If it's January in Detroit, it's time for the Auto Show, or more precisely, the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), which kicks off the US round of auto shows. This year's show ran January 9th to 23rd including press and preview days at the Cobo Exhibition Center in Detroit. It takes about 10 weeks for the show build and uses enough electricity to power 180 homes for one year.

The General Motors booth at this year's NAIAS is a great example of the scope of today's auto show exhibits. The exhibit space covers 150,000 sq. ft. (that's 300'×500') with thousands of feet of truss and miles of cable. The installation of the booth started in October with a custom-built Total Fabrications truss grid superstructure installed first, covering the entire exhibit. Reflective scrim fabric panels were stretched across large sections of the grid, creating “the GM ceiling,” with openings for lighting positions.

Detroit-based Lighting Design Services was the primary lighting designer for the GM exhibit and oversaw all GM lighting design work. Principal Tom Bagnasco has been working with General Motors as their lighting designer for 16 years. “This is the largest industrial show of its kind, and this year was the biggest booth yet,” he says.

The booth had separate areas for each of eight GM brand divisions, the main GM Corporate area, and the GM Theatre — a complete presentation space with capacity for 350 people. The GM Theatre housed the Day Show during NAIAS as well as hosted the press preview event. The press preview was lit by Nautilus Entertainment Design's Jim Tetlow. “The press event was a coordinated effort,” comments Bagnasco. “I was the lighting designer for the public show dates, and they brought in Jack Morton to produce the press events. Jim designed that event and did a fabulous job, by the way.”

Tetlow had to plan and design for three different shows for the press event. “You have to begin design for this back in October/November, before you really know what or how many shows there will be,” he says. “You have to design with both wash and hard-edge fixtures, so you are able to do gobo washes on the floor, color washes on the floor; are able to light executives and three or four cars simultaneously; are able to light paths of a car driving, entering from a side door; and still have some lights left over for a ballyhoo and some flash and trash.”

GM creates storyboards of how they see the shows running, and Tetlow comes up with rough cueing ideas from those and gets a sense of his color palette. “We had very definite color palettes that related to the different shows. One was a very orange look that had to do with the color of the graphics, the logo, and the ad campaign; then one was a very blue look all through the show; and one was a more neutral look,” he explains.

“In terms of colors of the cars when they are in their beauty moment, they were in color correction, but when they drive out or we are banging on the lights in reveal with the smoke and fog, we do it with no color for impact,” Tetlow continues. “Maybe we have added in an amber backlight just for accents, but they are always going to settle into color correction because we are balanced in 3200°K with all the lights on the executives, and that is what the cameras know to balance for. When we are done featuring the car, and it rolls into the background, we will roll into a blue or a lavender just to have it lit but recede into the background. Priority is always to provide great lighting on the cars and the executives.”

Once the press event is over, part of Tetlow's equipment comes out of the theatre area, and Bagnasco redoes the venue for public show dates. The Day Show was a 10-minute show that ran every 20 minutes featuring GM's new hybrid technology.

When deciding on the control system for the booth, Bagnasco looked to the lighting equipment provider, Light Source, Inc. “We were looking to improve the controls for this year's show by migrating from the aging consoles that we had used for previous years' shows,” says Rick O'Neill, principal of Light Source. “We interviewed a number of programmers and a few designers, and the consensus among them was that the [MA Lighting] grandMA console was the way to go.” A multi-venue space like the GM booth required a controller with at least eight DMX universes and multiple playbacks to run the separate shows simultaneously. However, this application took advantage of a number of features that were unique to the grandMA system, which is distributed in North America by A.C.T Lighting, Inc.

For the GM booth, two consoles programming on the same show file were linked on a wireless network using off-the-shelf Ethernet hardware. “We normally use a huge data/power snake, but the networked system allowed us to leapfrog from area to area with two consoles, without the need for moving the snake every time we relocated,” says Bagnasco. “We never even had to reboot the consoles because when we switched power sources, the built-in UPS kept the console running. We could use the wireless remotes simultaneously with the consoles, so we could have multiple programmers and techs operating on the same system without getting in each other's way. The wireless remote really came in handy when, literally ten minutes before the opening event, we had a lamp go out on a special for one of the eight divisions' signs. The client began to panic. I had a tech go out with his remote, and we redirected some of our automated lights around to get that corrected. The clients were very pleased that we were able to respond like that and get them back on for the premiere.”

During the exhibition, two consoles were relocated backstage to run the show, now configured so one console ran all the areas of the entire booth, while the other console acted as a tracking backup. For the show, the consoles were connected by cable to the network, but the remotes continued to operate on the wireless link. “We went to a hardwire for the show just for safety,” comments Bagnasco. “We had no overlap or interference with the wireless, and there was a lot of it going on in the hall, but we had no problems at all. It really was a bonus.”

Each brand area ran its own continuous cue loop, while a public Day Show in the GM Theatre was manually cued by the console operator and the presenter, who used a wireless key fob to trigger a sequence of cues via a show control system. “We spent a good week programming all of the overall environment as well as individual exhibit spaces,” Bagnasco adds.

The programming of the Day Show was a challenge: the GM Theatre was hung and focused for the press event two days before the show opened. Bagnasco and the programmers would not have access to the space until 48 hours before the opening event. The solution was the grandMA 3D visualization software. “We used 3D to pre-program 90% of the show before we ever got into the space,” Bagnasco says. “We used it to present our entire show design to the client months before the show. It allowed everyone to proceed in the design process with confidence. This was the first season that I was able to use this board, and I can't tell you how impressed I am with it. It was a wonderful tool for us out here.”

