Justin Metras Creates Northern Light Sky At Portland Festival

PORTLAND, OR – Officially, the theme of this year’s Portland Winter Light Festival was “Between the River and the Stars.” In reality, though, it could also have been described as “connecting people to light.” Held at the beginning of February on Portland’s beautiful Willamette River waterfront, the free four-day festival engaged visitors with an abundance of immersive lighting displays and interactive events like “Illuminate Bike Rides” and a “Glow Jam” circus show.

Among the festival’s most engaging attractions was Harmony Park, an interactive exhibit created by Justin Metras, the founder of Portland-based Ellumiglow. Setting an appropriately immersive backdrop for this one-of-a-kind participatory exhibit was a celestial display created with six ILUMINARC Colorist Line 6Qa fixtures.

Metras used the RGBA linear fixtures to create a starry night sky, which he set against a fantastical Harmony Park “river” that immersed visitors in a multi-sensory experience. At the heart of this river were custom designed LED lily pads that emitted light and sound signatures when pressure was applied to them.

Visitors to the exhibit encountered these pads “floating” on faux water. When they jumped from pad to pad, they sent vividly illuminated ripples running through the water-like surface below them. Along with these ripples came a sound signature. Since the pads were connected to a central controller that varied the sound signatures based on the amount of weight applied, different people created their own unique sounds as they hopped across the exhibit. These auditory signatures were mixed with real time soundtracks, which combined with the rippling light to provide a magical interactive experience.

The nighttime sky created with the Colorist Line 6Qa fixtures harmonized seamlessly with Metras’ river. Arranged behind the LED pods, the RGBA linear fixtures were programmed to create a twinkling Northern Lights effect to complete the immersive experience.

“Given that the theme of the Portland Winter Light Festival is ‘Between the River and the Stars,’ we wanted to have an astral theme,” said Metras. “The most engaging way to do this was to create the feeling of the Northern Lights. Our ILUMINARC Colorist fixtures worked perfectly for this theme because they are IP rated, individually addressable and throw a lot of light. We wanted starry light to dance off the backdrop. The Colorist did this with no problem, which is something we couldn’t say about other fixtures we considered.”

For Metras, Harmony Park represented the fulfillment of a long-held vision. “This is a project that's been stuck in my head ever since I started Ellumiglow in 2010,” he said. “I felt this could showcase our special skillset in the lighting industry. We focus on interactive lighting exhibits, so the Portland Winter Light Festival was a perfect opportunity to show the community what we're all about.

“We are very pleased with how this turned out, but of course like any project of this nature, there were some challenges along the way,” continued Metras. “I could not have done this without my team: project manager Jared Lichtenberg, creative director Ayla Leisure, software designer Matt Waddell and hardware designer Antoine Serageldin.”

Among the challenges that the Ellumiglow team faced was the task of engineering pods that were rugged enough for some 60,000 people to stand on while still being pressure sensitive. Syncing the music and light signatures was a software challenge, and keeping everything dry and serviceable required diligent effort. “The only no-brainer in this project was the decision to use the ILUMINARC fixtures,” said Metras. “They were ideal.”

In addition to the Colorist Line 6Qa, Metras used six Colorist Pod 7Qa fixtures to frame a colorful stanchion wall at the entrance to the exhibit. With their vivid colors and bright output (880 lux at 5 meters), the pod fixtures conveyed the promise to visitors that they were about to enjoy a memorable experience. Once they entered the exhibit, they were not disappointed.