Ringing in a Grand new tradition

December 12, 2013 

Like the tranformation of this Dallas building, a spectular "3D digital mapping" show is planned for City Hall.

From the first, it was part of the civic vision—a big, free, central place where Los Angeles would, for once, come together in public on New Year’s Eve.

Even while it was on the drawing boards, Grand Park was being touted as a rival to the big, cold-city countdowns that have always seemed to have the market cornered on December 31st at midnight. At meetings, civic leader Eli Broad talked excitedly about the notion, envisioning televised images of a 12-acre party between The Music Center Plaza and L.A. City Hall.

Now, at last, Grand Park will step up with its first New Year’s Eve celebration, an event that, at least for now, may not draw the hundreds of thousands annually estimated at Times Square, but that is expected to set its own kinds of records with a dazzling technological display that will be the largest of its kind ever attempted on the West Coast.

Of course, there’ll be live music, dancing, food trucks and a cash bar. But the highlight is expected to be a colossal presentation of so-called “3D digital mapping”—a high-tech urban art form that will make L.A.’s iconic City Hall do some things that it may have to blame on the champagne in the morning.

“I don’t think anyone in L.A. has done anything on this scale,” says Jonathan Keith, creative director at Idea Giants, the local consortium of 3D special effects artists who created the extravaganza.    

The technology, which employs projectors and sophisticated 3D models to make art out of ordinary landscapes, has been used to turn skyscrapers into everything from ancient ruins to giant dancing monkeys. Windows can seem to extrude, walls can seem to fall away, and—in one stunt hinted at by the creators of the New Year’s Eve show—whole landmarks can seem to disappear and be replaced by Grand Park’s renovated jewel, the Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain. (Click here for a sample of what digital mappers can do to an unsuspecting building.)

Keith says his team will use a 20-foot stack of five 40,000-lumen projectors weighing about 500 pounds each—state-of-the art equipment. “I believe we have every 40K projector in California for this event,” Keith says. “We needed some major fire power with a structure the size of City Hall.”

Park programmers are striving to create a family-oriented New Year's Eve party.

The party is the most ambitious undertaking yet for park programmers, who have built audiences for the new downtown destination through a number of high profile events. The biggest was on the Fourth of July, when some 10,000 revelers flocked to Grand Park’s lawns to watch fireworks, but thousands also have gathered for events ranging from a live screening of the 2012 Presidential Elections, Mayor Eric Garcetti’s swearing-in celebration, an assortment of outdoor concerts and CicLAvia. 

To that end, Julia Diamond, the park’s director of programming, says organizers have tried to err on the side of caution in planning the New Year’s Eve celebration. Although they’re planning for a repeat of the Independence Day attendance, they also avoided bringing too much celebrity wattage to the entertainment lineup, lest a too-massive turnout spoil the park’s vibe.

“I think especially in this early period, the event isn’t about a person or a band, especially on New Year’s Eve,” says Diamond. “Maybe down the road we’ll go with a big national name, but right now, this space isn’t a 100,000-person venue or even a 30,000-person venue.

“We don’t want to re-create the kind of experience you have at Times Square, where you’re smashed into a packed concrete space where you can’t sit down and can’t move and can’t eat. And the bigger names you have, the more you get of those logistical issues. We want people to come in, find a bench, spread out and enjoy themselves with their families.”

A key question, of course, is: What will the countdown look like? Organizers have been close-lipped about the details, but they will confirm that they don’t want their clock to strike midnight the way Times Square’s does either, although there will be a live feed of the ball dropping for early birds at 9 p.m.

“We can represent the passing of time in ways that are much more creative and dynamic and sleek now,” Diamond says. “The ball dropping is great and iconic, but it’s really analog.”

Beyond that, Diamond says, there will mostly be brightness and action. Images of revelers and their hopes for the New Year will be projected on the Hall of Records, as will names of the various communities of Los Angeles County.

“The first thing people will notice is a sort of neon takeover of the park,” she says. “You’ll be surrounded by lights and color and New Year’s Eve.”

The party will also showcase art installations symbolic of the city by Michael Murphy, Geoff McFetridge and Charles Baker, and dancing by the hip-hop Versa-Style Dance Company.

Dublab, an L.A. nonprofit web radio collective, will provide music, and Fool’s Gold, a Los Angeles Afropop collective, will headline and ring in 2014 with their rendition of “Auld Lang Syne.”

In short, she says, midnight on December 31 promises to be a lot like L.A.—light-hearted, cutting-edge, and—at least lately—a little more interested in community.

“This hasn’t been a place where New Year’s Eve is celebrated collectively, but I think people are more interested in coming together,” says Diamond. “What we’re building is a new tradition for L.A.”

Grand Park's 4th of July bash drew its biggest crowd yet, some 10,000 revelers.

Posted 12/12/13

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