Since1907 the celebration of New Year's Eve in Times Square has included a ball drop, and drawn huge crowds. "Times Square 1998," sponsored by the Times Square Business Improvement District, featured a spruced-up ball and lighting effects, and drew about 500,000 people to Manhattan (right). Says Peter Kohlmann, Times Square BID's director of marketing and special events, "Before the BID was created five years ago, the ball dropped from the flagpole, and that was it."

Lighting designer Barry Arnold of Barry Arnold Associates explains, "Through the generous sponsorship by Osram Sylvania and others, the ball (modernized from a simple bulb-studded armature in 1995) was re-clad in aluminum, covered with 12,000 rhinestones, and fitted with 180 75W halogen lamps, a 10kW internal xenon lamp, and Diversitronics programmable glitter strobes. We recircuited the ball so it could chase, and added a synchronized motorized winch for better control." Universal Unlimited constructed the ball; Outside Systems and Service Sign provided the numerals for the sign that accompanies it.

This year the ball was controlled via DMX and an ETC Expression supplied by Production Arts, which also provided power distribution and other control equipment. Showpower helped power the lasers and searchlights used.

"For 1998, we used three YAG lasers," Arnold says. "Laser Media created a beam table for them that really improved what we could accomplish with them. I covered the ball with rhinestones so I could hit it with the lasers, but that effect hasn't been approved yet by the Federal Aviation Administration; outdoor laser displays are tightly controlled in the US." All the beams were terminated onto various buildings, so the lasers were not aimed into free space.

Kevin McCarthy, director of marketing for Los Angeles-based Laser Media, says, "It took us four days to set up. This year it was brutally cold and we needed to wrap the lasers in heating blankets and drain all the water from our system whenever it wasn't being used. We didn't use animation, just aerial effects, because of the high ambient light in Times Square. Together with the searchlights, we created a real canopy of light."

Production manager Don Gilmore's tasks included the hard-wiring of 18 Xenotech 7kW searchlights with color scrollers to three Flying Pig Systems Wholehogs. Four other searchlights, manually operated, were used to light the ball. "The cabling of the show is a major task," Arnold says. "Nothing can be laid on the street. Everything must be in the air and approved by the police department. The whole show, including pyro effects by Zenith Pyrotechnology, is controlled by SMPTE time code, and accuracy is maintained via the TV production truck, which is synched with the atomic clock in Boulder, CO."

Gilmore says IATSE Local 1 stagehands were an "integral part" of the setup this year. "Preparation is very important," McCarthy adds. "New Year's is a one-shot event. It can be a real nail-biter."