Maria Summers, Mother of the Bride,
called me about the $30 snow machine we rent on our website. Naturally
I ask her what she was trying to do, thus beginning the design dialogue.
Her daughter Carmen Tulia was to be married in December and she
wanted snow. I told her I wouldn’t charge her to meet her
to discuss options at the Sands Restaurant at the Oasis in Charlotte.
I have seen the building a hundred times because it is right next
to my Sam’s Club, but I had never been inside. Walking through
the doors, my brain exploded with ideas. The place was huge with
unique architectural features and a massive 60’ stage. I started
rattling off different ideas that could achieve her Winter Wonderland
theme. Normally my clients love most of my ideas but immediately
start critiquing them one by one, attempting to identify only their
favorite effects. Maria loved everything. So I itemized each idea
to help her choose her favorite ideas.
the concepts were bold. Because the space is so large, I designed
a lighting scheme that would impact not only the guest near the
stage but the guest as far as 200’ on the other side of the
room. First we needed to make the stage snow and impact the audience.
I thought the effect would look silly if only the space where they
would be dancing their first dance was snowing. I needed natural
looking boundaries. Because the stage was completely curtained off,
I opted to make the entire stage snow. Expanding to the natural
confinement of the stage suspends the reality of the guest enough
to make them believe it’s snowing. Four Antari S-200 Quiet
Snow machines can cover 15-20 feet of stage and runs at approximately
63 db. Quietly whispering in the rigging mounts above the stage,
these machines covered every inch of stage framed by the curtains.
Believable but I wanted a bigger impact.
create the proper backdrop for the stage I used 46 color changing
LED cove lights to up light the back curtain. With 16.7 million
color possibilities, LED fixtures have provided me design options
that convention lighting cannot achieve. The gauzy white fabric
lining the back of stage exploded with color. Every fold and drape
was accented with shades and shadows, emphasizing the natural textures
of the curtain design. To create a wintery scheme, we went with
the color blue. Blue’s association with things that are cold
make it an easy choice. However, I needed the stage to come to life.
So I programmed a flick effect introducing Cyan into the mix. Each
individual fixture would randomly and instantaneously become cyan
3 times every 2.5 seconds. After holding for a tenth of a second,
the fixture would fade back to blue during the next half of a second
occasionally interrupted by a sudden change back to cyan. The sparkling
stage was subtle yet enchanting. Much like looking at water with
its endless refractions of light. The lazy eye could make the image
seem like a solid color but the detailed eye saw a dance of light
on a sea of water, snow, and ice.
people need a little more. Subtlety is lost on much of the population.
To help create a more theatrical appeal we lined the front of stage
with flame retardant buffalo snow. The stage rose three and a half
feet in the air lined with cotton, suggesting a fresh layer of snow.
On each side of stage, four truss towers were wrapped with flocked
pine garland stepping every 1.5 feet up to 6 feet tall. Snowflake
gobos were put in eight moving heads. Each fixture was placed on
top of the garland towers. For most of the evening the fixtures
were programmed to slowly spin the white snowflake gobo slowly to
the ground. Once the gobo was on the floor, the light would subtly
turn off and quickly point upward. In the dark ceiling the light
would subtly turn back on and fall down the curtain again. I used
a CTB gel (Color Temperature Blue) on the white to create a colder
more wintery white, complementing the blue back drop. The effect
was larger than life and tickled the fancy of even the dimmest of
Finally we had two problems. First the snow wasn’t
visible from very far away. The white curtain and white snow made
for an invisible snow fall. Also large plastic snowflakes lined
the front of stage also disappearing into the backdrop. The solution
was easy enough but required some creative placement. Four large
LED lighting fixtures were placed on each side of stage pointing
up into the ceiling. For the plastic snowflakes I programmed a baby
blue into the LED’s, immediately separating them from the
bold blue curtain behind. For the snow fall, I had to make sure
the entire space just below the curtain was brightly lit in white
or the snow would not be visible breaking the suspension of belief.
By lighting the bottom of the snow, I made the flakes more visible
to the crowd below. No one would light a beautiful scene from the
back, but add light coming from the direction of the viewer. I placed
side lights between the crowd and the snow to create depth. Quick
note: to create a deep stage, use layers of light getting deeper
and darker colors as one journeys away from the audience.
the first dance, I began the snow fall. The response was monumental.
After about 5 seconds a large gasp came from crowd as each one realized
what was happening. The audience roared. Distracted guest stopped
what they were doing to see what was going on. For nearly five minutes
the cheers continued. With the magic unbroken the impact of the
moment is sure to last a lifetime.
we have only begun. I didn’t confine the energy to the stage.
To carry the energy into the room I used 8 more LED pars to accent
the unusual corners scooping around the stage into the room. The
energy from the stage is carried out into the audience. I feel a
dominate stage without a transition into the audience isn’t
appropriate for social events. A dominate focal point seems staged,
impersonal, and turns the event into a performance. The setup is
great for theatre and bad for weddings.
Another Quick note: Maria provided several Mr.
Christmas Panoramic Motion Projectors. The effect is an awesome
snowflake effect with 50 or more spinning and falling snowflake
images. However unless no lighting is used in the room, its small
50 watt bulb can’t project an effective image. Not very effective
for parties, but if they come out with a 250 watt version I will
race you to the store.
For the room lighting, Extravaganza, one of Charlottes
premiere event planning organizations, was already setting up tall
fabric columns throughout the room. They also provided the fabric
back drop for the back of stage and covered all the red décor
in the room with white. Each fabric column was lit with a simple
white par can suggesting large ice towers throughout the dining
area. Stretching between each column, white string lights and fabric
created a flow and unity. The stage lighting reflecting from the
back drop projected a cold blue glow into the room. The winter wonderland
wedding transcended traditional dimensionality through the lighting
and special effects.
didn’t want an anti climatic event peaking only once at the
first dance. I needed an angle. For the cake cutting, I designed
a modern paisley style gobo to project in an ETC source 4 leko.
Because the space is so large I needed to bring attention to the
cake cutting corner. To further enhance the moment I slowly changed
the color scheme to red and yellows. Bringing into light the gobo
projection simultaneously, the atmosphere of the room went from
an elegant winter evening to a hot Latin night. By the way, Santiago
Gallo, one of Charlotte’s premiere Latin DJs, was about to
kick off his set. The Falling snowflakes turned yellow, and the
back drop sparkled orange over red. The Side light for the clear
plastic snowflakes and the up lit corners of the room turned yellowish
orange. As the DJ kicked off his set, with a grand sweeping motion,
the falling stage gobos spread out across the room, creating new
energy and excitement.
Nearly 500 people crowded onto the dance floor
for one of the most exciting weddings I have ever designed. Projecting
yellow snow flake images onto over 50 inverted pyramids the entire
room came to life with a new energy. The red hot lighting excited
the subconscious coxing everyone to dance.