When Hard Rock Hotel and Casino planned to open the first all-inclusive resort destination in the Dominican Republic early last year in Punta Cana on the former site of Moon Palace, a comprehensive renovation ensued. The project was not to be fully realized, however, until its crowning with a state-of-the art nightclub, Oro, a 10,000sq-ft. open-plan space spanning two levels, complete with a two-story custom LED wall and an infinity edge bar, that debuted this past fall.
With interior design by François Frossard of FFD, Inc., and lighting/video design, systems engineering, and programming by Steve Lieberman of SJ Lighting, Oro is operated by Miami Marketing Group (MMG), the same firm that brought us LIV in Miami, another of Lieberman’s credits. “MMG’s directive was loose in regard to specifics,” says Lieberman of the initial design stages. “However, the pressure was on to create something that would stand the test of time and look amazing.” Guests enter Oro on level two, greeted by a small dance floor, as the main dance floor sits one level down. The space is subdivided into several areas—delineated by furniture or architectural elements such as stairs, columns, and a reed wall, and not by separate rooms—including entrance/upper level dance floor, upper bar area, upper mezzanine VIP, main level dance floor, lower VIP area, infinity mirror bar, and DJ booth with VIP section behind it. The overall feel of the room, says Lieberman, is “80s disco meets Tron.” Using no truss for the lighting rig, he instead engineered a custom support structure of concentric circles to hang the lighting system over the main dance floor, and smaller surrounding semi-circular support structures, all to serve other areas of the room with lighting, as well. “I originally designed the support as a track to accommodate Neo-Neon LED Neon-Flex RGB, but I instead made it curved pipe with offset flat-bar on either side and clear zip ties to hold the Neon-Flex into the structure. This is more low-profile than truss. Sometimes truss works, and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s a production detail, and I didn’t want it to look like a concert element.”
For Lieberman, the system engineering is as important as the design. “Engineering is one of the more important elements of design work,” he says. “Anyone can draw a nice photo, but if you can’t build it properly, you might not even be able to implement it. So there’s a practicality that comes into play right before execution. If I’m not sure I can build it, I’m not going to even draw it for a client.” More than 1,000' of LED Neon-Flex RGB, each piece individually controllable, edges various elements. “This adds a dynamic to the system that you can’t get out of a typical theatrical detail,” says Lieberman. Frossard designed 25'-tall twisted columns with an alligator skin-type pattern covering, the edges of which are highlighted in the Neon-Flex, as well. “The great part about this Neo-Neon product is that you don’t see any pixels from the LEDs. We also added an edge detail in the dance floor with more of the same. All of these details really tie the space together.” For the lighting rig itself, the main circular support structure over the dance floor and various other sections of the pipe/flat-bar configuration include 20 Elation Professional Design Spot 300 Pro fixtures—Lieberman says they have a great feature set versus cost—36 Elation Opti Tri Pars, eight Martin Professional MAC 250 Wash units, and six Martin Atomic Strobes (two more are used in the upper entrance area). American DJ Pinspots in clusters of three per circuit are focused straight down to create a rain effect, powered by two Doug Fleenor Design DMX8DIM units. Acclaim Rebel Bar 350s backlight the wall panels at the four corners of the club, while two Reel EFX DF-50 Diffusion Hazers on the floor add effects. Lieberman programmed the lighting, and AG Lighting installed the moving light package. The DJ booth has its own opportunities for lighting specials via two ETC Source Four 26° ellipsoidals with Elation Professional Uni Bar dimming as well as two more Elation Opti Tri Pars. Opposite the DJ booth, an infinity mirror, accommodating a dancer, adds a unique touch over one of the bars, lined with 42 Philips Color Kinetics iColor Cove® QLX with three power supplies. “The box is lined with fixtures in a linear pattern, with a mirrored back wall and one-way glass on the front surface that gives the illusion of a tunnel effect,” says Lieberman.
An MA Lighting grandMA 2 light console oversees all effects lighting duties. Alongside it is a Philips Strand 100 series console as a fader wing. “This Strand wing takes DMX in and gives another 24 handles for our live environment,” says Lieberman. “We never know what’s going to happen, so when I program, I pretty much take a fixture and unfold it onto the console. One handle does intensity, one does speed, one does strobes, etc. The fader wing holds things I know I always need—speed effects control, time chase control, gobo speed rotation—not cued out. I can set a cross-fade handle that goes from slow to fast, for example—anything I know I don’t need to change pages on. In live environments, I just don’t like to change pages—one more key press that slows down the board op. These extra handles help avoid that.” An ETC Unison system with wall stations controls house and architectural lighting elements. The two-level 14mm video wall, custom built by Andrew Gumper and his team at AG Lighting, backs the main bar, mapped as one surface, but it’s actually two sections, each comprising three nested rectangles of screen with negative space in between. Vello Virkaus of V Squared Labs designed and built the custom media server and control setup for the wall using Derivative TouchDesigner and Modul8 from GarageCUBE, triggered via an Apple iPad interface. Virkaus also programmed the video and created screen content, “much of it pixel-specific to the screen,” says Lieberman. “We also have the ability to playback DVDs or simply load content onto the server to be played back. It doesn’t make much difference whether or not things are triggered from a console or from a video world. For scripted shows, it’s easier to cue out the video looks from a console, but that doesn’t happen in the nightclub world, so two discrete systems are preferred.”
Lieberman also addresses the need for flexibility in these systems. “In a nightclub environment, where things are not scripted and completely live, the operator needs the ability to change looks on the fly—colors, patterns, speed, intensity, etc.,” he says. “This is what defines your show. The thing I enjoy most about running a show is having the live interaction with the music and my visual team. For example, Vello and I have been doing shows together for nearly 15 years. We both understand color theory—kind of a critical item—and we play off each other. Whether or not you’re running both systems—lighting and video—or you have an operator for both, there needs to be balance in your show, in your looks, in your philosophy.” Designing alongside Frossard, another colleague with whom Lieberman has worked many times, has its benefits, as well. “Working with François is a great experience,” says Lieberman of the collaboration with the interior designer. “I have a lot of respect for him, and his design work is impeccable. So, all that being said, he really delivered an amazing design package. This gave me a great subject to light. François and I spent a lot of time together coming up with the scheme for the theatrical effects package. Ultimately, we finalized our design concept in his living room over a few bottles of wine.”