Robert Wilson is revered for his avant-garde works of theatre, so it should be no surprise to attendees of EXPO 2005 in Nagoya, Japan that the work he created to symbolize man's relationship to nature is nothing short of spectacular. But In the Evening at Koi Pond is not just a simple outdoor display. It is a multimedia extravaganza that lasts for 30 minutes each night and combines lighting, audio, projections, lasers, and even water features to create a visual celebration of nature's harmony.

Luckily, all this doesn't take place in a traditional theatre. The performance space is an 82,000 sq.ft. pond, which serves as the show's stage. Traditional theatre design went out the window (or down the drain, if you prefer) in order to create something new and different that would capture the imagination of all who saw it. Charged with the show's scenic design was Milan-based Change Performing Arts under the direction of Franco Laera. Given several years of planning time, Laera and his team created an installation that met Wilson's expectations as well as those of a Japanese audience.

Lighting designer AJ Weissbard had to choose equipment that would work in a variety of weather conditions from the show's premiere on March 25 until its finale on September 25. “The three most important factors in conceiving the design for this project were the director, the technology, and the size, scale, and location of the show,” Weissbard says. “I needed to maintain Wilson's aesthetic needs in a less-than-easily-controlled theme park setting. The longevity of the show in a variety of weather conditions and the sheer size of the space had to be taken into account [when it came time to choose instruments], and the use of projection, video, lasers, and moving scenery had to be factored in, as well.”

In setting up the show, an artificial island — 49' in diameter — was built to host the main character, a gigantic snow monkey who is visited by other inflatable animals that float by to a musical program produced by veteran Saturday Night Live producer Hal Willner. The snow monkey star is a 65' high inflatable sculpture illuminated by 15 Coemar Panorama Cyc Power E color changers that wash the monkey in striking shades of green, blue, gold, orange, and more. The Panoramas are on a circular rail around the monkey, just above the water.

“I used these many years ago for the first time and was very happy with the way they mixed color, and since they're rated for all the elements — rain, snow, and ice — it was an easy choice for me,” Weissbard says. “I also wanted to use them to light the woods behind the pond because I know how well the beam works, but our supplier, Procon, did not have enough in stock.” To light the surrounding woods, Weissbard used Studio Due City Colors, which are “not as precise as the Panoramas, but they work for me because the woods aren't a regular surface to light, plus they're rated for outdoor use.” High End Systems Data Flash AF1000s are also used for the woods.

Obviously, traditional automated fixtures would not work for such an unusual production, so Weissbard, a veteran of several of Wilson's productions, used 10 Ireos Space Cannons with 4kW Xenon lamps, installed on four, custom-built, 82' tall lighting towers. “The Space Cannons were my only choice for a moving light for specials on such a grand scale,” he says. “It's a motorized CMY fixture, but it's generally used to light the sky in a variety of colors. We also use it as a moving head and focusing spot.” Typically, the fixtures are used at 7kW, but Weissbard opted to reduce them down to 4kW because “the punch is just fine, and we didn't need the power consumption. They're not as precise as what I would normally use indoors, obviously, so color balancing was a bit difficult.”

Additionally, five Robert Juliat Cyrano 2.5kW HMI followspots are operated from three of the towers by the crew of Japanese production company Heart-S. “For me, the Cyranos are the best followspots in the world and the only ones I wanted to use,” Weissbard says.

Aside from the giant snow monkey, eight additional boats are loaded with oversized inflatable animal passengers. “For the floating objects, I wanted to use LED sources because we couldn't have 220V running through the water,” Weissbard explains. “Luckily, I was able to find a regular-power (instead of a 1 or 3W high-output) LED by BluLeu encased within polyurethane that looks like a hockey puck. It was fantastic.” Artistic License's Net-Lynx — configured for a wireless application — receives signals from fixed points on shore converted from Art-Net into DMX and powers the dimmers that control Soundlight LED fixtures within the animals, all controlled via onboard batteries.

In lieu of traditional theatrical sets, it was decided that projections would be used. Sounds simple enough, right? But nothing is simple in a Robert Wilson production. Instead of traditional projection surfaces or screens, sheets of water host the various scenes of animals, people, animation, and architecture. The water screens are created by four pumps that can shoot as high as 328' (with good wind conditions, that is) and are used with rear projections from four Christie Lights Roadie 25,000 ANSI lumen projectors. Andrea Bianchi, Matteo Massocco, and Maga Milan's team of 3D animators designed the video used in the projections. Four Coolux Pandoras Box media servers control the Roadies.

