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Back Issues of The Laserist:
Summer 2000

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Lasers Shine in "Postvideo" Era at
Nam June Paik's Guggenheim Show
By David Lytle

Laser displays stepped to the forefront of modern art when internationally-know artist Nam June Paik was recently commissioned to create two site- specific laser installations for the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. The retrospective exhibit, The Worlds of Nam June Paik, transforms the rotunda of the Guggenheim Museum into an electronic visual space, complete with 100 video monitors on the routunda floor, large-screen video projections on the ramps of the rotunda, and laser projections that travel from floor-to-ceiling. Paik is best known as the father of video art, and he has taken a subversive approach to television since the 1960s.

Guggenheim Rotunda with Lasers

Lasers graphics grace the routunda of the Gugenheim. Photo: David Heald.

He created a “TV bra” for cellist Charlotee Moorman, distorted commercials into warped geometric shapes and made high-tech sculptures from vintage television components. The two laser pieces commissioned by the Bohen Foundation for the Guggenheim stand apart from the video works. The museum goes so far as to suggest that Paik’s laser displays symbolize a new “postvideo” era of pure energy and light. Lasers on Screen in Rotunda

A screen is added to boost visibility; ladder of
laser light shown at right. Photo: AJ Seabeck.

In Sweet and Sublime, a piece created by Paik in collaboration with Norman Ballard, a laser on the main floor projects a series of rapidly changing shapes onto the routunda’s oculus. The moving geometric patterns are designed to echo the innovative architecture of the museum, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. In the second piece, Jacob’s Ladder, laser beams reflect off a series of bounce mirrors to create a zigzag pattern through a seven-story waterfall that cascades from the top of the museum. Sweet and Sublime uses two scanner pairs, Lasergraph DSP control software, and a Spectra Physics 171 white-light laser to project the graphic images onto a screen that hangs below the oculus. Lasers Staircase Through Water

Laser beams are highlighted
by falling water as they reflect
off suspended mirrors.
Photo: AJ Seabeck.

The graphics originally projected onto the glass windows of the oculus as seen in the top photo, but a screen was added to enhance visibility, as seen in the second photograph. The central feature of Jacob’s Ladder is a group of four parallel cables that stretch from the floor to the ceiling of the museum, with bounce mirrors positioned along the cables to reflect a YAG laser beam as it crisscrosses the falling water.

Paik’s interest in lasers dates to the 1980s, when he explored laser projected video images in collaboration with German laser artist Horst Baumam.

Paik's Three Elements Laser Sculpture

Three Elements: lasers, smoke and mirriors creat infinitie traingles.
Photo: Jon Huffman

In Paik’s Guggenheim pieces (on display Feb. 10-April 26), the laser beam itself is the “sole source of a postvideo image and experience,” said the museum. “In Paik’s hands, laser is not simply a means for surface display or a carrier of moving images developed for another medium. Rather it functions as its own medium, in combination with other materials and articulated through the environment in which it is projected.”

In the museum’s High Gallery, visitors can see three Paik laser sculptures that were completed in 1997. The pieces, titled Three Elements, features laser projections in enclosed wood structures. Each structure has a two-way mirror that allows viewers to peer inside and view a network of shifting laser beams. The three pieces, also done in collaboration with Norman Ballard, each reflect a basic geometric shape: square, circle, triangle. Motorized prisms animate the beams within the enclosure, with beams reflecting off multiple mirrors.
To enhance visibility, Ballard developed a closed-loop atmospheric particle system, said AJ Seabeck, who assisted with the installations as a laser technician. Jeff Cone, another laser artist, assited with the Lasergraph DSP setup and programming for Sweet and Sublime. Seabeck said the Guggenheim would not allow a conventional fog system to be used for fear of damaging other artworks in the building.

Each Three Element piece incorporates its own laser, with the circle and square compositions using a white-light laser and the triangle piece an argon laser. The size of each enclosure is the same: 128 x 148 x 48 inches (325 x 375 x 122 cm).

In reviewing the exhibit for the New York Times, art critic Grace Glueck described Three Elements as “a trio of ‘laser sculptures’ in which laser beams move and cross one another with a kind of abstract choreography in infinite space. The eye-boggling spectacle would give an old-line easel painter like, say, Kandinsky, a 360-degree turn.”


