One of the largest recent construction projects in the southern hemisphere is the new Crown casino in Melbourne, Australia. Designed by an association of three Australian architectural firms, Bates Smart, Perrott Lyon Mathieson, and Daryl Jackson Architects, the project was an enormous undertaking, covering 500,000 sq. m with plans for 40 restaurants, bars, and cafes, 14 movie theatres, a 500-room hotel, three nightclubs, a ballroom, two theatres, 33 boutiques, and the most gaming machines and tables in the world. All this, at a cost of approximately $2 billion, has earned the casino the distinction of being the largest in Australia and one of the most monumental gaming environments in the world.
For the design of the casino, which opened in May, Crown chairman Lloyd Williams made opulence his directive at every turn, and asked that even before patrons sidled up to the gaming tables they encounter something spectacular. So he brought in show designer/producer Marini, Slavik and Benham (MSB) Entertainment to conceive the Seasons of Fortune Atrium Experience, a theatrical presentation using lighting, sound, and scenic elements to depict Melbourne's four seasons and the flora and fauna of the state of Victoria. Once again Crown spared no expense on production value, bringing in a team of creatives including lighting designer Norm Schwab of San Francisco, CA-based Lightswitch, who was allowed to orchestrate his design with almost his entire wish list intact.
Relying on systems integration consultant Production Arts to help with the bid package, Schwab specified approximately 300 moving lights plus fiber optics, and laser systems from Somerville, MA-based Image Engineering. This sizable wish list was put into effect in only 15 months, half the time it would normally take for a project of this size. To make the project even more challenging, Schwab and his lighting engineer Jim Holladay and associate LDs Warwick Price and Jink Kidd had to incorporate the theatrical lighting while the casino itself was being built.
"The atrium was literally half-constructed when we had our first meeting," says Schwab. "The chairman of the company decided late in the game that he wanted to do this extravaganza for the atrium, so we were brought into a meeting with the construction heads, and were more of an intrusion at first because they had a building to complete. We were interrupting the entire flow of construction because we had to figure out how to integrate fixtures into the architecture and cable and equipment in rooms that hadn't been set aside for that. In our first meeting everyone laughed when we said what we were thinking of doing, but pretty soon they said, 'Don't laugh, boys, it's going to happen, so you better get used to it and help it along.' "
Plans to meet Schwab's needs were met as soon as they came off the drawing boards once the skepticism subsided. "Someone would rush from our meeting to the construction site and they would start drilling or cutting holes," says the LD, adding that local company Barry Webb & Associates assisted his firm with Australian construction codes and procedures. "It was happening that fast. We had to get those placements in because with certain parts of the infrastructure, like the hole cutting, they only were going to do it once or else it was going to cost a tremendous amount of money. We also had to get weights in to make sure the building structure had been built strong enough to add a couple hundred moving lights on the ceiling. And we had to be careful about how they were hung because in some areas there was no way they could be supported or to get additional structure up, so we had to spread loads very specifically based on what the existing structure was."
One area where the logistics were particularly complex was on the ceiling, which is adorned with an immense chandelier composed of 40,000 crystals imported from India. The Australian company Bytecraft, which was awarded the contract to purchase and install the lighting equipment, guided the rigging of the chandelier, which was hung from an elliptically shaped wire frame, and a special effects chandelier that rises 10' (3m) above the main fixture. Besides arranging the rigging, motors, and cable feeds needed, 10,000 fiber optics had to be placed among the 40,000 crystals, then engineered so that the fibers would work with two lasers integrated by Image Engineering to provide animation on the ceiling. "Image Engineering beautifully matched some of the waves, circles, and geometric shapes by doing a grid of 10,000 points and brilliantly turning them into animation," says Schwab.
Once the technical requirements were satisfied, Schwab could focus on the creative side of lighting and designing the shows. The four seasons of the state of Victoria, as conceived by MSB, are: Summer, represented by the desert landscape of the northwest; Autumn, represented by the rainforest setting of the south; Winter, aligned with snow and celestial happenings; and Spring, viewed as the story of water. Along with Schwab and MSB, music director Chong Lim, sound designers at Solstice Co. & Sound Technology Consultants, and WET Design, the designer of the water features, were involved in the creative planning. "There was some close involvement, but each artist was also allowed to interpret in their own world," says Schwab. "We would all write on our own for a week and then merge for a week when they weren't painting, constructing, or exploding some part of the building."
Ultimately, the joint effort resulted in two 22 1/2-minute shows for each season, a "high show" for peak hours and a "low" version for slow times. "There was a big worry at the Crown organization that we might take away from people gambling, or if we were going to be too loud for people checking in," explains the LD. The solution was to create more active high shows to grab attention when wanted, and design low shows as "screensaver or wallpaper" looks to blend in when traffic had to flow into the gaming areas.
