The cars are the stars

"The cars are the stars" is the challenge LD Howard Ungerleider meets when designing the lighting for General Motors of Canada exhibits at the Canadian International Auto Show. He is co-owner, with Brian Beggs and Doug Adams, of Production Design International (PDI), a full-service company based in Markham, Ontario, which specializes in laser, lighting, and special effects design. His work for GM pioneered the concept of integrating the feel of theme park lighting with the intensity of display lighting.

"In order to implement the theme park concept, we included an extensive use of color in the design," he says. "For many years, designers have chosen to light vehicles under the brightness of metal-halides. The results were an extremely sterile atmosphere, and this intense, white light also tends to indirectly light up the show visitors. I believe automobiles should be lit in such a way that the dynamic personalities of the vehicles can be highlighted without making show patrons feel that they are the ones on display.

"When I first tried this approach," he continues, "the use of color was not well accepted because it was felt that it portrayed a false sense of the color palettes offered by the auto company. Now, with a wider variety of gels and the extensive use of intelligent lighting, color matching is easy and accessible. The GTO Concept Car's personality had to sparkle: The gel of choice had to contain the car's natural color along with a series of key lights directed at its vital intricacies. Aiming the key lights towards wheels, door handles, and interiors, while coloring the rest of the car with a golden-orange gel, created the look I wanted."

The 2000 General Motors Auto Show exhibits were featured in a 170' (52m), two-story space which occupied two entire halls of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Lighting was also designed for Amanda Marshall's performance at a VIP/media event, and lighting and lasers lit "Center Piece," an hourly stage show.

Programmers Gary Wilson, Tom Gall, Errol Reinert, and production manager/electrical guru Bill Beckton brought Ungerleider's concepts to life. Equipment, supplied by PDI and Christie Lites, included: 84 High End Systems Studio Colors(R), 52 High End Cyberlights(R), 72 ETC Source Fours, 86 ETC Source Four PARs, 70 PAR-46s (to warm the 300 16x16 box truss sections), 80 20-light blinders, 44 CL5 scrollers, 60 CL1 scrollers, six Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II consoles, five ETC Sensor 96x2.4kW dimmer racks, one Infinity 2000 40W YAG laser system, one Laser Power 3W DPSS YAG laser system, and 100 one-ton motors.

Peter Kife Colalillo, account director at MacLaren McCann Momentum, is working with Ungerleider and PDI on GM for a sixth season. "PDI introduced lighting design to the exhibits," he says. "We started small and have gone from 200 to 2,000 lights. Howard's always thinking of how to make things different and brings brilliant, new ideas to each show."