CAST Software BlackTrax X's
CAST Software makes several of the technologies that are driving innovation in the entertainment industry. For their booth at the Live Design International (LDI) 2018 trade show in Las Vegas they asked Sin City Scenic to build them a pair of large glowing X’s to match the branding of their BlackTrax product line. They previously had a similar display made for the Prolight + Sound trade show in Frankfurt, Germany, but their LDI booth was a different size so we had to adapt that design to fit the new space.
These simple sounding projects often are some of the hardest to do well. Many things that are built for the stage are only ever seen from 20 feet or more away so the level of finishing doesn’t need to be extremely high, but thousands of industry professionals would be walking by these all weekend long so they needed to stand up to scrutiny from inches away. We also designed them to be as light as possible so they could be mounted easily without a need for the company providing the booth walls to make a bunch of costly modifications to reinforce the walls. Light materials, however, are usually not as durable and the X’s needed to be strong enough to survive the inevitable bumps and bangs of a long weekend on the trade show floor. All of these details, in addition to the high standards that we hold ourselves to at Sin City Scenic, mean that although these X’s were not a key feature of the booth they would require quite a bit of skill and attention to create. We decided that the best way to build the X’s would be to use our CNC to cut out a foam core and then add more durable material to all sides of the foam to create a structure that would fulfill both the requirements for strength and low weight. This also gives the paint department a nice surface to work with as the inconsistencies of foam don’t mix well with high quality paint jobs.
I took the customer’s AutoCAD rendering of the booth and imported that into Fusion 360 to use as a model for the X’s. This required a bit of manipulation, but eventually I got both pieces of software to talk to each other nicely. The overall thickness of the foam is larger than what we can cut on our machine so I designed the model to be made out of several layers sandwiched together. The advantage of doing it this way was that I could minimize the amount of material required because it gave me some smaller pieces that I could cut out of material that would otherwise be waste. Each 8’ wide half of an X comes down to a point in the middle where it is only 6” thick. This meant that I had to plan out my seams to maximize strength and prevent the worst case scenario of the X’s snapping in half during transport or assembly. This planning and a “skeleton” of ¾ inch plywood resulted in X halves that are surprisingly strong and light. By delivery there was no doubt in my mind that these would be durable enough to last through the event looking as great as they did when we dropped them off.
Because LDI is a lighting focused trade show we knew that high quality LEDs would be required. For this we came back to our friends at Environmental Lights. They make excellent products that are always very consistent between reels and the UL listing is nice to have for something that will be so close to booth guests. We chose their UltraSlim RGB 2835 LED Strip Light because it is super bright while being half the size of more traditional 5050 LED strip allowing for more flexibility in mounting. I wanted to have RGB strip even though the glow around the X’s was blue because having the red and green emitters on the strip allows us to mix the hue of blue in to better match the customer’s branding.
The control for the LEDs around the X’s wanted to be as simple as possible. Just because this is a lighting trade show doesn’t mean that a lighting console needs to be connected to everything. Environmental Lights makes a wall mount RGB controller with a single knob for control that pairs with a matching dimmer. This allows us to adjust the color and intensity of the glow and once it’s the the desired state we can save that in the controller’s memory. After the color is saved, with a single press on the knob the glow fades on or off. This is a really elegant and cost effective solution. Now that I’ve used these controllers and understand the product line better I expect to use them again in the near future. They can communicate over a 916 MHz wireless signal as well. The spectrum is probably a little full for this to work well at a place like LDI, but for another job where wireless would be more reliable this could eliminate a whole mess of cabling.
When designing the X’s structure I added a ring of material to block the actual LEDs from the vision of show attendees. This is the kind of unrequested, yet appreciated, touch that we specialize in at SCS. Few people enjoy looking directly at LED emitters and lighting industry professionals are going to be more conscious about it than the average person. Having the glow just exist without an ugly ring of exposed LEDs will help CAST Software attract more people into their booth. This extra material does block some additional light though so some experimentation had to be done to find the perfect mounting location for the LED strip. In the end, mounting the strip at a 45 degree angle ended up being the winner because it was the brightest all around the X’x and also had a nice gradual spread along the wall behind with no harsh shadows.
With all the construction details worked out it was time to add a few mounting brackets and then the X’s were ready for the show. On-site install went surprisingly smoothly. The professionals from the United Brotherhood of Carpenters had the X’s hung almost as soon as I finished explaining the locating jig to them. A few small holes in the walls and a surprising amount of tape later the cables were all connected and nicely dressed to be as aesthetically pleasing as possible. Then it was time to turn the X’s on and dial in the color. Under the conference hall work lights it is challenging for any LED strip to be as bright as desired, but luckily the light are dimmed for LDI so the lighting exhibitors can display their products. As soon as they turned off the work lights to put things into the “show” look the LEDs began to pop and were clearly visible all the way over by the main entrance of the conference hall (A fact that was pointed out to me by an excited customer). The ability to dial in the color without having to connect to the lighting console was a great asset and the customer was very pleased with the final result. They like these X’s so much that it seems like they will be saving them after the show and the X’s will travel on to other trade shows in the future.
Cameras have a really rough time representing the bright LEDs in an otherwise dark room. They look so much better in person!