Why the Hollywood sign was lit up for first time in 22 years

For years, Philippe Bergeron and Jeff Kleiser have dreamed of lighting the Hollywood sign.

The sign has lived in Kleiser’s backyard since 1987, when he bought a stunning A-frame on Mulholland Drive – the closest house to the LA landmark. Bergeron and Kleiser had been good friends and prominent computer animators since the 1980s. They spent many nights partying at that very A-frame, looking at the white letters above them and wondering what it would take to make them glow.

“There were a couple of times I thought I could do it,” said Kleiser, who runs a recording studio called Under the Sign Studios out of his Hollywood home. “I thought I could convince the Academy Museum, which opened last fall, to do something on the sign to celebrate its opening. But I couldn’t interest her.”

However, thirteen years later, the two got their wish when their wish coincided with the needs of cable TV network BET.

Paramount and BET (Black Entertainment Television) approached the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which owns the licensing rights to the sign, to project images onto the sign ahead of Sunday’s BET Awards. Paramount Global, which owns BET, had partnered with the chamber to celebrate the mark’s 100th anniversary in 2023, but wanted to do something in advance to promote one of their flagship awards shows.

Separately, Kleiser had called his old classmate Jim Griffin, who was consulting with the chamber on anniversary plans, about how his home could be used to host the after-dark light show.

Griffin told Kleiser that the BET Awards were interested, and Kleiser reached out to Bergeron, who had founded PaintScaping, a Los Angeles-based 3D projection video mapping agency, to do just such jobs. The three got together and immediately got to work.

“As we discussed all the great ideas we could do in relation to 100 Years of Hollywood ahead of the formal partnership, and with the planning of this year’s BET Awards, I felt like this would be a great opportunity to partner with the Chamber.” to activate the Hollywood sign,” Kim Paige, BET’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer, told The Times. “There was a lot of excitement and interest; We’re doing something that’s never been done before.”

The sign has been illuminated a number of times in the past, most recently in 2000 for the millennium celebrations. (Kleiser was in New York with his family watching the New Year’s fireworks, so he couldn’t see it.) However, Friday marked the first time images had ever been projected onto the sign, transforming it from a static Hollywood icon to a dynamic one Representation of black excellence.

The sign lit up with footage from previous BET Awards, featuring performances by the likes of Tyler, the Creator and Lizzo. American flags and the phrase “Culture’s Biggest Night” – the awards ceremony’s slogan – also flashed across the sign.

“When you’re doing something like this for the first time, you’re always trying to figure out what’s really feasible to make sure we’re working with excellence,” Paige said. “Thankfully the technology has advanced significantly as this is the first time the sign will be illuminated in 22 years.”

The team had less than two weeks to pull it off, a far cry from the two months it would normally take for a lift this big, according to Bergeron. But Bergeron was born ready for this job.

“We started the logistics well before then, in case we get the call,” he said. “We knew what projectors to bring, what lenses… it’s very specific, high-end gear that we need for that. So we were basically already there to hit send.”

Atop Kleiser’s home and about 1,100 feet from the Hollywood sign are six projectors — one at the letters “HOL,” one at “LYW,” and a third at “OOD” (along with a spare projector for each section to provide extra brightness and insurance in case one fails.)

Of course, these aren’t ordinary projectors – they’re Barco UDX lasers rated at 40,000 lumens, powered by a 56,000-watt generator stationed in the side courtyard of Kleiser’s home. (By comparison, a highly rated home theater projector that sells for $4,999 has less than 3,000 lumens.)

“No projector in the world could project onto the sign as a whole,” he said. “The technology doesn’t exist yet. But the technology exists for three letters.”

The lenses, however, were harder to find than the projectors. The project required extremely narrow lenses that could focus the light into a laser beam.

“We had to book them well in advance and hope for the best,” he said.

