Designers Night Out: In the driver's seat for an auto show event

February 2001--Scantily clad mannequins struggled to be free of easily wrapped plastic, while silent, skewed images of Bunuel, Cocteau and Fellini films played on a white scrim. Vintage Jaguars were posed on fur rugs, while a model, wearing a costume appearing to consist only of chocolate syrup and an elaborate headdress, made a brief appearance in the room. This avant-garde scene was an offshoot of the North American International Auto Show, as two top automotive designers hosted a party for their colleagues at the Masonic Temple's Fountain Ballroom, located in downtown Detroit.

The event started several years ago, when designers Camilo Pardo and Buck Mook decided to throw a party in their loft/studio for the international automotive design community. The celebration outgrew its original location, and was relocated this year to the Masonic Temple. To help plan an event that would impress the most creative industry types, Pardo and Mook called upon producer/lighting designer Rick Stuart of Carpenter Communications in Southfield, Michigan. "The event is a party for auto designers who have basically seen it all," Stuart comments.

Pardo, Mook, and Stuart set out to create a Dada-esque, Surrealist environment. The basic elements of the event would include four vintage Jaguars, 5 NEC 440 projectors for films of that genre, 3 giant weather balloons, three 65'x 12' pieces, and one 12' diameter x 12' high cylinder of natural scrim. Scattered throughout the room were white tree limbs, exotic plants, and a bevy of partially and oddly clothed mannequins. The music was a live performance by Detroit-born jazz great Earl Klugh.

To illuminate the space, Stuart turned to Westsun of Troy, Michigan, and the Coemar NAT 1200. "I chose the old NATs for two reasons--budget and the Dada-esque theme of the project," Stuart comments. "The NAT gave me some versatility--it's an instrument that looked like it came from that era, and it had the technical specifications that I wanted, " he explains.

The next place Stuart turned to was to Color Corps of Cleveland, where he found the Color Kinetics LED lamps. "I basically chose them because they're low power, DMX, color changing units that generate absolutely no heat at all," he contends. The Color Kinetics units can generate 256 colors, can be programmed on the unit themselves or through the Whole Hog, and could be used in the interior of a car. "I did some experiments with other vehicles, and I found that they could safely be used on the interior of a car valued at half a million dollars without causing any damage," Stuart comments.

Those two units became the basis of the project, which was rather free flowing and unstructured. "This project was actually pretty fluid," Stuart admits. "We knew what we wanted to accomplish but there was no real plot--we finalized everything at the venue during load in."

Once inside the ballroom, the event began to take shape. "We divided the room into four zones using the scrim," Stuart says. Three of the four zones featured a vehicle; the last consisted of two huge weather balloons. The 12 Coemar NATs were placed on a total of twelve 12' high truss towers, and worked in conjunction with Source Four Lekos PAR 64s. "I also had some standard gobo patterns from Apollo that I put in the NATs," he adds. " They were moon shapes, explosions and starbursts that were projected onto the scrims."

While the NATs were used essentially on the scrims, the Color Kinetics instruments were reserved solely for the vehicles themselves, illuminating them from the interior. "I used six to eight Color Kinetics fixtures on each of the vehicles," Stuart says. "They were actually inside the cars, as well as underneath," he adds.

The color palette for the event was congo, red, and white. "Having a limited color palette was my choice," Stuart comments. Using the scrim, Stuart had one half of the room in a light congo, which made the area seem more cool and clinical. The red light practically pulsated, creating a visual antithesis of the cool, light congo. "The red I used was actually based on the color of the Jaguar race car," he explains. "I used a Pantone swatch book, which shows percentages of CMYK, and I matched the paint of the Jaguar to a swatch in the Pantone Book and programmed in the color," he concludes.

Working along with Stuart on the project were Jeff Ehrenberg, as the programmer and associate designer, as well as Blayne Partica, as the Master Electrician. "I loved the way it turned out," Stuart confesses. "It was very simple and proved once again that less is really more," he concludes.

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