Lights, Camera, Lasers!
More to Movie-Going Than What’s on the Big Screen
Multiplex Cinema Adds Life to Lobby with Laser Light

While audiences may come to the cinema to see larger-than-life action take place on the silver screen, theatre operators are learning that it doesn’t hurt to add a little spectacle to the movie house itself. In Kirkland, Quebec, owners of the new 3,700-seat Coliseum Kirkland movie complex made a high-energy laser display the crowning touch of a futuristic lobby area that audiences may find as entertaining as the movies themselves. Lasers in Lobby

Lights, camera, lasers:
welcome to the lobby of tomorrow.

The unusual architecture of the circular lobby area is highlighted by an array of neon lights, intelligent theatrical lights, overhead trusses, and a 24-foot diameter metal sphere suspended high above the floor. Inside the sphere, a special laser projector constructed by Production Design International of Markham, Ontario, produces a fast-moving array of aerial beams that fan out over the heads of moviegoers.

The laser beams are the climactic element of a sound and light show that takes place every fifteen minutes. The lasers, along with moving intelligent lights and atmospheric hazers, are synchronized to a music soundtrack designed to build excitement as the audience gets ready to enter one of 12 theatres arrayed in a huge circle around the lobby hub.

Famous Players, which owns the new $30 million complex, came to PDI with a detailed plan for what they wanted in laser lighting, but making their plan become reality was a major challenge, said Howard Ungerleider, PDI’s director. “They wanted 360-degrees of beam, with everything originating from inside the sphere,” he said. The resulting design uses a cable-supported platform to suspend the projector platform in midair inside the open framework of the sphere (which is itself suspended in midair above the lobby floor).

The projector platform hosts two lasers and all associated optics. There are 14 pick-off positions, each split an additional 4 times, to produce a total of 56 beams coming from the projector. For more coverage, 56 perimeter mirrors are positioned around the lobby to create a spider web of return beams. Although PDI could have used a remotely located laser to feed light to the projector via a fiberoptic cable, Ungerleider rejected that idea. To keep the installation as simple as possible, he wanted to avoid the high electrical and cooling demands that would have come with a fiber-fed laser setup. The projector at the theatre incorporates a pair of diode-pumped solid-state YAG lasers manufactured by Laser Power, each producing about 3 watts of YAG-green laser light. The lasers run off standard 120 volt current and are air-cooled.

The laser projector is operated by a DMX control system, allowing theatre personnel to easily control fades and chase patterns from the DMX lighting control board used for the lobby’s theatrical lights and intelligent lights. “The theatre did not want a static look, and the setup allows them to create chase sequences using the DMX board,” said Ungerleider. A variety of different sequences can be preprogrammed and played back on cue using DMX commands.

In addition to the theaters and the lobby light show, the facility also houses a 2,000 sq. foot gaming center with high-end simulations and interactive games. John Bailey, president of Famous Players, called the Coliseum an “extraordinary entertainment destination” and predicted its round design would soon become a favorite with Quebec movie-goers.
PDI: (+1) 905-479-4070,


Mardi Gras in New Orleans:
Laser Lights and More at State Palace Theater
Three Nights of Lights, Lasers and Music

Laser Spectacles, Inc. recently finished a round of three parties in New Orleans to help celebrate Mardi Gras. The shows were performed in the State Palace Theater, a huge classical-style movie theater on Canal Street just outside the city’s famous French Quarter. “I love this place!” exclaimed Tim Walsh, president of Laser Spectacles. “This is one of the shows that we do in which we stay set up in the same space and keep improving the show over a period of days.” Laser Tunnel

MC303 Beams, a 1998 laser
piece by Tim Walsh.

The whole sequence of the parties extends over a week, and the parties are called ZooLuv on the first Saturday, Zoolu on the second Saturday, and finally Zoolu Allstars on the Monday before Fat Tuesday.
Walsh explained that these parties used to be called raves, but there is no word to describe them now besides the all-encompassing word “party.”

