Orlando probably has more theme parks per square mile than any other part of the country, but it never had a strong downtown area similar to those found in most major cities. That is, until the advent of CityWalk. Adjacent to Universal Studios Islands of Adventure, and part of Universal Studios Escape, CityWalk offers both tourists and residents a central meeting area designed for entertainment or just hanging out--without paying a cover.
Following the opening of the Hard Rock Cafe and Hard Rock Live in January 1999, CityWalk opened across the lake last February. Work on the project began about four years ago. The expansion included building a second theme park, several hotels, and complementary restaurants, clubs, retail stores, and a cineplex. As part of Universal's design, development, and construction team, technical manager Will Seton oversaw the architectural and theatrical lighting, as well as audio/video, project acoustics, and telecommunications.
"The project was loosely divided into two types of work," Seton explains. "The area development includes all the exterior--or common--areas. Then there are the interiors--all of the clubs, each of which were individual projects. For all the exterior areas, Norm Schwab/Lightswitch headed the theatrical lighting design team, and Joe Kaplan Architectural Lighting was the architectural lighting team. Of course, the individual clubs, restaurants, and retail applications all had quite a large number of people involved."
The theatrical performance lighting for the outdoor areas that Schwab designed included the main street thoroughfare and, originally, three outdoor stages and scattered performance areas throughout the park. "Four very large trusses span about 90' (27m) over the Promenade from one building to the other," Schwab explains. "We put a series of 24 ETC Irideon AR500s(TM) on them so we could light up the street in pools of light and color chases. The street actually banks up, and the gradual elevation change creates a very nice perspective of the street as you walk up the hill."
Lightswitch also added dimmers onto each truss and loaded them with PAR-64s to create a white base light for illumination between the AR500 gaps. "That also provided them with enough dimmers for special events; if they wanted to redirect the PARs, they would have that capacity to expand," Schwab explains. "We also put in some additional AR500s and some CSI PARs along the sides."
The Plaza stage is quite large: 30' (9m) wide and 20' (6m) deep. "They are going to use it for a lot of different acts," Schwab says. "It's good for live performances as well as being the perfect little area to do TV remote shoots. We put in a Tomcat stage that basically acts as a grid. We can hang our lighting system from it, and the Tomcat roof can also hold about 30,000lb, so others can bring in temporary lighting systems. We have about 72 lights for a really basic stage wash system that works for their day-to-day operations. The stage also has 96-channel dimmer racks, which are in for expansion. It is backed by a very pretty water feature--it's a sloping, cascading waterfall behind the back of the stage that's lit up, and two staircases that lead up from the Plaza to the Promenade meet up there."
The rest of the Plaza is ringed by eight structures called totems, 40'-tall (12m) poles surrounded by perforated metal. Coming out of the poles at various junctures are CSI PARs that throw saturated light into the center of the Plaza. "The towers are really gorgeous architectural structures," Schwab says. "Some of them are Escher-like, in that they almost don't look possible in terms of the folds. They are as visible as any icon Universal has right now from the freeway, and they've become a very important element."
John Johnston, an architect with interdisciplinary environmental design firm Sussman/Prejza & Company, Inc., designed the towers. Kaplan and Schwab helped to light them. "It was great working with Norm--I gave him an animation program I created for the wash lights that are within each totem and he really understood what I was trying to do," Johnston says. "Universal hasn't yet put the full program into effect, but we hope that will happen soon. Norm and I pulled about three all-nighters last July testing a lot of the ideas, which was really fun. When you change a fiber optic quickly from one color to another, we discovered that because it was on a wheel we had to go from white all the way around to the next one. You got a little blip of one of the colors before that, a really good effect that we put into the program because it was so interesting. The overlap of the disciplines in the towers gave us a chance to create something really unique."
Johnston also worked with Kaplan on the towers. "We worked with Joe to hide a lot of the fixtures in the entryway lamp posts," Johnston says. "He was really concerned about just having a light show. Joe did the more architectural lighting whereas Norm's focus was the show lighting, so they understood what we were trying to do, which was to have the light itself focused on, rather than the fixture."
As the project's overall architectural LD, Kaplan designed elements for the entire area development of the space and the interiors of a significant number of the venues, including Emeril's Restaurant, Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, theatres, and the cineplex. "Philosophically, the overall idea for the project's lighting was to create a hyper, three-dimensional environment, where the three-dimensional characteristics of the space have been played up to give it a fantastic feeling," Kaplan explains. "We want to engage the viewers and create an emotional response from them that we know comes from color, motion, and 3D--all of which we were able to incorporate into this job. When you add up all the elements it creates a level of visual excitement that is very important to an attraction.
