How ETC equipment powers attractions and immersive experiences
by Joe Kleiman
Since its founding in 1975, ETC has been an innovative and leading presence in the live-event industry, known for its lighting fixtures, lighting equipment and lighting control systems. Over the decades, ETC has broadened its portfolio with strategic acquisitions in entertainment such as High End Systems [see “Spotlight on Innovation,” InPark Magazine issue 91] and industry-leading development of architectural controls.
Just as entertainment lighting designers and craftspeople often cross over to work and innovate in the themed entertainment space – and have done so for decades – ETC’s products and technology support the evolution of themed attractions and immersive storytelling in many areas, including and beyond the parks. As the guest experience becomes more sophisticated and immersive, and as themed experience has found its way over the years into new venues, settings and configurations, ETC and its partners are there. To serve the attractions market even better, in 2018 ETC developed an in-house team exclusively dedicated to themed entertainment environments.
The company currently has three different lighting control platforms that can be found operating in hundreds of theme parks and themed attractions around the world:
- The ETC Paradigm control system has the capacity for monitoring and control throughout an entire park or facility. An example is the 2010 expansion of the California Science Center in Los Angeles. Working with Gallegos Lighting, ETC provided a Paradigm system that controls lighting of the wing’s atrium and office spaces, along with exhibition lighting in a new area featuring live animals and effects-driven lighting, such as a simulated flash flood in the desert.
- ETC Eos lighting consoles are designed for precision color control and can be applied on a large scale, including parades. An example is the Journey of Lights Parade, which opened in 2016 at Chimelong Ocean Kingdom, Zhuhai, China, and was honored in 2018 with a TEA Thea Award. This 40-minute nighttime spectacular is a collaboration between Chimelong Group and Miziker Entertainment that employs more than 1 million color- changing LED lights, tied via DMX to the control servers by 900 individual universes (a DMX universe consists of up to 512 channels tied together through a single connection). By adjusting the brightness of red, green, and blue (RGB) LEDs in conjunction with each other, over 16 million hues of light can be created. Ryan Miziker, CCO of Miziker Entertainment, remarked that the Eos’s full RGB control “opened up the color choices in a mind-boggling way for every moment of the entire show cycle. We made the most of it.”
- ETC Mosaic products can control animated pixel arrays and respond to triggers, allowing for interactive feedback. An example is the interactive show BOOM! which opened in 2019 at the Britannia Mine Museum in British Columbia, Canada, and was honored in 2022 with a TEA Thea Award. BOOM! uses Mosaic to control lighting and atmospheric effects synched to media. The attraction’s lighting designer, Stefan Zubovic of Eos Lightmedia credits Mosaic’s linear editing design to its successful synchronization to media and show control systems. The Thea Judging Committee stated: “The layering and world-class execution of the show action elements and scenic environments were emotionally evocative as well as technically impressive.”
All these systems are optimized to work together so ETC’s versatile technology can handle both the big, complicated jobs and the minutiae. And they are not restricted to their own ecosystems. Paradigm, Eos lighting consoles, and Mosaic controls can easily network with media servers and other show control components from Crestron, Green Hippo, 7thSense, and others over DMX, UDP, ISAAC, and more.
Even though ETC works closely on developing unique products for its theme park customers, its products are not proprietary to individual clients or industries. “We developed Paradigm to be a park-wide control system for a major international operator,” says Scott O’Donnell, a theme park specialist at ETC. “They suggested that it be made available for public use. Designers and operators in other fields may have ideas about how to employ the software. We take the feedback and make the system better for the original client and everyone else. Problem solving for the whole world is much better than doing it just for a single client.”
In addition to speaking with O’Donnell and Karl Haas, the Architectural National Sales Manager at ETC, we heard from two of the manufacturer’s lighting designer clients, Available Light and EXP, about how ETC’s products have been implemented in their projects.
“I’ve never seen any other vendor offer such creative alternatives as ETC,” says Ted Mather, who as Managing Principal of Available Light’s New York office, concentrates primarily on museum exhibits. The relationship with ETC began in 1991. “The staff would spend hours with us and see how we worked and adapt the software to how we worked. They are extremely user driven.”
One of Mather’s favorites was an exhibit designed by Hoberman for Discovery World science center in Milwaukee, WI. A 30-foot helicoid shaped like DNA shrinks to human size. Users control the speed of the structure’s metamorphosis through a rotating knob. “An ETC Mosaic server samples the speed of the knob to match the lighting with the expansion and contraction,” Mather says. “This happens around 100 times per day.”
Guests to the National Museum of African American Music in Nashville, TN, travel down a central corridor, called The Rivers of Rhythm, where a light and video show plays every 15 minutes. Mather selected ETC’s Paradigm system to control lighting for the entire building, including track lighting and work lights. ETCnomad, which allows an interface between ETC’s Eos lighting control system and the designer’s laptop, was used to program the river experience. Mather was able to program with SMPTE code to ensure that the lighting could be integrated with video.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., a 2018 TEA Thea Award recipient, is controlled inside and out by an ETC Paradigm system and Mosaic show controller. With lighting design led by Tracy Klainer and Richard Chamblin of Luce Group, the 10,000 lighting fixtures and 750 fiber optic illuminators throughout the museum are sectioned into 33 universes run by the single control system.
