And in the beginning, there was Vari-Lite.
With just four VL1000™ ERS automated luminaires, an entire universe was created. Or to be more precise, the creation of an entire universe was created. Lighting designer Nancy Goldstein used the automated ellipsoidal fixtures to simulate the Big Bang and formation of our galaxy for a traveling museum exhibit titled "Cosmic Questions."
The portion of the exhibit using the VARI*LITE® luminaires was the Cosmic Kitchen, a small object theater that seats 20 audience members at one time. Rather than just create a show the audience could watch, Goldstein wanted to create effects the audience could actually experience.
"The VARI*LITE fixtures were extremely important to the audience's experience in the Cosmic Kitchen because it allowed me to include them in all of the effects," said Goldstein, (www.ngdesign.net). "The four VL1000 lights are key to the success of the effects."
Goldstein specified automated fixtures for the exhibit because she needed the flexibility that automated luminaires provide. Because of the limited space within the Cosmic Kitchen and the low hang height, a fixture with a wide zoom angle was critical.
"Nancy needed something that zoomed, and the fact that the VL1000 luminaires have a 70-degree zoom was definitely key in their selection," said Chris McMeen of Boston-based High Output (www.highoutput.com), from whom the lights were purchased. "The zoom is definitely better than that of any other light in that range."
Because the fixtures are hung basically at head height, and because of the intimate setting, any fixture used during the presentation had to be silent.
"Nancy wanted a light that would do color-mixing, had an iris, good output and was reliable," McMeen explained. "I was pushing her toward the VARI*LITE Series 2000 fixtures, but the more I found out about what she was trying to accomplish and the details of the exhibit, I really felt that the VL1000 luminaries would be a better fit for that application."
The premise of the 10-minute Cosmic Kitchen presentation is to gather the ingredients needed to bake an apple pie by discovering how the universe was created. The show begins with the Big Bang and ends with a hot apple pie popping out of the oven.
A brilliant burst of light from the four VARI*LITE fixtures flashing open white at the same time in the small space creates the Big Bang and starts the presentation. Three LCD video screens showing pictures of the universe, explosions and other cosmic details were used to supplement the bright flash.
The original Big Bang is believed to have been followed by a red gaseous glow. Goldstein dialed in the VL1000 luminaires' CYM color mixing system to the color needed to create a reddish-orange soupy feel for the theater. She then used custom crushed dichroic glass gobos from Rosco and added a rotation to produce the effect of a swirling gaseous cloud.
A fiber-optic drape circling the set allowed Goldstein to create a twinkling star effect surrounding the audience. Goldstein added a star field effect from the VL1000 fixtures to make the audience feel they were actually part of the stars.
"For a month or so at a time, the exhibit will run all day, every day seven days a week." Goldstein said. "The fixtures have to be reliable."
The 10-minute presentation is preprogrammed so that the exhibit is loaded in and set up by someone traveling with the show. For the next month - or however long the exhibit is at a particular museum - a museum staff member simply comes in and pushes the "go" button. The exhibit then runs in a continuous loop until it is turned off at the end of the day. There is a 3-minute break between shows to allow audiences in and out. But even then, the four VL1000 fixtures are in operation, being used as house lights for the Cosmic Kitchen.
"There were also price considerations, which there always are nowadays," McMeen said. "We could have used an auto-yoke, but they are much noisier and don't look as sleek as the VL1000 fixtures. And nothing else in that price range has a zoom. The VL1000 fixtures are an effective unit. They provide more bang for your buck."
Or more "Big Bang" for your buck, as the case may be.