A nyone who has cruised past the Egyptian pyramid, battling pirate ships, fantasy New York skyline, and erupting volcano along the Las Vegas Strip can vouch for the city as one of the themed entertainment capitals of the world. While the resort's hotels and casinos remain at the forefront of inventive entertainment and lighting design, its retail venues haven't shied away from spectacle either. Toy giant FAO Schwarz recently opened an expansive store at The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace that is loaded with enough bells, whistles, and lighting effects to make any customer feel like a kid again.
Designed by the toy company's veteran interiors firm, New York-based Newbold Associates, the 56,000-sq.-ft. (5,040 sq. m), three-floor venue is twice as large as the retailer's average store and second only in size to its 75,000-sq.-ft. (6,750 sq. m) flagship in New York City. The FAO Schwarz in-house team, headed by vice president of store planning and construction Dik Glass, worked with principal designer Joanne Newbold to create a store that serves as an entertainment destination in itself, beginning at the front door. Taking a cue from the enclosed mall's pseudo-Greco-Roman architectural details, and playing off the retail chain's signature rocking horse logo, the design team placed a48'-tall (15m) animated Trojan horse at the entrance to captivate passersby. Elsewhere in the venue, a Star Wars Cantina, a "Temple of Barbie," a Monopoly refreshment bar, and a menagerie of animated characters and toy animals help bring childhood fantasies to life.
New York-based Johnson Schwinghammer Lighting Consultants collaborated with lighting designer Marsha Stern to enhance the playful environment with multilayered, theatrical illumination. "FAO Schwarz's concept was to create a show around the Trojan horse that would be repeated every 10 minutes throughout the day," says Stern. "I was initially brought in by Johnson Schwinghammer to implement the theatrical lighting aspects of that centerpiece effect, and my role later expanded to include augmenting specialized lighting in other areas of the store. My job was to try and view things through the eyes of a child. I aimed to create lighting effects that would grab customers and make them want to venture inside, to experience something they perhaps haven't seen in a shopping environment before."
With animation programmed by Garner Holt Productions, the Trojan horse rises the full three-story height of the store, its moving head framed by the front doorway. The horse actually functions as a piece of architecture in itself, housing a shop inside its belly that can be accessed from the second floor, with additional display niches carved out of its base.
During the three-and-a-half-minute show various animated figures pop out of compartments within the horse, accompanied by a lively soundtrack of music and effects: A chorus line of Barbie dolls performs the cancan, while another doll is held in the clutches of King Kong. A cow dressed as an opera singer is juxtaposed with a robotic hand wielding a feather duster. Meanwhile, the horse moves its head up and down, blows steam out of its nostrils, and rolls its eyes as they change color.
To illuminate the horseplay, Stern employed 21 High End Systems Studio Color(R) automated wash luminaires mounted along the second- and third-floor slabs surrounding the horse, within the third-floor ceiling, and in the coffered ceiling in the mall piazza fronting the store. The luminaires were programmed to spotlight the choreographed movements of the animated figures popping out of the horse. "We used the Type S electronic switching ballast on the Studio Colors, which had just come out at the time," Stern says. The device allowed voltage-switching with the luminaires and aided energy conservation, the LD says.
A High End Systems Color Pro(R) luminaire is set into each eye of the horse, changing colors as the head moves. Stern used a full range of rich saturated hues, from dark blue and purple to bright red and amber. Additional Color Pros uplight the back and front legs of the horse with streaks of colored light in paler tones.
Before arriving on-site, Stern pre-wrote lighting cues to follow the show's soundtrack and specific movements within the animation scene. "The soundtrack was pretty much all the choreography we had to go on until we arrived on-site to focus the luminaires and coordinate the exact sequences and colors," Stern says. Working with High End Systems programmer Brad Schiller, Stern set the show's lighting within a four-day schedule before the store opened. "We knew the basic format of the show, so we combined movement with color changes to make sure there would be 360-degree coverage with something happening on every surface of the horse. We did a lot of tweaking of the lighting look on-site. There are many elements of animation in the show, and I designed the lighting so that customers might want to see the presentation a couple of times from different vantage points." All programming for the automated luminaires was performed on a High End Systems Status Cue(R) control board, then downloaded onto a CPU.
