As part of Carnegie Mellon University's "Interaction and Expression Using Pausch Bridge Lighting" course, I worked on an interdisciplinary team of 5 students from across different years and departments to design, implement, and showcase a 15-minute lighting show on the Pausch Bridge on Carnegie Mellon University's campus in only 6 weeks. Inspired by the film Inside Out, our show takes viewers on an emotional journey as they experience the story of 5 different emotions come to life on the bridge: Joy, Fear, Disgust, Anger, and Sadness. Our show was programmed entirely in Pharos Designer 2. After a highly successful showcase at the class's final presentations, our show was welcomed into the normal bridge rotation and now plays regularly at night.
I personally performed the following tasks for the project:
Initiated design consultations with 5 experience designers around Carnegie Mellon University
Performed concept design (contributing 2/3 of the team's concept ideas)
Performed background research
Performed prototyping for our project
Created documentation for our team and for the entire class
Programmed the introduction, Joy segment, and the finale in Pharos Designer 2 and iterated based on feedback
Combined all parts of the show from the different teammates together into one file in Pharos Designer 2
Tested on the bridge 14 times (the most of anyone in the entire class by far)
Wrote all of the blog posts for our team on WordPress
Presented weekly with my team in front of the entire class and 2 professors
Synopsis: In the beginning, the audience is introduced to each emotion and we see white light, a combination of all of the colors of light, as all of the emotions come together. However, something is wrong. There is a glitch with the white light on the bridge and the emotions are not working together as expected. After this, we see individual segments for each emotion, highlighting the colors and personalities of each: Joy, Fear, Disgust, Anger, and Sadness. In the end, the white light appears again, but this time it stays and the emotions are able to come together successfully. It is only after celebrating each emotion and appreciating the crucial roles that each plays throughout the show that they can all work together as a team. The show concludes with fireworks, bursts of color, and ultimately a strong, stable white light.
The Pausch Bridge
The Randy Pausch Memorial Bridge at Carnegie Mellon University memorializes Randy Pausch's commitment to bridging the gap between the gap between the arts and computer sciences by linking the Purnell Center for the Arts and the Gates and Hillman Centers for Computer Science. The bridge is 220-feet long and features more than 7,000 programmable LED lights divided into 114 discrete lighting fixtures.
The southern side of the bridge with the programmable lighting fixtures
The northern side of the bridge which has glass and white pedestrian lights (no programmable lighting fixtures)
Bridge deck facing Purnell Center for the Arts
Bridge deck facing Gates and Hillman Centers for Computer Science
Our team was quite free to design almost any theme for our project that we wished. We just had a few given notes to keep in mind when designing:
The bridge does not have built in audio/speaker systems. There can be speakers brought in for the final presentation, but any subsequent showings would not include audio.
The bridge is between two main buildings on campus and near many professional offices. Therefore, the show must not be too visually distracting or annoying to those working nearby.
After receiving these notes, our team was free to begin brainstorming. This was my first project ever in lighting design, so I thought it would be helpful to meet with some more experienced designers from around Carnegie Mellon University to get their advice on concept design before settling on an idea. On my own, I initiated 5 different meetings and spoke with Ruth Comley (experience designer), Ralph Vituccio (Visual Story professor), John Dessler (Visual Story professor), Cindy Limauro (lighting designer), and Garth Zeglin (lighting design programmer). These meetings were very beneficial in helping me to consider different perspectives of design as well as notes of different limitations and opportunities to keep in mind along the way. Here are some of the most helpful notes that I received:
Consider interest curves and variety. Switch it up and keep the audience engaged throughout the show.
The bridge is too low resolution to show really clear visuals or to tell a story in that way, so think about what emotions you want to evoke in the audience and how you can elicit those using colors, patterns, intensity, etc.
People may not be there from the beginning. They might just walk up in the middle. Do they need to watch from the beginning to understand the show or can they enjoy it even partway through?
