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Sin City’s “Winter in Venice”

PLSN Staff • Installations • January 11, 2012

A Cool Blast of Holiday Spirit on the Las Vegas Strip

Every year around Christmas, Sin City outdoes itself. The 2011-2012 season is no exception. With its holiday spectacular, “Winter in Venice,” which began November 21, 2011, and runs through January 8, 2012, The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino is currently staging its greatest outdoor show since its owners, Las Vegas Sands Corp., broke ground in 1997.

Having paid close attention to the classic architecture of world-famous Venetian buildings, the Sands offers patrons a taste of Italy through uncanny reproductions of Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square), the unmistakable gothic designs of Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale), the gold-laced face of the St. Mark’s Clocktower, and St. Mark’s Campanile bell tower. It’s within this architectural playground — the perfect setting for creative lighting design — that “Winter in Venice” takes place nightly, every hour on the half hour.

Five times an evening, from 6:30 PM to 10:30 PM, spectators are treated to an eco-friendly live-action show complete with traditional Christmas music (given a 21st Century R&B and rock spin), a trio of singing statues, two snowbunny hip-hop violinists, synchronized pulsating lights, programmed Christmas-themed laser beams and a dazzling 65-foot tree lit by an ethereal angel. With the addition of a Rockefeller Center-style skating rink, “Winter in Venice” was one of the biggest outdoor experiences on the Strip this holiday season.

“I’ve never done an outdoor show of this size for The Venetian,” says Jeff Pickett, production manager, audio-visual services for The Venetian, who’s been on staff for nearly eight years. “Every square inch of the front of The Venetian property is incorporated with lights, lasers and sound.”

A 3,000-LED “Tree”

No holiday celebration of this magnitude would be complete without a Christmas tree — make that one very large and bright Christmas tree. The tree’s enormous 65-foot high aluminum frame, anchored to a concrete base to withstand Mother Nature’s unpredictability, has been adorned with C9-type “warm white” environmentally friendly LEDs. In addition, clear round acrylic ornaments, ranging in size from 4 to 18 inches in diameter, encase multi-color LEDs, helping to create a dazzling diamond-like effect. (External CK Colorblast 12s are placed around the base of the frame and light the lower 12-foot portion of the tree for added visual impact.) A total of 3,000 LEDs garnish the tree.

“We used six different colors on the tree,” explains lighting designer and programmer Craig Caserta. “Warm white, cool white, red, blue, green, purple, and red.”

Since these LEDs cannot be dimmed, The Venetian tech crew needed a way to “snap through color chases,” says Pickett. Thanks to a “complex” DMX relay system (i.e. 36 four-channel Elation DP-415s), techs have full control of the color lights, which are operated via a Barco High End Systems Road Hog Full Boar console. “The tree was wired in such a way that we could achieve color pops and a nice spread across the entire frame of the tree to eliminate any gaps in lighting,” says Pickett, who oversaw all technical aspects of the design and production.

“Green” Ice

One of the most unusual attractions of “Winter in Venice” is its Rockefeller Center-patterned skating rink. Maintaining an ice park in the middle of the desert has its challenges, of course. So instead of ice, patrons skate on a high-density recyclable polymer compound, treated with a friction-reducing “water-sugar solution for glide enhancement,” says Pickett. Measuring approximately 74 by 33 feet, the skating surface, provided by BH Skating Parks International, requires no refrigeration, electricity or generators. “There are benefits to setting up a rink in this way,” says Pickett. “Firstly, you save on electricity and water and, secondly, we can reuse the surface for future events.”

At 77 by 34 by 17 feet, the Tomcat truss structure secures lights, audio and a rotating four-foot mirrorball that reflects spotted patterns onto the polymer surface and the face of the casino’s entrance, Doge’s Palace. In addition, several Martin MAC 700 Profiles throw patterns down onto the rink.

As one would expect, the appearance of a skating park on the Vegas Strip posed some extraordinary challenges. For one thing, the rink was never meant to disrupt The Venetian’s normal business operations (i.e. the LED-illuminated gondola rides through the casino’s front-property canal). And interrupting foot traffic coming into the casino was not an option. Incredibly, the only feasible spot to construct a rink of this size on The Venetian property was on the waterway. But could the team build a safe and secure platform — one that rises out of the water — that holds the weight of the rink’s maximum occupancy and the lighting and audio rig and equipment?

“I was in one of the gondolas with a surveyor’s measuring stick trying to figure out the height of the legs that would be needed for the underwater structure,” says Charley Guest, CEO of Stage-Tech Productions, which installed the rink’s deck and support structure.

Via a computer 3D modeling program, Vectorworks version 11.5, Guest mapped out the design for the platform’s underwater legging support structure. “Building structure on uneven ground is what we do for a living, just not every day under water,” says Guest.

A team of two licensed scuba divers — members of the Stage-Tech crew — worked for four days to construct an underwater lattice matrix that features non-corrosive nickel-plated steel legs, ranging from four feet to 11 feet. The deck was secured to The Venetian’s concrete gondola dock via 32 stainless steel anchors, and the support leggings needed to be braced with aluminum piping and feature adjustable screw jacks for underwater tweaking. “We wanted to have leg increments every foot or so,” says Guest. “The uneven ground of the canal required us to make adjustments, which is what the screw jacks were for.”

The Venetian attains bi-weekly underwater inspection reports assessing the structural integrity of the platform and the status of rust build up, due to chemicals placed in the canal. “Everything is looking great,” says Pickett. “The structure is very sound. Top and bottom, it was well designed and well engineered.”

7.5 Minutes, 166 Cues

Although the show is only seven-and-a-half minutes long, “Winter in Venice” contains 166 lighting cues. Audio and lighting are synched via MIDI through a Roland SP-404 sampler, which communicates with the Full Boar console. “Beyond the initial cue, it’s all internal timing,” says Caserta.

