Q+A: Willie Williams On Omnia Nightclub, Las Vegas

Q+A: Willie Williams On Omnia Nightclub, Las Vegas

Photo Al Powers

Omnia Nightclub at Caesar's Palace, part of Hakkasan Group, seems to be all the rave since it opened a few weeks ago, with top DJs already booked for months, its flowing architectural design by The Rockwell Group, and its lighting/scenic design by Willie Williams, perhaps better known for his decades designing U2's concert tours.

We caught up with Williams to discuss his first foray into nightclub design and that chandelier.

LD: So, how did you get involved in lighting Omnia?

Willie Williams: I was invited to oversee the entertainment lighting package--as opposed to the architectural lighting--but more particularly to come up with ideas for some unique scenic features within the club, some visual gags, essentially. I was invited by Frank Murray from Audiotek, the suppliers and supervisors of the AV installation. Frank has a long history with the Hakkasan team and realized that they were looking for something a little outside the norm, so was brave enough to give me a call.

LD: What was your first reaction to the idea, coming from your background as primarily a concert/performance designer?

WW: I was delighted to be asked, though I did approach with a little caution, this being entirely new territory for me. There’s a great appeal in working on something that will have a longer shelf-life than a tour, but the parameters are so different that I wanted to make sure I fully understood what would be expected of me before I waded in.

Photo Al Powers

LD: What were the design goals going in? Did the folks at Hakkasan have a general brief of some look or feel or vibe?

WW: We knew from the word go that the Hakkasan team wanted to raise the stakes exponentially. The Vegas club scene is extremely competitive and trends move on very quickly, so the goal was always to design something that would stand the test of time.  No one knows what the next big thing will be, so Omnia has been designed to be as future-proof as possible.

The style brief was basically "opulence meets high-tech." It had to feel like the height of style and luxury whilst clearly being on the cutting edge of visual and audio technology.

Photo Francis

LD: That moving massive chandelier--was that under your jurisdiction or did that come in under Rockwell et al?

WW: Being a permanent installation, and indeed, a new building, much time was spent in meetings where 95% of the agenda was nothing to do with me. However, eventually the plans became clear, and the scale of the opportunity became apparent: that we really could build something remarkable.

Rockwell were to design the whole of the interior but made it clear that the elements I was proposing were outside of their remit. It didn’t seem expedient to bring in another production design company so, partly by way of experiment, I discussed with Tait the idea of my working with them in a very direct way.  I would dream up the concepts and do the napkin sketches, then they would create the renderings and animations for presentation.

The overall feel of the club design is a kind of "future deco," so it seemed appropriate to play with the notion of a chandelier as a centerpiece for the main room. However, it was essential to rocket the idea into the future, so it’s ended up being as much a spaceship as it is a chandelier. I wanted it to complement the aesthetic of the room, but then, on cue, be able to transport us somewhere else entirely.

Photo Rukes.com

Tait had recently acquired Fisher Technical Services, so there was a great opportunity to flex some muscle in the motion control department. I proposed an object based on a series of concentric rings that had three categories of function. Some rings would the moving light system, some would support the central strings of LED crystals and some would simply be decorative. All of them, however, were designed with LED video surface on all sides and were to be able to move independently and at high speed.

Despite my initially coming in at a commendable 1200% over budget, James Algate, project manager from Hakkasan, didn’t fire me and was extremely supportive in helping to work out a version that could be achieved within budget without losing impact. Not only that, but during the process he actually proposed several more features and functions to make the finished item even more spectacular.  It was a very long process, but in the end we achieved a great result.

The key idea for the club visuals is that we provide a journey over the course of the evening.  All of the visuals--lighting, video, motion control--work in unison, creating the possibility of a huge number of color palettes and visual themes. You could go to the club on two consecutive nights and experience an entirely different set of moods and images throughout. Different nights of the week will have different moods that carry through from the main room to the smaller Heart of Omni room, even through to what the club performers and aerialists are wearing.  It’s a very complete idea.

Similarly, the chandelier has many different functions, from a stately rest position of the central crystals, through to terrifyingly fast motion, with the concentric rings penny-rolling at speed above the crowd. There are also projection screens concealed between the rings, along with fog jets, confetti canons, and even room for aerialists to descend from on high as part of the spectacle.

The smaller room, Heart of Omnia, has LED wall panels allowing a complete surround environment to be created, again complemented by sympathetic lighting and effects.

Photo Francis

LD: Were there initial ideas that didn’t make it to the final result? Anything that looked great on paper, but just didn’t happen?

WW: My first idea was to create a kind of moving false ceiling of slinky, flexible LED strips. Part of the brief had been to create a way of isolating the mezzanine level so just the ground floor could be used for smaller events. This false ceiling would have accommodated that requirement, whilst also providing a constantly changing image canvas above the crowd. In the end, the Rockwell team ingested some of this with their proposal to line the mezzanine with curving LED and create the waterfall of LED strips above the bar, so the spirit of it remains.

Check out our full coverage, sponsored by Robe and L-Acoustics, at our Project In Focus on Omnia here, and check back often for continuing updates.

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