E3 Engineering's Ulrich Kunkel was responsible for the planning and the conception of the control network and was an invaluable resource to Weissbard. “Running and organizing cable was a huge job, and we wanted to keep it as simple and powerful as possible, and running DMX lines everywhere was not feasible,” he says. MA Lighting's Network Signal Processors (NSP) are positioned throughout the site for local DMX output. The NSPs have an output of four independent DMX lines and can calculate a part of the complete show data live and in sync, which made typical DMX boosters unnecessary for many positions. “When you need to raise the number of channels inside the desk, you need an NSP to get more power to the board,” Weissbard explains. “We use an Ethernet/DMX distribution as well so we can run the network to different lighting locations — the towers, monkey platform, the woods, etc. — and the NSP then converts the Ethernet signal from the board to DMX. We're running 33 DMX universes via the NSPs.”

Two MA Lighting grandMA full-size consoles control the show. During programming, the consoles were divided into “light” and “video” control and used as a back up for each other. Both consoles are combined in full-tracking back up as a main and back up system. An additional show controller, a grandMA replay unit, is positioned in the engineering room, away from the main lighting control. The replay unit can be used to control the complete show locally and smoothly without delay in case of emergency.

“My role was lighting designer, but [while onsite] I was also in the role of coordinating technologies to make sure we got the results we wanted,” Weissbard says. “I have a long history of working with Wilson for over 11 years, so I have a lot more responsibility than I would in designing a traditional theatre piece.”

Koi Pond, while exceedingly theatrical, is anything but traditional and demonstrates how — like man and nature — technology and design can also live in harmony.


Project Team

Creator and director
Robert Wilson
Music director
Hal Willner
Change Performing Arts (Milan)
Franco Laera
Izumi Arakawa (in collaboration with)
Dentsu Meitetsu Agency, Dentsu Tec
Project design
Christophe Martin
Lighting design/technology coordination
AJ Weissbard
Valentina Tescari
Inflatable design
Quim Guixa
Visual design
Keita Shimizu
Video design
Canio Salandra
Andrea Bianchi
Matteo Massocco
3D animation
Maga (Milan)
Rental lighting equipment and installation
Procon (Hamburg)
Kurt Müller
Michael Sasse
Laser, projectors, and water screen
Oracle Productions (Singapore)
Chris Sifton
Show Control & network design
E3 Engineering
Ulrich Kunkel
Production stage manager
Sue Jane Stoker

Lighting, Projection, Effects, and Network Equipment

2 MA Lighting grandMA console
1 MA Lighting grandMA replay console
10 MA Lighting NSP
1 PC with grandMA on PC
7 17" LCD monitors
Intelligent Lighting
10 Space Cannon Ireos Pro VHT 4,000W
4 Space Cannon Focus 1,200W
36 Studio Due “City Color” 1,800W
15 Coemar Panorama Cyc 2×575W
24 High End Data Flash AF1000
37 BluLeu Lakelight LED mono wide
2 BluLeu Lakelight LED mono narrow
92 BluLeu Lakelight LED RGB wide
4 BluLeu Lakelight LED RGB narrow
17 BluLeu Lakelight 10-channel distro
29 Soundlight Stripflood 36 LED RGB+W
4 Soundlight Spotflood LED RGB+W
3 Soundlight Spot48 LED RGB+W
6 Soundlight 6-channel distro
5 Robert Juliat Cyrano followspot 2,500W
8 Artistic Licence Net-Lynx OP
2 Cat-6 patch bay
1 Fiber SC patch bay
14 HP 520wl wireless access point
8 HP Omnidirectional antenna
6 HP wide angle antenna
6 HP Procurve 408 switch
1 HP Procurve 5304xl switch
1 HP Procurve 2626 three-layer switch
1 HP Procurve 2312
1 KVM switch
1 DMX de-multiplexer
4 Christie Lights Roadie 25K projectors, 7.000W Xenon, 25,000 ANSI lumen
1 PC with Christie Digital remote management
5 Coolux Pandora's Box media server
5 17" LCD monitors
2 Power Mac G5 dual 2.5Ghz
2 Apple Cinema display 20"
2 Sony 17" LCD
7 Dutrie Smoke-Pumps 6300w
3 RGB Laser system 18,500w
Water screen
4 Diving-Water pumps 128,000w
Scenic Movement
14 Hydraulic pumps 2,500w
14 Electronic relay
4 Dimmer 12×2kw
9 Switch pack 12×2kw
2 Switch pack 6×5kw
16 Quartz Flood weatherproof 500w
10 220v-24v power converter