Most people use the bridge to get between two buildings. Most people will only be on the bridge as long as it takes to walk across (~1 minute) and so will only see about 1 minute of the show
Our team then sat together and brainstormed over 30 concepts total (I contributed over 20 of these concepts), discussed each idea, and then narrowed down to our top 3 choices: Inside Out, Love and Family/Circle of Life, and Holi. We presented these 3 ideas in front of our entire class and 2 professors and got their thoughts. In the end, we decided on Inside Out for several reasons. One of our earliest classes focused on the power of lighting to evoke different emotions in the audience. Therefore, creating a show that featured 5 distinct emotions felt like a great fit and a great exploration into this power of light. Additionally, Inside Out provided a great structure for our show. The film provided a great inspiration for telling a full story in only 15 minutes complete with a beginning, characters, conflict, resolution, and finale. Further, by splitting the show up into an introduction, 5 different character segments, and a finale, our show would be dynamic with many shorter sections, always keeping the audience engaged. Designing our show with these shorter segments also allowed us to design for the audience member who is not necessarily sitting to watch the whole show, but rather just walking across the bridge for a minute. By splitting the show into shorter 1-2 minute segments, these particular audience members still have the opportunity to enjoy a meaningful chunk of one section of the show even just when quickly walking by. We also had a 5 person team, so having a show about 5 emotions was a great fit and allowed each member of the team to focus primarily on one emotion. Finally, it was an idea that we were all excited and passionate about as we all loved the film!
I was in charge of developing the introduction, Joy, and finale segments.
I have my own LED strip with several built in functions and effects, so before we were able to test on the bridge itself, I used this resource. I went through each possible effect to research the types of lighting effects that might be possible for our team to incorporate into our show. I took note of the particularly interesting effects and how they might be used in our show and shared video documentation of each effect with my team to help inspire their ideation as well.
Video documentation of the different lighting effects as tested on my LED strip
Mood Boards and Storyboards
Our team then created mood boards, storyboards, and more detailed plans for each segment of the show. Below are my first drafts of plans for the introduction, Joy segment, and finale.
Start with white, split into colors
Slow movement at first
Brief introduction to each of the characters/emotions/colors as they walk down the bride in a line, like in this video:
All colors in harmony, "holding hands" and switching their positions, happily together as a whole
Back to large white light. But then, all of a sudden, something is wrong. The bridge slightly flashes like a malfunction and the emotions disperse (small colored lights moving quickly away from center)
Rainbows across the bridge, like in this video:
or like this image:
All colors eventually merge and fade to white light, more calm than in the beginning, then slowly fade to dark
We presented all of our mood boards, storyboards, and more detailed plans to the entire class and our 2 professors for feedback.
Testing on the Bridge
Our team chose to create our show in Pharos Designer 2. I was able to load the template for the Pausch Bridge in Pharos Designer 2 and quickly begin prototyping and testing on the bridge.
Template for the Pausch Bridge in Pharos Designer 2
I was one of two bridge system operators on my team. Using a special VPN and website, I was able to connect directly to the bridge, upload files, and test on the bridge.
Uploading files to the bridge using the VPN and website. I was then able to trigger my test shows to play on the bridge from this page on the website.
Pharos Designer 2 already had many built in functions available, so I began exploring those functions and creating video documentation of each function as it appears on the bridge. I shared this video documentation with my team and with the rest of the class. This video documentation proved to be very valuable throughout the process as we could use them to reference how the different effects would look on the bridge as we developed our show in Pharos Designer 2.
Video documentation of all available Pharos Designer 2 built in features and how they appear on the bridge
Pharos Designer 2 has a simulation feature. However, in testing on the bridge, I quickly noted that things would often look very different on the bridge than they looked on a computer. Most noticeably, things felt a lot faster on the bridge than they appeared on the computer, so I had to take that into account when designing in Pharos Designer 2. Ultimately, it was much easier to test and iterate on the physical bridge than relying on the inaccurate simulations. Therefore, I did almost all of my development for the project physically at the bridge, testing regularly as I worked.
