A new installation lights up Australia’s Burswood Casino

Completed in October 1987 as part of the Burswood Island Resort Casino (BIRC) complex in Perth, Western Australia, the Burswood Island Resort Hotel is an outstanding example of a five-star hotel of the period. Naturally it features a majestic atrium foyer, in this case, a curved glass structure sweeping the full width of the quadrant formed by the L-shaped building, and soaring some ten stories into the air. Perth sits on the edge of the desert; its average of 8.9 hours of sunshine per day and temperatures over 30ºC (86ºF) for an average of 72 days each year makes it a less-than-ideal location for a glass atrium that faces northeast. Market umbrellas stretched over tables in the foyer coffee shop were not merely for decoration but to shade patrons from the strong sunlight pouring through the glass.

When architect Anthony Pettorino, of Silver Thomas Hanley, undertook the planning of a major refurbishment of the hotel foyer (as part BIRC’s expansion of its convention facilities), alleviation of the sunlight problem was a priority. Pettorino’s approach was to suspend a series of 20 perforated, reinforced PVC "sails" to shade the main public areas of the foyer. An integral part of the sail concept was their nighttime use as a projection surface for both programmed decorative lighting and logo projection in conjunction with conferences and events.

BIRC brought in Kevin Harris of Pro-Design Lighting, as both lighting designer and lighting technical consultant for the project. Harris, who comes from a live production background, specializes in conventions, events, and industrial theatre. As this was a refurbishment, he was mindful of working within the hotel’s existing structural and service limitations.

To achieve the desired coverage of 2,000 sq. m (22,200 sq. ft) of sails, Harris chose a mix of color-changing luminaires, including fixed wash lights, moving-head wash lights, and moving-head spots. These were to be installed on ground level in the foyer and on the fronts of the balconies on the first and sixth levels. As all installation was undertaken by BIRC’s engineering department, Harris worked closely with chief engineer Jack Oswald and his team to develop mounting brackets and access facilities for the long-term operation and maintenance of the entire system.

Kospro International won the contract to supply and commission the color-changing luminaires, with a package that combined six Martin Exterior 600 fixed architectural wash lights, with nine Futurelight 840 moving-head wash lights and two Futurelight 860 moving-head spots. The building’s power supply is quite generous, which facilitated a relatively painless addition of these luminaires to the building load and inclusion of their switching into the building’s energy management system. Achieving DMX control of the luminaires from the Alcorn McBride Lightcue was a very different story.

A Connection on High

To link the luminaires onto a DMX control network would require a great deal of masonry work. Control cable runs from the service risers to the luminaires would require extensive drilling and channeling. More importantly, this route would also require the breaching and resealing of fire isolation between floors, for up to six levels per data run. The cost of this work alone would have consumed the majority of the project’s budget. As the atrium provides clear line-of-sight transmission for infrared or radio data, Harris’s thoughts turned to the possibility of wireless DMX to reach the four luminaire groups on the balconies.

Examining the available off-the-shelf wireless DMX solutions, Harris was unable find exactly what he needed for the project. He was concerned about the number of DMX channels available, the radio range of the link, the data update rate for use with moving luminaires, and above all, the cost of the units, which was around $3,000 per station. He then learned of an alternative approach, based on an Australian DMX-to-Ethernet converter.

Consisting of a DMX in and a DMX out module, the Enttec DMXEtherGate is an interface system that can transport up to 256 universes of DMX over a single dedicated 10Mbps Ethernet network. When used in conjunction with the rapidly proliferating IEEE 802.11x (WiFi) standard wireless Ethernet devices, the system can become a highly cost-effective wireless DMX system. A bonus associated with the use of standard computer networking devices is the wide availability of both technical support and exchange units. On the recommendation of Nic Moreau, the engineer who designed the DMXEtherGate, Harris used five Proxim RangeLAN2s for the radio segments of the network. After a lifetime of coaxing technology into doing its intended job, Harris was pleased to find that the DMXEtherGate and Proxim radio link system worked virtually straight out of the box, and at a total cost of around $1,000 per station.

Harris chose to use "Fergos" for logo projection on the two largest sails. Named for lighting designer David "Fergo" Ferguson, who represents Selecon in Australia, the Fergo is a gobo made from standard 3M overhead transparency plastic printed on a high-resolution office printer or photocopier. When demonstrating Selecon’s Pacific ellipsoidal spotlight, Ferguson discovered that the gate of the luminaire is cool enough for a transparency to survive for a considerable amount of time. The cost of a sheet of overhead transparency plastic is significantly lower than most of the custom gobo production methods currently in use, and the turnaround time is unbeatable.

Six Pacific 23/50 600W zoom spots are used for logo projection. They operate as pairs of luminaires with matching Fergos, cross-fading between fittings every 60 seconds to prevent prolonged heat exposure. The plastic gobos have lasted for up to five days, the typical maximum required for a conference or themed event. While Harris has so far produced the gobos on his office Epson inkjet printer, a member of the BIRC events staff will be trained to produce them in-house. Ferguson will soon offer a bureau service for those who only have need for the occasional transparency and don’t want to learn the intricacies of corrective image geometry and transparency production.

Once the Martin Exterior 600s and Pacifics placed at the foyer level had been focused, the remainder of the focus and plotting for the decorative lighting was simply a matter of coming in to the hotel late at night and assembling the required looks. Sequences were composed on a Colortran Innovator 48/96 console, then transferred into the Alcorn McBride Lightcue for replay.

The nightly sequence has the logo projection and the sails cycling through apparently random color changes 6-11pm on weeknights, and 6pm-2am on weekends. At the conclusion of the evening’s performance, all sails fade to a gentle Congo Blue (Lee 181/Rosco Supergel 382), which remains until 6am. All luminaires are then faded out, moving heads are pointed at the floor to minimize any risk of damage, and then switched off.

The result has been so successful that another small set of sails, lit by a pair of Martin MAC 300s, has been placed outside the Presidential and other premium suites. Pettorino, now residing in London, passed the ultimate compliment to the lighting design when he recently viewed some digital images of the lit sails. "Truly awesome. I love the images. They are incredibly true to the original brief."

Andy Ciddor of The Kilowatt Company has been a practitioner, educator, and writer in the field of production technology for 30 years. He can be reached at aciddor@kilowatt.com.au.

Renderings: Silver Thomas Hanley
Photos: Kevin Harris/Pro-Design Lighting