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Bubble Theatre, City of Dreams, Macau

Issue 53 Feb / Mar 2010 : Retail : Theatre

Consisting of three hotels, an entertainment complex, casino and retail space, the City of Dreams is Macau’s latest high profile commercial development. Here we take a look at three of the attractions on offer - the exciting Hard Rock Hotel, the classy Crown Towers and the Bubble Theatre, a technical marvel of media and design integration.

Enter The City of Dreams Bubble Theatre where video, lighting, effects and surround sound interface within an experiential venue that blurs the boundaries between the show and audience. The developers envisioned a signature attraction to distinguish City of Dreams from the competition and attract local and international guests. The casino’s water theme lent itself to an immersive experience leading the audience on a magical journey relevant to both contemporary China and the ancient art of Feng Shui. The initial creative team of Geoff Benham of resort owner Melco Crown Entertainment Limited, Creative Director Cecil Magpuri from Falcon’s Treehouse and Lighting Designer Norm Schwab from Lightswitch strove to design a new experimental medium where the story extends well beyond two dimensions of traditional video presentations.

Physically speaking, the Bubble Theatre has a 20m tall x 30m wide domed projection screen – similar to a planetarium dome. In the middle sits a 10m wide pit around which guests stand enveloped by the 360 degree domed screen. Fifteen 30K lumen video projectors edge blend into a high-resolution projected environment and work in concert with a 52-channel audio system. 10,000 LED pixels interlace into the screen and synchronise with the projected imagery along with additional strobe lights, and automated moving lights mounted behind the dome creating startling effects. 

The theatre’s first presentation, ‘Dragon’s Treasure’, tells the story of the resort’s construction on top of the ruins of the mythological Jade Emperor’s Ancient Palace. The Bubble becomes a portal allowing guests to descend magically into the watery Palace. Along the way, guests meet mist-breathing Dragons and visit their kingdoms inhabited by whales, penguins, octopi, and fantastic creatures seeking the Pearl of Wisdom. The Lightswitch team programmed many visual effects, from subtle sparkles to supernova bursts of light synchronised with projected media. By projecting patterns of caustic water effects, fiery lava, cracking ice and fireworks onto the floor and guests’ bodies, the lighting design enhances the guests’ immersion experience. Effects nozzles blast Liquid Nitrogen through the projected imagery as the dragon’s breath and explosions bring the story’s action into the audience.

The show’s finale concludes when the luminous 2.5m Pearl of Wisdom floats down from the dome’s centre. Full colour lasers by Excitement Technology Group help return the pearl to the heavens on a beam of light and ignite a cosmic lighting display. The guests exit the theatre feeling excited and anticipate the resort’s other grand diversions.
In addition, several moving chandelier-like elements slowly drop into the theatre through motorised hatches in the dome. The jellyfish and coral chandeliers contain internal RGB LED systems controlled via video pixel mapping. Guests enter the space to a visual ballet as the chandeliers present a unique walk in experience. A large central jellyfish-like creature descends and performs a water display. Hundreds of computer controlled water jets in a ring configuration produce a 10m diameter cylindrical water curtain. The jets also produce falling water patterns or animations as the individually controlled jets release water drops over time.

The Lighting Science Group manufactured several custom LED fixtures including in-ground wash and spots fixtures, IP68 linear water fixtures, and effect lighting fixtures adapted for moving liquid nitrogen nozzles.
Video media plays directly onto the pixel mapped fixtures and greatly reduced programming time on site. Lightswitch collaborated with their partners at Ptarmigan Consulting on the elaborate control system that was both DMX and video driven. Grand MA2’s and Hippotizer Media Servers connected through a massive Art-Net control network supplied by Artistic Licence Asia. The decision to use the network was in part because Art-Net is the only control protocol common to both media servers. However the use of Art-Net distribution nodes resulted in a cost effective and easy to use solution to data merging and distribution.
One primary consideration is that Art-Net operates across a standard high-speed Ethernet distribution network. This allows great flexibility whilst reducing costs since the many diverse areas within the show could be connected using standard Cat5 cable; only small amounts of the more expensive DMX512 cable were needed to connect the Art-Net nodes and splitters to the fixtures.

System designer Simon Fraser of Ptarmigan explained the complexity of network: “The ETC Selador fixtures embedded in the floor had to be controlled by both the Hippotizer and the grandMA2 which required a massive amount of integration. Also, the Selador fixtures require seven channels whilst most media servers, including the Hippotizers, only run three channels. We dealt with this by using three channels from the Hippotizer and four channels from the grandMA2 using Art-Net merging.
“We ran Cat5 cable from the Ethernet Switch to an Artistic Licence Data-Lynx O/P unit which was able to merge DMX512 data from both media servers and, with its ability to handle up to twelve DMX512 universes, sent data out to eleven Iso-Split RDM splitters which were linked to the Seladors. This is a standard function for the Data-Lynx O/P so no extra kit was needed, whilst we chose the Iso-Split RDM units because they offer full isolation / protection.”

The four sea-themed chandeliers that fly in and out presented four remote locations where it was not possible to run data cable. Fraser therefore used standard wireless access points, sourced from the IT industry for the quality of its wireless connection, to transmit data. This was compatible with standard Ethernet equipment and had the added advantage of being easy to source.