I also faced a lot of my major challenges for this project at this stage. Uploading files and testing on the bridge had a lot of technical difficulties. One testing challenge is that the bridge is very long, so it's hard to get a good perspective and be able to physically see the entire bridge at once. The best perspective was down in the valley outside underneath the bridge. However, the wifi was very shaky anywhere outside and I was not able to connect from this location until the very last week of the class. I had to do most of my testing from inside to get the most stable connection, but it meant that I did not have a full view of what I was testing. I regularly checked in with my instructors about this issue and tried to resolve it, but we were not able to until the final week of the course. Therefore, I just had to make the best of the situation and find the best views from inside that I could.
I quickly began prototyping with different colors and effects on the bridge.
The bridge is capable of displaying 16.7 million possible colors. An important design decision for us was choosing the right colors for each emotion as we would use those colors extensively throughout the show to represent the emotion. One challenge was that colors appear different on the bridge than in Pharos Designer 2. Therefore, it was important to first test different colors on the bridge and be sure to select colors that clearly read as the different emotions on the bridge. It was also important to choose colors that worked well together on the bridge for a cohesive and pleasant aesthetic design. I tested on the bridge and chose appropriate colors for each emotion and relayed the RGB codes to my team for them to use in designing.
Then I started prototyping different effects for Joy. I wanted to focus on just using one color, yellow, for the Joy segment to establish a signature look for Joy. Therefore, the rest of the personality for this segment needed to come from the motion and effects.
This was the first prototype for Joy on Pharos Designer 2:
The vision was that this would be at the beginning of the Joy segment. After introducing all of the emotions and fading to white, yellow would move faster and faster from the center until Joy exploded across the bridge!
This was the first test of this segment on the bridge:
This effect felt too fast and unclear, so I iterated and continued testing on the bridge. After this, I came up with this second test of different effects for Joy:
The goal of this test was to show Joy's personality clearly. This test featured fast, excited motion and joy spreading all around until it filled up the whole bridge.
Our team created a technical proposal for how we planned to develop our show in Pharos Designer 2. We decided to program our show using a combination of two strategies:
Customizing and editing different built in Pharos functions
Individually controlling and custom programming different sections of the bridge
For the built in Pharos functions, I created a list of the specific functions that I wanted to use for the introduction, Joy, and finale segments and how I wanted to customize them to fit my goals and needs. I then presented our technical proposal with initial prototypes my team in front of the entire class and 2 professors.
Proof of Concept
I edited this video together as a proof of concept for our show, showcasing three of the main story points: introduction, Joy, and Sadness. I programmed the Introduction and Joy segments and the Sadness segment was programmed by my teammate.
Proof of concept video with introduction, Joy, and Sadness
Proof of concept video with finale
Combining Files in Pharos Designer 2
After several weeks of development, iteration, and testing, our programming was complete! Our team had divided the show into segments so each person was responsible for programming one emotion. I programmed Joy as well as doing the introduction and finale. We had all been working on our own machines and saving our work into separate files, which meant that to create our final show, I needed to combine all of the files together into one. I also needed to add consistent smooth transitions between each segment.
Combing all of the files together was a big challenge as there was no simple way to merge files. I had to copy every individual effect from each file into one master file. Additionally, I had to recreate any custom light groups that people had used in their files. This was a very time consuming process and took about a day to do. Instead of combining individual files like this, from the beginning, I had also considered us using one single team file and using careful version control. However, this also had its challenges as in this case, only one person would be able to work at a time and we would have to keep very careful track of edits on the files. It also made it less convenient to bridge test just one segment of the show during development as you would have to watch the whole show through every time. By working on different files, we could all work at the same time and test individual segments, making iterating much simpler and quicker. However, the tradeoff was that it took more time to combine everything together. In the end, either way had its pros and cons, but regardless, it came together in the end!
Final show file in Pharos Designer 2
Introduction - Final Design
These are the final videos for the introduction segment that I designed and programmed in Pharos Designer 2.
In the beginning, the audience is introduced to each emotion and we see white light, a combination of all of the colors of light, as all of the emotions come together. We also see the emotions dancing around the bridge together. However, we soon see that something is wrong. There is a glitch with the white light on the bridge and the emotions are not working together as expected.