Once the gear was secured, the next step was figuring out how to craft the images to hit the sign instead of the hole in the “O” or the gaps in the “W”. For the PaintScaping crew it was simple: a deluge of photos from all angles, meshed together to create a 3D model of both the sign and the house.

“They take a photo from the projector’s POV. And then you take about 50 different photos that you put into software to create a 3D model,” he said. “But it also creates a 3D camera in the software. So the sign and the house have the same relationship as the virtual sign in the 3D software and the 3D camera. You give that to the artists and it automatically gets aligned.”

The files were then turned over to BET, who commissioned their artists to represent decades of Black Hollywood while incorporating some of the biggest moments from previous BET awards ceremonies. Paige didn’t want to treat the Hollywood sign like a billboard. She wanted a visual campaign that celebrates Black joy and achievement—in keeping with the awards’ mission.

“The intent was not just to capitalize on this iconic Los Angeles landmark, but to showcase all that is amazing and positive when we think about black culture,” she said. “It’s a very dynamic experience. We do not adopt the sign, we activate the sign.”

To film the activation, BET and PaintScaping called in the drones. Two teams of drones buzzed around the sign on Friday night, and Bergeron shouted instructions from Kleiser’s home headquarters. A third team was stationed on the ground to have a down to earth angle that allows for options when stitching it together for the final product.

“I want the drone team to run through one of the O’s,” Bergeron said with a crooked smile.

Footage will not be shown in its entirety at Sunday’s BET Awards, but portions will be incorporated into the rest of the production. Angelenos has plenty of time to see it in person – the light show will run for another three hours on Saturday night. However, for those who can’t see it, BET plans to release videos of the installation along with behind-the-scenes footage showing how it came together.

Of course, observant local residents — and Halsey fans who flocked to the Hollywood Bowl earlier this week for her concert — got an unintended preview Tuesday night as the team tested the projectors to make sure everything was running smoothly.

Bergeron is used to testing its displays in a much more discreet manner, with the only publicity coming from a few curious passers-by asking what’s going on. However, this time it was seen by much of the internet after it went viral on TikTok and was posted by several people on Twitter.

“There were many theories,” he said of the reaction. “We were celebrating the summer solstice, it was a sign from God, it was preparation for a permanent installation, Halsey, Pride… whatever. We have identified about five causes that night.”

“We wish it were,” Paige said, laughing when asked if the decision to test so visibly was intentional. “No, it was really an attempt to assess the technical grid. And there was a lot of excitement when we realized we could actually do it.”

For BET, the task was to get bigger and better. Last year, the BET Awards hit a record low of 2.4 million viewers (up from a total of 3.7 million in 2020), despite being simulcast on BET, MTV, MTV2 and VH1, among others.

Of course, this brand isn’t specific to BET, as viewership for awards shows like the Grammys and the Oscars have seen a downward trend in recent years.

“We don’t expect them to tune in every year,” Paige said. “We’re thinking about how we can invite them to be a part of this meaningful evening, whether it’s local viewing parties or sharing insights, as we always want to capture the great moments of surprise and joy that we are known for. ”

For Bergeron, however, it’s simply a full-circle moment that he’s been waiting for since founding his company in 2009.

He’s had larger projects (see the Display PaintScaping created for Britney Spears’ Las Vegas residence in 2018, which was 550 feet wide by 26 stories high and encompassed 3.2 acres of light). He’s had tougher ones too (like the time they projected onto a rocket at Cape Canaveral and hit the rocket and the building that contained it with separate projections).

As fulfilling as these were, it’s hard to compete with the appeal of these nine, 99-year-old letters on the hills.

“It’s not our biggest and it’s not our most challenging [project] technically,” he said. “But the mix of excitement and visibility is number one by far. There is no comparison. I mean come on It’s the Hollywood sign.”

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2022-06-25/what-does-it-take-to-light-the-hollywood-sign-bet-awards Why the Hollywood sign was lit up for first time in 22 years

Sarah Ridley

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