4Wall works its magic on Harry Potter

07:16 22 June in Product News

The recent opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Hollywood is the latest in a series of high-profile projects by the Systems division of 4Wall Lighting. Despite a track record that includes installations at the Venetian, Palazzo and Cosmopolitan hotels, Las Vegas CityCenter and CBN TV studios, the company is still better known for rentals and used equipment sales. “It has taken nearly 20 years for us to be an overnight sensation in the installation market,” laughs Systems and Design General Manager Bill Groener. The Las Vegas team, headed by Senior Project Manager Buddy Pope with John Fernandez and CAD specialist Shaun Blue, has worked together for over 15 years.

A native of San Bernardino, California, Pope moved to San Luis Obispo and became technical director of the Performing Arts Center. When the Center opened with an ETC system, he met Doug Tuttrup (now a senior ETC project manager), forming a working relationship that continues today. In 2001, he joined 4Wall in Las Vegas as employee number eight. The company has since grown to over 400 and shows no signs of slowing down.

Built on the site of the old Universal Amphitheatre, the California attraction follows successful openings in Japan and Orlando. “Meeting the tight schedule set by Universal was our biggest challenge,” says Pope. Apart from ETC Source Four® LED and tungsten theatrical units, hundreds of ‘character’ fixtures were imported from two major UK suppliers and prepped in 4Wall’s LA shop. These include streetlamps, chandeliers and wall sconces that are rigorously faithful to the descriptions in the original stories.

Pope thrives on custom design challenges: “We created 200 fibre-optic oil-lamp fixtures – you can see them when you look up in the dormer.” Los Angeles-based onsite project manager Damien Rozendal learned a lot about British fixture wiring and the vagaries of the Whitworth metal thread standard. “In a theme park, the show is everything the guest can see, and requires a meticulous attention to detail,” adds Pope. “Our preparation was time consuming and had to be as perfect as the other scenic pieces.”

Lighting for the theme park falls into two broad categories: the ride and the land or architectural elements, such as Hogwarts Castle and the many themed stores and restaurants. Over 700 channels of dimming in 15 ETC Sensor®3 48-way racks control LED or incandescent sources distributed across the property. In the control hierarchy, Unison Paradigm® controllers run the architectural elements and Unison Mosaic® controllers deal with the show elements. Both networks are governed by a central control server. All the control racks are connected by fibre, and each has its own Paradigm or Mosaic unit to interface with the park’s master controller, which triggers cues through serial or UDP commands. In the event of a fibre failure, each control rack can continue to run independently.

Source Four features prominently in the retail areas around Hogsmeade and the Harry Potter ride. The line-up includes 140 tungsten fixtures with lenses ranging from 14 to 90 degrees, 60 ETC Source Four LED Lustr®+ and 81 Source Four Mini fixtures.

In an installation of this scope and complexity, surprises are best limited to guests at the Park. Pope is all about preparation and planning: “We make decisions before we get to the jobsite. You can spend a little up front or three times that amount at the end.” For Harry Potter, 4Wall created over 300 technical drawings for each control element, on top of the over 200 blueprints supplied by park designers Point of Light.

The dimming and control system was subject to an FAT (Factory Acceptance Test), a rigorous 26-page testing procedure created by Pope to include the fibre hook-up, the setting of IP addresses and the product inside each rack. Every processor has a base configuration when it leaves the ETC factory. “You can start up the gear and see the results before you get on site. We can face the challenges ahead of time,” adds Pope. The FAT eliminates the need for local 4Wall shop-preparation, allowing the system to go from factory to jobsite.

The process is not without its comic element. When the system was installed in the Three Broomsticks theme restaurant prior to its official opening, the client called to complain that the lights were flickering. Pope called back to assure him that they were operating just as they would under show conditions.

A man with enviable frequent-flyer status, Pope commutes to Dubai once a month. As senior engineer for Dubai Parks and Resorts, he will oversee the creation of two theme parks with 60 attractions, including food, beverage and retail. Bollywood, Legoland and Motion Gate are set to open in October 2016. He says: “Of course each of these will use a ton of ETC product. We are helping to turn Dubai into the perfect American city.” Middleton in the desert anyone?

Written by Marshall Bissett

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