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Lighting the State Fair of Texas’ ‘Illumination Sensation’ Spectacle Shows

by PLSN Staff • in
  • Articles
  • December 2017
  • Event Lighting
• Created: December 14, 2017
Elation Proteus Fixtures played a key role in the nightly shows for the 2017 State Fair of Texas. Photos by Interlaced Productions

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The State Fair of Texas has been an institution in the Lone Star State since 1886. Held annually at 277-acre Fair Park in Dallas, this year’s fair ran from Sept. 29-Oct. 22. Although the fair’s nightly spectacular, “Illumination Sensation,” hasn’t been around for quite that long, it’s become one of the big draws of the yearly event. Lighting designer/programmer Nick Belley and show producers Interlaced Productions upped the shows visual appeal for 2017, incorporating effects from Elation Professional’s IP65-rated Proteus series moving heads, along with other Elation gear.

‡‡         Night after Night

Set to music celebrating Texas heritage and American pride, the nightly spectacle, sponsored by Mattress Firm, included dancers, fountains, a dazzling array of lights, projection-mapped buildings, and of course, fireworks. Running close to 20 minutes in length, the show took place each night on an area the size of two football fields with a stage in the middle, near the Fair Park Esplanade fountain. This year’s show was expanded to include lighting for the Hall of State building, which sits at the end of the Esplanade, making the rig about 400 yards end-to-end.

“The biggest challenge we have with this show is the fact that it is outdoors for almost a month,” says Scott Britt, producer and director of Interlaced Productions, who has produced shows at the fair for more than 20 years. “I saw a prototype of the Proteus Beam last January at the Elation headquarter office in Los Angeles and, after seeing a demo, we were convinced to use them on this project.”

Along with the addition of the Hall of State into this year’s lighting spectacle, Britt and Belley drew inspiration from historical photos of a special lighting look created for the Texas Centennial Exposition back in 1936, which marked 100 years since Texas’ independence from Mexico.

This year’s nightly 'Illumination Sensation' spectacle also lit up the Hall of State building and the fountains.

“Each year we have tried to expand the rig and make the show bigger and better,” says Belley, now in his third year of lighting the spectacle’s lighting looks. After seeing the historic photo, which showed “amazing beams of light” generated by an array of searchlights, Belley and Britt settled on Elation’s Proteus Beam, chosen for brightness and outdoor reliability.

Although Belley admits it can be “a bit worrisome” to stake the success of a critical show on a fixture that’s just “out of the box,” he reports that “the Proteus had no problems.” Eleven Proteus Beam fixtures were spread out on the roof of the Hall of State building and used to shine an array of beams in a moving canopy of light.

“One of the biggest draws for us to the Proteus Beam was the IP rating and astounding light output that make the beams of light pop so well in the Dallas humidity, without having to add any haze or fog to the air,” says Belley. “It was a great benefit that we were able to not only have the lights running a loop of architectural looks throughout the night, making for a great photo op at the main gate, but also to have a light so versatile that looked great incorporated into the show as well.”

The historical photo the fair wanted to emulate

‡‡         Wireless Control

Various elements associated with the show — fountain, lighting, pyro, video, projection and sound playback — were all run on timecode. One challenge for Belley was the fact that the control center was 600 yards away from the Hall of State building, with no way to run a cable between the control center and the roof due to heavy foot and vehicle traffic on the fairgrounds.

“We came up with the solution to use an EnGenius long range outdoor wireless bridge to transmit Art-Net from our control center to the roof, creating a network with no latency across the Esplanade,” Belley says.

A total of four Proteus Hybrid moving heads were also mounted atop buildings flanking the Esplanade fountain. Pointed downward towards the stage, the fixtures were primarily used in spot mode to light the stage portion of the show in color and patterns.

“With the stage being in the center of the fountain pool and viewed in the round, a big challenge has always been how to light that stage in interesting ways,” Belley says. “Changing out our conventional lighting from years past and being able to put the Hybrids on the roofs of the Auto and Centennial building allowed us to build a lot more dynamic looks on stage with the use of the Hybrid’s gobo package and vibrant color mixing.”

Belley also credits the fixtures for their output, coving a throw distance of close to 135 feet from the roof to the stage. “Even at that distance, the output was unmatched.”

The lighting accompanied this year's State Fair, which ran from Sept. 29 to Oct. 22, 2017.

Although October weather in Dallas is a bit cooler than at the height of summer, the region can still experience hot afternoons and periodic rainstorms. “The Proteus fixtures definitely helped us through a number of rainstorms, as well as baked in the Texas sun all day,” Belley says. “It started pouring right before we ran the first show with pyro. It was a fun time, seeing the beams of light through the rain for hundreds of yards without missing a beat.”

Other Elation fixtures used to illuminate the show included Platinum Beam 5R, Platinum Beam 5R Extreme and Satura Profile moving heads, along with Vari-Lite VL3000s, all in weatherproof enclosures. Used for color and beam effects, 12 Platinum Beam fixtures were placed on the roofs of the Automobile and Centennial Hall buildings, with eight fixtures on each corner of the octagonal stage also utilized for aerial beamage.

Dallas-based event solutions company Onstage Systems provided production and lighting for the “Illumination Sensation” shows. Belley credits Stacey LaBarbera, lighting manager with Onstage Systems, for being “instrumental in getting us set up with the Proteus fixtures,” adding that the Onstage Systems crew “did an amazing job keeping the rig running every day.”

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