Commuters who passed through New York City's Grand Central Station this past December and saw swirling yellow taxi cabs and spinning stars were not victims of bad shellfish at the Oyster Bar — they were enjoying the latest holiday show, Grand Central Kaleidoscope.
Eschewing lasers and rock show effects, Artlumiere Inc. and Casa Magica, with Scharff Weisberg and Stone Pro Rigging, transformed the main concourse with projections on the walls and ceiling. The swirling taxis were projected in a repeating pattern that, at first glance, made the huge hall look as though it was papered with brightly colored gift wrap, but on closer inspection, New York's famous yellow cabs became visible. Photographs from Casa Magica, the German creative team of Friedrich Förster and Sabine Weissinger, showcase some of the features from the terminal's famous façade, such as the Tiffany clock and statue of Mercury, highlighting them for commuters who may never have taken the time to really look at them before.
Although the show was a festive celebration of New York, executive producer and president of Artlumiere Inc., Lucette de Rugy, did not want to overwhelm visitors to the terminal. “Giant images can be so aggressive, and we wanted harmony, especially at that time of year,” she says. The kaleidoscope theme referenced comforting memories of childhood toys and enabled the producers to create visual gags, such as “gift wrapping” the walls with rotating vignettes. Other moving images show trains stopping in sync so that all the doors line up on columns at the same time, and busy street scenes were woven into tapestries layered around the landmark building, rather than confronting commuters with one large streetscape. Stars dancing across the Beaux Arts columns turned out to be made from the Chrysler Building's iconic spire.
To create these murals, De Rugy used eight of Paris-based Hardware Xenon's 7,000W OLS projectors, which she chose because, “I know the company very well, and this generation of projectors has scrollers.”
The projectors were placed symmetrically, four each above the north and south staircases in the Grand Concourse, and accompanied by 12 Vari-Lite VL3000s provided by Scharff Weisberg. A representative from Hardware Xenon kept the projectors focused during the 21 shows a day.
Despite the projectors 70,000-lumen output, Grand Central presented some problems. “Light is the enemy of light,” says de Rugy, as the terminal has large windows and interior lighting not just at ground level, but running around the rim of the ceiling, which, for the comfort and safety of visitors, cannot be dimmed. “It affected the intensity of the light and the vibrancy of the colors,” continues de Rugy. Another problem was getting access to the terminal; the team had to be nocturnal during setup hours from midnight to 5am.
De Rugy's background is in opera, and using classical music was important to her for several reasons. Traditional American holiday tunes are not in short supply in pharmacies and department stores in New York in December, and de Rugy didn't want to add to the chorus. She also wanted the experience to be inspirational rather than over-stimulating in a space that is already crowded and busy, so the soundtrack featured Bach and pieces from Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker during the seven-minute show.
Jason Block, project manager from Scharff Weisberg, handled the audio and lighting control and coordinated them with the projectors. Two Medialon Manager systems kept the audio and visual components of the show synchronized. “There are two Meyer CQ-1s, two Meyer CQ2s, and two Meyer UPA-1Ps that get signals from four Lectrosonics IFB wireless transmitter and receiver pairs,” says Block. He also used a Klark Teknik DN370. Hardware Xenon programmed the Medialon Manager for the projectors, and Randy Briggs from Scharff Weisberg handled programming for the audio. To program the show, Block used an MA Lighting grandMA console programmed by Brendon Boyd but switched to the grandMA Light once it was up and running. Block says, “We figured the grandMA would be a great console for programming because we can control it via timecode or MIDI.”
While splitting her time between New York and Paris, de Rugy has done high-profile works all over the world. In the United States, these include the façade of City Hall in Washington, DC, and large-scale Christmas shows in New York and Beverly Hills, but Kaleidoscope is the largest US project so far. It also had the distinction of being one of the few projects where de Rugy and her team did not have to contend with the elements. She says, “It was warm inside Grand Central, and we usually do a lot of outdoor illuminations at this time of year!”