Rules of the road

Last June, Juice Creative, the Los Angeles-based lighting design division of the George P. Johnson Company (GPJ) of Auburn Hills, MI, began preproduction on three projects that would appear to be quite similar. Honda, Toyota, and Lexus called on GPJ to produce their fall dealer meetings.

Each event included a welcome reception (essentially a corporate party), and a second event that included select models of the automaker's line. The Toyota event was held in Chicago, September 17-18, the same days as the Honda event, which took place in San Francisco. The Lexus meeting was held in Maui October 6-7.

The principal LDs at Juice Creative are Chris Medvitz and Arnold Serame, both veterans of the rock and roll touring world. Medvitz took charge of the Toyota and Lexus events, while Serame handled Honda. The result was three meetings that evolved in strikingly different ways from the initial conceptual stage.

At Juice Creative, all three events were conceived at the same time. "Essentially, the design was developed in June, then adapted continuously as the floor plan changed," Medvitz explains. "We didn't actually work on the plots until about a month before the shows--there were too many changes being done."

For the Toyota event, the client was very open to suggestions, but did have certain ideas which it wanted incorporated into the production. The first night of the event, held at Chicago's McCormick Place, was a welcome reception that included dinner, drinks, and entertainment in two large rooms, while the second night, held in essentially the same area, featured 37 vehicles, with eight on turntables.

"For the second night, the car salon, the client wanted less of a sense of a party and more of the feel of an auto show," Medvitz reports. Before he began his lighting design, the project designer from GPJ, Carl England, started on the scenic elements of the project. "The layout and design of the project are determined by George P. Johnson," Medvitz adds.

As the project moved ahead, more changes were made. "Even after our drawings had been submitted and were sent off to the vendor, the client decided that it wanted to create an area to highlight its new conceptual vehicles, and wanted to have some video to support that area," Medvitz reports.

While he was working on Toyota, Serame was busy with the Honda event in San Francisco. "Our client came up to us and said, 'We've got an event in Moscone Hall and we're looking to you for ideas on how to dress it up,' " he explains. "The one imperative they gave us is that they wanted the event to look less like a convention hall and more like an elegant evening reception."

While Medvitz had a welcome reception and a car salon over two days, Serame had a different challenge: a welcome reception and car salon in the afternoon, an evening reception four hours later, and a Honda auto show the next day that was open to the public. "For the public event, we just wanted to keep it bright and light the cars," he chuckles.

The major problem with the Honda project was Moscone Hall itself, a large concrete room spanned by five 260' (79m) arches. In the early part of the design phase, Joelle Jackson, GPJ production designer for the event, worked through a number of ideas on how to deal with the arches. The options included disguising them, hiding them, or decorating them with scrim panels. The design team considered Pani projectors, video projectors, and the use of lighting to project images. In the end, due to physical challenges that included the lack of good projection positions, the idea of using video projectors (which looked financially prohibitive anyway) was dropped. "During this phase, we were able to explore a variety of creative possibilities," Serame adds.

While Serame was wresting with the arches in Moscone Hall, Medvitz was working on another project--the Lexus dealer meeting, which included a welcome reception and, the next night, the car salon. "Lexus wanted the first event, the welcome reception, to be an upscale but traditional Hawaiian event, not specific to anything but the surroundings."

The welcome reception, which took place on the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua property next to the beach, was done completely outdoors. The car salon was also done outdoors, but under the cover of 16 unique tents provided by Tentnology of British Colombia. "For the car salon, Lexus wanted it to have a very forward-looking, futuristic theme, recalls Medvitz. "Basically, what a typical event like this might be in 10 years."

The car salon was done on a baseball field next to the Ritz-Carlton, a space transformed to accommodate the 16 vehicles that would have to sit on what originally was grass. In this phase, engineering was done, concrete was laid, and GPJ project designer Terry Carder designed the layout of the tents. There was also another limitation put on Medvitz: The client did not want to see any cables, towers, or scaffolding. Everything had to be either buried under the grass, or integrated into the structure of the tents. "This project was more like installing a temporary architectural lighting system."

