Studio City, China

illumination Physics was chosen as the sole lighting designer and supplier for the façade of the grand Studio City resort in Macau. With nods to Hollywood glamour and the era of Art Deco, the lighting aims to engage with its surroundings while offering dramatic, eye-catching effects.

Studio City Macau is a Hollywood-themed resort offering a cinematic inspired entertainment and leisure experience, never before seen on the Cotai Strip in Macau. It is the second property owned by Melco-Crown Entertainment after City of Dreams and was awarded Casino / Integrated Resort of the Year by the ninth International Gaming Awards (IGA) for 2016.

Studio City carries the strongest entertainment theming of any resort in Macau and the movie theatre vision is carried throughout every part of the building. Therefore the façade lighting is necessarily theatrical in style and reinforces the remarkable elements of the building.

Selected as lighting designer for the entire façade, illumination Physics was responsible for the design, manufacture, supply, install and programming of all the lighting used. There is a strong art deco influence throughout, in particular the eight decorated turrets that sit atop the eight hotel towers – highlighted through the lighting. However, your eye is first drawn to another feature –  the two hotel towers curve to form a semi-circle and are connected via a massive figure of eight formed in golden truss, 30 storeys high. At this point the building is transparently open and there is no structure within the eight; it is open from both the east and west. Within the ‘eight’ sits the ‘Golden Reel’ ferris wheel, featuring seventeen themed capsules that take riders 130-metres off the ground, illuminated in golden light, made possible by 1,000 pieces of illumination Physics’ CR80 mini wash light. Above and below the Golden Reel there are Starbursts; metal fingers radiating both up and downwards in two giant fans, brought to life with the illumination Physics Wash 36 RGBA. Attention to detail demanded that the fixtures were finished in metallic gold to match the structure of the Golden Reel.

At the very summit of the building, ten shards of steel stretch skyward like the fingers of a hand. These have been illuminated and have become a nightly feature. Wash lighting alone didn’t get the separation and contrast illumination Physics wanted and would have resulted in a great deal of light spill into the sky. Instead the team produced just ten pieces of a very special direct view custom fixture – the IP Super Dot, one of which was placed on the very end of each finger of the Starburst. Designed with a lens shaped like a mushroom, the PMMA lens has an internal reflector to direct 100% of the light downwards and in 360º. Visible from any viewpoint without any upward light trespass, the Super Dot is intensely bright and used RGBA to match all of the fixtures on the hotel towers.

It was vital that Studio City’s lighting helped the property exert a strong pull, while promoting drama and curiosity along with a grand sense of arrival. In the words of Lawrence Ho, CEO and Chairman of Melco International, the objective was not to be the largest property on the Cotai Strip, but the coolest. Yet it must do all of this in a more sophisticated way than its many competitors in Macau.

The design strikes a balance between grand spectacle and relative restraint in the programming of the dynamic lighting. The ‘show’ is provided by the towers whilst the podium only uses dynamic lighting for six powerful searchlights. 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’ç statues that stand above the gates of the grand entrance make use of the cooler colour temperature, better accentuating their polished metal skin – a mix of IP Wash 36 and IP Wash 48s were used with various beam angles and a total of 72 pieces were used on each of the statues. The towers have two main façades, both east and west appropriately, and the lighting is mirrored on both.

Above the podium every one of the 5,000 illumination Physics LED light fixtures makes use of dynamic colour changing. All of the IP Wash 48, Wash 36 and IP Linear Wash lights used to uplight the tower façades are RGBA. This not only enables the tower to match the mono white colours of the podium at times, but the display of true gold and other hues that would otherwise be impossible to achieve.

Surrounding the Golden Reel is a media façade containing 3,008 IP Media Dots especially designed 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). To be mindful of this the IP Media Dots were designed with no electronics on board and each has its own dedicated extra low voltage cable. By simplifying the Media Dot it is made robust and the single cable per fixture means that if one IP Media Dot is damaged, the problem only affects that item.

The media wall draws the eye to the centre of the building and provides movement and meaning in the lighting that is synonymous with the early incandescent casino lighting in Las Vegas, Nevada. The media walls add another level of capability in that video graphic content is used to support notional concepts in the lighting shows.

