Map Making: Chris Lose on Building Pixel Mapped Displays

Posted on November 3, 2015
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Like a lot of visitors to LDI, we were more than a bit awestruck when we walked into the Center Bar at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino and saw the stunning pixel mapped display fanning out in the familiar domed area like the wings of some splendidly colored LED bird. The Center Bar never looked so vibrant – or immersive, as images from videos on the bar’s monitors as well as various Hard Rock artifacts worked their way through the display’s 300 EPIX Strip 2.0 LEDs, pulling the entire room together in the process.

We caught up with Chris Lose, the programmer responsible for those magical images to ask him about the creative process behind the Center Bar project. Lose, a lighting designer, director and programmer who is widely known for his work with Fleetwood Mac has built memorable pixel mapped displays for that band as well as The Voice Tour, D.I.C.E. Summit and more. Speaking to us from his Las Vegas home, he graciously shared some valuable insights into the techniques, inspiration and pure emotion that go into building a transformative pixel mapped display.


You’ve built some awesome pixel mapped displays. Can you walk us through the process of how you design these impressive works? What’s the first thing you look at when you’re given a project to design a pixel mapped display?

“Pixel Mapped projects always vary for me. With modern technology and a decent budget, you can turn any project into a pixel map situation. The process of pixel mapping a project starts when someone mentions that they want the video/lighting to match something else in the room. Usually, it means that they want the lighting to match the video content or even the music. When you pixel map a project, you can turn your lighting rig into a giant abstract video wall that allows you to run video content through your lighting fixtures.

“I generally start by looking at the emotions that need to be expressed in colors and tempo. This helps me know which fixtures I should choose to best deliver the message. Then I can figure out which products I’ll need to convert the media into a DMX or Art-net signal. Speed and accuracy become a major decision when you choose the media servers. Pixel mapping an entire rig can save you hours on writing and time-coding hundreds of cues to match video content.”


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Looking specifically at the work you did at the Hard Rock Center Bar can you walk us through that creative process? How did that project come together for you?

“The Center Bar has always been a dream project for me ever since I helped swap out a few VL5s in the early 2000’s. The Center Bar is such an iconic room for Hard Rock Hotel guests and Lighting Crews alike. When Hard Rock Hotel finally decided to renovate the room, I got a call from Bob Athey at ATI. He knew that I shared his passion for the project and would be able to bring the right amount of Rock n Roll to the Center Bar.

“I pulled most of my inspiration on this project from artwork and memorabilia that already existed in the Hard Rock Hotel. I used actual images of the carpets, patterns and textures from around the room to make sure that the project was completely immersive. I also threw in a lot of band logos that fit the Hard Rock brand and a few inside jokes that made the project even more memorable for me.”

You’ve done a lot of concert work being the LD for Fleetwood Mac and others. So do you approach pixel mapping differently if you’re creating a display for a concert vs. a bar/club environment?

“No, I tend to approach pixel mapping the same every time. My end goal is to turn the lighting rig into a larger canvas that expands on what the video is projecting.”


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Obviously you created an impressive pixel mapped display at Hard Rock Hotel, but is it always better to have a pixel mapped display than not?

“Pixel Mapping is time consuming. I would not recommend pixel mapping on any project where time constraints limit your artistic outreach. Budget is also a big factor. Pixel mapping requires several pieces of hardware and software all speaking the same language. The networking of all of this gear can get pricy. There are always last minute things that pop up that require updating of software and runners going to Fry’s for HDMI/SDI/VGA adapters/Interfaces etc. You also need to make sure that the people you bring in are A-level technicians. Lighting has come a long way from 4 universe shows with all XLR cables. That gets expensive.”

How does the type of fixture that your displaying your pixel mapped images on influence how you create your design?

“Fixture choice is very important. I have learned to stick to LED fixtures that have RGB parameters. When you start to pixel map moving lights with CMY parameters, it can get tricky. Even LED fixtures with RGBW or RGBAW can become tiresome in programming.”

