BLUE MAN GROUP
Over the years I’ve designed a lot of fun things, and when I tell people what I’m working on they often say stuff like, “Oh yeah? Neat!” But when I was able to tell them that I was working with the Blue Men, they just lit up! “No way!” It’s hard not to love their slightly alien, innocent energy.
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My first contact with the group was through one of my favorite photographers, Jill Greenberg, who had shot them for their 2011 campaign. Jill suggested me as a graphic designer to put together the ads, billboards, and posters. That started an intense two-year collaboration that encompassed everything from print ads to TV spots and theater graphics.
A lot of the early work was really just finding good arrangements for Jill’s gorgeous images, doing a little remix of an existing “tubescape” background, and making sure that the type wouldn’t get in the way. Beyond that, I also made some subtle tweaks to the Blue Man Group logo, because… eh… they were necessary. I like the way those ads came out, but they don’t really feel like mine. I saw myself a facilitator more than a designer, but the Blue Man team enjoyed working with me, and their VP of Marketing, Carol Chiavetta, asked me to do more and more things—everything from writing product copy for their merchandising to designing the façade of the Blue Man Theater at the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.
The main entrance of the Blue Man Theater, the gift store, and one of two video columns
Out of the many things I did for the group, the theater façade is the project that feels like mine. Of course, it took the efforts of dozens of people to make it come to life, but in this case, I was there for all of it. I sketched the shape of the gift shop, comped up the theater entrance in Photoshop, designed the carpet, and finally re-retouched all the vinyl graphics on the windows to make them work at their huge final size.
The Blue Man Store—Photos of the Blue Men by Emily Shur. (The blue chandelier is real, if you’re wondering.)
My other Blue Man projects were major ad campaigns and the graphics for their theater at Universal Studios Orlando. While it was a thrill to see the Blue Men go into character and create amzing, intense performances for the camera, there was lots of money in play, and many people were passionately involved in each step of the process. It was clear to me that I could be more helpful as a mason than as an architect.
By contrast, the theater at the Monte Carlo left more freedom for me to play. Here, too, big money was on the line, but the Blue Men knew that they wanted to use neurons as a prominent graphic element, and beyond that they loved my idea of a big, flashy LED entrance. We wanted to create a bubble of Blue Man World inside the casino. Everything else flowed from that, and became about balancing what we wanted to do with what was possible within the realities of budget and schedule.
The gift store, the box office, and the second video column.
The structure of the Monte Carlo Theater had already been in place. It had been the home of magician Lance Burton for many years. While the Blue Men themselves were busy building out the inside of the theater and designing a massive new show, I got to focus on shaping the outside with the help of Blue Man producer Dusty Bennett. This involved presenting Blue Man approved designs to casino management, working with architects and contractors, and carpet manufacturers. I’ve never built or remodeled a house, but all those stories make a lot more sense to me now.
A truly delightful part of the process was working with Brent Pritchett and his the team at 4Wall Entertainment, who built the LED portal. Seeing that portal for the first time in their hangar-like facility, with its backboards still covered in white plastic wrap, was like stumbling on a real-life holodeck arch—a real-life, somewhat flamboyant holodeck arch. And once we lit ‘er up… oh! It’s the best toy ever!
The whole thing is made up of over 20,000 LEDs that were put into custom-made peg boards by hand. From the back it looks surprisingly like we used Christmas lights. To put 20,000 LEDs into perspective, a Mac icon has (at the time of this writing) 262,144 pixels. 20,000 isn’t as much as you think. One of the most fun things I’ve ever done has been creating little abstract video loops that would bring the theater entrance to life. I can get extremely fussy about what I do, so to be forced into a lo-fi medium like this was surprisingly liberating.
The portal loop in its non-LED look. Originally 460 x 142 pixels, only every third pixel is displayed on the arch.
4Wall also put programable lighting into the store shelves, and rigged three big screen TV monitors to function as a giant one-armed bandit inside the gift shop, as part of a custom built wall unit—another item that started as a quick Adobe Illustrator mockup on my computer and suddenly took up 20 feet of actual space in Las Vegas.
Which brings me to the carpet. I’m used to designing things that go on press. I know my way around designing for the screen. In most everything I do, clean lines are my friend. When I designed the carpets for the theater I thought, “OK, go with what works. Rays. Bubbles. Things that always look great. Let this be the easy thing.” As it turns out, clean lines are really hard to do in carpet. The proofs nearly gave me a panic attack. It’s as if your vector files got eaten by a 1987 Super Nintendo console. It was gruesome. Receiving test weaves and making adjustments helped calm me down a bit, but in the end I still didn’t quite know if it was all going to look good. Ordering 5,000 square feet of custom made carpet with your fingers crossed is unnerving. But the manufacturer assured me that it would look great, and so it did. I already have some ideas for the next time I get to design a carpet.
Those bubbles also appear on the portal video loop. Ron Brookler at NWE did the 3D work on the neurons.
The theater opened for preview performances on October 11th, 2012 and I finally got to see everything come together. Of course, I can’t go through the space without noticing little things I’d like to adjust. It’s a different feeling from looking at a finished book, where every last detail was under my control, but it’s pretty damn cool. In the end, I just wish I had my own LED portal. Lying under that thing, looking at the lights, and listening to the casino noises is hypnotic. I’m not encouraging you to do this, and it might be slightly off brand for the Blue Man Group, but that portal is a great place to zone out and take a nap.