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Laser Effects recreate the Aurora Borealis Zachary Hock

Nordic Cool Festival 2013

After video and large format projection were deemed impractical, Image Engineering suggested using lasers to project a simulated ‘northern lights’ effect.  Find out how we were able to bring the Aurora Borealis to the Nation's Capital.

After 18 months of planning, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. became the host for the Scandinavian multicultural festival known as Nordic Cool 2013. The festival was scheduled to run for 32 days and highlighted the many facets of Scandinavian culture, such as visual art, music, and performance. Its many exhibits and displays were free and open to the public during the months of February and March of 2013.

The festival designers were in search of an artistic display that would change the appearance of the Kennedy Center’s façade during the nighttime hours of the festival. To facilitate the design, the Kennedy Center’s Department of International Events commissioned Danish lighting design Jesper Kongshaug to design a nightly display utilizing lights, video, or projections.

The Danes and Americans Unite

In order to realize his vision, Jesper would need to partner with a technology company that could implement his ideas for the façade. Image Engineering was selected and started meeting with Jesper in May of 2012. Originally, Jesper’s concept was to project images of Nordic scenery onto the facades of the Kennedy Center using large format slide projectors or high resolution video projectors. Since the Kennedy Center required that all four sides of the building be illuminated with the design, this concept soon became economically unfeasible and logistically impractical. Using conventional stage lighting fixtures to achieve a design was determined to be “too unoriginal” and not worthy to be the visual hallmark for this prestigious festival.

An Old Effect is Resurrected

To meet the requirements of the festival organizers, Image Engineering suggested using a laser effect first developed in the 1970’s. The effect known as “lumia” could simulate the aurora borealis, or northern lights, and could be projected on all four sides of the building. Lumia is created when a laser beam is projected through rippled or bubbled glass. The resulting pattern is an ever changing, random type of swirling effect that looks organic in its make-up. After a few trials in the studio, Jesper was convinced that the lumia effect, if bright enough, could be a compelling display that would achieve his artistic vision for Nordic Cool 2013.

Mother Nature is Mimicked with Lasers

Having the display appear bright enough, and encompass all 4 sides of the Kennedy Center would require an extensive commitment from Image Engineering’s high powered laser projector inventory. Ultimately, eight 20-watt full color laser projectors, and two 50-watt full color laser projectors were used. The design also called for all 10 laser projection systems to be completed synchronized with a custom designed soundtrack. This presented a minor challenge in that all 10 laser systems were spaced around the perimeter of the building in a loop totaling over 2500 linear feet. To achieve Jesper’s vision of a totally organic display that mimicked nature, a custom bubbled glass rotator was manufactured. The rotator allowed the speed of rotation to be controlled randomly so that subtle movements in the glass when coupled to the custom programming of the laser  would create unpredictable and non re-occuring patterns in the lumia display. Aside from the technology hurdles, the display also had to be designed to run in all types of winter weather for 32 continuous evenings. The response from the area as well as the organic effect drew attention to national media as the festival made the front page of the Washington Post. You can watch video of the effect in action as well as find more interesting projects on our website.

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