceiling, the bottom of the highest star is at 52' (15.9m) and the lowest at 18' (5.5m) off the floor. Power and data runs to each star, all of which use 1,400 DMX channels.

“First, the star's structure was designed; then we figured out how to light it, what the panel material needed to be, and what needed to fit inside,” Mather explains. “Then, the core ‘soccer ball’ was engineered to accommodate all the internal lighting, power supplies, and electronics, and then the method of attaching points, access to the core, and order of assembly was worked out. It was sort of working from the outside in, and back out again.”

Each star has 20 Color Kinetics ColorBlast® LED fixtures illuminating its points, a DMX-controlled TPR Enterprises CDM Source Box lighting the 500 fiber optic tips and Birket Engineering individually controllable strobes on each point. Two fans blow hot air out of the core.

From May through August, Mather did mockups and honed his designs to preliminary music, getting the final music in September. Using Adobe® Photoshop® and Apple® Final Cut® Pro, he created animations of the stars to work out all the cues. “These animations were used for client review and for creative development with Holiday Image,” he points out.

In October, using Cast Lighting's WYSIWYG, Final Cut, and a sample LED fixture, Mather and programmer Paul Sonnleitner worked for two weeks to convert all the looks created in Final Cut into real lighting cues in the MA Lighting grandMA console. “We worked out how to get our ideas created in one medium — video editing — into a totally different medium — DMX,” says Mather. “We used bitmaps and the grandMA effects engine to produce much more organic movement in the lighting than would ever be possible using numbers and groups.”

On site, Mather added fiber optics and Birket strobes to the mix, making slight timing adjustments to sync with the music. “We could only work from 10pm until the shops reopened at 8am,” says Mather, who notes there are roughly 2,600 cues for four different two-minute shows set to music from The Nutcracker Suite.

“The grandMA sends a command to the in-house show control system, which lowers the house lights through a Lutron control system, fades the house audio, and starts the music,” he adds. The grandMA tracks SMPTE to control the stars, the LEDs in the ceiling, and 30 in-house High End Systems fixtures (a mix of Studio Spots® and Studio Colors®) though a Flying Pig Systems Wholehog® console. The ceiling LEDs form a backdrop for those at floor level looking up, while the High End fixtures light the floor as a backdrop for people on the upper balconies looking down.

“The goal was for the stars to have the visual equivalent of Disney's Fantasia, as if the lights are reacting automatically to the music, without human intervention,” says Mather. The stars “perform” every 15 minutes from 4pm-10pm through mid-January.