illumination Physics Lights Up Macau's Studio City

Opened last fall, Studio City Macau is a uniquely themed resort on the Cotai Strip that also includes on-site TV and movie production facilities.

[dropcap style=”letter” size=”52″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]M[/dropcap]any of Macau’s newest luxury casinos are modeled after prestigious Las Vegas properties and are operated in partnership with American resort companies such as the Venetian, Wynn Resorts, the Sands, and MGM International. Just as Las Vegas tourism has increased its revenue stream by expanding its offerings beyond gaming, Macau seems to be following suit.

Cooler illumination was chosen to highlight the Hero statues,

“The opening of Studio City represents another major achievement for Melco Crown Entertainment as we work to develop and re-imagine the future of leisure destination offerings across Asia,” notes Lawrence Ho, Co-Chairman and CEO of Melco Crown Entertainment, which owns the Studio City property. “It also marks a major milestone for Macau as we continue to deliver on our commitment to expanding the non-gaming leisure and entertainment offerings available in the territory, as a continuing strategy in supporting its evolution into a highly diversified and world-leading leisure and tourism destination.”

Architecturally distinguished by an Art Deco façade that is highlighted by the “Golden Reel” – the highest Ferris wheel in Asia – Studio City is considered “an integrated resort” designed to supply sophisticated leisure entertainment, hotel, retail, dining, and lifestyle experiences.

At its heart is Studio City Event Center, a 5,000-seat multi-purpose entertainment center designed to host live concerts, theatrical and sporting events (that’s 700 more seats than Caesars Palace’s Colosseum in Las Vegas hosting Celine Dion’s concerts).

The TV production facility features Studio 8, a 300-seat live-audience TV broadcast studio for reality and game-show productions distributed in Asia, and by “entertainment experiences” Ho was referring to Studio City’s magic theatre called “The House of Magic” and a Warner Bros. Batman-themed motion ride named “Batman Dark Flight.” A 40,000-sq.-ft. family entertainment center called “Warner Bros. Fun Zone” was created for kids and filled with Warner Bros.’ and DC Comics’ franchise characters and play rides. In addition, there is the “Pacha Macau” nightclub, from the Pacha Group, world-famous for bringing its Ibiza-style nightlife vibe all over the world.

illumination Physics designer and manufacturer of LED lighting equipment
In between the two hotel towers are golden semi-circles that are more than just an interesting visual illusion — the figure eight is actually a moving ferris wheel that is incorporated within a golden truss 30 stories high

Go Bold With Gold

Since Studio City carries the strongest entertainment/movie theming of any resort in Macau, the façade lighting needed to be theatrical in style. Bringing Melco Crown Entertainment’s vision to fruition was illumination Physics, a designer and manufacturer of specialist LED lighting equipment targeting the architectural and themed entertainment markets. The firm – which has offices in Australia, Hong Kong, Macau, and Dubai – was responsible for the manufacture, installation, and programming of all the façade lighting throughout the resort.

There is a strong Art Deco influence throughout, especially the eight decorated hotel towers that evoke a 1930s science fiction city skyline. The lighting design deliberately highlights these turrets, but there is yet another architectural feature that gets the most attention.  As the principals at illumination Physics explain, “The two hotel towers curve to form a semi-circle and are connected at the center via a massive figure eight formed in golden truss, 30 stories high. At this point, the building is transparently open and there is no structure within the ‘figure eight’ — it is open from both the east and west. But look closely and you’ll see that within the ‘eight’ is an unusual Ferris wheel ride featuring 17 themed capsules that travel around within the truss, taking the riders on a journey 426 feet off the ground.”

Called the “Golden Reel,” this metallic gold ride is illuminated in golden light, made possible via 1,000 pieces of illumination Physics’ CR80 mini wash light. Measuring 80mm in diameter, these custom 10-watt lights make use of 10 x 60-degree lenses and very warm white 2300K. While the IP CR80 was designed especially for the Golden Reel, it has since become a popular mainline product for illumination Physics.

