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Zumanity Picture Frames

Zumanity Picture Frames

I feel it should be mentioned that Zumanity is a cabaret-style show aimed at an adult audience. This project is installed in the public lobby, so it certainly isn't obscene, but given the subject material, the images leave very little to the imagination.

Sin City Scenic was approached by the management of Zumanity by Cirque du Soleil at the New York-New York Hotel & Casino to help bring some more life to a photo opportunity they had for guests in their lobby. They had a few great props for guests to take pictures with and a TV playing information about the show, but they wanted to add some framed images from the show to the area.

The general concept was for us to take visually interesting frames, build them out from the wall a little bit, and use that space to create a light box behind the image. Lighting the images will attract more attention and likely show up better in photos, both pretty good things for a publicity photo op. After an initial meeting to discuss the project we had a pretty good understanding of what they were after and we began to think about how to provide a great result that was within their budget.

Environmental Lights had recently shown 160° light bars at LDI (link). When I spoke to them about the light bars at the conference they pointed out that the lenses on the bars were designed to have a very smooth and flat field at only a few inches away. This is exactly what we were looking for in this project so we reached out to find out more about them. They were able to visit us with a sample and as soon as we put a piece of milk plexiglass in front of it we knew they would be perfect. The field is completely continuous and with only 2.5" between the LEDs and the plexiglass it spreads 6" in all directions. The rigid construction that can be fastened with actual hardware not just double sided tape is a nice added bonus for this application because it prevents the LEDs from getting the sag that can happen overtime with LED strips as the tape holding them up begins to fail.

Electrically each frame is self contained and plugs into a standard wall outlet. We coordinated with the show to have an outlet installed in the location required for each frame. Each frame would have its own power supply and would turn on when plugged in and stay on until it was unplugged. A bit of control might have been nice, but for something that needs to work unattended 24/7 for months, if not years, this kind of simplicity will ensure reliable and hassle-free operation.

Because Sin City Scenic are based in Las Vegas we often have to consider design problems that wouldn't be an issue in other areas. With these frames going in a casino we had to ask ourselves "If a drunk guest grabbed a frame and tried to rip it off the wall, would it stay and would the guest be hurt?" In addition to making for entertaining mental images this kind of constraint affects our design decisions. Each frame was a different shape and as a result somewhat custom, but our general concept what to have a backing plate that anchors solidly to the wall that carries all of the electronics and LEDs and then have the frame itself attach on top of the plate capturing everything inside and blocking it from the public. The outward facing LED "halo" would be the only electronic component accessible to the public. Using thinner SMD2835 based LED strip and putting them in a recess right against the wall made the halo finger safe.

We try to build quality prototypes both to be a good representation to the customer of what is physically possible, but also to allow us to determine the best way to accomplish our customer's goals. Despite those intentions, a reasonable builder always has some doubts that things will scale and work out in construction. Will separate strips mix well together without hotspots? Will the plexi diffusion treatment help? Will the images look as intended backlit? Will the oddball shapes be filled evenly with light using strips? Will the strips be bright enough? Luckily, as soon as we put the first frame together all of these doubts went away and we knew that we had build exactly what Zumanity was looking for. Photos don't really do the effect justice, but the image below was taken in our shop under what is, photographically speaking, pretty poor, fluorescent lighting conditions and as you can see the colors in the image are vibrant and the details pop.

The first frame lit up during construction

We had to employ some creative techniques to get the frames made of various materials to actually stick to wood, but construction went pretty smoothly and soon we were ready to install the frames on site.

Because the frames are being installed in a public space we had to do a late night install to minimize our impact on the hotel guests. At 1:30 in the morning we pulled into the Zumanity loading dock and got to work. The electrical outlets had already been installed in the locations we determined with the Zumanity staff, so we based the location of the frames on them and focused on hanging everything straight and level (a harder task than it sounds for some of the frames with odd shapes). After a couple of hours all of the frames were installed and ready to add color and energy to guest's photos.

Final installation

The show is very happy with the end product. The LEDs perform surprisingly well and if anything they are too bright. Too bright is a much easier problem to solve than too dim, so it will be an easy change to make should the customer decide they want to dial in the intensity of the backlight. At Sin City Scenic we are really happy with how everything came out and we agree with the staff at the show that it brings a lot more to their lobby photo op.

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