From January 10 – 19 the North American International Auto Show, synonymous with the Detroit Auto Show, took place at Cobo Center in Detroit. Well over 1000 Martin fixtures helped showcase some of the world´s most fascinating vehicle introductions.

Lighting design consortium Lightswitch was responsible for lighting a large DaimlerChrysler booth, including brands Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep, as well as several press reveals and a black tie event. Lighting and rigging suppler for the booth was Production Resource Group (PRG).

Lightswitch used some 928 Martin fixtures and four Martin Maxxyz lighting consoles for the event - three on the DaimlerChrysler booth and one for the press reveals (four others were available as back ups). A massive checkerboard grid handled MAC 2000 Profile, MAC 2000 Wash (many with barndoors) and MAC 2000 Performance, as well as other automated lights, reportedly used because there were not enough MAC 2000s available. One of the largest, perhaps the largest, intelligent lighting rig ever put together running off a single system, an enormous 47 Universes were created for the booth lighting.

Lightswitch team
Lightswitch Partner and Senior Designer, Howard Werner, explains Lightswitch’s role, “Our job here was to light the vehicles and the environments, taking a key from the exhibitry. The George P. Johnson Company (Jeep + Chrysler) and Exhibit Enterprises (Dodge) designed the exhibits in conjunction with the requirements of the different brands. Lightswitch’s collaboration in the designs incorporated many lighting elements. DaimlerChrysler has made a conscious choice to make their exhibitry very brand specific as opposed to other car manufacturers who chose to be more homogenous with their look. Dodge, Mercedes Benz, Chrysler, Jeep all have specific looks and because of that the theatricality of the looks we’ve created lends itself to each brand.”

Lightswitch Partner and Lighting Designer, John Featherstone, adds, “Another part of that, which is why we’re very happy to have the breadth and depth of the Lightswitch team to apply to a project like this, is the need for a diverse range of looks and feels between the three brands that Lightswitch designs. There are also significant opportunities for savings by taking a synergistic approach to the overall systems that we use to light the three brands and press events. By allowing us to take charge of the lighting at the exhibits and press events, we’ve been able to mold a system that tailors to the needs of all three brands and the press events and have achieved some very substantive efficiencies.”

Brand specific
Those three brands include Dodge, Jeep and Chrysler. John completed the lighting design for an energetic Dodge area, and in keeping with Dodge’s more aggressive, ”grab life by the horns” image, incorporated lots of movement and strobing. Cars were bathed in color from MAC 2000 Wash while MAC 2000 Wash with barndoors washed a large Dodge ’Hemi’ wall. Fast changing MAC 2000 Performance effects dressed a Dodge logo structure and Rams head while MAC 2000 Performance animations were framed around Dodge Durango podium set pieces. Inside two large Ram heads a fan of Martin Architectural Alien 02 color changers and LED fixtures provided scenic treatment.

For Jeep’s more organic design, Howard simulated the passing shapes of the outdoor environment using abundant pattern effects to give the atmosphere of a park complete with trees and sunlight. Color and textures highlighted a rock waterfall and skyline set pieces. Chrysler’s more refined look required a cleaner projection however. Here, Howard used white light with various color temperatures to define the lines of the vehicles and a subtle color changing effect from Mac 2000 Washes on the Chrysler Pavillions to compliment the refined architectural design of the Chrysler stand. The Chrysler display was particularly well received and was the centerpiece of the Daimler presence on the show floor.

For the four press reveals (in 3 days) a special stage and ancillary lighting was added including MAC 2000 Profile, Performance and Wash with Jem 24/7 and ZR 33 hazers providing the mid-air projection canopy. The black tie evening on the eve of the show opening also required new lighting looks.

Intelligent benefits
The benefits of intelligent lighting are particularly clear in an event like this, in particular their ability to keep up with rotating cars. Using mostly white light, color is incorporated when needed for special looks. John Featherstone comments, “The ability to manage the lighting of the booth, the press event and black tie function, as well as the public days has enabled us to really take advantage of the flexibility that automated lighting technology can offer. There are a good number of fixtures that have taken on a different role in those different events – scenic fixture for press, lighting a car for the public days, and lighting the stage for the black tie events. That means we can take elements from the lighting system to meet the client’s needs without a lot of re-hanging of the fixtures, getting maximum bang for the buck.”

“Ultimately this is a marketing event, and what we try to bring to our clients is not only an understanding of where they’re trying to head with their brands from a strategic marketing standpoint, but making the lighting an aspect that they don’t have to worry about,” John stated.

Maxxyz
Lightswitch Lead Programmer Dennis Connors was instrumental in the decision to use the Martin Maxxyz to control the booth lighting. He commented, “Around the official release of the Maxxyz in September, a control system decision had to be made for this event. A lot of the reason we went this way was the versatility of the wireless LAN system and the capability of the Maxxyz to handle a large volume of fixtures.”

“We’re at 47 Universes that need to be configurable between three different booths and four integrated press events. Martin approached us with a solution. They said ‘We’ll set it up for you, we’ll show you how it works, we’ll send guys out’ and they’ve done a tremendous job. The Ethernet has been a stable, solid network. It’s the confidence in the company behind us that allows us to do this kind of work.”

Dennis continues, “Maxxyz in general handles large amounts of fixtures easily. I don’t find myself guessing what’s going on with the board. It’s very intuitive. There’s no mystery as far as playback or what you can grab. Versatility wise, it’s a console I like to use. I’m comfortable with the board and it has all the capabilities that we need. It has the functionality we needed with regards to the Ethernet system and the wireless LAN and it’s done everything we asked it to do. It’s very much at the forefront.”

