AND OTHER RECENT ADVENTURES IN THE CORPORATE THEATRE MARKET
The industrials market, relatively simple and unsophisticated in years past, has taken off in a big way recently, with more lighting designers called in to illuminate the activities and more vendors ramping up to supply them - Bandit Lites recently announced that it was spending millions to accommodate demand in this arena. Lighting Dimensions takes a look at four such events this summer, including a China-themed program that brought East and West together and two very different events showcasing automobiles. We begin with a first-person account from Kent, WA-based LD Greg Scott, who spent part of his summer with Microsoft.
Time for Bill Gates Was it an offshoot of Cirque du Soleil, or a Microsoft conference - with a twist - that loaded into the Orlando Convention Center on July 11? One would think, with the unique scenery and special effects lighting, that indeed Cirque was in town. When the house lights went down who would appear - an ensemble of performance artists or Microsoft chairman Bill Gates?
Hosted by the Microsoft Corporation, the Professional Developers Conference (PDC) has been held yearly throughout the United States, drawing more than 6,000 attendees from around the world. This year PDC focused on software as a service, and programming for the web. Comedian Richard Jeni hosted the first day of the conference with a humorous twist on the world of computing. The four-day conference was loaded with speakers presenting the latest in web technology, including a keynote from Gates himself.
PDC 2000 presented quite a few creative challenges. Microsoft's graphic artwork for the conference consisted of a circle, and the keywords time, place, and point. The general theme of the conference was the movement of time.
Computer demos take center stage, driving the content of these conferences. The first challenge was how to make something so technical into a work of art. The second challenge was the venue itself. Microsoft wanted to place the general session in the middle of a columned room. How could we both integrate and conceal the column? After surveying the venue, Media Spectrum's design team and I met several times, looking over CAD drawings to determine the best approach to the restrictions of the conference hall.
Scenic designer Greg Bakke created a set that was primarily soft goods and custom trussing, giving me a blank canvas to light. Bakke wanted to develop a "time tunnel" onstage in which lighting created the scene changes. The design team created an asymmetrical truncated cone using truss and a muslin tube. Center stage we flew a funnel of fabric to conceal the large column. We balanced the picture with three circular disks stage left at various trim heights and a giant wraparound white cyc.
Aside from the heat of the Orlando Convention Center in summer, rigging around Bakke's set and the building grid posed some interesting challenges for me. Lighting positions were an issue. Image magnification projection (IMAG) makes it possible for all attendees to see and experience the computer demos, and lighting the stage for the cameras (traditional key-, fill-, backlight, and color temperature) is priority at these conferences. Unfortunately, IMAG lighting doesn't always leave much room for creativity. The three-dimensional set enabled me to explore some unique lighting possibilities while still being able to maintain the angles needed for IMAG. What I came up with was a happy medium between truss placement and height without compromise.
I am always looking for opportunities to use my concert and theatrical experience to "spice up" the dryness of corporate events. This set was an open door for some very unique looks. I used a blend of High End Systems Cyberlights[R], Studio Colors[R], and Technobeams[R], and conventionals like MR-16 Mole lights, ETC Source Four PARs with color changers, and cyc lights, giving me an endless array of looks.
The key elements to light were the "time tunnel," the three message disks, and the center column with the cyc as a background. The time tunnel was definitely the biggest challenge. This was the entrance for all presenters and the main focus onstage. I did not have a great deal of room to effectively light the dimensionality of the tunnel due to throw distance restrictions. The tunnel reminded me of an episode from the original Star Trek series called "The Doomsday Machine;" in it, whole planets and starships are destroyed by a giant cone. I purposely hung three Cyberlights from the two downstage trusses to "ram" light down the throat of the "Doomsday Machine." We flew a horseshoe truss over the top running the length of the tunnel. From this truss and floor positions, I placed Christie Lites MR-16 20-light blinders with the company's CL-5 large-format color scrollers to flood the tunnel with saturated light and color. By blending colors, patterns, and effects functions, enhanced with Reel EFX DF-50 hazers and nitrogen Spectra F/X Fog Dogs, the time tunnel became a whirlwind of light.