"Certainly there are other places where people can go to a nightclub, or a restaurant, or shop, or the movies," Kaplan continues. "Our aim was to create a special atmosphere to develop an attraction where the total is greater than the sum of the parts. Then people would come just to experience being there, above and beyond what they go there to consume. That was very important to us. The design of the space and the general architectural character of it was very conducive to excitement. We did everything that we could to support that idea and we did it using energy-efficient sources that have reduced maintenance intervals--we're trying very hard to be the environmental good guys. We just wanted to make it exciting, good-looking, energy-efficient, and easy to maintain, and I feel we achieved that."
While Kaplan concentrated on making exciting architectural statements for the clubs' exteriors, Lightswitch designed the theatrical lighting for four of the indoor clubs. "We did The Groove, a dance club; Bob Marley--A Tribute to Freedom, a reggae club; CityJazz, and also Margaritaville," Schwab says. "The Groove has a fairly nice lighting system in it: High End Systems Cyberlights(R), Technobeams(R), Dataflash(R) strobes, and PAR cans. It's laid out in a fairly repertory club environment with as much of the equipment spread out in as many places as you can physically put them. There's also a stage which originally was put in for acts, but now they use it more for dancing, which is incredibly popular, because people love to just get up on a stage and show off their 'thang.' "
Lighting board operator John Clark worked on the programming with Lightswitch. "We also coordinated the lighting with a video display that they put in on the stage," Schwab says. "They took up most of the stage with a scaffolding-type structure that holds studio monitors and strobes and lights, and the people who put together the video do a stunning job. The DJ, the video director, and the lighting operator are so much in tune that it's helped make The Groove on the weekends one of the most popular clubs in Orlando. There is also a weekend street dance party for people that are too young to get into the clubs, which is pretty cool."
The reggae club, which is actually a brick-by-brick recreation of Bob Marley's house in Jamaica, is also quite popular. "It's got an outdoor courtyard, and we put some lekos there that spatter palm tree gobos around," Schwab says. "So it feels like the light has been filtered through the trees as you sit in the courtyard, and the lighting system has a three-color wash."
Over at Margaritaville, the stage was designed to look like a lighthouse buoy. "We had to design the lighting system to fit within the structure of this lighthouse," Schwab says. "There were some intricate structural mounting details there, but we were able to get some lighting in there. And CityJazz is a truly gorgeous space with a big proscenium--I just wish we'd been able to put in more lighting."
With all these different projects within a project, technical manager Seton worked to create a standard system of control throughout the area. "The common areas at CityWalk were conceived to be a little different than the common areas in most other projects," he explains. "Whether they be theme parks or casino general areas, most common areas are designed to look or sound a certain way and to stop right there. Then there are totally separate areas that are show areas, with technicians who run them, and the sound, lighting, and video systems are made to be versatile and responsive to the needs of a show. So there are two separate issues: common areas and show areas."
At CityWalk, the common, exterior areas were designed to do both. "They are designed to look pretty, to have flashing lights, and have the sound and the video appropriate to common areas, so it looks attractive," Seton says. "But besides that, those areas are also somewhat interactive. A technician could take the architectural lighting on a 100'-tall (30m) architectural tower and make that lighting flash on and off, or do specialized cues on an ad-hoc basis.
"Now there are technicians in charge of the common area's lighting and sound each night. They can raise the volume of the sound in different areas, they can change the musical source that is fed to those areas, and they can change the lighting cues," Seton continues. "There are always new ideas for how each area can be used nightly. They look to the flexibility of those systems to help provide crowd control, attract people, and drive them into the clubs."
Working with design/build contractor Barbizon Electric, with input from Lightswitch and Kaplan, Seton created what he calls the CityWalk Exterior Theatrical Lighting System, or LCS. The LCS is characterized by an extremely flexible control scheme that enables the operator to transition smoothly between pre-programmed events, pre-recorded presets/cues, and live action control of any and all channels in the system.
"The paradigm shift concerns this exterior area that needs to look pretty but also has to be flexible and respond to operator and owner needs at a moment's notice," Seton explains. "We were looking for a system that would operate on its own if no one touched it, but also for a simple, non-threatening way for a person to operate it nightly. So we installed a push-button panel that could execute very complex cues very simply. There's even one big escape button on the board that, if the operator gets himself into trouble by doing something they didn't want to do, he can hit this one button, and it would go back to the automated procedure. Besides that, we wanted a highly competent user to also be able to execute very complex ad-hoc cues.
