Film exhibitors are waging war to pry stay-at-home Canadians away from their televisions, videos, and the Internet. No company is more aggressively engaged in battle than the 79-year-old Famous Players Inc. chain, now a division of Viacom Inc.'s entertainment operations. The Toronto-based company is in the midst of a three-year, C$500 million (US$337 million) expansion program to build a minimum of 25 dazzling multiscreen "out-of-home entertainment destinations" across Canada, providing golden opportunities for architects and designers.

Aiming to "contribute to the redefinition of the motion picture exhibition industry," Famous Players president John Bailey is focusing on the creation of "innovative, state-of-the-art movie theatres . . . stimulating, interactive places that entertain our guests and enable them to entertain themselves." The Las Vegas-style venues range in size from four to 20 screens, have roomy stadium seating and Tivoli lighting, and feature floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall curved screens. Most have digital sound processors and full surround sound stereo systems. Flagship theatres in major markets are equipped to meet THX standards and several locations boast Imax screens with 3D capability.

Up-to-date and comfortable as they are, it is the exterior and interior designs of these venues that astound. Jumbles of light and color and cacophonies of sound draw the public in and never let them go, in an attempt to make the theatre environment as compelling, and lucrative, as the films.

The buildings themselves are anomalies, some freestanding, others extensions of vast suburban shopping malls or downtown retail complexes. Famous Players' in-house design and construction department shops the locations and concepts; teams of top-flight architects and designers turn them into reality. The exterior and interior lighting of these movie palaces showcases the talents of Canada's top LDs.

David Jolliffe, manager of technical services at Brian Arnott Associates, a division of Novita Ltd., was responsiblefor the design and implementation of the exterior lighting, fiber optics, high-tech video, and computer system for the recently opened Famous Players Paramount in Toronto. The largely glass facade of the building is fronted by a diagonal structure which rises more than six stories from street level and culminates in a gigantic Rubik's cube. Jolliffe's task was to "provide a new way of using decorative and display elements to enhance the movie-going experience by informing and entertaining the movie-going public."

He used "a number of traditional signage and lighting features treated in a new way." Two quoins stand as guards at the marquee while channel letterings of various sizes advertise the Paramount's name. Fiber-optic cable, illuminating different colors, highlights the architec-tural features of the marquee and emulates neon lights; Jolliffe chose fiber-optic cable over neon bulbs based on performance, flexibility, and durability. Large-scale channel lettering sits parallel to an indoor escalator, again advertising Paramount's name to pedestrians. Fiber-optic lighting also highlights the wall around the lettering.

The exterior of the building exhibits two large video displays--one, 16'x16' (5x5m), is mounted within the cube, the other, 8'x16', (2x5m) is over the sidewalk. "With an array of red, green, and blue LEDs, the displays are capable of over 16 million colors and can be seen even at the brightest time of day," Jolliffe explains.

Twinkling stars cover the ceiling of the ground-level ticket lobby by way of a multistrand acrylic endlight-emitting fiber-optic cable. Jolliffe used 130 Super Vision illuminators, fiber downlights, almost three miles of Sideglow fiber-optic cable, and 5,000 points of end-point fiber. Alcorn McBride LightCues run through a Gray Interfaces Pathfinder. Cues are called up by an AMX central control system in charge of all the light and sound functions except the LEDs.

The exterior cube is illuminated by both a macro and micro grid. The macro is white in color, the micro corresponds to the color of the individual panel. Each pixel is individually controlled in each of the cube's blocks. The LEDs, which are recessed into the cube, have a light output of 6,000 foot-lamberts. The screens automatically dim down 50% during the night to increase the life of the LEDs.

The Paramount's lobby shouts "themed environment." Amidst movie posters, three 42" plasma displays grace one wall. A dozen concession booths from Pizza Hut to New York Fries form an "island" above which sit 60 large-format projection cubes making up 12 separate videowalls. Configured as 3'x2' and 2'x2' combinations, they provide a wide range of ever-changing images. A further four plasma displays, which include loudspeakers, are mounted on the wall of a "decompression chamber," a walkway leading from the commotion of the lobby to the state-of-the-art theatres.

"Products were selected on the basis of their ability to communicate with others via standard protocols such as RS232 and DMX512," says Jolliffe. "A central control system acts as the heart, ensuring that all subsystems coordinate and communicate with each other. A simple graphic interface allows any authorized individual to activate the system, while still allowing advanced users to customize the system for subsequent needs."

