The Golden Gate Bridge isn’t the only thing shining brightly in the San Francisco night. Rubies are known for their brightness, as is the nightclub Ruby Skye. Says lighting designer Michael Oku, one of the owners of San Francisco design firm Lumatech, "It is an unusual system. You don’t see a lot of completely automated systems with yoke, fixtures, Cyberlights®, and all that—at least in the Bay Area."
Aimed at an upscale crowd, Ruby Skye features a nightclub, a mezzanine, a Jungle Room, and a VIP suite, and is often home to corporate events for pharmaceutical and computer companies. (IBM recently partook of Ruby Skye’s many amenities.)
Located on Mason Street, Ruby Skye was once a Victorian playhouse, the Stage Door Theater; built in the 1890s in the Art Nouveau style, it is a historical landmark. The owners renovated the building (interiors were designed by Pamela Pennington Studios) and the club opened last year.
For Oku and co-designer Keith Neves, that meant having to watch what they used and where it went. Says Oku, "We had to be careful where we put some of the fixtures and what we rigged, so we put in custom truss. We couldn’t alter too much, and made as minimal use of truss as possible. We made these custom light truss 3" brackets that are about 4' long that can bolt into the ceiling. They were completely custom-made and fabricated by ITT Corp.’’ Plus, Oku points out, "The building only had so much power. By using only automated equipment, we consumed power more efficiently. You get more versatility out of a moving yoke or an automated fixture."
The centerpiece of the club is its moving ceiling truss, a 10'-diameter circle on four chain motors that moves up and down about a range of 30' (9m). Oku placed eight High End Systems Studio Spot® 250s on it because they allowed him to "get a lot of the whole [club]." They also allowed for more frontlight for the stage, where acts sometimes perform. Says Oku, "We can tilt the truss for the club and then you can get more front house lighting." With a total of 28 instruments, Oku relied on the 250s more than any other light.
There is also the linear truss in front of the circle which has High End Studio Color® 575s on it. "I chose the six Studio Color 575s," Oku explains, "because one ceiling is 40-some-odd-feet tall, so to get a lift in there is really difficult. We figure with moving yokes we can focus the stage. If they want to change any stage focuses for dance, those are the perfect fixtures." Oku also favors the 575s for the brightness of their lamps.
Oku also used High End Cyberlights®, which he placed on the further parameters of the club, "so they are spread out; there are, I believe, two above the catwalk [which is behind the stage] for backlight."
How it all translates to the crowd can be summed up in one word: intensity. Says Oku, "There are lots of strobes, lots of colors, and the truss moves around all the time which makes a great effect." Stage acts, like Earth Circus, a dance troupe that uses neon-like costumes, and fire-based acts, allow Oku to play. He says, "We’ll make some cool looks then match with the fire acts. We do cloud looks, blues, and whites, with a little bit of yellow. We have something called the radium look—it’s a radium gobo in a 250 and you put blue on it; it’s kind of like a water effect.".
There are certain occasions, however, for which static looks are preferred. For corporate events the lighting is ambient, and here Oku uses custom gobos of a company’s logo in the circle truss’s 250s. And during the earlier dinner hours, Oku goes for a static look, which allows the Art Nouveau architecture to take center stage. (Says Oku admiringly, "There’s really nice architecture there.")
Lumatech both designed and maintains Ruby Skye. Explains Oku: "We built them about 200 cues—they have about 20 dinner cues and 40 stage looks. When there’s a special event we send a programmer to reprogram new stuff. They’ve basically made me the sole designer and equipment provider. We provide them full technical support. Every week we send techs down there to repair the system or maintain it. If there are any design issues we get the phone call and take care of it."
High End Systems supplied the lighting package (Lumatech is a High End distributor), which is controlled by a Martin LightJockey. But, says Oku, "They also bring in a Wholehog® II when there are live acts or any major events, and we design the system to patch into different types of boards." Oku also used LeMaitre hazers and Reel EFX DF-50 diffusers.
More Ruby Skyes are in the works, with one planned for San Diego and another Bay Area one in the works. Asked whether Ruby Skye is the sort of place in which he would hang out, Oku responds in the affirmative, referring to its mix of dance and live acts—and of course its lighting—as "a whole experience," adding, "It’s not your average club." And, he says, "The food is really good there too."
Photos: Michael Oku.