Making Light at Comics Station

Belgian creative visual design practice, Painting with Light was commissioned to design and install lighting and video at the new 6000 sq metre Comics Station Antwerp indoor theme park, located in the city’s famous central station complex.

The Painting with Light team collaborated closely with Panasonic Belgium on the AV elements and fully specified the lighting elements of the project which involved nearly 1300 fixtures being used to illuminate over 60 attractions. These are spread across four stories and six zoned entertainment areas. Painting with Light also took on the role of projection consultants following Panasonic’s initial study of the building and specification of the hardware which included 22 projectors and 86 LCD screens. This entailed fine-tuning the final positions, choosing the lenses and calculating alignment, beam angles, focuses, throw distances, etc. Painting with Light also commissioned AV specialist Hans Cromheecke to assist with this task.

At the heart of the attraction are Belgium’s best loved comic heroes, characters like Suske en Wiske (Spike and Suzy), Jommeke, The Kiekeboes, the globally acclaimed multi-character Smurfs, bandit-chasing Lucky Luke and a celebrity flourish with Urbanus. This is the first theme park worldwide to be located in a fully functioning international train station, offering a unique collection of art, ideas, fun and interactive experiences for all. Luc Peumans led the Painting with Light team as production lighting designer with Kristof Devriese overseeing the lighting installation and everything related to it as the associate LD.

The many challenges of this project included finding exactly the right lighting ambience to highlight the zones and multiple interactive elements bringing the original drawn characters to life when engaging visitors on a journey of adventure. The busy, high-energy, almost trippy environment fuses the sometimes thinly disguised fantasy worlds with some pithy social, cultural and political observations and comments over the years.

In physical terms, the 22.5-metres of headroom (which also features the world’s tallest indoor slide) in the centre was a major consideration for lighting, as were the multiple projections and the lighting around them. Another challenge was the rigging positions for lighting and projectors which had to be chemically fixed into the walls and ceiling areas. Being a busy international railway station, the rules and regulations, health and safety requirements, etc. were super-tight and the entire design process was meticulously planned, prepared and revised over two years.

Then, once green-lighted, everything had to be delivered, installed, programmed and ready for opening in a timeframe of around 3 months. In developing an overall lighting concept to ensure the already highly stylised personalities of the comic characters Luc, Kristof and the rest of the team drew on their multi-disciplinary experiences of working in theatrical shows, attractions and pop performers, to create a totally unique lighting vibe for Comics Station. “It is a really great example of referencing aesthetic threads and treatments from all these diverse genres of lighting and using them in fresh and imaginative ways” stated Luc, who is extremely pleased with the results.

When it came to choosing hardware, as well as energy-consciousness, long term maintenance and reliability were high on the requirement list as were compact dimensions and the need for lights to be unobtrusive. Gantom is a manufacturer focused on making lighting products geared to the demands of the themed entertainment industry and currently has some of the smallest LED and other fixtures on the market. A selection of these, from between 1 and 4 Watt LEDs in fixed colours to dynamic whites and RGBWs are being used for highlighting the numerous attractions and different zones.

The lighting setup included units from the standard Gantom range as well as their Precision and Storm ranges. Painting with Light is also the exclusive Belgian distributor for this specialist brand, so the service and support package is an integral part of the lighting supply. Around 10 different types of Gantoms are rigged throughout Comics Station, including floods, spots, pin-spots, gobo-projectors and ellipsoidals. For the atrium space and some of the larger areas, bigger and more powerful fixtures were needed, so different Chauvet LED PARs were selected together with their Rogue R1 Spot and Wash LED moving heads plus Chauvet’s Maverick spot and wash moving lights.

Painting with Light has had good experiences using Chauvet products for other attractions like the Heidi Rollercoaster at Plopsaland de Panne and so they were a logical choice. This project saw some great teamwork with the Chauvet distribution centre in Ghent, so deliveries were co-ordinated quickly and efficiently. “Chauvet has a wide range of fixtures, the ability to respond fast and be flexible,” commented Kristof adding that he worked closely with Steve Batsle from Chauvet Belgium. All the lighting is run via seven networked Pharos LPC1 controllers, programmed by Steve Debusschere which are linked to a wider building/attractions control system. 

It was the first time Kristof used a lot of these fixtures, so a demo set-up was running throughout the specification period. This meant fixtures and their effects could be rigorously checked as well as on-site testing completed in conjunction with Dieter Venderickx, commissioned by Painting with Light as their overall technical installation manager for the Comics Station project. Cabling was another challenge, everything had to be neat, yet, ultimately traceable and secured in the ceilings where in most cases it is painted to blend in with the walls. The actual installation period on site for lighting was 10 weeks with Kristof and Painting with Light co-ordinating between 4 and 8 crew to execute this portion of the work.

Luc sums up, “It was great to be part of the Comics Station design team, led by Wim Hubrechtsen and we are all very proud of the results. This installation really energised the team and is an excellent example of Painting with Light working as a multi-disciplinary, integrated Design & Build partner for leisure and entertainment lighting and video installations”.

Painting with Light brings almost 20 years of experience, creativity, imaginative flair and style in lighting, video and visual design elements to the table.