NEW ORLEANS – The Pontchartrain Beach float takes bigness to new heights – or lengths. At 330 feet long, this tribute to the Big Easy’s legendary-but-long-gone Pontchartrain Beach amusement park is one of the largest floats ever seen in a Mardi Gras parade. Ray Ziegler of RZI Lighting was brought on board to create the lighting using Elation, Acclaim and ADJ LED products.
More details from Elation (http://www.elationlighting.com):
NEW ORLEANS – Even at the supreme event of the biggest celebration in a city known for its huge excesses, the Pontchartrain Beach float takes bigness to new heights – or lengths. At 330 ft long, this tribute to the Big Easy’s legendary Pontchartrain Beach amusement park is one of the largest floats ever seen in a Mardi Gras parade. Debuting at Endymion, Mardi Gras’ premier event, the float is comprised of nine individual cars, each replicating a different historic carnival ride or attraction featured at Pontchartrain Beach, which closed in 1983.
The city’s newspaper The New Orleans Picayune declared the float to be the best in the parade, noting that it was “indeed impressive, both for its size and the light display, which bathed the crowd in glorious color.” Ray Ziegler of RZI Lighting of New Orleans used a variety of products from Elation Professional, Acclaim Lighting and ADJ to create the lighting design that awed the crowds lining the parade route.
Ziegler was brought on board by the float’s designer Royal Productions of New Orleans. “Randy Gervais of Royal Productions brought us in to do the lighting, since we have done large projects with them in the past. We normally do stage and theatrical lighting, so creating a design for a parade float was different for us, which made it challenging and a lot of fun!
“As the project progressed, we worked closely with Kern Studios, the end client, to bring their artists’ renderings to life. Working with Kern was exciting because they had a precise idea of what they wanted to see. We had daily meetings to get feedback and suggestions. It was a team effort. Skip Stander and Barry Kern of Kern Studios and Nolan Beaver our lighting programmer were vital to making this happen.”
The lights not only created eye-popping visuals, they also contributed to the story line of the massive float: from the Elation ELAR 216 RGBW Panels illuminating the front of a classic Zephyr roller coaster cars on one float, to the Elation ELAR 72 UV Pars adding glow to skulls in the haunted house section of the float, to the Acclaim X Tube 500s creating a sense of movement on the roller coaster displays.
The theme of the float was “Then and Now,” Ziegler explained. The idea was to show the rich history of the Pontchartrain Beach, amusement park and landmark on Lake Pontchartrain that thrilled locals with wild rides, theme restaurants and big name acts like Elvis Presley during its 55 year history (1928-1983). Sections of the long float paid tribute to the amusement park’s icons like the Zephyr and Wild Maus roller coasters, the carousel, the haunted house and the famous beach with its “bathing beauties.”
At the same time, however, the float’s designers also wanted to transport the long gone Pontchartrain Beach into the future, by giving the classic displays a vibrant 2013 look. Ziegler and his team accomplished this through the artful use of LED lighting.
“Our vision was to create something different -- something people hadn’t seen before,” said Ziegler. “We wanted to show an old-style amusement park—but at the same time, we also wanted to give it new updated look. So we decided we would bring in a lot of the pixel tape and lot of the Elation, Acclaim and ADJ LED products. We mixed these products with a lot of rope light from the bygone era, so if you look at certain scenes it looks like they were built in the 1930s, then when you activate the LED lighting it makes it look like 2013.” (Throughout the parade the LED lights were activated and deactivated to convey this transformation to onlookers.)
The Zephyr roller coaster car (which has roller coasters on the side of it) provides an example of the vision that guided the creation of the float. RZI Lighting took actual lighting from an old fashioned carnival ride and mounted it on the side of the float. Acclaim X Tubes and Elation Pixel tape were also mounted on the sides of the cars to give the display modern zing.
“We used three types of products on that car,” said Ziegler. “Elation and Acclaim for contemporary effect, classic carnival lights for nostalgia and we controlled all of the products just as we would any show. It was actually pretty intricate because we had to get DMX relay kits so that when you brought a lighting fader up it would control the carnival lights as well as the Elation and Acclaim lights.”
The Acclaim ART SSC control solution was the “backbone of this project,” according to Zeigler. “There wasn’t actually anybody controlling lights on any cars,” he said. “The entire lightshow was preprogrammed using time code, via Ethernet protocol, and one of the ART SSCs out of the nine units controlled all of the cars. Each car has an IP address so you can actually sit at home and control them, or control from a cell phone or iPad, which is pretty interesting.”
Ziegler liked the ART SSC’s ability to control the entire float, while each unit could still function on its own to control the cars individually. “This was important, because with so many cars outdoors at a Mardi Gras parade, you never know what could happen,” said Ziegler. “One of the cars could get a flat tire or if a car had to be taken out of the float, or one car had to be swapped for another, the ART SSC system would still work to run the lightshow.”
One challenge did happen shortly after the parade began Saturday night. “We weren’t even a mile into the parade, when we had to take the float apart because the turn was too narrow,” recalled Ziegler. “Then after the turn we put the float back together. The impressive thing about the SSC controllers was that they could still control the cars even when they weren’t connected together.”
Ziegler calls it a learning curve. “The project was filled with things we weren’t used to dealing with,” he said. “Our work had to be waterproof and it had to withstand getting bounced around on the parade route. Most of time when we do a show, we put it in a theater and it sits there, but this is actually traveling down road getting bounced around. So that added another whole level of interesting challenges to this project.”
Still, Ziegler wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world. “We enjoyed it immensely, the float looked awesome and it brought a lot of happiness to the people who saw it,” he said. Plans call for the float to remain intact for at least 20 years; the memories it created on that Saturday night in New Orleans should last much longer.
3,500’ Flex Pixel WP
ELAR QUAD STRIP
ELAR 72 UV PAR
ELAR 216 RGBW Panel
ELAR EX TRI BAR
Rebel Drums 12 RGB
AL-NET 8 PRO
From ADJ Products:
Mega Tri 60
LED Color Ball
Skip Stander and Barry Kern of Kern Studios
Project Manager: Jackie Johnson
Designer: Ray Ziegler
Programmer: Nolan Beaver
Float Technicians: Blake Turner, JP Patterson, Ronnie Martin, Andy Ragan, Andrew Castille
Custom Metalwork: Cj Hebert
For more information on RZI Lighting, go to http://www.rzilighting.com.