Besides the eight shows, the show control system can choose from a whole series of setups for special events and holidays. However, each lighting look must have a segue as ordained by consultants specializing in feng shui, the Asian art of placement. "We dealt with feng shui consultants because a lot of the casino patrons and high rollers are Asian, so we had to make sure the hall was friendly to these people," says Schwab. "The feng shui consultants came in to read the building for color, angle, and height. One of the things that is good luck, besides the water elements that WET Design did, was falling gold coins, so we segued between every season with coin gobos that fall down elevator shafts made of Lalique-style French glass."
With feng shui accounted for, Schwab immersed himself in the art of placing lighting equipment, which included a combination of Irideon(TM) AR5s(TM) and AR500s(TM), and High End Cyberlights(R). "We were one of the first installations of the AR5s and one of the largest, putting 179 of them up behind the chandelier," says Schwab. "Irideon did an incredible job cranking them out on time and coming through with technical support.
"With High End, we did probably one of the largest custom orders of Lithopattern(R) gobos," he continues. "We had 60 Cyberlights and each one of them had about 18 custom gobos, so it was about 800 or 900 custom Lithopatterns. The resolution we got was stunning and exceeded our expectations about how we could use them. And out of 800 or 900 gobos, only one cracked."
High End also supplied Dataflash(R) AF1000s, which were installed on the ceiling and used for strobe effects that matched the sounds of harps and horns, blasts of thunder, and fire and water, according to Schwab. Water features, which included WET Design's circular arrays (called PopJets(TM)), arcs of water (named LeapFrogs(TM)), and waterfalls, were lit by Irideon AR500s and a few AR5s hidden under cornices. Fiber optics backlit the elevator shafts and chandelier. "There were a large amount of illuminators, about 64 from Remote Source Lighting and the Australian company Fibre Light Systems, behind the elevator shafts, and they lit 10,000 individual point sources in the chandelier," says Schwab.
The difficult task of orchestrating all of the lighting equipment fell to programming, which required 8,000 cues. Schwab says it could not have been possible without lighting programmers Ian Blackburn, Hamish Inglis, and Sam Hopkins. "There was so much to do that I had to rely upon them at some points to execute my concept for a cue," explains the LD, who says they programmed for six months, six to seven 14- to 15-hour days a week. "They would have to finesse it with 300 moving lights, so they share in the design as far as I'm concerned."
Programming was accomplished on two Wholehog IIs from Flying Pig Systems. Schwab says the Wholehog II's Effects Engine helped simplify some of the difficult aspects. "The effects engine made some of the more complex movements of the fixtures very simple," he says. "If you had to do it channel by channel, focus by focus, it would take you days to do what we could do in minutes."
After programming on the Wholehog IIs, the shows were downloaded onto eight Alcorn McBride DMX readers to allow for automated control and provide enough memory for all of the cues. The show control system is a combination of Anitech and Bytecraft systems that activate the Alcorn McBride DMX readers, which record the shows and cues for special events. "We ended up needing four Alcorn McBride DMX readers per Wholehog, so we basically used four times the memory of a Wholehog," says Schwab. "It ended up being four gigab ytes of memory, which everyone seemed to consider unprecedented."
Much of what Schwab and the creative team behind Seasons of Fortune accomplished is singular in terms of the project's scale, time constraints, and the success of the finished project. Unfortunately, Schwab had to leave a week before his crowning glory at the opening, which boasted performances by Elton John and Billy Joel and many other spectacular proceedings to commemorate the day. However, the LD can rest assured that his work is appreciated by high rollers who can enjoy the sights and lights of Australia without having to leave the casino.
Show design/production MSB Entertainment
Lighting design Lightswitch
Lighting designer Norm Schwab
Lighting engineer Jim Holladay
Associate lighting designers Warwick Price, Jink Kidd
Programmers Ian Blackburn, Hamish Inglis, Sam Hopkins
Laser systems Image Engineering
Water features WET Design
Sound Solstice Co. & Sound Technology Consultants
Music production Ipoh Music
Script and image development Two Visions
Lighting equipment (179) Irideon AR5 luminaires (33) Irideon AR500 luminaires (136) High End Systems Dataflash AF1000 xenon strobes (60) High End Systems Cyberlight automated luminaires (84) star strobes (350) Pro-lights (2) Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II consoles (8) Alcorn McBride hard drives (1) ARC/Gray Interface computer (5) Interesting Products Dry Fogger Mammoths (8) Interesting Products Burst Nozzles 30,000-liter liquid nitrogen storage capacity (2) four-ring retracting chandeliers (2) PLC computers (for chandeliers)
Show control (1) Media Pro animation system (1) Allen Bradley PLC (1) Visual Basic computer (1) programming computer