"We've got three levels of system operation--automatic, very simplified, and very complex--all operating simultaneously," he continues. "Any source can control any load on a channel-by-channel basis at any time. To my knowledge, that's a whole new paradigm, to have all three of those operating simultaneously. I had a lot of help putting it all together from Norm and Lightswitch as well as the electrical engineers from Cosentini Engineering and our Orlando-based consultant, Cam McCormick."
Seton also oversaw Barbizon partnering with ETC in both the design phase, and the second phase: the infamous Universal FAT Test, or Factory Acceptance Test. "That means that for their control system, all of the components literally have to be assembled at the factory into a working, functioning system, and the planning that goes into creating that is what's known as the FAT Test Plan," Seton says. "The actual FAT Test at the factory, the assurance that all this will work long before it's installed in the facility, went very well.
"We had lots of problems and lots of discoveries, which is normal when you're creating a prototypical system like this," Seton continues. "Those steps became very important, and from the president of Barbizon on down, they were all absolutely supportive that, at any cost, Barbizon would partner with Universal, ETC, and deliver whatever was needed for the system to work. So hats off to them."
From a lighting technology standpoint, the approach that was used in all of the venues is that the architectural lighting loads, the theatrical loads, and the architectural control stations and theatrical control consoles were all commingled into one system. "There are one or more dimmer racks, and the theatrical console and the architectural control stations all talk to the same dimmer rack, and all of the lighting loads were in the same dimmer rack. We established that as a project-wide policy."
By all accounts, this "beyond state-of-the-art" system has provided a widely successful end result. While Universal may still tinker and add more to the designs, the overall sense of accomplishment is certainly felt throughout all of CityWalk. "It has become a great gathering place that isn't a mall," Schwab concludes. "Well, maybe in a way it is a mall, but it's more like European social gathering places. You see people meeting people they never knew before and dancing with them, until the place turns into this wild street party--that's not a bad thing. It's an especially good place for kids to go to if they can't get into clubs--they can go there to dance or just to have fun."
Technical manager Will Seton
Theatrical lighting Lightswitch/Norm Schwab, Brad Malkus, Jim Holladay, Mark Hoover, Laura Markovitz Robert J. Laughlin & Associates/Robert J. Laughlin Lucci & Associates/Ken Lucci
Architectural lighting Joe Kaplan Architectural Lighting/Joe Kaplan and Chris Coe Sussman/Prejza and Co./John Johnston
Lighting design contractor Barbizon Electric
Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing Cosentini Associates/Lee Walker A.K. Scruggs & Associates/Tony Scruggs H.C. Yu & Associates/Jim Summers
Project managers Michael Havener, Thomas Michaud
Project Architect Greg Burnett
Selected lighting equipment Promenade (36) ETC Irideon 700W AR500s with custom perforated tophats (24) Sterner 1,200W CSI PAR-64s (48) LTM 1kW exterior PAR-64s
Plaza (24) Sterner 1,200W CSI PAR-64s (24) Stonco 500W PAR-56s (48) LTM 1kW exterior PAR-64s (48) High End Systems Dataflash AF-1000 units
Towers (148) Stonco 500W PAR-56s
Control (1) ETC Obsession console (1) ETC Unison control system (7) ETC Sensor 96x2.4kW dimmer racks
The Groove (12) High End Systems Cyberlights (8) High End Systems Technobeams (24) ETC Irideon AR5s (2) ETC Irideon AR6s (36) High End Systems Dataflash AF-1000s (96) Tomcat PAR-64s (36) ETC 26-degree Source Four ellipsoidals (1) Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II console with expansion wing (1) ETC Sensor 96x2.4kW dimmer rack
Bob Marley--A Tribute to Freedom (24) ETC 26-degree Source Four ellipsoidals (18) ETC Source Four PARs (24) LTM 1kW exterior PAR-64s (1) ETC Express console (1) ETC Sensor 48x2.4kW dimmer racks
CityJazz (24) ETC 26-degree Source Four ellipsoidals (24) ETC Source Four PARs (1) ETC Express console (1) ETC Sensor 48x2.4kW dimmer racks
Margaritaville (12) ETC 26-degree Source Four ellipsoidals (24) Tomcat custom white PAR-64s (1) ETC Express console (1) ETC Sensor 48x2.4kW dimmer racks