Studio Colors and conventional Source Fours with breakup patterns were positioned at the base of the center column, uplighting the curvature of the center tube. The effect caused the column to disappear and the scenic element looked completely intentional.
The scenery made a great surface to display custom Microsoft gobos for the opening and between-speaker looks. For walk-in I rotated the Microsoft logo randomly in time to the rocking music of a local swing band. The show opened with a flashy video montage developed by Media Spectrum, which displayed a variety of time, place, and point images, fast cuts, and a progressive soundtrack.
The opening module is usually the only two and a half minutes of a corporate event an LD has to "blow his cookies." I sat with a time-coded video and programmed the opener with my master electrician [ME], Kirk Garreans. We followed the timing of the music with lots of movement and audience sweeps interlaced with wide color fades. I had the theme words made into gobos for all fixtures. As time, place, and point faded in and out of the video I followed with the custom gobos on the three disks. The use of Cybers in front and behind left me with a great deal of room to mix, match, and layer stock Lithopatterns[R] and color, creating different images.
After the opening, presenters entered through the time tunnel effect. We created a different look for each speaker, maintaining the time, place, and point theme in the background. The individual elements balanced with each other harmoniously, giving us an endless variation. In fact, we had so much flexibility we were still programming through the last day of the conference. It is very rare in corporate theatre to have the opportunity for such creativity, and programming this show was addictive.
Corporate events benefit from the conventions used in concerts and theatre. It has always been my desire to bring these elements into the corporate market. Many corporate shows are very two-dimensional, usually staged with black pipe and drape or a wall of flats framed by truss. It is possible to liven up these shows and drive the conference's messages home by adding more excitement through dramatic lighting and special effects. It is especially rewarding if I can help to punch up an event by giving the attendees an experience they'll never forget.
East meets West September 15-25, New Yorkers got A Close Look at China, the title of a multicultural event that brought mainland history, artifacts, and fashion to the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan. A crew that included Chinese LD Lin Ding brought with them two 120'-long (37m) dragons that were hung across the lobby of the Javits on 14 rigging points. No less interestingly for the US lighting vendor and technical coordinator, Raritan, NJ-based BML Stage Lighting, were that the Chinese also came with very precise lighting plans. BML lighting director and crew chief Mark Miller was the US liaison for this event, which incorporated several fashion shows spotlighting current and historic trends in Chinese wardrobe.
"They're very precise; if they have a plot that's drawn, and it's within an inch, it's within the inch," Miller says. "And when we opened up a High End Studio Color, 20 of them came over and started drawing and taking pictures of it; likewise, when we rolled the truss in at 6am, they sat down and drew it. Their truss is thinner and their safety requirement is non-existent - they also shipped over 120 PAR cans that we had to say no to, again because of safety concerns. We had to replace them, mostly with ETC Source Fours."
But, he says, "Despite this, and the language barrier, they were fabulous people to be around. Getting them to understand how to work with us, and showing them the methods and madness of working within the corporate lighting field here - my weeks are just one long day, with all the projects we do - were the toughest parts." Most of the differences when lighting the fashion shows concerned taste and style.
"We all agreed on general washes," Miller says. "And I was very impressed with the way he did downlight, given the low [19'7"] ceiling trim. I tried, however, to talk them into more flash and trash with the moving lights we had and rotations of our custom gobos, which had Chinese characters and scenes of mainland landscapes - the music played supported this, and we had a 40' (12m) white wall to use, a hell of a canvas. But though we had moving lights, they wanted it lit all white, from the entrances of the models to the exits; only at the fade-outs did you get colors and fabulous shadows. I would have used more fresnels with barndoors rather than 500W ETC floods, and focused it more, and not had the light wash out the audience."
