How I Did That: In Your Dreams

I have been working with the Forum in Charlotte for two and a half years. The venue always allows me the creative freedom to explore different and sometimes crazy ideas. In exchange for this flexibility, I reserve some of my most creative concepts for its events. For New Year's Eve, the folks at the venue picked a “dream theme,” the most vague yet most open theme for interpretation.

With little direction, I nearly beat my head into a wall to come up with concepts that express the essence of a dream. The obvious ideas were completely lame and ravy. I am still trying to forget I came up with some them. I am about to share with you three lighting and video concepts that you are welcome to steal, as long as you simultaneously chant, “Jack Kelly is a genius.” I will also mention three other elements that are not quite as exciting but short-winded enough to be appreciated by the impatient.

First, the cloud was something I wanted to do for a long time. A simple combination of Buffalo Snow and LEDs can make a magical effect. We built a cross with 4×4s, 12' by 10'. Six Color Kinetics ColorCast® 14s were attached to the 10' beam, and eight more fixtures were attached to two additional boards tacked onto the 12' beam. Those boards were positioned 4' from either end of the 12' 4×4.

The wireless receiver and the power supply for the ColorCast 14s were pre-wired for easy onsite installation. At the venue, metal strips were wrapped around the cross to build a warped circle. Chicken wire was attached to the strips forming a half sphere. The wire hung about 4' down from the cross. Thirty-five bags of Buffalo Snow were then pushed into the circular chicken wire holes until the entire half sphere was covered in cotton. We hoisted the cloud with pulleys up into the ceiling. Through creative programming, we could make the cloud simulate lightning with white flicks over a solid blue hue. In line with the theme, we also explored fantastic color combinations throughout the night. My favorite was the hot pink with flashes of yellow. Below the cloud, two Antari snow machines sprayed snow up into the air. The winter element made the entire picture believable. Patrons lifted their hands to catch the snow, pointing and waving into the air much like children in the playground. I am not sure if one effect would have survived without the other, but together, the effect on the crowd was extraordinary.

The second effect was also one I had been plotting for years. I just needed the right application. For the patio/entrance outside, I presented the theme both literally and figuratively. I made a gobo of each of the letters D-R-E-A-M and put one each in five Chauvet Q-Spot 300s. I borrowed the font design from a new age dream book. Three moving heads were placed on the top of two different sized trusses that lined the patio. Two more fixtures were hung from the I-beams extending over the patio. I programmed the fixtures to form the word “dream” on the huge parking lot canvas across the alley. Spanning over 60', each letter was given a color and positioned. After only a few seconds, one letter fell from the formation spinning into the air. Then another letter spun off toward the ground. One by one, all five letters spun off exploring the surrounding area. After chaotically flying around for about 20 seconds, all five letters slowly reformed the word “dream” back onto the parking deck. This pattern was repeated throughout the night. As an added bonus, I added color changers to the brick face of the building.

My favorite effect, something I had been mulling over but had yet to use, was to make a video screen that seemed to peer into another room. When I was younger, I was told a story of a designer who used projectors on the back windows of a studio stage to give the appearance that is was snowing outside. I don't remember who told me nor who the designer was, but thanks. We used four old-style windows that I had ripped out of one of my housing projects. We combined two of them to get a standard format 3:4 ratio.

However, that was not our first attempt to design video windows. First, we tried to pull out the panes and replace them with cloth, which failed. Then, we built a window around a Lycra scrim, which also looked terrible. Next, we bought a window treatment film, which didn't look right either. Finally, I discovered a spray can of frosted window paint at Home Depot.

It was too easy. The windows were cleaned up enough to be presentable, but I wanted the antique look. After two applications of frosted paint on one side, each window was hung from the ceiling. The projector was positioned on the opposite side of the majority of viewers, since I wanted the image to be visible only on the windows and not on the wooden frame. If video is only on the window, the viewer will believe the illusion. Most people want to believe in magic. They want movies to be real. I work hard not to wake them up to reality with carelessness. The video consisted of a montage of abstract videos and surreal imagery as if looking into another world.

For the garden upstairs, we used 12 Chinese lanterns with color changing lamps. The use of color-changing orbs overhead has been well received over the years. For Pravda, the secondary bar, we used a room full of Chauvet Vue IIIs. No one in Charlotte had used these LED fixtures before, so I thought it would be a great place to showcase the effect.

Personally, I loved the overall theme and design. Although a little incoherent, the party represented a very trippy experience. Unfortunately, most of the clientele didn't get it. Designers in the room applauded, and the lay folks just scratched their heads wondering about the theme. Individually, each effect was highly praised, but the big picture just left everybody dazed and confused. Next year, I think we will try something a little more direct, or I will just pout in my room complaining to the press about being misunderstood.

By the way, if you ever use confetti cannons, don't forget to tape the backpressure caps. We forgot and had nothing but complaints. A little tape around the barrel and lip of the cap, and the difference is astounding.


5 Chauvet Q Spot 300

10 Elation Opti RGB

14 Color Kinetics ColorCast® 14s

2 Chauvet Vue III

2 Chauvet Vue II

2 Chauvet Vue I

2 Antari S-200 Snow Machine

2 View Sonic 2000 Lumen Projectors

12 Sauce LightTro w/ Paper Lanterns

3 Elation Wireless DMX Receivers

1 Elation Wireless DMX Transmitter

5 Rosco Custom Steel Gobos

35 Bags Buffalo Snow

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