Stern accented the mane of the horse with five High End Systems Dataflash(R) AF1000 luminaires that glow with pink and blue strips of light. "I've got to say hats off to my programmer, Brad, since he was able to get the luminaires to simulate a fade-up, when of course what they really want to do is strobe and flash." To illuminate retail displays inside the belly of the beast, Stern used downlights, ribbon uplights, and candelabra lamps.
Setting off the horse as a sculptural object within the venue is Stern's atmospheric lighting along the ceiling of the atrium. The LD specified 48 Lighting & Electronics Baby Broad ground-row cyclights, set at 4' (1.2m) intervals around the ring of the domed ceiling, which is faux-painted as a blue sky. "We were able to get a UL listing for the cyclight, a touring fixture that we wanted to use for this architectural application," Stern says. The cyclights are complemented by an additional ring of neon and two rings of blacklight.
During the intervals between the shows, Stern's lighting is far from static. "The show has an ending look that leads into a program of lights changing softly and subtly," she says. "There are not nearly as many movement cues, but more color and texture. I wanted a strong look maintained between the runnings of the show, because I didn't want customers to see the same repetitive sequence and know exactly when the next show was about to begin."
Another area of FAO Schwarz where Stern put specialty lighting into play was the Star Wars Cantina on the third floor, where replicas of C3P0 and R2D2 mingle with aliens bellying up to the bar. Five High End Systems Emulator(R) laser simulators enhance the look of starfighter replicas battling each other overhead. A row of pin-beams and Electronic Theater Controls Source Four jr luminaires are attached to Electronics Diversified Inc. SCRimmer Stiks, while fluorescent tubes behind translucent panels backlight a Stormtrooper figure.
Elsewhere in the store, to accent the elevator areas and the ramps leading into the horse, custom-fabricated fixtures fitted with General Electric traffic signal lamps are set on flicker generators to simulate torches. "By specifying the traffic signal lamps, I hoped to lengthen the lamp life for maintenance purposes," Stern says. "In all of the lighting here, one of the biggest concerns was lamp life. Ideally, in architectural lighting, clients like to see lamps that last 10,000 hours; in theatrical lighting that just doesn't exist. So the marriage between the two was a complicated process. The owner was made aware of the fact that incorporating automated luminaires is a lot more delicate than just having a series of A-lamps."
Principal LD Bill Schwinghammer created the overall illuminated environment in the store. Providing ambient lighting are recessed Litelab PAR-30 accent track fixtures and National 2x2 fluorescents. In-ground Hydrel luminaires and a range of PAR-64 metal halides provide additional illumination. "It's a pretty simple array of ambient lighting instruments, since there's such a tremendous amount of animation in the store," Stern says. "Elements like the trackheads and ambient luminaires are set against the backdrop of the blacked-out ceiling for a clean look."
BASH Lighting Services, which provided the lighting equipment package, was also contracted to provide maintenance. Bill Lairimore of BASH coordinated equipment procurement and installation.
Stern, a freelance lighting designer who began her career in music production, came to architectural specialty lighting from a background in nightclub lighting in New York. "I cut my teeth on clubs like Studio 54 and the Red Parrot in the late 70s and early 80s, then was a Vari*Lite(R) operator, technician, and lighting director at the Palladium," she says. "It's a great place from which to now approach architectural projects. An element of theatre can be a very big part of architecture, particularly in retail environments. It's wonderful to experiment with automated lighting in different applications, and it seemed particularly appropriate in a fantasy environment like FAO Schwarz."
Architect AAD, Tim Pleger
Interior Design Newbold Associates, Joanne Newbold
Project and Design Management Dik Glass, FAO Schwarz VP of store planning and construction
Lighting Design Marsha Stern with Johnson Schwinghammer Lighting Consultants
Trojan Horse Animation Garner Holt Productions
Lighting Equipment Supplier BASH Lighting Services, Las Vegas, Bill Lairamore, Randy Kee
Partial Equipment List (21) High End Systems Studio Colors (10) High End Systems Color Pros (5) High End Systems Emulators (5) High End Systems Dataflash AF1000s (48) Lighting & Electronics Baby Broad cyclights (37) custom torches with GE traffic signal lamps (6) ETC Source Four jr 36-degree (1) High End Systems Status Cue (1) Elektralite CP-10XT universal fixture controller (1) High End Systems LCD controller ETC Sensor dimmers Electronics Diversified Inc. SCRimmer Stiks Litelab PAR-30 accent track lights National 2x2 fluorescents