Michelangelo Meets NASCAR
Published Monday, December 13, 2004

To celebrate NASCAR's annual end-of-year awards banquet, Jason Robinson was commissioned to light the ceiling in the grand ballroom of New York's famed and historic Waldorf-Astoria hotel for the television broadcast. Robinson's creative tools were a bit more advanced than those used for that other famous ceiling artwork.

"I chose the VARI*LITE® VL3000™ Spot luminaires for their ability to paint gorgeous pictures," said Robinson, lighting designer for the televised event.

Because the grand ballroom is a shallow, older styled theater, Robinson was limited on space, size and throw distance. To create the enormous look he had envisioned, Robinson needed the ability to fill the space with fewer fixtures. The image quality, intensity and incredible 6:1 zoom range of the VL3000 Spot fixtures, made them Robinson's artistic lighting tool of choice.

"I had limited throw distance, but I was able to use the zoom range of the VARI*LITE fixtures to paint bigger pictures better," he explained. "And with the rotating gobos and effects wheels, we were able to create some incredible images."

2004 marked the fifth year for Robinson to light NASCAR's year-end gala. When he took over as lighting designer, the first major element he incorporated into the event was coloring the entire ceiling of the ballroom with light.

"The ceiling has such great texture, and there's a beautiful chandelier," Robinson noted. "I began lighting them, and NASCAR loves the environment we are able to create within the venue. They love walking into the Waldorf-Astoria ballroom and looking into the ceiling and seeing this great motif and the chandelier glowing in color."

"Every year, they ask 'are you going to light the ceiling again?' This year we gave them something really spectacular with the VL3000 fixtures," he added.

VARI*LITE dealer Bandit Lites supplied all of the lighting for the event, including the VL3000 Spot luminaires, which were positioned on the floor and along the balcony. Robinson hung fixtures from custom-built hangers over the balcony rail, shooting up onto the ceiling, and positioned fixtures on the floor to project graphics and gobos onto the stage.

Additionally, set designer and show producer John Kallas created a huge drapery that hover over the stage like a cloud. Robinson also used the VARI*LITE fixtures to light the drapery during the event.

Because the show is televised, there are certain lighting requirements he must follow. But each year, NASCAR makes it clear to the lighting designer that the night belongs to the drivers and their teams. Only the top 11 drivers, their crews and team members are invited to the annual celebration. Robinson used the fixtures' advanced CYM color-mixing system to choreograph the show to each driver's team colors, another creative element that pleases NASCAR.

When Tony Stewart was at the podium, the ceiling, drapery and ballroom were bathed in "The Home Depot" orange, but when Jeff Gordon took his turn on stage, Robinson dialed in the blue and red colors of the DuPont 24 Chevrolet team.

"When a driver was at the podium giving his speech and thanking his sponsors, the room was his for that moment," Robinson explained. "The ceiling was different and unique for that particular driver and team."

The NASCAR Nextel Cup Awards Ceremony was Dec. 3.

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