In terms of overall design, Bagnasco looks at all the angles for GM from cost to final look. “It was to General Motors' advantage this year to purchase the trussing system along with several of the base units we use,” he says. “This client, in particular, likes to use a metal halide source on the vehicles, so they purchased the 800 white lights, the Exhibition PAR made by Enliten. It is a beautiful light. We used that on turntables, riser vehicles, and specialty vehicles.”

The Enliten Source Four 575MSD Exhibition PARs gave him a consistent base level of 80-100 footcandles. “I used those as the base, and then I support that with the rental system from Light Source,” he adds.

Bagnasco used T5HO fluorescent luminaires to light the ceiling panels. “The entire ceiling is glowing with edge light from T5 high output fluorescents. I used an Elliptipar and a Winona fixture — a 4' length with a changeable reflector, so it allows me to fine tune some of the properties,” he says. “What we have done for the ceiling is created several rings, out of a scrim-like material, so it is a concentric pattern inside the space, and everywhere we have a ring, the entire edge of that ring is lit, and it projects about 20' or 30' onto that panel, and then the next ring comes in, and we do the same thing so the whole ceiling glows.” The fluorescents were specified with Cool White lamps and were powered via the non-dim system.

When it comes to theatrical lighting, Bagnasco sticks to mainly lighting the scenery and the backgrounds. “We really don't want to change the color of the paint for these clients, so most of the color and accent lighting we do is really architectural for background and architectural texture,” he says. “I like to mix color temp, but you have to be very careful doing that. I have been known to color correct a little. I'll bump up the 3200°K from a Source Four to 4200°K, 4600°K, just to get it a little bit closer to the metal halide. It just helps us get a more consistent look. It can get a little bit muddy if you start mixing color temps, and you aren't watching overlaps.” This year, Bagnasco used Martin MAC 2000 units along with conventional luminaires that included ETC Source Four® ellipsoidals and PARs.

New to Bagnasco's toolbox were LEDs. He used the James Thomas PixelPARs for accent lighting duties. “I'm very big on the LED technologies; several of our exhibits are lit with the Thomas PixelPAR, and it worked out wonderfully,” he says. “They really hit the mark, and the output levels are now getting up to where we can use them in these type of environments. You walk into these halls, and you've got 80 to 100 footcandles to start just with the overhead metal halide, so we have to overcome those levels. The Thomas PixelPARs worked out really well in the smaller areas to light architectural elements, and I could bring it out into the public areas without worrying about liability and people getting burned.”

Bagnasco's design encompasses the growth of the auto show exhibits over the years. “It is amazing. It is really an evolutionary process,” he says. “A lot of the rock-and-roll technology has been taken more into the corporate environment, and there is a lot more entertainment value. These really are shows these days, compared to what we did in the past with a 30' stick of truss and some PAR cans hung on it.”

General Motors NAIAS 2005 Equipment List

Lighting Equipment

2 MA Lighting grandMA Light consoles on a wireless network with two wireless remotes

ETC Source Four® ERS 19° 575W

ETC Source Four ERS 26° 575W

ETC Source Four ERS 36° 575W

ETC Source Four ERS 19° 750W

ETC Source Four ERS 26° 750W

ETC Source Four PAR NSP 575W

ETC Source Four PAR MFL 575W

ETC Source Four PAR WFL 575W

ETC Source Four PAR MFL 750W

Enliten Exhibition PAR NSP 575MSD

Enliten Exhibition PAR MFL 575MSD

Enliten Exhibition PAR WFL 575MSD

Arri fresnel with barndoor 1kW

Arrisun with barndoor 1.2kW

Martin Mac 2000 Performance

Martin Mac 2000 Profile

James Thomas PixelPAR

Elliptipar 4' T5HO Fluorescent Luminaire

Winona 4' T5HO Fluorescent Luminaire


Principal booth designer for GM: Tom Bagnasco

Principal lighting designer: Jim Tetlow

Assistant lighting designer and grandMA programmer: Jeff Bertuch

Master electricians: Jake Murry & John Taccone

Equipment For Press Event Only
1 ETC Sensor® Dimmer Rack 24 × 2.4kW
37 Martin MAC 2000 Profiles
28 Martin MAC 600 NTs with fresnel (25°) Lens
16 VARI*LITE VL1000 Tungsten Shutter models with all required signal and power distro
2 Flying Pig Systems Wholehog® 2s with two monitors, A/C cord, keyboard, mouse, and Little Lite
2 ReelFX DF-50 Hazers
2 FX Fans
Shared Equipment With Tom Bagnasco
8 ETC Source Fours ERS 19° 575W
22 ETC Source Fours ERS 26° 575W
18 ETC Source Fours ERS 36° 575W
19 ETC Source Fours PAR NSP 575W
61 ETC Source Fours PAR MFL 575W
28 ETC Source Fours PAR WFL 575W
22 Martin Mac 2000 Performances


Principal lighting designer: Jim Tetlow

Associate lighting designer: Kurt Doemelt

grandMA programmer: David Chance

Master electrician: Ollie Ginsler

Assistant master electrician: Sean McGrath Nautilus Entertainment Design