The illumination of Studio City Macau

May 9, 2017

Studio City Macau is an outstanding Hollywood-themed resort which offers what is an unprecedented cinematic inspired entertainment and leisure experience never before seen on the Cotai Strip in Macau. This is the second property to be owned by Melco-Crown Entertainment after City of Dreams and was awarded Casino/Integrated Resort of the Year by the 9th International Gaming Awards (IGA) for 2016.

Different people see different things when they first encounter Studio City at night. There is a common reaction however, one is forced to stop and consider the confronting view for several moments. 


What follows is a chorus of typical comments; ‘That is impressive’, ‘That is amazing’ (whilst wondering at the style of the architecture) or just plain ‘Wow!’


One can be too analytical and try to allocate some part of your prior experience to the design of Studio City, after all there are many design clues…


Art Deco?

The epic banner branding of the great Hollywood movie productions?

Gotham City? After all Batman actually does await you in 4D once you are inside.


Studio City carries the strongest entertainment theming of any resort in Macau and the epic movie theatre vision is carried throughout every part of the building. Therefore the façade lighting is necessarily theatrical in style. Lighting design is a derivative art-form and the lighting follows and reinforces the remarkable elements of the spectacle this building creates. 



Illumination Physics was honoured to have been selected as the lighting designer for all of the remarkable façades of the resort. Even more so, we are proud to have been awarded the design, manufacture, supply, install and programming of all the façade lighting. 


It is true that there is a strong art deco influence throughout the entire building; especially the eight shining and decorated turrets that sit atop the eight hotel towers which are reminiscent of a science fiction city skyline from the 1930’s. The lighting highlights these turrets spectacularly however your eye is first drawn to another feature, arguably the most unusual architectural feature of any casino in Macau. 


The two hotel towers curve to form a semi-circle and are connected at the centre via a massive figure eight formed in golden truss, 30 storeys high. At this point the building is transparently open and there is no structure within the ‘eight’; it is open from both the east and west. Look closely and there is much more. Within the ‘eight’ is a Ferris wheel ride like no other. Seventeen themed capsules travel around within the truss taking the riders on a journey along the form of the luckiest number, 130 metres off the ground. Called the ‘Golden Reel’ this metallic gold feature is illuminated in golden light, made possible using 1000 pieces of illumination Physics’ CR80 mini wash light. Just 80mm in diameter these custom ten-watt lights make use of 10 X 60 degree lenses and very warm white at 2300K. The IP CR80 was designed especially for the Golden Reel but has since become a popular mainline product for illumination Physics.


Above and below the Golden Reel there are ‘Starbursts’; metal fingers radiating both up and downwards in two giant fans which are illuminated with the illumination Physics Wash 36 RGBA. Attention to detail demanded that the fixtures are finished in metallic gold to match the structure of the Golden Reel.


At the very summit of the building ten shards of steel stretch skyward like the fingers of a hand. To celebrate this architectural gesture demanded that we highlighted them and they are now a nightly feature. Wash lighting alone would not get the separation and contrast we wanted and would have resulted in a great deal of light spill into the sky. Instead we produced just ten pieces of a very special direct view custom fixture – the IP Super Dot, one of which was placed on the very end of each finger of the starburst. The 150 watt Super Dot was designed with a lens shaped like a mushroom. The PMMA lens has an internal reflector to direct 100% of the light downwards and in 360 degrees. Visible from any viewpoint without any upward light trespass, the Super Dot is intensely bright and used RGBA to match all of the fixtures on the hotel towers.


Illumination Physics was chosen as the designer for all of the façade lighting based on our extensive experience of illuminating large buildings. We have a strong track record in innovative integrated façade lighting and always succeed in providing spectacular and reliable lighting treatments. Illumination Physics has from our inception specialised in lighting which contained a secondary entertainment or media role. Our design build project for HSBC’s headquarters in Hong Kong is another such project and was completed in early 2015.


The lighting of Studio City carries part of the property’s marketing message in which the themed identity is vital. The lighting must also help the property exert a strong pull; it must promote drama and curiosity at first sight and then create a grand sense of arrival. In the words of Lawrence Ho (CEO and Chairman of Melco International), the objective was not to be the largest property on the Cotai Strip, but ‘the coolest’.

Yet it must do all this in a more sophisticated way than its many competitors in Macau. The design strikes a balance between grand spectacle and relative restraint in the programming of the dynamic lighting. The ‘show’ is provided by the towers whilst the podium only uses dynamic lighting for six powerful searchlights.


One hundred percent of the façades are illuminated with illumination Physics LED products. The podium façades make use of warm white with the added use of neutral white when contrast is required. For example the two massive ‘Hero’ statues that stand above the gates of the grand entrance make use of the cooler colour temperature which better accentuates their polished metal skin. A mix of IP Wash 36 and IP Wash 48s were used with various beam angles. A total of 72 pieces were used on each of the   statues.


The towers have two main facades, both east and west appropriately, and the lighting is mirrored on both.


