Rising Attendance, Promising New Gear Highlight LDI 2002 in Las Vegas

After the events of the past year or so, there's something to be said for a return to normalcy, and that's just what the industry got with LDI 2002 in Las Vegas. There was the host city, which has been both a steady source of revenue for designers, dealers, and manufacturers over the years and a pain in the butt for its constant inclusion on trade show calendars. There was the typical wide variety of new and promising products launched on the show floor. And perhaps most tellingly, there was the talk on the show floor, which had gone from “Are you okay?” and hopes for a safe future of a year before to “Did you hear about so and so?” and complaints about the load-in. In these uncertain times, such familiar sentiments were somehow heartening.

And so it was at this year's LDI, where approximately 8,000 attendees were on hand to check out the latest in lighting, sound, staging, and projection technology — nearly a thousand more than last year, although less than in the peak years of the 90s. Still, the vast majority of exhibitors expressed satisfaction with the quality of attendees; as in last year, there seemed to be a marked drop in “tire kickers.” Furthermore, much business was done (one exhibitor claimed to have written $600,000 worth of orders before noon on the first day alone). The show's management has stated that in a world where attendance at many trade shows is down 50% or more, LDI continues to perform well above average for the meetings/conference industry.

This year's LDI product awards went to technical innovations rather than the latest, flashiest developments in automated lighting technology. The awards committee selected products that will make the lives of designers and technicians easier, rather than gear that will provide new aesthetic thrills. This was also the first year under revamped awards guidelines, which resulted in a flurry of Promising Prototype awards (See sidebar, “The Winners Circle,” p. 22). The winner of the highly coveted Wally Russell Lifetime Achievement Award was James C. (Jimmy) Fuller, longtime president of the Toronto chapter of IATSE and, for 30 years, chief electrician at the O'Keefe Center, as well as the head of Canadian Staging Projects.

Overall, the main developments at LDI were culminations of ideas and themes that had been expressed at trade shows all year long. Once again, there was a legion of new LED products — so many, in fact, that one cynic wisecracked that the show should be renamed LedDI. Then again, most of the new products had been seen elsewhere and experienced lighting designers continued to express skepticism, maintaining that LEDs are still not bright enough for most uses. Again, there was much interest in the lighting and video projection, following the success of High End's Catalyst system, there were several new video products on exhibit, including new gear from Barco, Extron, and others. On the audio front, the show could have used the presence of longtime exhibitors such as Meyer Sound and EAW, who have not participated in the last couple of years. But despite the fact that AES was only two weeks earlier, LDI still managed a decent audio componant, with both longtime exhibitors (Electro-Voice, Wireworks, and Clear-Com, as well as Martin Audio, which has forsaken AES entirely for LDI) and newcomers (Yamaha, TransAmerica Audio Group) lining the aisles.

Speaking of newcomers, LDI saw two new and potentially major players that had found US distributors. OmniSistem, based in Kent, WA, is now handling products from Pearl River, the Guangzhou, China-based maker of moving lights that introduced itself to the international market at SIB in March. Compulite, the Israeli manufacturer of lighting consoles, made its first appearance on the Coemar US stand; Compulite's new Rave console will probably get a big push from Coemar marketing. Also, LA-based Elation is now handling Robe, the moving light company from the Czech Republic that also launched itself at SIB.

There were a few other developments as well. SGM, the Italian lighting company that makes the Giotto line of moving washes and spots and the Regia line of consoles, is now being distributed by Florida-based Techni-Lux. And Bright Lighting, which handles the Color Stream LED-in-a-tube concept, and which premiered at Lightfair in June, is now called Pixeon. AC Lighting Ltd., the UK-based company, announced that it had purchased Spectrum Lighting, the Canadian OEM that manufactured AC's Chroma-Q range of scrollers and other gear.

Otherwise, there was very little in the way of real business news, except for a bit of the aforementioned “did you year about so and so.” The big talk was the rumored merger/buyout between two major moving lighting companies, which has been floating around the industry, without resolution, since September. At least one of these companies has been here before, as the subject in a much-whispered-about deal that never came off, so we will all have to wait to see what happens.