The Maxxyz’s were located at two different areas, the Chrysler/Jeep control room and Dodge control room, yet with only one Ethernet cable and a power cable necessary per console, a mobile Maxxyz on a pushcart was used to provide even greater flexibility, for focus and programming of sequences for example. Dennis states, “The fact that I can take 16 Universes and put it down into one tiny cable is great. The power line has gotten bigger than the cable line now. Just being able to move – the versatility and the ability to switch between the boards is great. A great advantage to having it on an etherDMX system is the ability to unplug the data from the console and not have it go anywhere. If anything happens to your console, if anything happens to your snake, your data drops out and nothing moves.”

“A perfect example is the Alien 02s in the Dodge Ram head doing the scenic treatment. It wasn’t preplanned to put them in there so for testing purposes we needed to control them from the console. The amount of time it would take to wire a bunch of cable for a system that they wanted to look at before installation seemed to be a lot of work, so all we did was run a DMX standard cable off the back of the Maxxyz into the Alien controller box and found an open hole in one of the bottom 8 universes and let it ride. Having solutions to questions we haven’t asked yet is one of the greatest surprises. It works and it works well.”

Maxxyz Tablet PC
A pair of handheld Maxxyz tablet PCs were an even greater benefit, freeing programmers and making it easier to focus lights, adjust color, etc. The Lightswitch crew were the first to use the Maxxyz tablet PC, which is still a prototype but quite operational.

“For me the single greatest thing that’s appeared is the tablet PC and the integration of that,” Dennis states. “Being able to walk around and have full console control remotely, in a size that you can use, getting control of every parameter of all of your fixtures in the entire rig, and being able to run it like you would from a console, is very useful.”

After hours, or even during the course of the day, cars get repositioned and suddenly the crew is faced with a car sitting in the dark. With the combination of automated luminaires and the tablet PC, tweaking the lighting was no problem. “They move the cars around every night, and sometimes during the day, and you don’t know where they’re going to be,” Dennis states. “One night on Brad (lighting programmer Brad Malkus), they moved every car. Other booths move cars into dark spots and it takes a long time to adjust the lighting, but Thank God for the tablet PC, we had no problems. We’d be able to do it without them but it wouldn’t be as easy and I wouldn’t get as much sleep.”

John Featherstone adds, “The Maxxyz has played a big part and the tablet PC has been phenomenal. More than other auto shows the Detroit show is a real media event. Someone in the edit room at CNN or Good Morning America will get 10 tapes and the one they’ll broadcast from the show is the one where we’ve been able to respond to their needs, where we’ve tweaked the background. That’s getting maximum return on your investment and DaimlerChrysler is getting free broadcast news press. That’s the kind of coverage you can’t buy.”

Console for the industry
Dennis mentions that some of the input he came with as a beta-tester he can now see in the board. ”It’s actually kind of funny because I can look at the board and say ‘see that little thing there, that’s something that this guy and this guy talked about and there it is’. It’s a direct result. I certainly see input that I had come forth on the board. And the things I didn’t come up with, somebody else did. It’s not an engineer somewhere who’s never been on a show who’s dictating what console operation should be like. It’s not one person’s console, it’s not three people’s console, it’s a console for the industry. It’s the market that owns the board. You guys just make it. I don’t think there is any function on there that was dictated by one person. I like to think that the guys who are giving input aren’t doing it selfishly. I know when I give my input I try to think about it in a larger scale.”

Lightswitch Lighting Programmer/Designer Brad Malkus, who worked with the Maxxyz extensively, comments on the board, ”For me it’s all about displays and that’s where the console excels. I found it intuitive and easy to navigate around. I could get to information I needed whenever I needed it.

“The console has been stable but being a new console there have been some difficulties – realistically it happens with all consoles - but it has settled down nicely.

“For the most part we do large projects and those are dealt with as a series of smaller systems. This is the first opportunity we’ve had to put it all together, confidently. You really feel like something’s getting done. We don’t feel like we’re wasting our time.”

Support
The Maxxyz software development team at R+D International in Belgium was a big support, providing software updates, sometimes in a day, often in a matter of hours. “We’ve had a Martin representative who has handled the interface between us and the software development team,” Brad states. “We tell one guy and 24 hours later, sometimes 6 hours later, we get a software upgrade.”

Dennis adds, “All the feedback from R+D International in Belgium has been excellent. There hasn’t been anything that they’ve actually said no to. Right now I have someone onsite who is changing software to fit my needs but it won’t always be like this. At some point the console is going to reach that middle ground between what you need and what you want. At that point I think a lot of the onsite support can back off a little bit.”

Martin had a large support team on site. Carl Wake and Martin Tanzarelli provided technical support, while Bruce Lehnus and Matthias Hinrichs assisted with Maxxyz programming. “For Martin the fact that we are on site and can learn from this is invaluable. To take the input, to get the programmer experiences first hand, to get their feedback in order to develop the console further, to talk through problems, to talk through wishes and demands and discuss solutions, is something you can’t simulate sitting in your office. Both Martin and Lightswitch benefit.”

Team effort
“Putting together such a large booth and lighting some 60 vehicles, many of which have never been seen before, is a pretty substantial undertaking,” Howard states. “Collaborating with the exhibit companies, managing budgets and time, and all the parameters that a designer works within is a massive challenge and is one of the things that’s brought the entire Lightswitch team together on this project. Working with all the vendors and manufacturers, it’s very much been a team effort. The philosophy from our point of view is that we’re here to champion what our clients are after and to work to their goal. Because they’ve charged us with the overall design, not just one booth, we’ve been able to pull it all together for them in a very successful way.”

Howard concludes, “It’s been very smooth for a job of this size. We’ve selected fixtures that were absolutely right for the job and I don’t think we would have made a choice differently. The gear worked, the team from PRG was exceptional, the crew was ready and we did our job. It’s that kind of homework, research and collaboration by all parties involved that has made it a success.”