Sports and competition
LED lighting has been one of the biggest game changers to the lighting world. ETC’s Haas commented on how it brought new life to sports presentation, which for nearly a century depended on incandescent or metal-halide lighting, both heavy heat generators and in need of frequent maintenance. “Before LED,” says Haas, “lighting was not part of the show in sports. You would turn on the lights at the beginning of the game and turn them off afterwards. Now, when there’s a touchdown or home run, we can modulate and change the lighting directly on the field. Show controllers can take orders from the building control and make dynamic changes in real time. We have many of our Mosaic show controllers in major sporting venues, including the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Atlanta’s SunTrust Park, Target Field in Minneapolis, and Madison Square Garden in New York City.”
Competition extends beyond professional sports. Delta Strike, a New Zealand-based purveyor of laser tag equipment, offers a small version of ETC’s Mosaic platform which controls lighting based on hits and scores. In escape rooms, participants compete against the clock. In a number of these venues, floor pads trigger ETC control systems, such as Mosaic and Eos, which then implement lighting cues and effects.
Aram Ebben is Principal and Director of Lighting Design and Michael Schrupp is Creative Director of Lighting Design at EXP, a professional services, architectural, engineering, design and consulting firm. Ebben and Schrupp have relied on ETC products in many projects over the years. “Karl and the rest of the ETC staff are always available and ready to help us when we encounter challenges on our projects,” says Ebben.
EXP hospitality clients include Ryman Hospitality’s Ole Red chain of dining and music venues, co-founded by country and reality competition star Blake Shelton. A Las Vegas Strip flagship location is set to open at the Horseshoe (formerly known as Bally’s), and, like the existing locations in the Southeast, it will operate with ETC show controllers and provide end-user simplicity. As Ebben points out, “We need Ole Red’s systems to be understandable for the store managers and the operations staff to control.”
This correlates with a concept shared by Haas: “One of our major theme park partners came up with what they call the ‘burger-burger-fries’ approach. Under the hood, the technology can be as complicated as you want, but on the surface, it needs to be easy enough for the person who’s cooking the burgers and fries to operate.”
Aquarium at the Boardwalk in Branson, MO, is an entertainment- based aquarium, heavily dependent on lighting design. “The owners were very encouraging of color changing,” says EXP’s Schrupp. “They wanted to make the tanks look unique. There are several areas in the aquarium where there are programmed shows, where the lighting is choreographed to music. ETC’s Paradigm processor is talking to the system running those shows. There’s also a large Mosaic system, controlling the lighting for the big iconic octopus on the outside of the building. It’s illuminated internally by fifty floodlights. The automated lighting systems also shift the time of day for the fish. There are various sequences of light levels, so the fish know when to sleep and when to be active.”
According to Ebben, “in addition to the lighting design on the aquarium, we were also onsite, directing the programming and working with the integrators and the electrical contractor to ensure that all parts and pieces of the system came together to create an award-winning experience. Our efforts garnered us two awards from the IES: an Award of Merit from the SoCal Section for Interior Lighting and an Award of Excellence from the SoCal Section for Lighting Controls.”
In Edmonton, Canada, Fort Edmonton Park recently opened the Indigenous Peoples Experience (IPE), a project where EXP provided lighting design and was a 2022 Thea Award recipient. “The significance of this project is two unique experiences in one space,” shares Schrupp. “The IPE explores the history, experiences and culture of the First Nations and Métis Peoples. The first half is one type of show with integrated video and projections on a teepee. Each part of this area is themed to one of the four seasons. We made sure that the light was to each scene – complementary rather than overpowering. The Métis experience is centered around a single cabin and there are two scenes projected onto the ceiling. We used a whole set of lights to simulate moonlight and to shift day to nighttime. There’s also a theater that replicates a story circle with a fire pit. It’s a theater in the round with screens on the outside and totems and clouds overhead. We created an aurora effect on the walls above the space. The goal of our lighting design for IPE was to complement Fort Edmonton Park’s vision to fully immerse the visitor and to emphasize it be experienced to be fully understood.”
Creative hospital lighting has been a hard market to crack. One of the biggest hurdles in the United States is the hospital lighting is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and any new concepts must go through a rigorous approval process. Inroads, however, are being made with children’s hospitals, where lighting is often integrated with thematic design to make the child more at ease. At Seattle Children’s Hospital, each patient suite is fitted with color changing LED lighting, which can be controlled by the child, giving them a sense of control of their environment.
Communication through light
Through its Paradigm servers, Eos consoles, Mosaic controllers and other products, a myriad of environments can now offer the same creative storytelling and thrills as theme parks. “A lot of our products from the theatrical and theme park worlds have found their way to other applications,” says O’Donnell. “They can be found in airports, on cruise ships, building exteriors, in cinemas and houses of worship.”
Citing two final examples, the new MassMutual headquarters building in Boston, where “the lobby uses circadian lighting that interacts with outside influences” and the Tilikum Crossing Bridge in Portland, which “takes info from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and broadcasts what’s coming in, weatherwise,” Haas concludes that “there’s communication that’s happening in the world around us and lighting is being used to convey information in a way never done before, thanks to ETC’s products.” • • •
The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Photos courtesy Alan Karchmer