Dancing on Water with SFX
By Len Peralta

When you need to get a big-scale design project done, you ask a guy like Eric Howell.

As a freelance Production Engineer, he is a self-proclaimed go-to guy for projects.  So it comes as no surprise that when he was approached by the developers of the Westgate City Center to help develop something special for the centerpiece of their complex, he felt more than confident that he could get the job done.

Westgate City Center is a 6.5 million square foot cutting-edge venue in Glendale, AZ anchored by the University of Phoenix Stadium that features exclusive shops, theatres, dining as well as business and residential spaces.

Serving as the centerpiece of Westgate City Center is the Westgate Waterdance, Plaza, a $6.5 million intelligent water feature designed by Crystal Fountains as an entertainment feature comparable to the famous fountain at the Bellagio Casino in Las Vegas.


An example of the Westgate Waterdance feature in action.  SFX is the brains of the operation, running everything from video, to the waterjets, down to the timing of each show and event during a given week.

Measuring a formidable 350 feet from end to end, the Waterdance features 80 HD LED boards, a complete sound system and 186 water jets controlled by 24 frequency drive pumps that trigger off an various times during the day and entertain passersby with sound, light and video shows.

To tackle the tremendous amount of control Howell knew the Waterdance had to utilize, he chose SFX to became the brain of the operation.

SFX is the central processor of the Waterdance, explains Howell. Because its a show controller, it allows me to control the ENTEC E-streamer to DMX output.  This in turn also works with the Doremi nugget (for video) and  DSS audio processor. The whole project can be controlled serially through SFX.

Through SFX's scripting features, Howell was able to write a program that allows SFX to handle the daily maintenance of the fountain, from scheduling of shows seven days a week to controlling the volume of the shows during the day.

"I basically created a seven day cue list based on what is happening at any given time at the City Center, explains Howell.   For example, I can tell it to schedule a half-hour ambient from Sunday through Thursday, and also let it know to run the five o clock show on Wednesday at this volume, because of an event happening around the fountain at that time.   I have also programmed the fountain to mute during musical acts that are showcased at the City Center by just creating a simple series of Goto cues.  Normally, Id have to have 20 different controllers to do everything that this one SFX controller is doing.  SFX is running all of it and it makes it very, very simple."


Overall, Howell is extremely pleased with how SFX has performed on this project.  So much so that he has already started implementing SFX and its scripting show control capabilities to run robots used in his personal Robonova project  a two foot tall robot that is controlled by Bluetooth via SFX.

 "I am floored by the things that SFX can do.  I could have gone with some other solutions that would have strained the design and development budget of the project.  But for what SFX costs and what it can do, scripting wise, there is simply no comparison.  Using it only as a Show Controller for plays and shows is a good use, but I feel its potential is underutilized.  SFX can replace some high-end setups and can put design power into the hands of people who normally couldn't afford such setups."

"SFX is a very flexible progam and better yet, its very easy to mirror setups for another client, so less time is wasted on the job", adds Howell.

"I have been really happy to have found Stage Research, says Howell. I am definitely one of their biggest fans."  And it would seem, so are the thousands of visitors to the Westgate City Center.

Eric's freelance company is Stranger Productions based in Goodyear, AZ and can be found online at www.strangerproduction.com.