Above the podium every one of the five thousand powerful illumination Physics LED light fixtures makes use of dynamic colour changing. We no longer use RGB (red, green and blue) because the range of mixed colours is too limited, particularly as we wanted to be able to mix warm whites and other colours to achieve hues that cannot be produced with RGB alone. All of the IP Wash 48, Wash 36 and IP Linear Wash lights used to up-light the tower facades are RGBA (red, green, blue and amber). This not only enables the tower to match the mono white colours of the podium at times, but also allows the display of true ‘gold’ and many other hues that would otherwise be impossible to achieve.


Surrounding the Golden Reel is a media façade containing 3,008 IP Media Dots especially designed for this project. Access to the media wall area for maintenance is possible but requires the use of three separate Building Management Units (gondolas lowered from above). To be mindful of this the IP Media Dots were designed with no electronics on board and each has its own dedicated extra low voltage cable. This is the same design principle that illumination Physics employs in the design of its special heat resistant ‘Gulf Specification’ products. By simplifying the Media Dot it is made truly robust and the single cable per fixture means that if one IP Media Dot is damaged, the problem can only affect that one singular item, not a string of Media Dots connected in series.


Illumination Physics’ IP Media Dot is a compact but powerful direct view single pixel luminaire that is driven by a four colour multi die LED chip. The media wall draws the eye to the centre of the building and provides the movement and meaning in the lighting that is synonymous with the early incandescent casino lighting in Las Vegas, Nevada. The media walls add another level of capability in that video graphic content is used to support notional concepts in the lighting shows.


Searchlights are synonymous with a Hollywood movie debut and Studio City would be incomplete without them. Six searchlights rake the sky above the main entrance of Studio City every night and draw attention to the coolest destination in Macau, a metaphor for pure entertainment. The lighting not only makes a statement about the character and theme of the property but the lighting effect can also be seen from all its competitor’s premises. There are many other searchlights located at other casinos in the area, all of which are installed at rooftop level. At Studio City the searchlights are deliberately positioned at podium level closer to the audience where they have greater visual impact, harking back to the image of searchlights being used to herald a movie premiere in Hollywood. 


The towers are clad in a complex metal decorative structure that cleverly camouflages the curtain wall system within. The building’s texture does not resemble the typical assembly of rectangular panels of a modern unitised curtain wall building, instead the eye is drawn to a filigree of art-deco diagonals and cascading buttresses – the language of the 1920’s and 1930’s. Much has been made of the façades and the lighting is designed to celebrate that.


Direct view lighting would be inappropriate as it would distort the very image that the architecture set out to achieve. To maintain the grand illusion the façade required wash lights, but this presented several challenges. The towers contain two hotels so light trespass into the guestrooms needed to be avoided. The lights would have to point upwards to provide an effect true to the theme, but this could lead to light pollution unless surgical accuracy could be achieved. The wash lights themselves also had certain practical limits to their dimensions from an aesthetic perspective because they would need to be mounted at two levels on the façade itself as well as the podium roof.


A new fixture design was required. Illumination Physics created the IP Wash 48, a high power narrow focus RGBA wash light. At approximately 100 watts and equipped with five degree lenses, the Wash 48 has an effective range of approximately 50 metres when used as a shallow angle grazing wash light.

There are four cascading buttresses which extend from the roof level of each of the eight hotel towers, 32 in all. These cascades are reminiscent of gothic structural architecture in that they are most massive at their base and become narrower with height. The IP Wash 48 has been mounted in groups of up to six lights at the podium level, four lights at mid-height on the façade, then finally in groups of as few as two fixtures at the highest level. The lighting follows the architecture and with the accuracy of the 5 degree focus, light trespass has been avoided. Light pollution has also been minimised by aiming the beams of light in such a way that they are terminated into the building surface which itself is not specular.


Because access to the 280 Wash 48s on the façade requires a gondola, it was decided that the drivers would not be integrated into the fixtures. Like the Media Dots, the IP Wash 48 is distilled to its simplest form, metal and LEDs. The electronic drivers are located remotely in easily accessible locations within the building.


The same illumination technique has been employed on the eight turrets that sit atop each hotel tower, however in this case a standard illumination Physics Linear Wash light was suitable and because the light fixtures are accessible by pedestrian technicians, the AC version of IP Linear Wash was used to simplify the power and data distribution. Beyond the ‘show-biz’ of the tower lighting illumination Physics ensured that the podium lighting was both dramatic as well as functional.


The design of the building may harken to early 20th century themes but it was constructed using modern unitised and non-unitised construction techniques. At night the stark textures are exploited to create drama and highlight areas such as the Bussing Grove (where the majority of guests arrive), so that they are consistent with the character of the more deliberately decorative features of the property.


Early in the lighting design it became obvious that the extensive use of back-lit faux alabaster panels would require a large quantity of linear LED wash lights. Illumination Physics already made a variety of high powered linear LED products which we had often used in the back-lighting of high-end retail façades for customers like Tiffany. At Studio City there were very large internally illuminated panels, for example on the plinths that support the two Hero statues, necessitating the use of a high power edge light using asymmetric lenses such as IP SHPT.