Final introduction programming in Pharos Designer 2
Joy - Final Design
These are the final videos for the Joy segment that I designed and programmed in Pharos Designer 2. This segment included adjusting some built in effects and also individually programming parts of the bridge!
Here we are introduced to Joy! This segment features bright yellow color and high energy motion across the bridge including joy spreading out across the bridge from the center, jumping up and down across the bridge, running back and forth across the bridge, dancing on the bridge, and sparkling.
Final Joy programming in Pharos Designer 2
Finale - Final Design
These are the final videos for the Finale segment that I designed and programmed in Pharos Designer 2.
In this finale, we see some repeated segment from the introduction, tying the story back together. We see the white light appear again (the combination of all of the colors/emotions), but this time instead of glitching, it stays and the emotions are able to come together successfully. It is only after celebrating each emotion and appreciating the crucial roles that each plays throughout the show that they can all work together as a team. The show concludes with fireworks, bursts of color, and ultimately a strong, stable white light.
Final finale programming in Pharos Designer 2
Our team displayed our show in front of everyone in the class and an audience at our course's final showcase at the end of the semester.
Structure of the final show:
Introduction (my work)
Joy (my work)
Finale (my work)
Joy (photographed by Sierra Young)
Fear (photographed by Sierra Young)
Disgust (photographed by Sierra Young)
Anger (photogaphed by Sierra Young)
Sadness (photographed by Sierra Young)
Our team received the following very positive feedback from our instructors at our final showcase:
The show "took us on an emotional journey"
"I applaud you for the immense amount of programming that you accomplished"
Nice variety of colors, tempos, and climaxing in different parts of the show
Well done complete storyline
It didn't need sound at all. It was a full experience with only visuals
Having the bridge occasionally going dark in the show added nice punctuation
The show has very poetic and classical qualities to it
We also received feedback that our project was a nice show with a good variety of visuals that won't be too distracting to people working nearby! The professors said that it would be a great fit for the normal bridge rotation and our show now plays regularly at night!
I faced many challenges throughout this process:
Our instructors were not very experienced in programming in Pharos Designer 2. Cindy designs shows, but has someone else program them and Garth uses Python to program the bridge not Pharos Designer 2. There also were limited online resources for Pharos Designer 2, so I had to mostly figure everything out on my own and learn by doing.
Recurring technical difficulties connecting to the bridge
Colors and effects would look very different on the bridge than in Pharos Designer 2
Combining 5 people's individual Pharos Designer 2 files into one single show file
Recording videos/taking photos was a big challenge. Colors often would not appear the same in a video or photo as they would in person
This was my first ever project in lighting design and I am very happy with how it turned out! I ended up becoming so passionate about this class that I became the most involved student in the entire class and tested the most on the bridge out of everyone in the class by far. I am very proud of what I was able to accomplish.
I learned many lessons along the way:
Colors and effects look very different on the bridge than they do in Pharos Designer 2. Testing in the physical location as much as possible is very important!
Being flexible with my design! If certain effects were too difficult to achieve or were not measuring up to what I had in my head, I remained flexible and switched designs to something that would be more manageable to create and would still get across the emotions and energy that I wanted!
Using color and light as a valuable new medium for experience design and visual storytelling! The emotion and motion of light are very powerful. I am excited to incorporate these lessons into my future work!
Exploring different aspects of light
intensity, angle, color, motion, rhythm
Temporal: rhythm, tempo, articulation
Spatial: pattern, simulated motion, 3D features, viewpoint
Color: light, dark, color, contrast, blending
Creating a full, cohesive story with smooth transitions between segments using only light and visuals
I learned how to use Pharos Designer 2 including adapting built in features to fit my needs and custom custom programming individual parts of the bridge
Creating a show in a public art venue
Situated in a community
Engaging daily with passers-by
Transforming and reimagining a common space
Supporting community discourse
Interacting with our environment
I gained more experience working with an interdisciplinary team of people from all different years and departments across CMU!