There were plenty of parties: Rose Brand hosted a bash at the WB Stage 16 restaurant in the Venetian. High End Systems commandeered the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay for an event that was wall-to-wall people, with none other than James Brown showing up to entertain. ETC hosted a reception for its student award winners at Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, also in the Venetian. Local distributor 4Wall Entertainment didn't exhibit, but hosted a party at its local headquarters. Lighting Dimensions and Entertainment Design presented a cocktail party in its booth on the trade show floor, which proved to be hugely popular (to its staff, anyway). And in what is perhaps a sign of changing times, there were two separate ice-cream socials, one hosted by ESTA in its booth, and another courtesy of Walt Disney Imagineering at the ED/LD booth.

Looking to the future, LDI returns to Orlando, FL next year; the show dates are November 21-23. There are changes afoot; in an effort to reach out to more sound and projection companies (whose technologies are increasingly intertwined with lighting, thanks to the modern miracle of show control), the show's title has been revised to the rather wordy The Entertainment Technology Show: LDI and Beyond. That should be good news to ED readers, as the show attempts to position itself to a broader range of clientele while retaining its core lighting market. Still, at this stage of the game, it's really more of a marketing move than a profound change; anyone used to attending LDI may, in fact, not notice any difference. One thing is certain not to change — LDI will continue to be a reliable barometer of the industry's state of mind.

The Winners Circle

Winners, winners, have we got winners. There was a lot to celebrate at this year's LDI, both in terms of products and people. Below is a roundup of the award-winning products from the show, as well as the LDI Designers of the Year.

Designers of the Year
In the world of television, one name has long been synonymous with lighting. Talk about a career: from NBC in the 1940s to the Olympics in 2002, by way of the Republican National Convention in 2000 and hundreds and hundreds of awards shows and specials, not to mention over 25 Emmy, Monitor, and Ace awards, one designer has been in charge of it all, which is why the 2002 LDI Lighting Designer of the Year, Entertainment went to Bill Klages.

When it comes to architectural lighting, some of the most exquisite work is done in the elegant environments of museums and the sizzle of science centers, where good lighting design enhances not only the architecture but works hand in hand with the exhibits to create an exciting visitor experience. For his outstanding work in the field of museum lighting, the 2002 LDI Lighting Designer of the Year, Architecture went to Steven Rosen of Available Light.

Theme parks and movies have become inextricably entwined, resulting in some of the best new attractions. A great new example of this is the new Walt Disney Studios in Paris where the theme is 100% Hollywood. From the stunning exterior lighting of the entry plaza to the dynamic lighting of the Armageddon attraction, the park lighting is 100% perfect. For her role in the design of this movie-lovers paradise, the 2002 LDI Lighting Designer of the Year, Themed Project went to Tracy Eck of Euro Disney Imagineering.

For the past 30 years, on both sides of the Atlantic, John Leonard has worked with everyone from the Old Vic, the Young Vic, the Almeida, The Royal Court, to the RSC and the National, as well as in the West End and on Broadway, on productions ranging from Antony and Cleopatra to Private Lives. For a distinguished career in sound design, the 2002 LDI Sound Designer of the Year went to John Leonard.

Best Booth
The Best Booth Award, Small Booth went to Penn Fabrication for a clever, eye-catching display that puts their product right in the eye of the consumer.

The Large Booth, Honorable Mention went to Robe for their aqueous projection surface and colorful lighting display.

The Best Booth Award, Large Booth went to Coemar for their futuristic combination of color, movement, and architecture in a kinetic and welcoming environment.

Best Laser Display
The Best Laser Display, Honorable Mention went to Laser Fantasy International for their ongoing series of witty, visual surprises.

The Best Laser Display Award went to OmniSistem Lights and Effects for stylish launch of their new Pulse Division in a fully designed show.