Before Medvitz had to deal with the unique situation in Maui, he was on-site in Chicago with Toyota. "The layout of the event, as well as how many entertainment stages and how many cars would be used, and where the cars would be, changed multiple times during the project," he reports. "The lighting didn't change in concept, but we did have to rearrange and reengineer some of our instruments."

In the end, Medvitz used a variety of automated and conventional fixtures, provided by Tobins Lake Studio of Brighton, MI. Tobins Lake also provided supervisors and some programmers, an asset to Medvitz, since he had worked with many of the people before. "There's a lot of idiosyncrasies about corporate shows, specifically auto shows--they're different than rock and roll and theatre. With a load-in that happens over the course of a week, it's good to have people who have experience in this that I've worked with before."

In the Toyota event, Medvitz relied heavily on PAR-64s, as well as 124 Clay Paky Stage Color 1200s, many of which were designated to light the vehicles. "We used automated fixtures on the vehicles, since their positions were changing up until the very last moment, and using the automated fixtures makes it much less time-consuming and stressful to refocus." For the rest of the event, Medvitz used 36 High End Studio Colors(R) to provide a wash on the ceiling for the welcome reception, and had a variety of PARs dedicated to catering stations. "You want the food to look good, and you want the people to look good while they're eating the food, but you don't want to use a lot of color or theatrical effects--no one wants their roast beef dinner to be illuminated with green light," he concludes with a chuckle.

Medvitz also used approximately 7,200' (2,195m) of truss in a diamond pattern that echoed the design in the carpet. "We found we could cover the room with less truss using that layout, and it was much more pleasing aesthetically."

Meanwhile, at Moscone Hall, the video idea was dropped--the dealers were in video-heavy meetings all afternoon, and the client didn't want that repeated in the other events, which were essentially corporate parties. So the project instead featured 72 scrim panels across the arches. Once they were in place, it was up to Serame to illuminate them.

"We built the whole convention hall in 3D using AutoCAD and 3D Studio Max," Serame reports. "I did beam projections from fixtures in 3D to make sure they'd all make their shots. And if it didn't work out, we had to be able to pull out a piece of paper and say, 'On paper, it looked like it would work out,' " he laughs.

Fortunately, the calculations did work out exactly as planned using a variety of units from The Obie Company in Torrance, CA, which also supplied the equipment for the Maui Lexus event. "We used Coemar CF 1200s. Since we had a 35'-high (11m) ceiling and a truss trim of 32' (10m), we needed the 1,200W units for that throw," Serame explains.

In the end, the LD bathed the room in bright blue for the afternoon event, and developed an elegant night look that relied heavily on color temperature and color for the evening festivities. "Our goal for each of the events was to give them a distinctive look and feel." For the daytime event, Serame relied on Honda blue, echoing the daylight sun. For the evening, he looked to the night sky for inspiration. "I love the contrast of a generalized congo wash with conventional quartz area lighting. I used a dimmed quartz wash in the active area, and to punch up the warmth, I used the congo everywhere I could. It was all about color temperatures and contrast."

After the daytime reception, Serame had the evening to get the room ready for the public auto show the next day. Once again, he chose his crew carefully, and made sure he had ample support from local programmers provided by IATSE, as well as crew chiefs from Obie who were able to focus. "The key to the changeover being so effortless was that we put into place a team that could handle it."

In the daytime event, Serame had 18 vehicles; in the evening, he only had to light eight; for the public event, the original 18 returned. And since the daytime event had to be changed over in four hours, Serame had no problem using the same basic plot for the public event. "We had such a good relationship with our client that the cars went right back into the same places. We just put up the look and they drove them back into place, thank God," he says with a smile. For lighting the vehicles themselves, Serame relied primarily on the Coemar CF 1200s, a daylight fixture that could be easily focused by a programmer.

After finishing up with Toyota, Medvitz was off to Maui and the Lexus event, which was decidedly dissimilar to the other two events. "For the welcome reception, the majority of the design was landscape lighting," he says. The welcome reception used 280 ETC Source Four PARs for landscaping. "The majority were on the ground, while some of them were mounted in the trees."

He also used a handful of PAR-38s and MR-16s for the buffet, and over 80 store-bought tiki torches. "They smoothed out the look and brought a very traditional aspect to the lighting."

