New show tells Atlantic City's story in light and sound

Projected on the facade of Boardwalk Hall is the new light show, "Duality," highlighting the hall's 83-year history.
Projected on the facade of Boardwalk Hall is the new light show, "Duality," highlighting the hall's 83-year history. (Moment Factory and Atlantic City Alliance)
Posted: July 04, 2012

ATLANTIC CITY - If art can soothe and enlighten the masses, can it also change their perception of a city in need of a resurgence?

The Atlantic City Alliance is betting that a light show on the facade of Boardwalk Hall, to debut after the 9:30 p.m. fireworks on the Fourth of July, will do just that.

"Boardwalk Hall is Atlantic City," alliance president Liza Cartmell said last week as she played a video rendering of the 3D multimedia show at the nonprofit group's office.

"This is an iconic destination for us. This is a good way to show people what Atlantic City is all about without being in their face."

Designed by the creators of shows on the facades of the Canadian parliament building and structures in Vancouver, Montreal, and Lyon, France, the $3 million project - which combines sound, theatrical lighting, and architectural "video mapping" - is titled "Duality," inspired by the brain's dueling artistic and rational sides.

The 8½-minute, year-round presentation highlights the hall's 83-year history in five "acts" each one or two minutes long. It's designed to encourage visitors to linger, Cartmell said, and experience the Boardwalk literally in a new light.

It's part of the alliance's $30 million-a-year, half-decade-long "Do Anything, Do Everything" campaign, which was launched in mid-April and aims to rebrand Atlantic City. More than just gambling, say the ads, the resort offers a beach, nightlife, dining, shopping, and family and historical attractions.

Last week, technicians tested the show's 12 projectors, each valued at $70,000, on Kennedy Plaza, across from Boardwalk Hall. There are 27 speakers, including a half-dozen embedded in the building.

The not-for-profit alliance was established in the fall by the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority in response to creation of a state-run Atlantic City Tourism District. The district's master plan calls for beautifying the Boardwalk, Pacific and Atlantic Avenues, and nearby feeder streets.

The sound-and-light show "is exactly the type of attraction identified in the Tourism District Master Plan," said authority executive director John Palmieri. It "creates a welcoming environment for investment and tourism."

"Duality" will play twice an hour from nightfall until 2 a.m. Its theme and lighting will change seasonally.

"This program, on its own, may not attract new tourism to the Boardwalk," said State Sen. James Whelan (D., Atlantic), a former Atlantic City mayor who has sponsored several bills to boost the resort's ailing casino industry. "But as part of a larger campaign to create a complete destination-resort experience, I think it's certainly a welcome addition."

Named Convention Hall when it opened, Boardwalk Hall has been used for sporting events, concerts, and conventions.

With its 137-foot-high vaulted ceiling and what was then the world's largest stage, the building was an architectural marvel when it opened. The words Festivities, Music, Pageantry, and Education, inscribed into the limestone above the facade, summarized the hall's commitment to recreation and social progress.

The building, which now has Trump Plaza as its neighbor, boasted the latest advances in lighting and acoustics. Its 196,000-square-foot barrel ceiling of aluminum tiles reflected a dazzling show of lighting technology that, during its grand opening, brought an "electric sun" into the auditorium.

By 1940, the hall had become the permanent home of the Miss America Pageant. Though the pageant left in 2005, the building continues to host events.

Boardwalk Hall also is home to what the city once bragged was the world's largest musical instrument, an organ of more than 33,000 pipes. The new show pays homage to it and to the building's architecture in animations shown on the hall's facade using video-mapping, a projection technique that alters images to fit perfectly on irregularly shaped surfaces.

"Duality" is a collaboration between the alliance and Moment Factory, a Montreal media-and-entertainment studio.

"What you are going to see is the story of Boardwalk Hall" and the city's "awakening and self-discovery through the two personalities" exemplified by the left and right sides of the brain, said Moment Factory multimedia director Nelson de Robles.

"One of them is more artistic, and the other is more rational," he said. It's about "what they can do together. That's the story line. It's very open to interpretation."

The personalities grow and slowly take over the entire building, bathing it in vibrant, pulsing visuals, de Robles said. The soundtrack - a mix of orchestral music, indie-pop, and electronica - is by Moment Factory composer Vincent Letellier.

While the ocean and sky provide a great backdrop, they make protecting the equipment a challenge, said project manager Tom Roland of the production company Solotech, based in Las Vegas.

"The ocean kills everything," he said. "We're trying to keep the sand and salt out of everything."

Mayor Lorenzo T. Langford said he hoped the program would "transform spaces around the city into cultural points of interest . . . providing residents and visitors with a unique experience - one that will set Atlantic City apart from other destinations."

Moment Factory has designed shows for Disney, Cirque du Soleil, Celine Dion, and Madonna, as well as municipalities.

But "we did not use other cities as a model for this," de Robles said. "It's a really custom-made project for Atlantic City. The [alliance] gave us carte blanche.

"The general idea is to finish the show with a big smile on your face. It's nothing related to the casinos, just a show to enjoy."

Contact Suzette Parmley

at 215-854-2594 or

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