Each chandelier carried both LEDs and strobes. Fraser had to find a means of merging two streams of control signals to multiple fixture types, into one virtual connection. This was achieved using Artistic Licence Net-Lynx O/P converters that merged two data streams of Art-Net DMX to a single DMX512 universe.

An additional complication presented itself when it was discovered that the wireless access points were unable to handle broadcast data correctly resulting in data loss. Artistic Licence’s Creative Director Wayne Howell stepped in, quickly modifying a version of Artistic Licence Art-Route software. This allowed the broadcast data to be converted to unicast thus reducing the quantity of data routed through the wireless access points.

Previsualisation figured prominently in the programming process. Prelite Studios provided the team with a virtual model of the dome and lighting system allowing the design team to view the 3D environment and program a large percentage of the show well in advance of construction. Lightswitch then presented the largely completed lighting show to the other creative team members for coordination and refinement well before the on-site construction administration phase. The model proved a crucial experimental tool allowing the team to play with ideas without increasing costs - for example visualising how the LED points would augment the projected media to create auras, trails and other effects.
The Dragon’s Treasure show has become a tremendous asset for the City of Dreams Casino drawing thousands of people to the resort everyday. People react well to the story, the action, the media and the lighting effects with gasping, clapping and general looks of astonishment and joy during every show.

Project Details
Bubble Theatre, City of Dreams, Macau
Client: Melco Crown Entertainment
Lighting Design: Lightswitch Architectural - Norm Schwab, Principle Lighting Designer; Glenn Wade, Systems and Installation Supervisor; Bryan Barancik, Associate Lighting Designer; Sarah Jakubasz, Assistant Lighting Designer; Seth Rapaport, Lighting Programmer; Cory Fitzgerald, Media Programmer; Jessica R Shaw, Assistant Systems Supervisor; Adam Rechner, CAD Manager; Jason Goldenberg, Control System Design
Executive Producer: Geoff Benham, Melco Crown Entertainment
Creative Producers: Falcon’s Treehouse - Cecil Magpuri,    CEO/  Creative Executive; JuliAnn Blam, EVP Show Producer; Scott Miller, Director, Project Management Asia; David Schaefer, Design and Technical Integration Manager
Control and Systems Integration: Ptarmigan Consulting Ltd - Simon Fraser, Project Director; Alan Chambers, Senior Project Manager; Mike Clingman,  Networks Engineer; Winnie Fung, Project Administrator; Greg Pittams, Lighting Technician; Soey So, Project Co-ordinator; Chris Chew, Pixel Mapping; Jim Beagley, Virtual Aquarium and Exterior Bubble Programmer
Laser System Design & Supply: Excitement Technology - Kelly Sticksell; Joe Groves
Previsualisation and Preprogramming: Prelite - Tom Thompson; Mike Robertson
Photography: Jason Goldenberg

Lighting Specified
Supplied by Solotech
36 x Vari*Lite VL3000 Spots; 12 x Vari*Lite VL3000Q’s Spots; 12 x Vari*Lite VL3000Q’s Washes; 18 x High End Systems Showguns; 500 x Birkett Strobes; 57 x Martin Atomic 3K Strobes; 44 x Rosco x24 Effects Projectors
Supplied by Ptarmigan
148 x 4’ L ETC Selador Strips; 4 x 3’ L ETC Selador Strips; 4 x 2’ L ETC Selador Strips; 44 x Color Kinetics White LED Recessed Fixtures; 2 x Grand MA 2; 2 x MA 2 Replay Units; 4 x Hippotizers
Supplied by Artistic Licence    
5 x Candle Power (CP12-12-350) Fully Loaded with 350mA modules (Theatre Entrance); 20 x Total 350mA modules; 2 x Rail-Pipe (Theatre Exit); 2 x Rail-Split RDM (Exterior Bubble); 3 x DMX-Fix Splitter (Seladors); 2 x Data-Lynx O/P (Control Room x1, L0-3 x1); 13 x Iso-Split RDM (Control Room x10, L0-3 x3); 35 x Down-Lynx (Flying Sets x22, Theatre locations x13); 18 x Net-Lynx O/P (Large JF x1, Centre Truss x2, Theatre Locations x12); 1 x Art-Route Software on PC (L0-3); 2 x Light-Switch (Entrance and Exit)
Supplied by Lighting Science Group
9899 x Cool Dotz RGB pixels; 52 x RGB Linear Water Fixtures; 52 x White Linear Water Fixtures; 10 x Custom LN2 LED Fixtures; 225 x RGB In ground LED; 45 x Blue In ground LED; 116 x Large Point Sources; 340 x Linear Railing Lights
Jelly Fish and Coral
133 x GAM Star Strobes; Custom Cool Dot Strings; Linear RGB LED Strips; Linear White LED Strips
2 x Custom Lightwave Series 34 watt Solid State Full Colour Lasers; 1 x Custom Lightwave Series 12 watt Solid State Full Colour Lasers; 1 x ETG LumiaDOME 180 Degree Lumia Reflector; 6 x Raven Transcoders; 3 x Pangolin LD 2000 Laser Control Cards; 1 x ETG Custom Laser Control System Interface with Digital E-Stop Monitor; 1 x ETG LaserEYE Laser Aiming SpyCamera System with Projector Environmental Monitor


Bubble City of Dreams
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