On the morning of May 28, 2016, a fire started in the electronics of the marquee sign for the Goodman Theatre, Chicago’s oldest and largest nonprofit theater. Local fire departments rushed to the scene, but before they could extinguish the blaze, extensive damage had been done. I saw a video of the fire on YouTube and showed it to Landmark Sign Project Manager Mike Lanovich, suggesting he contact the theater about a replacement.
Landmark Sign Group (Chesterton, IN) already has a reputation for creating iconic signage throughout down-town Chicago, including signs for The Cadillac Palace Theatre and the Chicago Shakespeare Theater at the Navy Pier. Mike met with the directors and designers of the Goodman Theatre to discuss design, but first we had to create and install a temporary surround for the damaged sign. Using 3mm, 6 x 10-ft. Alucobond panels with direct digital prints on the faces, our installers folded and fastened the aluminum composite material around the damaged sign.
BEST OF OLD + NEW
All were in agreement that the new sign should maintain the overall look of its predecessor, but we wanted to upgrade it with efficient LED lighting. Senior Technical Engineer Terry Ambrosini prepared initial designs that would utilize four different types of LEDs, including border lighting for the backer panels; flexible simulated-neon LED tubing to match the look of the previous sign letters; and a border around the letters themselves capable of being lit as static white or with changing colors. Chuck Harder from Bitro Group told us about his company’s LightSymphony Addressable RGB System, which uses RGB “pucks” controlled by a DMX system to produce full animation effects. This system goes beyond the regular fade and color changing capabilities of some current RGB systems and helps the borders of the letters stand out.
“We worked diligently to provide a sign that continues the tradition of being a historic landmark in downtown Chicago,” Mike said. “Paying close attention to capture the spirit of the previous sign, this new display incorporates the latest and greatest in lighting technology.”
With the basic design concept in place, Landmark began fabricating a single letter panel for testing and approval from the Goodman Theatre. The panels consist of a 6 x 6-ft. 4-in. piece of 1-in.-thick clear acrylic with a routed groove around the perimeter in which we embedded red GE Tetra Contour LEDs to create a halo effect. We back-sprayed the back panel a burgundy color and mounted a 2-in. aluminum tube border to the perimeter of the face. Finally, we used Matthews 15394 Red Ferrari to paint the acrylic panel backed with 3mm Alucobond.
The letters mounted to the panels are 5 ft. tall x 5 in. deep fabricated aluminum. The perimeter of the letters has a 2.5-in. channel to house the addressable RGB pucks along with GE Tetra MAX High Output white LEDs. We covered the channel with 2247 white acrylic placed flush to the letter face. The insides of the letters have a recessed piece of ½-in. acrylic painted second surface that rests on a ½-in. F-channel retainer.Advertisement
Once we had attached red Sloan FlexiBRITE LED tubing to the acrylic, we mounted the letters to the backer panels. For the bottom panels, we fabricated and mounted our own 1-in.-thick, white acrylic, face-illuminated LED letters with embedded ribbon LEDs on the faces. When all of the panels were completed, it was time to wire everything up and build the control panel.
10% POWER = 100% FUN
The entire sign runs on 12V DC with the exception of the GE Contour border, which is 24V. By using LEDs for all of the lighting, we designed a system that consumes only a tenth of the power of the previous sign. In order to control the combination of all lighting elements independently, we installed a four-channel sub DMX run by the main DMX to control four hybrid electronic relays. This gave us the ability to turn the primary 110V power on or off for the borders, insets, letters or bottom panel LEDs.
The Bitro Group LightSymphony system uses two 512 DMX controllers that set up four universes. This allowed us to control the 900 addressable RGB modules individually. Combined with ESA PRO software, the sign can produce thousands of effects and colors including chasing fills, gradients and other animations.
On January 15, the Landmark crew headed for downtown Chicago to install the new 56-ft.-tall sign. We used two of our Elliott crane/bucket trucks along with a hydraulic crane. The sign was lifted in place while Landmark installers bolted the new sign to the existing steel supports. Once the sign was installed and the primary power hooked up, Terry was ready for on-site testing.
CABLE > WI-FI
All of the LED elements were working fine, but when it came time to run the RGB animation system, we ran into a problem: For the DMX controllers, we had used a 1W Wi-Fi router in the shop test, but it was having trouble staying connected in the field due to the metropolis’ competing Wi-Fi bands and antennae. Even the Bluetooth remote for the hydraulic crane was turning itself on and off because of the density of network activity downtown. After a full day of troubleshooting, we decided to run a Cat 5 cable directly into the network of the Goodman Theatre. This immediately solved the problem and the sign was fully operational the day before the lighting ceremony.
Speaking for all of us at Landmark Sign, Mike summed it up best: “We thank Goodman Theatre for allowing us the opportunity to be a part of its wonderful Chicago legacy!”Advertisement
EQUIPMENT AND MATERIALS
SOFTWARE: Adobe Illustrator, adobe.com; EnRoute, enroutesoftware.com; ESA PRO, nicolaudie.com
TEMPORARY PANELS: Alucobond by 3A Composites USA, alucobondusa.com
ROUTER: AXYZ 10 x 22-ft. CNC with Dual Carriage and Dual Spindles, axyz.com
WELDERS: Miller Welders, millerwelds.com
PAINTING: Matthews Paint System and coatings, matthewspaint.com
LIGHTING: Bitro Group LightSymphony Addressable RGB LED System, bitrogroup.com; Sloan FlexiBRITE LED flexible LED tube, sloanled.com; GE Tetra Contour and GE Tetra MAX HO White LEDs, gelighting.com
INSTALLATION: Elliott crane/bucket trucks, elliottequip.com; Hydraulic Crane by Stevenson Crane, stevensoncrane.com
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