Westfield San Francisco Centre puts on a really big light show

| August 21, 2012
Slice of history: ”Corazon Under the Dome” uses technology to weave a web of sound and images across the Westfield Centre dome, which is more than 100 years old. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Slice of history: ”Corazon Under the Dome” uses technology to weave a web of sound and images across the Westfield Centre dome, which is more than 100 years old.

Every half-hour this summer, Westfield San Francisco Centre’s landmark dome comes alive with “Corazon Under the Dome,” a free light spectacle saluting The City, created by Obscura Digital.

San Francisco-based Obscura, which has wrapped buildings with fluid blends of sound and image, bathes the elegant three-story space in a seamless blend of era-spanning imagery and music. The Gold Rush, turn-of-the-19th century, Beatnik, psychedelic and disco eras — and the present — are represented in the seven-minute show.

Results are always thrilling, says Marc Melzer, Obscura’s art department director. “It always surprises me. On computers, the images we work with are 6 inches across, so I always forget how big and impressive the show is. It’s really exciting — seeing the work at scale is amazing.”

Work on the spectacle began, Melzer says, with Obscura’s technical director in a high-lift, filming the inside surface of the dome — which is about three times the size of an IMAX screen and has some 800 crown and lunette windows — with a 3-D scanning camera.

“There were challenges,” he adds. “The dome was built in 1908 [to replace the original destroyed in the 1906 earthquake] and has very complex architecture.”

Scanning created an accurate model, giving designers “complete control” to create templates, highlight features and make them pulse or fade. Resolution is more than four times that of high-resolution TV.

“The original concept ... was to make something entertaining, and visually engaging, something that would show what we love about San Francisco,” Melzer says, “as well as give a flavor of its musical history, and the great musicians.”

The soundtrack features classic tunes by Tony Bennett, Otis Redding, Judy Garland, Journey and Steve Miller, including, respectively, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” “(Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay,” “San Francisco,” “Lights,” and “Fly Like an Eagle.”                

“Corazon,” which uses nine projectors, was created by seven staff artists and musicians working for 12 weeks. The Westfield team includes Travis Threlkel, founder and CEO, who developed surround projection systems; Tim Digulla and Ben Stokes, art and music directors; producer Alex Oropeza; and Grady Sain, technical director.

The 500,000-pound dome was hoisted 168 feet above Market and Mission streets as part of the shopping center’s renewal in 2006.

“Obscura was one of the first companies to do building projections on a large scale,” Melzer says, “and we’ve developed the technology in-house.”  Since 2001, Obscura has wrapped notable buildings such as New York’s Guggenheim Museum, the Sydney Opera House, and the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. It also created a projection of a one-ton cube of carbon dioxide in Copenhagen, and covered the outside of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi with projections of the art works inside the building.

Obscura’s next local treat, a holiday show — “Illuminique under the Dome” — is scheduled to launch Nov. 15.

IF YOU GO

Corazon Under the Dome

Where: Level Four, Under the Dome, Westfield San Francisco Centre, 865 Market St., S.F.

When: Every half-hour, beginning at 5 p.m. daily; run ends Sept. 3

Admission: Free

Contact: (415) 495-5656, www.westfield.com/sanfrancisco

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