However there are a hundreds of other back-lit panels at Studio City which are of more modest dimensions, typically a little less than two metres in width. The quantity was so significant that we questioned the use of such a high performing and high cost fixture as we were responsible for managing a budget. Exploring our options made it clear that a low power LED linear product would not produce the light we wanted and because of the size of the average SMD chips, lensing the beam would be very problematic. This lead to two technical breakthroughs which enabled illumination Physics to create a revolutionary new product we call ‘LPSL’ (‘low power strip linear’).


LPSL takes advantage of a new generation of LEDs that are neither low power nor high power, but something in between. LPSL LEDs can be driven at 0.25 to 0.50 of a watt. Our typical high power linear products use LEDs driven at 1 to 2 watts but for the majority of back-lighting at Studio City the amount of lumens generated by the newly coined ‘mid-power’ LEDs is sufficient. The problem was how to focus the light given the larger size of the LED dies.


The solution came in the form of a unique optical design that concentrates the native 120 degree symmetrical beam of the SMD LED into a highly functional 15 x 60 degree focus. How we do that is classified! The net result for the client was that we halved the cost of 1500 pieces of linear back-lighting without sacrificing functionality or quality. More than half the potential energy was also saved. Illumination Physics LPSL is a practical design solution to a common issue.


The illumination Physics Engineering Team also faced many challenges with the control system for Studio City. Not only did the system need to be robust yet flexible, we had to control both the media wall and all of the façade lighting and ensure both were perfectly synchronised. This required that a media server and a lighting ‘PC based console’ be married together.


The control system had to have the capability to be self-sufficient in terms of scheduling but be able to be easily adjusted when the need arises. Macau, like Hong Kong and much of Asia has many festivals which would require special seasonal or one-off lighting treatments. Although the lighting rig is large and complex, the operation of the system had to be straightforward enough that modifications to the lighting programs and schedules would be user friendly to the owner’s technical staff.


The system wiring was an optical fibre backbone that went to the majority of the 22 dedicated lighting control rooms in which our equipment was installed in dedicated racks. Extensions via Cat5 to some of the smaller rack rooms to Pathport Conversion nodes were required in only a few cases where two adjacent lighting control rooms were very close. This ensures that the analogue wiring is kept to an absolute minimum. Cisco network switches and SFP’s (Ethernet Small Form-Factor Pluggables) were used to manage the fibre data flow. The lighting protocol that was chosen was sACN  (streaming Architecture for Control Networks).


The LSC ‘Clarity PC’ was chosen for overall control. All of the lighting fixtures and media servers (in console mode) were distributed over 17 Universes of sACN. Clarity was chosen for its proven reliability as much as for its advanced functions. For this project, the time/date scheduling functionality was extremely important. All of the cues originate from Clarity to control both the lighting and media systems.

‘Pandora’s Box’ was the product chosen as the media server to control the media wall’s 3,008 pixels through its pixel mapping software. Pandora’s Box is run in console mode to provide parameter control via ‘Clarity PC’.


In March 2015 the illumination Physics Technical Design Team launched a highly successful control system implementation at HSBC’s headquarters in Hong Kong. In that project, the design philosophy for the control system was the same – maximum use of fibre optics, LSC Clarity and Pandora’s Box. 


For both projects we have created reliable systems that can be controlled and loaded remotely allowing excellent support to our client without any systemic limitations on the creative use of the system.


Having built the lighting system, the success of the project depended on how it was employed. The creative choices about the programming of the lighting and the content that would be created for the media walls needed to be emotionally evocative and create maximum visual impact. Working with Melco-Crown creative director Geoff Benham, illumination Physics created a library of lighting scenes that were synchronised with related content for the media walls. The ideas were developed and honed through simulations and then tested on the building itself. Using remote internet control, live tests and programming sessions were conducted from a variety of viewing points. Special viewings for the owner helped guide process and find a balance in the use of colour and movement. Studio City stands tall in Asia’s gaming hub; the lighting is necessarily dramatic but represents a step in sophistication and technology in Macau. Studio City did not set out to be the biggest resort in Cotai, it set out to be the ‘coolest’. The awards and accolades declare that the job is done.


The façade lighting of Studio City has been a single all-encompassing project for illumination Physics, from concept to completion. The lighting design and the purpose specific design of the fixtures manufactured and supplied by illumination Physics include over 12,000 luminaires for the podium and towers. This modern and 100% LED treatment, which included wash lights, back-lights and media dots, were all created specifically for the project as part of an illumination Physics total design and build solution. In addition to the intelligent data programmable lighting on the towers, our scope included all of the static lighting on the podium, ranging from in-ground up-lights to powerful narrow focus wash lights for the two massive ‘Hero’ statues that stand as sentinels above the grand entrance.


Illumination Physics also provided the control system design and installation as well as the programming and content creation which completed our circle of responsibility for the visual outcome.


View Studio City Project page: