A Science Fiction Masterpiece
VARI*LITEŽ Automated Luminaires Bring Sci-Fi Channel Booth to Life
Published Monday, September 25, 2006
by Bryan Matthews

On July 20, 2006, the Comic Con tradeshow opened at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, CA. As the attendees perused the tradeshow floor, one booth clearly rose above the rest, the Sci-Fi Channel’s unique and futuristic foray into the world of tradeshow booth design. Heading a talented team for this visual design were Graft Production Designer Stefan Beese and Lighting Designer Paul Dexter of Masterworks Lighting Design. With a complete lighting rig provided through AVW, which consisted of 42 VL3000™ Spot luminaires, 28 VL2500™ Wash luminaires, and two VL3500™ Spot luminaires, Beese and Dexter created a Sci-Fi masterpiece, complemented by the programming talents of Chris Merriman.

The Sci-Fi Channel Booth was constructed of sanded fiberglass with a shimmering pearl paint finish. An abstract shaping that consisted of one continuos sculptural figure which allocates zones of occupancy while simultaneously satisfying specific functional requirements, flowed together to create one of the most unique booth designs ever assembled. As a freestanding autonomous object, furniture, audio, video, and multimedia elements are all imbedded within the structure and are often projected upon. In the previous year, the lighting design consisted of DL1 digital lights with customized video graphics and Studio Beam automated luminaires.

"I looked at the previous booth as the prototype, and although it was good, we wanted to improve on the lighting design," started Beese. "We wanted to do something different this year to capture more of the contours of the booth."

"The DL1 fixtures are quite expensive when the video servers are added into the mix," said Dexter. "It was very limiting in that I was allowed only the bare minimum of fixtures to cover the booth. We were spread thin to achieve a desired outcome. We gave it our best to accommodate the design notion that the skin of the structure could actually be a huge projection surface, but this year I wanted to increase both coverage and brightness by adding in more lights."

There were two distinct challenges that faced Dexter in his lighting design. The first was that in a tradeshow show setting there is an abundance of light pollution from the industrial overhead lighting and other booths in the surrounding area. While Dexter was able to turn off the majority of the overhead lighting there was still a high level of pollution in a setting where theatrical elements are readily used. The second challenge was the angles of the booth and being able to find unique ways to hit them all with the correct coverage. The design needed to capture the correct angles for both the linear and patterned gobo projections.

Dexter continued, "When physically looking at the structure, there are limitations as to what you can do from an overhead truss position because of the extreme angles. Exhibit rules prohibit hanging outside the booth space. You have to be able to adapt to the challenges on the fly and know how to use each of your luminaires. We established what we needed to cover the structure then started pulling out all the tricks. One of which was we wanted to make the structure appear to move. We accomplished this by using the multiple gobos and separate rotating gobo wheels. This method was proved to be more effective than the graphics that were created in the previous year."

While searching for the best solution, Dexter met with Ray Whitton, Vari-Lite Business Development Manager. Whitton set up a demonstration for Dexter with all the VARI*LITE® luminaires. For Dexter, it was love at first sight.

"I loved the zoom capabilities. Working with extreme angles and curves that require an exact placement of the light, the zoom would allow the confidence needed to cover the complete structure," commented Dexter. "But it was also the gobos. With the VARI*LITE fixtures, there is a better selection of gobos with control over how they appear."

Beese continued, "In the beginning of a project, I will meet with Paul and we discuss the overall theme of the design. Paul then takes that information and puts together his lighting design. This year, he recommended that we switch to the VARI*LITE luminaires. He found the exact fixtures that we needed and they truly completed the theme of the booth."

To achieve this, Dexter focused the VL3000 Spot luminaires, in three different positions, to cover the entirety of the structure itself. Then, to allow for continuity throughout the booth, he focused the VL2500 Wash luminaires over the remaining booth space in the 40’ x 60’ area. Next, he placed the VL3500 Spot luminaires inside the booth itself. These fixtures were mounted to shoot their beams against projection mirrors, which in turn lit the underbelly of the structure. For a tighter space inside the structure, he placed one VL2500 Spot luminaire where a VL3500 could not fit.

"I was very pleased with the size of the fixtures that we placed inside the structure," admitted Beese. "We were able to build them into the booth without having to make any physical changes to the structure, which was a great bonus."

When Dexter chose gobo projections instead of video projections, he found an easy and inexpensive solution to customize the exact looks he needed. The options available through the gobo patterns, used in conjunction with the zoom features of the VARI*LITE fixtures, made the more expensive video projection options unnecessary.

Said Beese, "The gobo projections not only gave us better contours, but they gave us clearer images with a greater variety."

Dexter added, "By using gobo projections, we were able to achieve our goal of making the booth appear to have different skin patterns, and we didn’t even exhaust the possibilities of the luminaires in our program loop. We simply made eight scenes in a 25-minute loop and created unique transitions in between the scene. For example, we used lightning flashes, gobo scrolling, light position movement and iris expansion."

As the design was complete, Dexter had achieved all that Beese and the Sci-Fi Channel had wished him too. Through the usage of the VARI*LITE luminaires, he was able to take the same structure from the year before and bring to life the booth that had originally been envisioned.

Beese agreed, "This year was a completely different lighting approach. In the end, we achieved a better look than the previous year and came in further under budget."

"At the end of the day, it’s the client that needs to smile about what we do," concluded Dexter. "Lighting design for a tradeshow is understanding and translating what the client wants and needs. I know that the Sci-Fi Channel was very happy with our decision to use the VARI*LITE luminaires. This booth was definitely the highlight of the entire Comic Con 2006 show floor."

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