Creative Use of Light Award

The Best Creative Use of Light Award

went to High End Systems for a sensuous and exciting mix of automated lighting and video imagery.

Products of the Year

This year's show saw several changes in the Product of the Year awards. The judges created a distinction between New Products and Debuting/Conceptual New Products, in order to get away from manufacturers rushing a product to the show for a debut before it is ready for release.

At this year's LDI, new product categories were created. There are now two different slots for the product awards: Product of the Year and Debuting Product/Promising Prototype. To qualify as a Product of the Year, the product must have been released in the past year and be shipping. If a product is introduced at LDI for the first time, it qualifies as a Debuting Product/Promising Prototype. If the product had been a Debuting Product/Promising Prototype at one LDI, it can be considered as a Product of the Year at the following year's show. This product may be a concept or prototype as long as there is sufficient documentation showing what it will be. This award honors originality and daring conceptual leaps.

Debuting Product/Promising Prototype

Lighting/Entertainment — Philips' Ceramic ST250HR lamp, based on its C3 technology, offers the stage and studio market a new alternative for a 3,200K light source. The product will offer a major advance while running at lower temperature, in a moving light within the theatrical and studio environment, finally giving the output required, yet matching conventional fixtures in a rig it's alongside. The halogen color temperature; a long-life and lower power consumption make this new lamp a winner.

Lighting/Architecture — Lighting Services Inc.'s BP150 Series Metal Halide Framing Projector combines the color-rich ceramic metal halide lamp, excellent optics, and the sturdy LSI track hardware in a sleek, elegantly designed package, allowing for pattern projection in architectural applications.

Lighting Accessory — Projecting patterns and slides in architectural applications is always a challenge, so for developing a small, simple, elegant, solution for projecting dichroic slides using nothing more than an MR-16 lamp, the judges recognized the Derksen Gobo Top, distributed by Image Projections.

Lighting Tools and Software — John McKernon's Lightwright 4 represents a giant leap forward on theatrical lighting paperwork software. In addition to inspired ease of use, this new version allows the user to make and archive focus notes; communicate and administer work notes within one piece of software. It retains the ability to be customized to the users needs.

Scenic Effects — Recognizing an opportunity to revitalize the stock of existing owners as well as gain entry into the discipline of video, the judges cited Pani's E-Slide for its inventive method of adding video to existing Pani projectors. Theatres all over the world will now have a simple, inexpensive solution to their video projection requirements.

Rigging and Hardware — ACT Enterprises' Locking Swivel Coupler is a clever solution to an age-old problem: taking the wobble out of your rigging.

Rigging and Hardware — The committee was very impressed with the very new and very cool-looking New Wave Truss from TotalStructures. A modular structural system of truss that includes the range of materials it is available in carbon fiber, Plexiglas, and aluminum. Its integral branding and design opportunities, connection system and overall appearance made it an easy choice for the judges.

Special Award for Product Innovation — As the two design areas of lighting and projection mingle, the committee wanted to recognize this forward-thinking response to a need. Combining a standard lighting console and DMX with the capabilities of a broadcast-quality video mixer in a real-time environment was an act of real imagination. This award went to Diagonal Research and Delicate Productions for its NEV Series 6.

Cool Product — The Optispace Ceiling iball got the judges' “Cool Product, But Where Do We Put It?” award. Ideal for point-of-purchase areas, it uses LEDs to project images including Bitmaps, Jpegs, and AVI files onto a plastic sphere, which provides a measure of safety in public spaces, where a glass sphere would be inappropriate.

Products of the Year
Lighting/Entertainment — Entertainment Technology's Intelligent Raceway is a true cross of sophisticated remote dimming with traditional power distribution. Etremely quiet, cost-effective, and flexible to use, the Intelligent Raceway has a place in theatre, television, theme parks, and all sorts of permanent applications. Entertainment Technology is a division of Genlyte Thomas.