Surrounding the Golden Reel is a media façade containing 3,008 IP Media Dots made especially for this project. Access to the media wall area for maintenance is possible, but requires the use of three separate Building Management Units (gondolas lowered from above). Keeping this in mind, the design team created the IP Media Dots with no electronics on board and each has its own dedicated extra low voltage cable. By simplifying the Media Dot, it is made truly robust and the single cable per fixture means that if one IP Media Dot is damaged, the problem can only affect that one item, not a string of Media Dots connected in series.

This IP Media Dot is a compact, but powerful, direct-view single pixel luminaire that is driven by a four-color multi-die LED chip. According to illumination Physics, the media wall draws the eye to the center of the building and provides the movement and meaning in the lighting that is synonymous with the early incandescent casino lighting in Las Vegas. The media walls add another level of capability; video graphic content can now be used during the light shows.

Dazzle With Starbursts

Above and below the Golden Reel are “Starbursts” — metal fingers radiating both up and downwards in two giant fans illuminated by the company’s Wash 36 RGBA. The fixtures are finished in metallic gold to match the structure of the Golden Reel.

“At the very summit of the building, 10 shards of steel stretch skyward like the fingers of a hand,” say the principals at illumination Physics. “We celebrate this architectural gesture by highlighting them,and they are now a nightly feature. Wash lighting alone would not get the separation and contrast that we wanted and would have resulted in a great deal of light spill into the sky. Instead we produced just 10 pieces of a very special direct view custom fixture – the IP Super Dot – placed on the very end of each finger of the starburst.”

The 150 watt Super Dot was designed with a lens shaped like a mushroom; the PMMA lens has an internal reflector to direct 100 percent of the light downwards and in 360 degrees. Visible from any viewpoint without any upward light trespass, the Super Dot is intensely bright and uses RGBA to match all of the fixtures on the hotel towers.

Unlike other casinos’ lighting design, the scheme devised for Studio City needed to reinforce the property’s marketing message. Since the themed identity is vital, the lighting needed to help the property exert a strong pull — promoting drama and curiosity at first sight, and then create a grand sense
of arrival. In the words of Lawrence Ho, the objective was not to be the largest property on the Cotai Strip, but “the coolest.”

STEP UP TO the Podium

The podium façades make use of warm white with the added use of neutral white when contrast is required. For example, the two massive “Hero” statues that stand above the gates of the grand entrance are illuminated with cooler color temperatures to better accentuate their polished metal “skin.” The solution was a total of 72 pieces highlighting each of the statues in a mix of IP Wash 36 and IP Wash 48s used with various beam angles.

When it came to the lighting above the podium, the illumination Physics team wanted to offer dynamic color changing. “We no longer use RGB (red, green and blue) because the range of mixed colors is too limited, particularly as we wanted to be able to mix warm whites and other colors to achieve hues that cannot be produced with RGB alone,” the principals explain. “All of the IP Wash 48, Wash 36, and IP Linear Wash lights used to up-light the tower facades are RGBA (red, green, blue and amber). This not only enables the tower to match the mono-white colors of the podium at times, but also allows the display of true ‘gold’ and many other hues that would otherwise be impossible to achieve.”

Cue the Searchlights

Searchlights are synonymous with a Hollywood movie debut; therefore Studio City would be incomplete without them. Six searchlights rake the sky above the main entrance and draw attention to the “coolest” destination in Macau. The searchlights not only make an instant statement about the character and theme of the property, but the effect can also be seen from all the grounds of all of its competitors.

While there are searchlights at other casinos in the area, all of them are installed at rooftop level. At Studio City, the searchlights are deliberately positioned at podium level to be closer to the audience. There, they have greater visual impact, harking back to the Golden Age of Hollywood where searchlights were always seen at the entrance of movie premieres. 

Fancy Façade

The towers are clad in a complex metal decorative structure that cleverly camouflages the curtain wall system within. The building’s façade does not resemble the typical assembly of rectangular panels used in commercial buildings. Instead, it boasts a filigree of Art Deco diagonals and cascading buttresses that recall architecture popular in the 1920s and 1930s.

