Winter Palace On Fifth

saks winter palace

On a canvas stretching a full city-block wide and nearly 100’ tall, the design teams of American Christmas and Chris Werner Design transformed the iconic façade of Saks Fifth Avenue into “The Winter Palace on Fifth” for the holiday season.  With over 2,000 performances, this temporary, exterior, holiday display delighted hundreds of thousands of pedestrians while generating millions of valuable social media views.

In the newest chapter of the New York City retail institution’s annual holiday light show, a tradition started in 2004, the creative team at Saks, lead by Mark Briggs, stepped away from the 3D projections used in recent years and developed an installation of large, illuminated scenic elements – most of which were comprised of individually controlled LED pixels.

Nightly, a 2-minute and 30-second show played before hundreds of thousands of delighted pedestrians.  The high-energy, orchestral nighttime spectacular featured a David Foster version of “Carol of The Bells” with brand new vocal arrangements performed by 200 members of the Oratorio Society of New York.

The Twitter-trending installation featured nearly 30,000 individually controlled video nodes built into large, ornate scenic elements – a mix of Philips Color Kinetics iColor Flex LMX and Minleon RGB nodes.

All video-driven elements were carefully pixel-mapped by Will Gossett within 176 universes of KiNet and ArtNet to seven timecode-synchronized MBox media servers.  Additionally, approximately 200,000 points of white light (on ETC Sensor dinner packs), 14 12-cell Illuminarc wash fixtures, and 40 Diversitronics outdoor strobes were controlled by a GrandMA 2.

Utilizing a delicately-chosen color palette of primarily cool tones, the show included a musically-driven mix of gentle fades; large, sweeping transitions; and immersive, percussive changes.  Warm-white, illuminated sculptures followed the recognizable bells of the classic Christmas song.  Piano keys are simulated on hundreds of video-driven icicles within the song’s “bridge” with strobe lights punctuating dramatic moments within the score.

Lighting and video data was distributed via a complex network, created by 4Wall Lighting System & Design, which included outward-facing port for remote monitoring, wireless connectivity for on-street programming, and managed network hardware in custom, outdoor, ruggedized enclosures.

A scripted, Mac-based front-end handled scheduling and audio playback.  The system included a web-based interface for on-demand show triggering, power relay controls, and operational maintenance.

A first-of-it’s-kind entertainment control monitoring system was developed for this project and deployed to continuously monitor the health of all network-connected hardware – such as switches, power supplies, media servers, and consoles.  The monitoring equipment was designed to alert the team of system faults, as well as log all network events for future analysis related to hardware utilization, product life, and network reliability.

Prior to installation, the creative team utilized a collection proprietary previsualization tools to synchronize the lighting effects to music, demonstrate the design intent to the team, and produce all media for playback on the servers.  This work flow, overseen by Dan Efros, allowed for a very efficient creation process and rapid deployment of updates during the final days prior to opening night.

Creative Team

  • Client/Venue:  Saks Fifth Avenue
    • Executive VP/ Chief Marketing Officer:  Mark Briggs
    • VP of Creative:  Chris Wieliczko
  • Producer:  American Christmas, Inc.
    • Chief Executive Officer:  Fred Schwam
    • Executive Creative Director:  Kent Fritzel
    • Creative Director:  Stephen Worthington                            
    • Chief Production Officer:  Lance Caffrey                            
  • Lighting & Media Designer:  Chris Werner Design
    • Lead Designer:  Chris Werner                            
    • Associate Designer:  Dan Efros                                  
    • Draftsman & Pixel Mapper:  Will Gossett         
  • Systems Integrator:  4Wall
    • Account Executive:  Brent Pritchett                                      
    • Project Manager:  Lisa Cameron                                         
    • Production Electrician:  Shawn Robinson
  • Rigger/Installer:  AMA Sign & Electric

Equipment List

  • 1          MA Lighting – grandMA2 Light Lighting Console
  • 7          PRG – MBox Media Servers
  • 1          Figure 53 – QLab3 Show Control System
  • 1          Ben Peoples Industries – Horatio Bridge Architainment Monitor
  • 3          TMB – GBS Managed Fiber Switches
  • 2          Cisco - 24-port Managed Gigabit Switches
  • 3          Cisco – 52-port Managed Gigabit Switches
  • 3          Harmon Martin – Ether2DMX ArtNet Gateways
  • 5          Electronic Theater Controls – Sensor Dimmer Packs
  •             Philips Color Kinetics – iColor Flex LMX Nodes
  •             Minleon – RGB String Lights
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