Georgia Aquarium in downtown Atlanta has installed 40 Ayrton Domino-S IP65-rated profile LED fixtures, ten Ayrton Bora-S beam/wash lights and grandMA3 lighting control in Phase 1 of the revamp of the dolphin venue created a dozen years ago. The equipment was obtained from and installed by Barbizon Lighting, Atlanta; both brands are exclusively distributed in North America by ACT Entertainment.
Georgia Aquarium exhibits hundreds of species and thousands of animals across eight major galleries featuring more than 12 million gallons of water. The new, 15-minute version of the dolphin presentation, “Dolphins in Depth” showcases the beauty, athleticism and intelligence of these amazing creatures.
When Russell Sorrow, Production Supervisor of Technical Systems, joined the aquarium he began researching new fixtures for the dolphin venue, which, while indoors, was a harsh environment with saltwater effects, a full rain curtain and automated fountains.
“We knew we wanted to go in the direction of LEDs and IP65 or higher ratings,” says Sorrow. “We needed a lot of output, a high CRI index, at least as many lumens as we had, shapers in the fixtures and rotating gobo wheels. You don’t often find everything you want in one fixture: It’s always a tradeoff.”
He talked to colleagues in the industry and discovered that Ayrton Dominos “were one of the few fixtures that checked all the boxes.” ACT Entertainment arranged a demo which confirmed for Sorrow that the Dominos’ “capabilities and light output were phenomenal. I wanted to go to a single-fixture rig instead of mixing spots and washes; I wanted the versatility to do both, create effects and have options for future shows.” So Dominos were mounted on the Dolphin Theater’s catwalk, which spans the house and the pool, and two ladder positions.
“Domino is one of the brightest IP-rated fixtures on the market, a great choice for this application,” notes Josh Fisher, Systems Integrator for Barbizon Lighting. Barbizon has a long history with Georgia Aquarium; they handled the Aquarium’s atrium renovation, supplied gear for the Gator and penguins exhibit, integrated management of house architectural systems, and provide continuous service and support. Fisher worked closely with Sorrow to ensure that the new dolphin venue fixtures met the rigorous health and safety standards of Georgia Aquarium.
“This was a fun and exciting project,” says Fisher. “It was a challenge working over the pool for the install. Although the dolphins were in their back pools while we worked, we couldn’t drop anything in the pool, or it would have to be skimmed.” Due to inclement weather, the crew couldn’t make it to the site the first day of installation. In an all hands on deck approach, Fisher and Project Manager Jonathan White took down the old fixtures to prevent losing time on a tight turnaround between the old and new shows.
Sorrow also selected Boras for three bunker positions beneath the water level of the pool where they shine into the pool and create beams and effects. “It’s a very protected area, so we didn’t need IP-rated fixtures there,” he explains.
He points out that the look of “Dolphins in Depth” has changed in the post-COVID era to accommodate a reduced technical and training staff while maintaining a distinct narrative style, not limiting creativity and offering expanded capabilities to grow and change the show in future.
“We’re extremely happy with all the functionality of the Ayrton fixtures, and their light output is phenomenal,” says Sorrow.
To control the new fixtures he chose a full-size grandMA3 console, MA3 replay unit, MA3 processing unit XL and MA Network Switch. The venue previously had grandMA1 full size and MA1 Light desks and decided to leapfrog to version 3.
“By the time we moved forward with the retrofit we didn’t want to put in a grandMA2 then have to upgrade again, so we jumped ahead to the MA3 units running MA3 software, which has been solid in playback mode,” Sorrow reports. “About six people run the show in rotation.”
He explains that, “one of the reasons we opted for MA3 was full system integration: We needed to replace the nodes up in the air and the network switches, and the MA3 architecture ties everything together. Being able to monitor everything from the desk, without walking into the catwalks, was a big part of the decision.”
Sorrow also cites the console’s “fantastic layout and touchscreens and how much desk space we gain with the new clamshell shape. I just wish I got to spend more time on it!”
Barbizon’s Fisher credits the Aquarium with keeping “an eye to the future” with the acquisition of the MA3 XL and Network Switch. “It puts them in a good position to manage a lot more data when they install LED static fixtures later on.” Service Technicians Brad Thompson and Phillip Krizay helped with the MA3 install.
Phase 2 of the dolphin venue refresh will include additional grandMA gear as well as followspots from Robert Juliat, another ACT Entertainment product line.
“Barbizon was fantastic throughout the project,” notes Sorrow. “For us, animal safety comes first with personnel safety a close second. Barbizon was very careful and very good at self-policing its crew for the install. And ACT is always fantastic to deal with and very responsive to any questions.”