Sounding more like an invitation to an all-night rave party than an attraction at a family-oriented expo, the Thunder Jungle experience was a rather startling concept to encounter at The Ideal Home Exhibition. For Britain's premier home and interiors show, this contrived ecosystem had already raised eyebrows before Earls Court even opened its doors earlier this year.
Why it's there is a reflection of the burgeoning leisure industry in the United Kingdom, particularly horticulture as a pastime. Though grounded in house design and interiors, the show devotes almost 15% of its floor space to plants and gardens, so a jungle-themed attraction was an appropriately natural addition to the proceedings.
Sitting beneath a truss grid stretching 200'x100' (61x30m), Thunder Jungle was by far the largest display of its type ever assembled. "It's a full 30% bigger than anything we've ever done in the US," says Steve Rosen, of Boston-based Available Light Inc. He and his design partner, Richard Chamberlain, have been making this sort of display for a decade.
Thunder Jungle visitors were transported to the very heart of a tropical rainforest by the judicious use of lighting, sound, and effects. "We lit the jungle as a traditional white light-sculptured exhibit," Rosen says, "That's how everyone expected to see it, even the people from DMG Ltd (the UK exhibitions group that brought Available Light to the project). But when we added color and sound for the storm sequence that's part of the attraction, well, that was a big surprise."
The conventional lighting arm of Vari-Lite Europe, Concert Production Lighting and Theatre Projects (CPL/TP), supplied the huge grid and the extensive lighting system. The 1,600' (488m) of truss held not only lights (200 PAR-64s, 120 ETC Source Four profiles, and 60 MBI 400W floods) but also carefully positioned speakers and two large webs of solenoid-actuated water sprinklers.
This was the first working trip to the UK for Rosen, and some of the linguistic nuances that separate the US and the UK gave him a few headaches. "I found some of the terminology used here difficult," he said. "We might use the same word but mean a completely different thing. It was the lamps that took some getting used to. The 240V version of the Source Four certainly doesn't seem as bright as the 110V, and the circular hot spot of the 240V PAR as opposed to the linear one of the 110V version was tricky." But all was resolved satisfactorily.
Some of the more subtle aspects of the lighting included simple effects wheels on the front of just a few of the profiles to produce a dappling of light on the foliage below. Instead of placing a heavy-duty device backstage, lightning effects were created more discreetly by using Bowen Photoflashes in the rig and High End Systems Dataflashes¨ on the ground. The strobes produced fractured glimpses through the undergrowth in a naturalistic way.
The storm sequence posed the biggest challenges. Rain fell in two forms-fine mist and heavy deluge, usually simultaneously. Fog from High End F-100ª performance fog generators was added to the watery mise-en-scne by Rosen's technical assistant, Jeff Peach. When balanced, the combination of cool, misted water vapor and fog conveyed the post-downpour steambath of a jungle most effectively, but with the inevitable atmospheric variations caused by the to-and-fro of large crowds, Peach had to be extra-vigilant at the controls.
Peach also ran the show control. Unlike most tightly scripted commercial presentations, this show is not run from a soundtrack, with all events triggered via SMPTE or MIDI. Thunder Jungle instead ran from 250 timed cues on an ETC Expression, which triggered sound effects (whooping gibbons, chattering birds, and, of course, thunder), smoke, strobes, and rainfall via either straight DMX or a D-to-A converter through contactors. For a show sequence that lasted just 61/2 minutes it worked just fine, and allowed Peach easy access to add smoke or strobe effects when TV news crews turned up to see how a city expo hall was transformed into a sweltering rainforest.
Available Light is currently building a small Thunder Jungle at a private house in Minneapolis for the owner of a string of retirement homes. If they work as relaxation therapy, he may replicate them throughout his business establishments. Who knows? We may be seeing Thunder Jungles hosting all-night rave parties after all.