Another difference regarded the use of consoles, an Avolites Azure for the moving lights, and an Avolites Pearl for the conventionals ("the Avo equipment, and the company itself - terrific," Miller says). "We tried to show Lin Ding how to set presets to memory faders, but he always used the subfaders - he wouldn't put anything on the masters. He did everything by hand - all fades, no momentaries. I built one chase for him and had to convince him to use it, and a full-on look, and these were all he used."
Top Chinese officials, and other international dignitaries, were among those who enjoyed the exhibits, including video-wall presentations and Pani projections of mainland life, the result of teamwork between Chinese staffmembers and US project producer The John Schreiber Group. "The cultural exchange was the best aspect of this one," says Miller.
Luxury for Lexus The Broadmoor Hotel and Pikes Peak International Raceway, located in Colorado Springs, CO, hosted this year's Lexus National Dealer Meeting. The events at the Broadmoor, an 80-year-old landmark, centered around numerous ballrooms, while the Ride-and-Drive festivities at the raceway took place in two large tents transformed into a corporate theatre. "They strive to find interesting locations," says LD Chris Medvitz of LA-based Juice Creative. The scale is a bit more intimate, with attendance of around 800, and the mood reflects the Lexus brand. "We try to create a very upscale, luxurious event."
The corporate party at the Broadmoor was spread out over several rooms, and included martini and sushi bars, and a jazz club. Terry Carder, event designer for the George P. Johnson Company of Auburn Hills, MI, came up with a concept that gave direction to the lighting design. "Rather than trying to alter or theme the event in some specific way that would require a lot of equipment or scenery, the event was based on the history of the hotel," Medvitz says. "We didn't want the dealers to be aware of any of the augmentation and enhancements we did to the hotel architecture, and the lighting followed along with that."
Due to the nature of the project, Medvitz avoided much of the standard corporate equipment. "We refrained from a lot of color treatments, gobos, and moving lights, all typical things you see at these events." Instead, he and his team looked toward architectural lighting. "We brought in a pretty reasonable amount of architectural lighting fixtures - floor and table lamps, and landscape lighting that we integrated into the hotel environment." Medvitz also brought in PAR-20s to uplight the potted plants and trees, and numerous Dedolight kits. "They're very small, precision film and photography spotlights that have a wide range of zooms, and little barndoors and attachments." The Dedolights were used with specially fabricated pipe and bases themed into the room, rendering them practically invisible. "We placed the Dedo fixtures at the top of the pipe and bases and focused them down on the buffets and bars."
One of the biggest challenges inside the hotel was a plaster ceiling. "We basically had nothing to hang from and no power up in the air," Medvitz comments. There were chandeliers in some rooms, which did provide some overhead lighting positions. "We took a medium-base-to-Edison-plug adapter, and tapped power off the chandeliers, then hung little PAR-20s off the fixtures themselves."
For the outdoor portion of the event, Medvitz and associate designers David Mann and Chris Ryan worked with City Theatrical of New York to create a new ground spike. "It's a version of the spike you'd find on a low-voltage landscape fixture, but it's large enough to attach an ETC Source Four PAR," Medvitz says. The "theatrical ground spike" was stable enough to allow foot traffic through the area without worries regarding constant refocusing.
The Ride-and-Drive event, which took place during the day in two translucent tents was, like the indoor event, devoid of trussing. "Rather than seeing a bunch of truss and motors, we just had individual fixtures attached to the truss structure," Medvitz says. The tents, which included hospitality, exhibits, and three new Lexus vehicles, were primarily illuminated by the new Arri Event System (its first US use). "Each vehicle had six Arrisun 5s. They're the new 575W lightweight HMI PAR, and they have very little spill to them."
The Arri Event System uses a multicable system, which eliminates the need for individual ballasts near the fixtures themselves. "The multicable system Arri uses to distribute power to the fixtures is very similar to what you'd do for quartz and incandescent fixtures," Medvitz says. The fixtures were hung straight to the tent pipes, using Mineralac straps. "We tried to make it as unobtrusive as possible," the LD concludes.