The principals at illumination Physics decided that direct-view lighting would be inappropriate, as it would distort the very image that the architecture set out to achieve. Washing the façade with lights, however, presented challenges. The towers contain two hotels, so light trespass into the guestrooms had to be avoided. If the lights were pointed upwards to provide an effect true to the theme, it could lead to light pollution unless surgical accuracy could be achieved. The wash lights themselves also had certain practical limits to their dimensions from an aesthetic perspective because they would need to be mounted at two levels on the façade as well as the podium roof.

It was decided that a new fixture would have to be designed: the IP Wash 48, a high-power and narrow focus RGBA wash light. At approximately 100 watts and equipped with 5-degree lenses, the Wash 48 has an effective range of roughly 164 feet when used as a shallow angle grazing wash light.

There are four cascading buttresses that extend from the roof level of each of the eight hotel towers. Reminiscent of Gothic structural architecture, they are most massive at their base and become narrower with height. The IP Wash 48 are mounted in groups of up to six lights at the podium level, four lights at mid-height on the façade, then finally in groups of as few as two fixtures at the highest level. The lighting follows the architecture with the accuracy of the 5-degree focus, avoiding any light trespass. Light pollution has also been minimized by aiming the beams of light in such a way that they end at the building surface, which itself is not specular. (Since access to the 280 Wash 48s on the façade requires a gondola, it was decided that the drivers would not be integrated into the fixtures, but located remotely.) 

The same illumination technique is employed on the eight turrets, however a standard illumination Physics Linear Wash light was suitable and because the light fixtures are accessible by pedestrian technicians.

Building a Better Back Light

Early in the lighting design, it became obvious that the extensive use of back-lit faux alabaster panels would require a large quantity of linear LED wash lights. In particular, there were very large internally illuminated panels – on the plinths that support the two Hero statues – that necessitated the choice of a high-power edge light using asymmetric lenses. There were so many back-lit panels at Studio City – in the hundreds – that the designers questioned spec’ing the firm’s high-performance and high-cost fixture due to budget constraints. “However, a low-power LED linear product would not produce the light we wanted and because of the size of the average SMD chips, lensing the beam would be very problematic,” the designers stated. “This lead to two technical breakthroughs which enabled us to create a revolutionary new product we call ‘LPSL’ (low power strip linear).”

The LPSL takes advantage of a new generation of LEDs that are neither low power nor high power, but something in between. LPSL LEDs can be driven at 0.25 to 0.50 of a watt (in comparison, high-power linear products use LEDs driven at 1 to 2 watts) and for the majority of back-lighting at Studio City, the amount of lumens generated by the new “mid-power” LEDs was sufficient. The next problem was how to focus the light given the larger size of the LED dies.

The solution came in the form of a unique optical design that concentrates the native 120-degree symmetrical beam of the SMD LED into a highly functional 15 x 60 degree focus. The net result was that the new system cut the cost of 1,500 pieces of linear back-lighting in half without sacrificing functionality or quality.

The engineering team at illumination Physics had yet another complication. Not only did the control system need to be robust and flexible, but both the media wall and all of the façade lighting needed to be controlled and perfectly synchronized. According to the team, this required that a media server and a lighting PC-based console work together.

The control system had to have the capability to be self-sufficient in terms of scheduling, but be able to be easily adjusted when the need arises. Macau – like Hong Kong and much of Asia – has many festivals that require special seasonal or one-off lighting treatments. Although the lighting rig is large and complex, the operation of the system had to be straightforward enough that modifications to the lighting programs and schedules would be user-friendly to the property owner’s technical staff.

The LSC Clarity PC was chosen for overall control, and all of the lighting fixtures and media servers (in console mode) were distributed over 17 Universes of sACN. Pandora’s Box was chosen as the media server to control the media wall’s 3,008 pixels through its pixel mapping software.

Working with Melco-Crown creative director Geoff Benham, illumination Physics created a library of lighting scenes that were synchronized with related content for the media walls. The ideas were developed and honed through simulations and then tested on the building from a variety of viewing points.

The façade lighting for Studio City was a single all-encompassing project for il
lumination Physics, from concept to completion; however, the team is satisfied that it met the goal of making Studio City “the coolest” resort property in Macau. 

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