The new addition to the British art scene--the Tate Modern on London's Bankside, officially opened by the Queen on May 11--was stunningly lit up on its inaugural night using a combination of conventional and automated lighting from Vari-Lite Production Services (VLPS) London.

The lighting for this prestigious event was the conceptual work of multidisciplinary design and communications consultancy Imagination and its in-house lighting designer Kate Wilkins, with Hugh Vanstone designing the interior lighting for the big night.

As befits a high-profile art gallery opening, the Tate Modern wanted its launch to capture the front pages of the international press--and create superb images for the massed ranks of national and international TV cameras. As most television viewers who watched the live BBC broadcast would agree, the team succeeded in style.

"Our lighting brief was to keep it simple but surprising," says Wilkins, who had two principal angles of viewing to consider. There were the invited guests, close to the former Bankside Power Station's towering walls and its 90m-high (300') chimney on the river's south bank. The other viewpoint was from across the Thames at Blackfriars, where the television cameras picked up the building's striking form in a combination of lasers and large-scale architectural wash and profile lighting. It was designed so that guests close to the building saw two different layers of color projected on the chimney, enhancing the building's texture. From across the river the display created very strong shapes between the "light box" and the chimney, forming a cross.

"For the television cameras," continues Wilkins, "I used colors which I knew would show up strongly. Before the event we carried out camera tests with a variety of lighting instruments to find the best combination."

The evening began with a VIP reception; then, at sunset, a laser introduction outlined the details of the enormous brick building, including its windows and its chimney. "The building is made up of very strong rectangles," says the LD, "so our preshow sequence was devoted to highlighting shapes in ways they wouldn't normally be seen, but we didn't want to create anything that wasn't really there in the architecture. The lighting was kept big and strong, like the building itself, to reveal its shape."

The preshow ran from sunset to 10:45pm, at which point the evening went live on BBC. Wilkins explains, "At BBC time we ran the full lighting sequence, which contrasted colors, shapes, and profiles, using strong white lines on the chimney. It was designed to represent the rebuilding of the structure's blocks and modules. Everything we did had a reason: Even the way the lights climbed and flowed up the chimney represented individual aspects of the overall project."

Communicating such a story through the medium of light on brick entailed, after some careful experimentation with different instruments, a small palette of tools headed by 50 Vari*Lite(R) VL5Arc(TM) automated wash luminaires. Says Wilkins, "We chose the VL5Arcs because we had a very clear idea of what we wanted, and in the tests it was the brightest and most controllable luminaire of its type. I wanted the light to climb the whole of the chimney in a long, smooth flow, which demanded a powerful optical lens system to achieve it in a precision-controlled short-to-long throw. Other lights of this type simply didn't have the blend of punch and control to achieve the sequence as we wanted."

She used 30 VL5Arcs to light the front face of the Tate Modern, with each lighting position at ground level fitted with two lights with overlapping beams and each top-level position equipped with four luminaires. The effect was to provide two crossfading colors from each position. VL5Arcs were also used to light the side of the chimney.

Other light sources (also supplied by VLPS London) were a series of Studio Due CityColors on the light box, Source Fours with gobo rotators, and Robert Juliat D'Artagnan 2.5k HMI profiles to provide the shuttered profile lines which climbed the chimney. The show was operated by Paul Cook, who with Wilkins pre-programmed in VLPS London's WYSIWYG studio, which has recently received a hardware and software upgrade, and this saved a lot of time on-site.

Interior lighting for the opening event, designed by Vanstone, used a combination of VL5(TM) wash luminaires, VL6B(TM) spot luminaires, 2.5k HMI fresnels and dimmer shutters, Robert Juliat D'Artagnan 2.5k HMI profiles, and Source Four profiles, operated by Richard Knight, all supplied by VLPS London. These lit the exhibits, the reception area, and the Williams Fairy Band, which played a selection of acid house anthems arranged for brass band by artist Jeremy Delier.

Said VLPS's John McEvoy: "It was a great privilege to be asked by Imagination to help light such a momentous occasion, and we're delighted that the Tate team was thrilled with the results."