Ford in the foliage In late summer, the Ford Motor Company hosted a charity event, Revvin' With Ford. Headed up by producer and LD Rick Stuart of Southfield, MI-based Carpenter Communications, it took place in trendy downtown Birmingham, MI, and spanned four specific areas (both indoor and outdoor) and more than 400,000 sq. ft. (36,000 sq. m).
Shain Park featured multilevel lighting, from High End Systems Studio Colors, ETC Source Fours, and conventional PARs, and Coemar CF 1200 wash lights and CF 1200 HEs - all strapped to trees - and festive, truck-oriented vignettes. In an adjacent parking lot, two 210'x60' pole tents (64x18m) featured a variety of food, and vehicles from every division of Ford. The tents were separated by a 75'x120' dance floor (23x37m) and a performance stage.
Moving through the park, patrons could view both vintage and concept Ford trucks in four distinct settings: surfing, construction, 60s hippie, and biker scenes. "I wanted to create scenes and tones with light, set, and sound - this wasn't an auto show and I wasn't necessarily showcasing the vehicles," Stuart explains. For the biker scene, Stuart used Lee 789 (Blood Red) exclusively in the PARs, explosive-looking fire pattern gobos in the CF 1200 HEs, and a smoke effect to create a sinister, surreal look. In the 60s scene, he used Lee 228 (Brushed Silk) and a fire pattern, slowly rotating gobos in eight CF 1200 HEs to create a friendly and warm campfire glow effect interspersed with psychedelic-looking patterns. "The silk keeps the light smooth and even along the vehicle sides with a short throw, while the gobos produced a nice, subtle effect," Stuart explains.
For the surfer scene, Stuart brought in two tons of sand. "I needed a place to project onto - we were talking about using a Pani projector, but the only place we had to hang anything was in the trees." Although the trees worked for the lighting instruments, the angle was too steep for a projector. Instead, Stuart went a simpler route and used rotating gobos in the CF 1200 HEs. "I've created a water look before using two instruments with gobos working together - we used slow counter-spinning wave patterns, blue and blue-green, projected onto the sand and it really gave you the impression of rippling water, even in daylight."
In the construction scene, Stuart avoided conventional fixtures. "I illuminated the scene with 500 and 1,000W quartz construction lights that I put all over - what else would you do on a construction scene? You don't see PAR cans at a construction site."
Moving from the casual, festival-like atmosphere of the park, the mood inside the tents was more formal and upscale. Stuart started off matching the cars with their logos, which gently spun above the audience on the interior of the tent, as well as pools of light around the vehicles themselves. "I illuminated each car with PARs and then put a colored halo around it with the Studio Colors, which matched the color of the car," the LD reports. He relied on the same basic instruments that he used in the park, all of which were provided by Westsun of Troy, MI.
Stuart, along with park programmer/ ME Justin Juriga and tent programmer/ ME Kevin Cassidy, had to deal with the usual challenges of finding suitable mounting locations in unconventional venues. To solve his problem in the pole tents, Stuart designed a trapeze platform that worked with the tent pole to mount the units. "We had the 12 platforms fabricated for this event," Stuart notes. The platforms, which measured 7'x4'x4', took five to 10 minutes to put up and could adjust to fit on any size tent pole, from 3" on up. "We've basically taken the tent pole hanging structure to the next step. I've had these fabricated in aluminum, which has a high strength-to-weight ratio, and made them relatively large - there's 60' of hangable space on each of these platforms. It's almost like having a 30' piece of truss up there. The platforms are safe, sturdy, and can hold substantial weight.
"I got a lot of support from Westsun Detroit general manager Mike Lilley and his staff, who were there from the beginning," Stuart says, closing with the words every industrials designer likes to hear. "We've been invited back by Ford to do something even bigger next year."