LD Sholem Dolgoy, one of Canada's senior lighting designers, comes to the corporate and architectural worlds from opera, ballet, and theatre. He designed the intelligent lighting for the Paramount's interior lobby, creating positions that integrate the structural, power, and data requirements of the lights with the decorative cladding and base structure of the building columns. "Once the positions were found for the fixtures, most of my energy was spent on how to engineer the installations in cooperation with the architects, interior designers, and consulting engineers. Theatrical lighting is beginning to meld with and be absorbed by architectural design, adding aiming of light with pan and tilt and shaping and coloring, versus a simple fixed orientation," Dolgoy says.

Throughout the vast lobby space, which is occupied by a bar and cafe as well as the concessions, Dolgoy's lights are in constant motion. He created gobo patterns from shapes in the carpets, the large, round paillette-filled "chandeliers," and even the groupings of security mirrors. His associates, Bob Stamp and A.J. Penn, who Dolgoy says "come from rock and roll and are more 'in your face' but with a theatrical sensibility," programmed Dolgoy's hundreds of cues with a Martin Professional Light Jockey. The cues are then stored on the three Alcorn McBride LightCues, which are triggered by the AMX system for playback.

"The interior designers were interested in lighting effects. For me, integration creates the effect: It is not a stuck-on element. In theatrical lighting, subtlety and understatement are the key to success. The less aware the audience is of the lighting, the better." Dolgoy's principles adapt perfectly to his continuously moving creations. "It's a layering of texture on texture that I learned at the National Ballet of Canada. I am basically still dressing the scenery with light; the vision in my mind required many more fixtures than we could afford, so I took the monies, equated them with fixtures, and I used what I had as efficiently and with as much effect as possible."

Similar attention to detail is evident in Dolgoy's design for Famous Players' SilverCity prototype in Toronto, where a portion of his lighting treatment is on a translucent film on the exterior glazing wall, which acts like a scrim. TIR Systems Ltd. of Vancouver supplied the theatre's exterior Light Pipe system. Two Light Pipes which accommodate the ETC Irideon AR500 luminaires are placed in 40' (12m) columns on either side of the theatre's entrance. A corner unit custom design is unique to this application, as it allows the luminaire to be fixed inside the building and feeds the light to the exterior pipe via a 90-degree-turning through-wall transition unit. The combination of the TIR Light Pipe System and the color-changing luminaire provides a variety of dramatic effects.

The Coliseum and Colossus theatre models also sport interiors as alluring as their exteriors. Most house TechTown gaming areas, installed by Playdium, with dozens of the latest simulation and interactive machines. There are children's party rooms and VIP rooms for adult gatherings. Oversized Hollywood memorabilia, from Mighty Mouse to Star Wars, hangs from every rafter. Light and sound are ubiquitous.

The Colossus, advertised as "the Mother of all Movie Theatres," is just that--colossal. Its 130,000 sq. ft. (11,700 sq. m) sit on a mammoth parking lot which emulates a UFO landing site complete with runway lights. A massive flying saucer atop the structure is rimmed by spinning and chasing lights, visible for miles, to simulate afterburners. Giant Jem Roadie foggers add to the otherworldly visuals. The interior is a vast, futuristic flight deck. Life-size "Martian" automatic ticket machines line the entrance, and alien film characters hang from the ceiling and The Pod, an elevated bar located above the concession and TechTown-filled lobby.

LD Paul Mathiesen conceptualized the original lighting design, which was executed by Rob Sandolowich of Westbury National Show Systems. "We had to tame the exterior lighting down," he says, "because it was stopping traffic." There are High End Systems Technobeams(R) on a multistory-high trestle at the center of the building, constructed with an interior ladder to facilitate maintenance. The structure's dome is lit from the inside and has a catwalk for the electrical dimmer packs. A Le Maitre H175 hazer sets the scene for Laserlite F/X lasers that are driven off the same time code as the chasing lights. Martin fixtures add a robotic look amid tiny, bright jam jar lights with onboard memories. Two TIR Systems' Light Pipes are used inside the building on the sides of a glass elevator; the pipes are enclosed within the frame of the elevator, where they combine with two ETC Irideon AR500 luminaires to create a wide range of color changes.