The car salon relied on a more architectural look, "rather than flash and trash," Medvitz explains. There were 16 Tentnology tents, which rather resemble caves, and a total of 16 Lexus vehicles. "I would have preferred to use automated fixtures like we did in Honda and Toyota," he admits, "but we were limited by size and weight concerns with the tents--their minimal structure can't hold up a lot of weight."

Since Medvitz wasn't allowed the luxury of trussing, he had to suspend all the instruments from the tent structures, which resulted in the fixtures hanging 13'-24' (4-7m) above the floor. He relied heavily on Arri 1,200W Compact HMI fresnels to illuminate the vehicles; these smaller fixtures were much easier to integrate into the tent structure without overloading it. Medvitz also used a number of Coemar CF 1200s for a ceiling wash that simulated a sunrise/sunset over 20 minutes in the larger tents, somewhat reminiscent of what he had created for the ceiling of the Toyota event.

Three automotive clients, three dealer meetings, and three very different lighting designs prove that corporate lighting doesn't have to be stale. "People don't realize what kind of great, creative events are going on in corporate theatre," Serame explains. "Corporate doesn't necessarily mean boring anymore."

Sharon Stancavage is a Detroit-based concert and theatrical lighting technician.


Lighting designer/programmer Chris Medvitz, Juice Creative

Event designer Carl England, GPJ

Lighting programmers Patrick Dierson, Art Rich, Brad Hayes

Event producer and exhibit properties George P. Johnson Company

Scenic contractor (entertainment stages) Scenic View

Lighting contractor Tobins Lake Studio

Lighting production manager Brad Hayes

Production electricians John Briggs, Jim Cozad, Lance Gansky, Joel Haffey, Doyle Martin, Art Rich, Chris Ryan, Jim Smith, Rick Stuart, Shawn Welch

Riggers Pat Harper, Dave Thesis

Lighting equipment (158) ETC Source Fours (88) ETC Source Four PARs (628) PAR-64s (6) L&E MR-16 Mini-Strips (24) 3-cell cyclights (36) Northstar CID PAR-64s (124) Clay Paky Stage Color 1200s (28) Clay Paky Stage Zoom 1200s (12) Clay Paky Golden Scan HPEs (12) High End Systems Cyberlight Lithos (28) High End Systems Studio Colors (12) High End Systems Intellabeam 700HXs (3) Flying Pig Systems Wholehog IIs (2) ETC Express 125s (1) ETC Expression 2X (260) chain motors ETC Sensor dimming


Lighting designer Arnold Serame, Juice Creative

Associate lighting designer Alan Pilukas, The Obie Company

Lighting programmer Kelly Corter

Event designer Joelle Jackson, GPJ

Event producer and exhibit properties George P. Johnson Company

Scenic contractor (scrim panels) George & Goldberg Design Associates

Lighting contractor The Obie Company

Lighting production manager Jeff Boldenwick

Production electricians Silas Flores, Kevin Tyler, Greg "Gorgo" Wershing

Steward Michael Anderson

Lighting equipment (205) Coemar CF 1200s (32) Coemar CF 1200 HEs (6) High End Systems Studio Spot 250s (100) PAR-64s (2) Flying Pig Systems Wholehog IIs (121) chain motors ETC Sensor dimming


Lighting designer/programmer Chris Medvitz, Juice Creative

Event designer Terry Carder, GPJ

Event producer and exhibit properties George P. Johnson Company

Tent contractor Tentnology

Rockscape & water feature contractor Greneker

Lighting contractor The Obie Company

Lighting production manager Patrick Stansfield

Master electrician Al Dewey

Production electricians Neville Emerton, Jeff Riedinger

Lighting equipment (30) Arri Compact 1200 HMI fresnels (4) Arri Compact 575 HMI fresnels (48) ETC Source Fours (435) ETC Source Four PARs (120) PAR-38s (70) Coemar CF 1200s (12) Hubbell Sportsliters (18) Hydrel submersible PAR-56s (8) Charles Loomis Inc. PAR-38 light rings (84) Tiki torches (1) Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II ETC Sensor dimming