Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, Michigan

Little Caesars Arena in Detroit opened in September of 2017 to praise as one of the most innovative and technologically impressive sports and entertainment complexes in the world. Lighting and multi-media design firm, Illuminating Concepts (IC), was the lighting designer on the project, responsible for lighting the public spaces through to the theatrical lighting in the bowl. IC brought in production design company Crossfade Design to handle the theatrical lighting elements, including the dynamic ceiling.

The design goal for the Little Caesars Arena was to create an environment that allowed for everyone, wherever you are in the complex, to be part of the action. The key phrase is “holistic integration.” From the floor to the walkways to even the iPads in the suites, everything communicates and can be controlled by the LD. This was done with layers of lighting and video. There are various pieces of connected kinetic color schemes with a video layer that works hand-in-hand with the architecture and the lighting to create a wide variety of visual opportunities. The result is that the entire space engages, guides visitors from one area to another, creates different moods and disseminates advertiser information. 


One of the technological highlights is the 660-foot-long video projection wall on second story of the Via. There, 12 Barco HDF 30W LP laser projectors are used to create one big image that wraps around more than half the building. (Another eight Barco units are positioned over the floor in the arena). Motion video can occur from one end of the screen/building to the other. Because of the walls of windows, the marching Budweiser Clydesdales, as an example, can be seen from outside by those walking and driving by. It’s a great branding and advertising opportunity. The jewel skin of the video wall consists of triangle geometric shapes that have been 3D mapped on all sides and can ripple from side to side, up and down and make the entire surface look like individual triangles. It uses imagery fed by three d3 Technologies 4×4 servers. The d3 servers also feed more Barco projectors permanently mounted in the rigging grid for pixel mapping the hockey ice and other projects. 

Another remarkable technological aspect is the SkyDeck Tension Grid arena dynamic ceiling, a 43,000-square-foot wire grid onto which nearly 1,700 custom LED strip lights from Elation Professional are mounted. The client wanted the arena bowl to be covered by a solid ceiling, rather than the typical black void of most arenas, but with challenges like HVAC and rigging to contend with, not to mention cost concerns, the solution wasn’t easy to find. The answer came in the form of SkyDeck, a tension wire grid system created by InterAmerica Stage. The open wire covering acts as a scrim over the bowl, a modular ceiling that can be reconfigured for any event.


Eric Wade at Cross Fade Design worked with Elation on the 1,700 custom LED strip lights. The result was a custom spin-off of Elation’s six-color SixBar 500™ (1/2 meter) and SixBar 1000™ (1 meter) LED batten lights yet with RGBW LEDs only, connectors coming in from a different angle, a lower wattage and other design changes that allow it to keep a clean look. Custom mounting brackets were added to install the fixtures beneath 372 removable SkyDeck panels (4 fixtures per panel). Each panel has four quadrants that can be lit separately and each fixture has a custom-made glare shield attached so that the lights won’t shine into the audience’s eyes as seating extends nearly up to the level of the ceiling.  The last element of the ceiling is 400-plus Anolis ArcDot Pixels that go into the center of each panel and provide an entire extra layered look and that starfield ceiling.  

Crossfade was also responsible for fixture addressing, all data and signal flow, including RDM, as well as initial programming of the lights. IC produced the design drawings and handled all of the coordination with InterAmerica Stage. Electrical contractor Motor City Electric installed the fixtures. Illuminating Concepts, Crossfade Design, InterAmerica Stage, Elation Professional, and Motor City Electric all collaborated on the project.

All images by Todd Kaplan.