Lighting Accessory — City Theatrical's WDS Wireless Dimming System. There are a number of wireless DMX systems on the market, but this unit is the first to add a 15A dimmer. So now you can have a remote dimmer on a wagon, in a prop, or on a costume. Now you can add a controllable light wherever you need it.

Lighting Tools and Software Award — The industry has embraced the computer as a tool to make work easier, as a way to integrate plots, paperwork, and the visualization of the finished product. People can be passionate in their loyalty to the platform they prefer to draft on. Outside of our industry, AutoCAD has emerged as a de facto development and exchange standard. For adding the powerful 3D rendering tools of Viz 4 and Lightscape and credibility of IES standard photometrics to entertainment designers' toolboxes — and making them user-friendly enough to use without three new textbooks — the judges recognized Design and Drafting's LD Assistant Ac with VIZlink.

Sound Product — The Klark Teknik DN9340 Helix Digital Equalizer is an extremely flexible two — rack DSP device that features an extremely intuitive user interface. For users of the Midas Heritage and Legend boards, it sports a handy auto-solo function, allowing for quick and easy outboard EQ selection from the console, as well as dynamic EQ via Threshold Dependent Equalization, which provides real time dynamic control over any potential problem frequency.

Rigging and Hardware — Who wouldn't want a product that takes the drudgery out of hanging and re-hanging moving lights? ACT Enterprises' Moving Light Hanger, distributed by City Theatrical, does just what its name implies, but more safely and easily. Even better is the head-slapping simplicity of leaving the clamps on the pipe when it's time to swap out a fixture. The hardware left behind by the original unit guarantees the replacement goes up in exactly the same place, saving time trying to recreate the original hang, or updating focuses and cues.

Rigging and Hardware, Honorable Mention — For helping to bring industrial lock-out/tag-out capabilities to our industry (before somebody else makes us do it first!) the panel of judges recognized the H & H Specialties Rope Lock and Safety Lockout for an Honorable Mention in the Rigging and Hardware category.

Widget — This year's clever solution combines two steps into one — and no more Duvetyne is needed — now that TentTec's O-Bag can be used to cleanly decorate and hold down boom bases.

ESTA Parade
The importance of ESTA (the Entertainment Services and Technology Association) at LDI continues to grow. Its annual dinner, held the night before the show opened, honors top industry dealers and manufacturers, and is fast becoming a must-attend event. And its selection of LDI's Products of the Year dovetails nicely with the gear chosen by judges for the LDI Awards. Below is a rundown of this year's honorees.

The Dealers' Choice Customer Service Awards offer ESTA's dealer members the opportunity to publicly recognize manufacturers who provide consistently good customer service throughout the year. These awards recognize superior performance in four main areas: customer service, shipping and billing, technical support, and quotations/project management. Dealers cast their votes for manufacturers in each of three categories based on the manufacturers' number of employees: one to six, seven to 25, and over 25. In that order, the winners for 2002 are: Doug Fleenor Design, Inc., SSRC, and Apollo Design Technology, Inc.

The Manufacturers' Choice Dealers of the Year Awards offer ESTA's manufacturer members the opportunity to publicly recognize dealers that “just do it right.” These awards recognize superior performance in four main areas: staff, sales and marketing, inventory, and financial responsibility. Manufacturers cast their votes for dealers in each of three categories based on the dealers' number of employees: one to six, seven to 25, and over 25. The 2002 winners, in that order, are: Miami Stagecraft, Inc., StageLight, Inc., and Vincent Lighting Systems.

The Dealers' Choice Product Awards recognize outstanding entertainment technology products in three categories: Expendable, Widget, and Equipment. These awards were established in recognition of the fact that dealers have an enormous impact on the success of a new product, as well as a unique perspective on its merits.

The winners for 2002 are: Expendable Category — Apollo Design Technology, Inc.'s Perforated Gel 20" × 24" color filter sheets with easy-to-tear perforations. Available in several popular sizes, perforated gel sheets offer time and labor savings before and during load-in.