“Everything we run is synched to audio, manually,” adds Pickett. “Everybody hits ‘go’ at the same time, and that gets the job done. My belief is that bodies in seats behind control surfaces are always the best way to go.”

Achieving the right audio balance in an outdoor setting — something that is effective but not overpowering — is a delicate operation. Two audio zones cover the outdoor show: one at the skating rink and a second by the Rialto Bridge, consisting of eight JBL VRX923LAP speakers and six EM Acoustics MSE-118 “Quake” subwoofers powered by two Crown I-Tech I-T8000 power amplifiers with internal presets. “We opted for the EM Acoustics MSE-118 ‘Quake’ subwoofers for the bridge, because the playback track reproduces high amounts of low-end and we needed something to create a lot of energy, which we’ve accomplished with these cabinets,” explains Steve Beyer, president of Steve Beyer Productions, Inc., which provided the rigging, lighting and sound gear.

“We had to make sure we scheduled our shows at the right time,” adds Caserta. “The Mirage features an erupting volcano and Treasure Island fires off cannonballs. They’re loud. Our shows are loud, too, but we didn’t want to be in competition with anyone.”

Music and lighting complement each other well throughout the show. Color Kinetics ColorBlast 12s and ColorKey StagePar 64 LEDs are synchronized with the music and illuminate the Rialto Bridge’s distinctive archways and columns. High End Systems’ Showguns were used for many different purposes, including projecting falling/spinning snowflakes spiraling across the Rialto Bridge, in sync with the 3/4 time of “Carol of the Bells.” “The Showguns are also used for the spotlights on the statues, violinists, and angel as well as lighting the facade of [Doge’s Palace],” says Caserta.

After a thunderous drum intro and an instrumental version of “Deck the Halls,” we hear a Three-Tenors-type rendition of “Carol of the Bells” (sung by a trio of “statues,” dressed from head to toe in white) and “Deck the Halls” redux — a classically influenced hip-hop rendition of the song offered by two female violinists, who strut their stuff as wavy-line gobos, achieved via Martin MAC 700s Profiles, add to the funky atmosphere.

Lit by an Angel

Bathed in a Showgun’s Congo blue spotlight, the show’s shining star — a winged angel — emerges from the top of a fog-filled Rialto Bridge during “O Holy Night.” With three Color Kinetics LED ColorBlast IntelliWhites uplighting her and the intensity of battery-powered LEDs sewn into the fabric of her wings, the angel cuts a glowing, supernatural figure. The angel gently performs graceful gestures as her wings take a conical shape, resembling the 65-foot tree on the other side of the property. Ten Martin Atomic 3000 DMX strobes snap away as the tension of the music builds. The angel then points her wings toward the tree, channeling and transferring her energy to it, and it magically lights up.

During the finale, a rockin’ guitar-driven interpretation of “Winter Wonderland,” the statues perform various dance moves, some impromptu, some choreographed. When the music stops, the statues, each uplit by one ColorBlast iWhite, appears frozen in time, waiting to be reanimated for the next scheduled performance.

Due to the high degree of ambient lighting in the show (and on the Strip, in general), two solid state LaserWurx LXC moving head color lasers and two solid-state five-watt YAGs were programmed not for atmospherics but script writing and Christmas-themed graphics, reflecting the mood of the song being played. A virtual visual parade of musical notes, song lyrics, Frosty the Snowmen, hip-hop Santas and Christmas bells are projected onto different locations of The Venetian property.

“There’s a lot of custom animation in the show,” says Don Tyra, of the Laser Light Group, who programmed the show’s four laser machines via Pangolin QuickShow version 2.0. “It’s nonstop animation, actually. I think it really grabs a crowd’s attention.”

Undoubtedly. “Winter in Venice” is a brightly lit nightly spectacle that’s as complex — and beautiful — a show as the Strip has to offer this holiday season. “The Venetian and its affiliated hotel and casino, The Palazzo, are very creative when they say, ‘Here’s a concept and let’s see if we can make it happen,’” says Pickett. “We just sit down, design and run with it, you know? It’s really a team effort. When we hit a wall we find a way around it. We ultimately exceed everybody’s expectations with every event we do.”


Winter in Venice at the Venetian

Production Companies:

BH Skating Parks International

Laser Light Group

Stage-Tech Productions

Steve Beyer Productions

Walden Media Productions


The Venetian:

Director of Technical Services:
Paul Vella

Production Manager: Jeff Pickett

Stage Managers: Al Colosi,
Patricia Diefenderfer

Entertainment Concierge:
Joe Zimmardo

Entertainment Operations Manager: Jessica Culpepper

Director of Communications:
Dawn Britt

Director of Brand Marketing:
Kristin Forbes

Steve Beyer Productions:

Lighting Designer/Programmer:
Craig Caserta

Crew Leader/Audio System Engineer: Nick Escobar

Head Electric/Rigger: Jarrod Coelho

Light Board Op, Daily Ops:
Robert “Radar” Gilbreath

Systems Tech, Daily Ops:
Matt Brandt, Kenny Gavin


Supplied by Walden Media

1 Barco HES Road Hog Full Boar console

7 High End Systems Showguns

4 Martin MAC 700 Profiles

6 Martin MAC 700 Wash fixtures

10 Atomic 3000 DMX strobes

14 ETC Source Four 26° Lekos

91 Philips ColorKey StagePar 64s

99 Color Kinetics ColorBlast 12s

12 ColorBlast 12 IntelliWhites

65’ Christmas Tree structure w/ red, green, blue, purple, cool white and warm white LEDs (3,000 LEDs in all)

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