A Strand dimmer pack controls the exterior roof lights and a small Avolites console commands the rest. Avolites' Azure 2000 consoles serve as the hub for all the equipment, including the laser system. Ed Wall, project manager for Westbury National, programmed the consoles in both the Ontario and British Columbia Colossus theatres. "In each theatre there is a time code off a CD audio track playing in the lobby, and the time code triggers the lobby light show. We also have an Azure 2000 console in each of Famous Players' Imax theatres. The SMPTE time code from an audio computer is translated into a MIDI time code. The console reads that and launches specific cues for the Imax screens from a script file of cues and times." The consoles can be altered and upgraded off-site and are also a great money- and time-saving device in that they permit the reuse of the software in identical venues at different locales.

The Coliseums are "the world's first round movie theatres." Set and lighting designer Stephen Pollard, a veteran of theatre and large-venue concerts, created the "Main Events" at the Coliseums in Scarborough, Ontario, and Calgary, Alberta. A "bouquet" of elliptical, synthetic scrims rises high above the central hub of the lobby installation. The surfaces serve as screens on which Pollard choreographs a ballet of light as well as projecting the dancing logos of the concession brands. Searchlight beams from four Sky Tracker STX-A 4,000W xenon units from Xenotech-Strong International and vari-colored patterns "perform" in 20-minute cycles that are continuously reset and restarted. The overall effect resembles a fireworks display, in keeping with Pollard's aim for a "very animated, very colorful effect."

Attendance at these new theatre venues has been record-breaking for film viewing as well as "loitering" in the lobbies, to which there is no admission charge. Recoupment of Famous Players' huge investment in architects, designers, and gear seems assured. These entertainment palaces are redefining the very essence of going to the movies by placing as much, if not more, emphasis on their peripheral visual and entertainment aesthetics as on their mandate to exhibit films in ultimate comfort and in keeping with the most advanced technologies available.

Julie Rekai Rickerd is a Canada-based freelance writer specializing in travel and the arts.


Lighting designer Sholem Dolgoy

Associate LD Bob Stamp

Lighting programmer A.J. Penn

Head installation technicians Antoine Constantini, Dan Souwand

Entertainment and presentation technologies design and consultation David Jolliffe, Brian Arnott Associates

Exterior signage Steel Art Signs

A/V component Simex

Exterior LED cube Tribar Industries

Lighting suppliers Christie Lites, Rainbow Lighting

Lighting equipment (23) High End Systems Studio Spot 575s (15) High End Systems Studio Spot 250s (10) High End Systems Studio Color E 575s (158) High End Systems catalog B/W Lithopattern gobos (37) High End Systems custom B/W Lithopattern gobos (3) Alcorn McBride LightCues (1) Martin Professional Light Jockey V. 1.06 (1) Gray Interfaces Pathfinder Tribar Industries LEDs Super Vision fiber optics


Lighting designer Sholem Dolgoy

Associate LD Bob Stamp

Lighting programmer A.J. Penn

Lighting suppliers Christie Lites, R. Rutenberg Sales

Head technician Dan Souwand

Lighting equipment (27) Martin Professional MAC 500s (11) Martin Professional MAC 600s (9) Martin Professional PALs with effects modules (2) TIR Systems TLP6 Light Pipe Systems with adapter collars for ETC Irideon AR500s (84) Apollo Design Technology116 gobos (29) Apollo custom gobos (18) GAM Products gobos (35) Rosco custom color litho gobos (22) Martin Professional litho gobos (48) Strand Lighting CD80 2.4kW dimmers (3) Martin Professional Light Jockeys V. 1.06 with scheduling software


Lighting designers Paul Mathiesen, Rob Sandolowich

Lighting programmer Ed Wall

Lighting installation Andrew Cwieddzinski, Andy Foord, Bob Groza, Gerald Tester, Iain Young

Lighting supplier Westbury National Show Systems

Lighting equipment (20) Martin Professional Robocolors (4) Martin Professional Centrepieces (4) Martin Professional MAC 600s (14) High End Systems Technobeams (4) High End Systems Cyberlights (2) ETC Irideon AR500s (4) Xenotech-Strong International Sky Tracker STX-A 4,000W searchlights (2) Targetti Mondial F1s (72) Phoenix outdoor PAR-64s with dichroic lenses (24) Phoenix HID floodlights (4) Phoenix explosion-proof fluorescents (36) Macphilbin weathertight fluorescents (20) Hubbell beacon lights (60) Hubbell Magnaliters (79) Lightolier pot lights (1) Le Maitre H175 hazer (2) Jem Roadie foggers (3) Strand Lighting CD80SV dimmer racks (1) Avolites Azure console (2) TIR Systems TLP6 Light Pipe Systems with adapter collars for ETC Irideon AR500s Laserlite F/X lasers