Widget Category — Le Maitre Special Effects' Rapid Change Technology (RCT) The RCT heat exchanger design, currently available in the Show Fogger Pro and Stage Fogger DMX, ingeniously overcomes a fog machine's biggest service issue: a plugged heating block. Now you can quickly and easily make tube changes on the fly wherever your fogger is.

Equipment Category — Future Light Inc.'s Pole Cat provides a temporary yet secure method for mounting lighting, fans, or other elements to structural supports such as tent poles, building columns, and utility poles.

In addition to the dealers and manufacturer awards, the ESTA dinner is also the place for the presentation of the annual Eva Swan Award. This year's recipient was Bill Groener, Northeast regional vice president of PRG, for his service to the association over many years.

The Eva Swan Award is presented to a member who has made exceptional efforts in time, expertise, and personal resources on behalf of ESTA, been instrumental in shaping and promoting the strategic direction of the association, made major contributions to the realization of the mission, goals, and objectives, and enhanced the value of membership for all.

The 2002 Award was presented by Paul Vincent of Vincent Lighting Systems (a former Swan Award winner), who said, “I guess Bill takes the idea of being ‘renaissance man’ seriously. He is the only ESTA member representing at one time or another all of our membership categories, except international. In fact, in 1995 Bill became an affiliate vice president and he served as a dealer director in 1997 and 98. His many years of steady volunteer service to ESTA, despite the changes and commitment in his work and personal life, have had a major impact on the members of our trade association and our industry.”

Whole Lotta Learning
Five years ago, when the LDInstitute was launched, we imagined it as a boot camp for techies: four days of pre-show training at LDI, a place where people from over the industry could come together to learn, network, and socialize. This year, all of these elements came together, beginning with professional training that began on Monday, October 14. By the end of the week, several hundred people were involved in learning and having a good time.

The courses ranged from software, including LD Assistant, Vectorworks, and AutoCAD, as well as automated lighting and console training, with Jim Waits' popular “Basics of Automated Lighting” selling out (as always) and followed this year for the first time by an advanced version (also sold out). High End's instructor extraordinaire, Vickie Claiborne, taught an introduction to the new Wholehog III console, and Jon Gottlieb came in from Los Angeles to teach a course on the basics of theatrical sound design. One of the best-attended courses covered projection techniques (an indication of the new direction the industry is taking) led by LDs Christina Giannelli and Clifton Taylor, with special guests Anne Johnston of Fourth Phase and projection designer Lisa Cuscuna (Jane Eyre on Broadway). With a mix of lighting, audio, and projection, the LDInstitute reflects three major disciplines of design and technology.

These design disciplines were also seen in action during the Inside Las Vegas tour, which included a sneak preview of the new Celine Dion Colosseum at Caesar's Palace and the extension of the Fashion Show Mall, where cutting-edge theatre technology finds a retail context. The tour also included the motorcycle exhibit at the Guggenheim Las Vegas and the techno-heavy club Rain in the Desert at the Palms. Special thanks to Maurice Rheaume, Tony Kaiser, Traci Klainer, and Adam Wuertz for their help in organizing these tours.

Special events and tours were also part of this year's conference program with a very informative panel, tour, and lunch at the Jubilee! Theatre at Bally's, where representatives of Bally's, ETC, 4Wall Entertainment, and Bombard Electrical Engineers shared their tales about the recent $2 — million lighting upgrade in the venue, as participants ate their lunch on the Jubilee! stage surrounded by the sets from the Titanic scene of the show.

Friday night was the icing on the cake, with a group of 150 attending Cirque du Soleil's spectacular O at Bellagio. Following the performance, the LDI group stayed in the theatre for a special LDI-only panel discussion with sound designer Jonathan Deans, lighting director Jeannette Farmer, and a group of crew chiefs. The panel was followed by a party on an outdoor terrace overlooking the Bellagio lake; the fun continued until 3am! If all continuing education were this much fun, I'd go back to college. Fortunately for the entertainment design and technology community, the LDInstitute fits the bill.