Lighting Designer Paul Gregory talks about Times Square Ball

(All photographs courtesy of Philips Lighting)

As New Year’s Eve approaches we thought it would be fitting to chat with the lighting designer who created the lighting concept for the illustrious Time Square Ball. Paul Gregory, Principal of Focus Lighting in New York City, discusses the lighting inspiration behind the most famous ball in the world and the issues that were involved in lighting such a renowned landmark.

 

Can you outline your involvement with the Times Square Ball? What was it like to work on such an iconic project?

The Times Square Ball was a great opportunity for us to collaborate with the Times Square Alliance, Hudson Scenic Studio, Waterford Crystal and Jeff Straus. We were fortunate enough to be chosen from a short list of several lighting design firms, taking on the challenge of creating the seventh version of the Ball for its 100th Anniversary in 2007 – which has become a permanent icon sparkling high above Times Square throughout the year.

(left) Philips's year 2007 Time Square Ball features 9,576 energy-efficient LED bulbs that consumed the same amount of electricity as only 10 toasters. (right) The ball contained crystal patterns that were part of a Waterford series known as "World of Celebration".

 

In creating our concept, we decided that the most important aspect in lighting the ball was that the crystal seem beautiful and incredibly sparkly – like a diamond glittering in the sky. The Times Square Ball Lighting was designed with multiple viewpoints in mind – 5 feet away (the press standing next to the ball during the media conference), 50 feet away (the size of the ball as you see it on TV) and 500 feet away (the ground-level view from Times Square on New Year’s Eve) – so the viewing distance was critical to transforming our concept into a reality. Since all three viewpoints were equally as important, we had to consider the brightness of the ball, the size of the pixel (which was the 4″ x 4″ x 4″ triangular crystal), the amount of differentiation from one crystal to another, the types of patterns we could make and whether they could be seen from 500 feet away, what would look impressive on TV, and if the Ball appeared sparkly from all viewpoints. That was the criteria that we were designing for and we couldn’t do a good job unless we considered all these aspects.

Through the process we analyzed the crystal design to look at how we could make it better.

(left) In year 2009, Philips introduced a large version of the fifth ball. (centre) The ball features icosahedral geodesic sphere lit by 32,256 LED lamps, and is designed to be weatherproof. (right) It contains 2,688 Waterford Crystal panels, with a weight of 11,875 pounds (5,386 kg).

Senior Lighting Designer Christine Hope and I determined that back-cutting each crystal tile enhanced the look of the ball and created much more sparkle, so we worked closely with Waterford to produce the new crystal design. In assembling the crystal over the Philips triangular LED panel, we added mirrored chambers to enclose the LEDs – creating stronger definition from one 4″ x 4″ triangle to another and achieving additional sparkle and better color blending.

In the final stages we looked at how to create a storyline with light so that there is a purpose for all the color changes. We created six shows – one for each hour the ball was seen – and they all looped seamlessly to support the story.

 

How to do feel when you see the Times Square Ball on NYE?

The Times Square Ball is a symbol of New York recognized worldwide and seen by millions each New Year’s Eve. I feel honored and proud to have, with the whole team at Focus Lighting, designed the lighting for the ball.

Times Square Ball, located on the roof of One Times Square, is a prominent part of a New Year's Eve celebration.

 

Does it figure among your favorite lighting projects?

The Lighting Design for the Times Square Ball is certainly one of my favorite projects. The team work and collaboration was fantastic, making the final product so very exceptional. I think it is a great and artistic use of light visible from all of Times Square.

Times Square Ball is colloquially known as the ball drop, where the ball descends to the sky in 60 seconds down a flagpole, beginning at 11:59 p.m. ET, and resting at midnight to signal the start of the new year.
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