Searchlights are synonymous with a Hollywood movie debut and Studio City would be incomplete without them. Six searchlights rake the sky above the main entrance of Studio City every night. The lighting not only makes a statement about the character and theme of the property but can also be seen from all its competitor’s premises. There are many other searchlights located at other casinos in the area, all of which are installed at rooftop level. At Studio City the searchlights are deliberately positioned at podium level where they have greater visual impact. The towers are clad in a complex metal decorative structure that cleverly camouflages the curtain wall system within. The building’s texture does not resemble the typical assembly of rectangular panels of a modern unitised curtain wall building, instead the eye is drawn to a filigree of art-deco diagonals and cascading buttresses – the language of the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Much has been made of the façades and the lighting is designed to celebrate that. To maintain the grand illusion the façade required wash lights, but this presented several challenges. The towers contain two hotels so light trespass into the guestrooms needed to be avoided. The lights would have to point upwards to provide an effect true to the theme, but this 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 itself as well as the podium roof.

A new fixture design was required and so illumination Physics created the IP Wash 48, a high power narrow focus RGBA wash light. At approximately 100W and equipped with 5º lenses, the Wash 48 has an effective range of approximately 50-metres when used as a shallow angle grazing wash light.

There are four cascading buttresses, which extend from the roof level of each of the eight hotel towers, 32 in all. The IP Wash 48 has been 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 and with the accuracy of the 5º focus, light trespass has been avoided. Light pollution has also been minimised by aiming the beams of light in such a way that they are terminated into the building surface, which itself is not specular.

Because 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. Like the Media Dots, the IP Wash 48 is distilled to its simplest form, metal and LEDs. The electronic drivers are located remotely in easily accessible locations within the building. The same illumination technique has been employed on the eight turrets that sit atop each hotel tower, however in this case a standard illumination Physics Linear Wash light was suitable and because the light fixtures are accessible by pedestrian technicians, the AC version of IP Linear Wash was used to simplify the power and data distribution.

The design of the building may harken to early 20th century themes but it was constructed using modern unitised and non-unitised construction techniques.

At night, the stark textures are exploited to create drama and highlight areas such as the Bussing Grove (where the majority of guests arrive), so that they are consistent with the character of the more deliberately decorative features of the property.

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. At Studio City there were very large, internally illuminated panels necessitating the use of a high power edge light, using asymmetric lenses such as IP SHPT.

However there are hundreds of other back-lit panels at Studio City which are of more modest dimensions, typically a little less than two metres in width. The quantity was so significant that the team questioned the use of such a high performing and high cost fixture as they were responsible for managing a budget. Exploring their options made it clear that a low power LED linear product would not produce the light needed and because of the size of the average SMD chips, lensing the beam would be very problematic. This lead to two technical breakthroughs that enabled illumination Physics to create a new product called ‘LPSL’ (‘low power strip linear’).

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. Their typical high power linear products use LEDs driven at 1-2W but for the majority of back-lighting at Studio City the amount of lumens generated by the newly coined ‘mid-power’ LEDs is sufficient.

illumination Physics had to figure out 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 120º symmetrical beam of the SMD LED into a highly functional 15 x 60º focus. The net result for the client was that illumination Physics halved the cost of 1,500 pieces of linear back-lighting without sacrificing functionality or quality. More than half the potential energy was also saved.

The illumination Physics team also faced many challenges with the control system for Studio City. Not only did it need to be robust yet flexible, it had to control both the media wall and the façade lighting, ensuring both were perfectly synchronised. This required that a media server and a lighting ‘PC based console’ be married together.

The control system had to be self-sufficient in terms of scheduling but 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 owner’s technical staff.

The system wiring was an optical fibre backbone that went to the majority of the 22 dedicated lighting control rooms in which the equipment was installed in dedicated racks. The lighting protocol that was chosen was sACN (streaming Architecture for Control Networks). The LSC ‘Clarity PC’ was chosen for overall control.

All of the lighting fixtures and media servers (in console mode) were distributed over seventeen Universes of sACN. Clarity was chosen for its proven reliability as much as for its advanced functions. For this project, the time/date scheduling functionality was extremely important. All of the cues originate from Clarity to control both the lighting and media systems.

Coolux’s Pandora’s Box was chosen as the media server to control the media wall’s 3,008 pixels through its pixel mapping software. Run in console mode to provide parameter control via ‘Clarity PC’.

Having built the lighting system, the success of the project then depended on how it was employed. The creative choices concerning the programming of the lighting and the content that would be created for the media walls needed to be emotionally evocative and create maximum visual impact. Working with Melco-Crown creative director Geoff Benham, illumination Physics created a library of lighting scenes that were synchronised with related content for the media walls. Using remote internet control, live tests and programming sessions were conducted from a variety of viewing points.

Studio City stands tall in Asia’s gaming hub; the lighting is dramatic but represents a step in sophistication and technology in Macau.

The façade lighting of Studio City has been a single all-encompassing project for illumination Physics, from concept to completion.