Starlight Express Room, Westmead Children's Hospital

The Starlight Express Rooms are vibrant and interesting environments designed and installed in five Children's Hospitals nationwide with two more planned for the near future. They are designed to provide a magic and quite separate place for the children to escape the daily rigours of hospital life. They provide various activities - entertainment, movies, craft, guest appearances, dance and computer games. The room also doubles as a TV studio with video, cameras, mixing and switching to all the wards in the hospital. Also there is a radio station broadcasting music and requests. Hence they are quite sophisticated little communication spaces.

Ken Flower of Dreamscapes was invited onto this project following an introduction to Jeanne Rockey (Director of hospital services) and Jill Weekes (CEO) at the Starlight Foundation. They were looking for a different approach to lighting and projection and Ken has a history in concepts and design for experiential environments and communication spaces.

The architecture and interior was designed by Philip Mathieson from Burley Katon Halliday, video and audio by Andrew Robertson of Shorty Productions drapes and gauzes by Murray Smith of Sundrape Aust.

"With such a variety of needs we all wanted to make sure the various design elements integrated properly thus providing a good balance and equilibrium - like an orchestra - where the sum of the parts are greater than the individual components," explained Ken.

'I wanted the projection and imaging to be able to cover all surfaces of the room in different ways - walls, gauzes, floor and ceiling. By using 'shades of white' as the base colour scheme we were able to turn the whole room into a projection surface. The whites and soft greys the architects chose wouldn't distort any of the colour or imaging but could also stand alone as a sophisticated look in it's own right."

Ken came up with the idea of using moving lights to project friendly non-obtrusive images as 'moving wallpaper'. Shoals of tropical fishes, flocks of butterflies, mobs of kangaroos and passing clouds could become backgrounds to the various activities. With gentle movements and changing colours, Ken wanted to create a visual language that could provide a quirky but calming influence.

"As a visual language in this environment it was important the colour and imaging not overtake either the room, the activities or the children," added Ken. "It had to be passive."

To achieve this Ken chose 6 Martin MAC250+ as projectors and 56 Par 30 halogens as overall colour washes.

"The MAC250+ were just great with their superior optics, 250 MSD light source, indexable gobos, rotating prisms, soft colour and smooth movements," Ken said. "They are also cute to look at! The Par 30s recessed nicely into the ceiling and provided a good even four colour background wash."

Having calculated the magnification factor for the image sizes, Ken then designed the montages that became the gobos. He wanted to keep as much of the textures in the fish, butterflies and other images as he could so he chose glass gobos with different shades of greyscale. According to Ken, Joakim Odlander at Gobotech was great helping with this and produced the finished gobos with fantastic resolution in double quick time.

For the control system Ken wanted to avoid a large control desk bristling with knobs and dials. The operators of the rooms are the 'Capt Starlights' that look after the children and the daily activities - as such they need easy, quick and non-technical access to the different states. Consequently Ken chose the Martin LJ software and LJ touch via a PC and 17" touch screen to fill that side of the brief.

"Having worked in closely with the architects on suspension points and cabling, the installation was quite straightforward," concluded Ken. "Trevor Lloyd from CLS managed the installation with support from Vince Haddad at Show Technology on the control system.

"The room is running well with limitless opportunities for different imaging and programming in the future. We all hope the feedback from the children will help us with that process - and keep our feet firmly on the ground."

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