“Every night outside the theater there are big parades, and the legendary Bourbon Street is just a few blacks away. We work for the FreeBass Society, which throws these parties and they bring in world-famous talent to provide music.” Laser Spectacles used two 6-watt white light lasers for their production, split among eight scan heads scattered over the theater. Two graphic projection screens were also installed.

“The State Palace Theater has two balconies; I was able to make the laser show multilayered so that every seat was swimming in laser beams. I also used the domed top of the theater for lumia and grating projections.” Chip Bullock and Eyegasm programmed the intelligent lighting (there were Cyberlights, emulators, strobes, etc.), and OVD from Chicago did video projections on three huge screens. “This is by far the best light show that I have ever experienced in the USA,” said Walsh. “I can’t wait to get back there again.”

Walsh has been working on the annual event for the last three years with the same group of artists brought together by the FreeBass Society. “It feels like being on a team now. By the time we get to the last party, Zoolu All-Stars, the production is operating at peak perfection.”

Walsh has a special invitation to all laserists to come out next year and experience Mardi Gras and the Zoolu parties. “If anyone out there is interested, contact me through my web site—I am thinking of reserving a block of rooms for next year. It would be great to have friends in who can appreciate this kind of show.”

Laser Spectacles: (+1) 512-392-4600;


Laser Lumia Set the Mood
Restaurant Seeks Romantic Atmosphere; Lasers Fill the Bill
By David Lytle

Lasers and Greek Statues When most audiences think of laser light displays, they think of sizzling shafts of light arcing through the air, or of kinetic laser graphic dancing across a screen. A major Nevada casino, however, recently turned to lasers to create a mood far different from the high-energy look most laser installations are known for. "These clients never wanted to see the typical line art look that most laser animation generates,” said Scott Anderson, creative director for Laser Images of Van Nuys, California. “Instead, they were excited by our extensive use of laser optical effects, and imagined a very tasteful multimedia experience … pure visual music.” The resulting installation at the Romanza restaurant in Reno’s Pepermill Hotel Casino might be described as Rome meets the planetarium.
Classical statues and laser lumia combine
to set the mood for this Reno casino.
An extravagant Roman court-style restaurant, dominated by a 60-foot dome-like ceiling, is the setting for a multimedia show designed to harmonize with the romantic musical recordings of Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli. The laser imagery, which is projected onto the ceiling by a full-color 3-watt Coherent laser, consists almost entirely of lumia effects. Unlike vector-based line-art graphics, lumia are soft, gauze-like abstracts that can be made to move in almost hypnotic patterns.

While Laser Image’s Laserium planetarium shows make extensive use of lumia, the effect is not widely seen outside of the planetarium market. “We are always amazed at how well lumia are received when we do demonstrations for clients,” said Laser Images President Ivan Dryer. “The ethereal beauty of the effect blows people away.”

For the Romanza installation, the company used a RGB laser projector equipped with a single scan head and multiple optical “stations” where lumia pattern generators can be inserted in the beam path. Although the scanners occasionally project a moving starfield pattern and a stray meteor or two, Dryer said the vast majority of images are lumia patterns. Laser Lumia

Shimmering lumia move slowly across
the screen, entrancing audiences .

The projector can generate 18 different abstract lumia, and can project multiple lumia effects simultaneously with the moving starfield. Lumia are created by focusing the laser through a “scan glass,” which is an acrylic resin cast created by the company to reproduce a particular lumia effect originally made with other materials.

The laser, lighting sound, show control and other specialists involved in the project were first brought together by architect Peter Wilday. Laser Images worked closely with show planner Gil Levine to create eight different multimedia shows, each carefully choreographed to Bocelli’s popular contemporary music. In addition to lasers, the shows include moving statutes, intelligent theatrical lighting, fog effects and pyrotechnics (flaming torches) .

Each four-to-five minute module can be repeated in a loop, or restaurant operators can use a DMX interface to playback a particular show in response to audience requests (particularly those from high-rolling gamblers who patronize the hotel’s casino).

To add audience involvement, speakers play music directly to individual booths, and guests can control the sound levels for louder or quieter performances. Guests also find souvenir 3D glasses on their tables, which take advantage of ChromaDepth 3D technology that seems to separate laser colors in midair.
Laser Images: (+1) 818-997-7952;