Speaking of programming; what do you like to use to create pixel mapped content? And how do you like to deliver this content?

“I use Adobe After Effects to generate my content. I prefer to use MBox to convert the content into signal whenever budget allows. On this most recent project at the Hard Rock Center Bar, I used ArKaos Media Master and I was impressed by the capabilities. It’s a great product. I am also the first one to recommend a GrandMA2 on my projects.”

What are your thoughts on displaying pixel-mapped images of different resolutions? What are the challenges of taking low res images and stretching them out in a pixel mapped display?

“Obviously, higher resolution is better. We love Hi-res. If Medium Resolution is good, higher resolution is better. American culture has taught us that. You get more precise details and you can get your point across much clearer. Lower resolutions force you to rely on color choice and tempo speeds to get your message across. Instead of putting up images of band members from old photos, I had to rely on large logos with lots of color to portray certain ideas. Stretching certain images never looks good. I had to limit my visual selection to images that would still read well stretched out over 360 degrees of low-res video with lots of negative space.”

When you develop content for pixel mapping, you’re often working with another LD who designed the overall rig. What are the big challenges of this collaboration? How do you overcome them? What is the most common misunderstanding that arises between the content developer and the LD?

“For the Voice Tour I was lucky enough to work with Steve Richards as my Designer. He was great to work with. He is a programmer himself and he understands the amount of time necessary to get the right look. When pixel mapping, you can get lost in a sea of merged data and video layers. It is all too common for a video layer to override a beautiful look that you had built that gets carried over from another look or cue. On other projects, I have had Designers ask me if a random strobe was my programming choice or an accident. Sometimes, the Designer will think that you don’t understand their vision for the look of the project.”

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We know that you were very enthused about the Video Dust you used in the Hard Rock display can you tell us a little about it?

“Video Dust was a key element in the Hard Rock installation. The Centerpiece at Hard Rock Hotel is playing 24/7. Generating enough custom content to play 24 hours a day would be insane. So instead of building thousands of hours of content, I looked for a way for software to constantly generate content that matches the vibe of the room. The best way to do that, was to manipulate the Music Videos that are already playing on the televisions all around the hotel. Video Dust takes an HDMI input of the Music Videos and manipulates them based on their colors and tempo and then sends the new content to the wall. It is amazing that such a powerful tool fits on a Mac Mini and runs 24/7 in Las Vegas. Video Dust is presenting over half of the content for the 8-hour loop.”

Any advice on how to coordinate pixel mapped displays with other fixtures in a rig?

“Get a Top-level technician who knows media servers and lighting gear. On the DICE Awards, I was lucky enough to have Philip Galler. He was an Mbox whiz. On the Voice Tour I had A-level Ronnie Beal. He was able to navigate 16 universes of ArtNet merged data without breaking a sweat. On the Hard Rock Hotel gig I had Joe Garcia-Miranda who once did networking systems for entire traffic grids. These guys all know exactly what they are doing and made these projects that much easier.”

What can a designer do to make custom content contribute to a display?

“A good designer can be aware of total resolution. If the content is built to the correct dimensions, you can save hours of programming presets and stretching content to look good. If the content is built properly, everything else just falls into place.”

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Is there a common mistake that you see designers who are new to pixel mapping make?

“The first mistake I made was trying to get the job done all by myself. I didn’t like to call people and ask for help. After my first two abandoned attempts at pixel mapping, I started to call on some experts to help me figure out what I was doing wrong. Now I have a sizable list of experts that I call or text with random questions at different hours of the night. I am often impressed by the amount of people that will put down their beer on a Friday night to remind me that my hidden pixel mapping master fader might be at zero and that’s why my rig is black.”

How has pixel mapping changed the way you approach your work as a designer?

“Pixel mapping has expanded my canvas past the lighting fixtures themselves. Now I can be the Lighting Designer, the Video director and the scenic designer while sitting at the same console.”