Note: See video on the left. Light show begins around the 2:00 mark
When master lighting and production designer Marc Brickman created his last project, he likened it to watching Enzo Ferrari build a brand-new, custom-designed racecar, then hand him the keys saying, “Here—create some magic.”
“I was absolutely humbled and awed,” the Malibu local said from New York during a break in rehearsals for his next gig. "It was also nerve-wracking. But it went off beautifully.”
The project in question was a Brickman light show that lit up the Empire State Building on November 26. The Big Apple’s most recognizable building was bathed in a palette of 16 million colors through a new, state-state-of-the-art LED lighting system— a system specially designed by Brickman, utilizing 11,500 pixel-mapped DMX channels and driven by a handful of Hippotizer hard drives.
The light show was visible to large parts of the city, coordinated with a short concert by Grammy-winner Alicia Keys, who performed on top of a nearby building, and which was synced to a live broadcast by Clear Channel.
The extraordinary display was coordinated by Philips Color Kinetics, who installed the lighting system, and Empire State Building owner Anthony Malkin, who chose Brickman after a worldwide search of lighting design artists.
Brickman himself watched the light show from a nearby building and was relieved to see that everything went off as planned.
“I had only had about 10 seconds to test everything on one façade of the building,” Brickman said. “But it was great. My (three-year-old) daughter just went crazy.”
Brickman, who has decades of experience putting on light shows, said the key to anything he does in his work is to “be a fan,” so communicating performers’ energy and talent to the audience is a natural goal.
As a 16-year-old growing up in Philadelphia he began lighting local bands’ concerts. He teamed up with “a genius lighting guy” and eventually was introduced to rock icon Bruce Springsteen, for whom he designed lighting programs for years.
By the 1980s, Brickman was responsible for the high-concept, automated lights and laser effects for the British rock group Pink Floyd, helping to create the flying pig and crashing plane effects for their theatrically staged tours. He recently teamed up with Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters to design his “Dark Side of the Moon” tour.
Brickman’s theatrical talents were so celebrated, he ended up working in film and video as production and lighting designers for artists like Chris Botti, Nine Inch Nails, Pet Shop Boys, Paula Abdul and Barbra Streisand.
Brickman is even more excited about his current project. He has designed the entire lighting presentation for the reunion of the “blue-eyed soul band” of the 1960s, The Rascals, produced by Bruce Springsteen band stalwart Steven Van Zandt.
The reunion concert opens this week at a newly renovated, 1926- era theatre in Port Chester, New York, and the production values are a little livelier than what the band experienced in 1967, when they were famous for soul/pop tunes like “Groovin.’” The 2012 version features an entire multi-media, musical narrative highlighted by a 50 by 25-foot high LED screen that employs green-screen filmed scenes and direct interaction with the singers.
“When I was a kid, they were one of my favorite bands,” Brickman said. “So just being in the same room with them is an incredible thrill for me. Of course, out of that awe comes the real job of how am I going to make this show happen?”
Through all iterations of design, Brickman professes to do it because he loves the challenge, saying that being personally invested in any project is half the battle. His dedication is returned multi-fold. Van Zandt, who has played guitar with Springsteen since his salad days, tapped Brickman immediately for his reunion project with The Rascals.
“Marc is a wizard of production and design,” Van Zandt has said.
Brickman’s wife, Catherine Malcolm-Brickman, said they are still hearing from appreciative New York fans about the Empire State Building event.
“It was unbelievable, just breathtaking,” Malcolm-Brickman said. “That week, I lost my cell phone and a good Samaritan found it. He managed to return the phone to me by finding Marc’s number on it. When we told him that Marc had designed the Empire State Building show, the guy was blown away. He said it was the best celebration of what New York is all about that he had ever seen.”
Brickman is hard at work finishing details for The Rascals concert, and sounded just a little nervous about the responsibility of creating a perfect show for his one-time idols.
“These guys deserve their place in time and to be exposed to a new generation,” Brickman said. “Their talent is as big as a Lady Gaga or Justin Beiber, so they definitely should be seen with the same great production elements.”