World Ice Art bring lights down to Earth

Posted: Tuesday, March 19, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Jill Mulholland can't stop raving about the lights in Fairbanks -- but unlike most winter visitors, she's not referring to the dancing green ones overhead.

Mulholland, a teacher of lighting design at Texas A&M University, has spent the last two weeks working with the crew that illuminates the sculptures at the World Ice Art Championships.

''I came up to see the northern lights and I thought they were beautiful,'' said Mulholland, standing in front of the row of multi-block sculptures at the Championships. ''But I thought this color and light was just the most beautiful thing I'd seen in many years.''

It is through the hard work of Mulholland and the rest of the five-person volunteer lighting crew that the sculptures in the park are transformed from flat whites into an array of greens, blues and crimsons. The effect is achieved by placing special theatrical film over the lights. ''We have all the shades -- it's a sizable amount of different colors,'' said lighting crew member Cliff Mobley.

Mobley estimated that there are about 600 colors used, though even that number doesn't quite capture the complexity of the lighting process. ''If you look real close, you'll see where we've taken the film, and we've cut and taped it together to get three or four different colors out of one light,'' he said.

The lighting schemes vary widely by sculpture. Some are left entirely white at the request of the sculptor. ''A lot of people actually believe that the sculptures look better under white light,'' noted Ice Alaska publicist Mimi Chapin, who likened it to preferring a black-and-white photo over a color one.

Other pieces are done in a single color, while still others are given the full-spectrum treatment by the crew. ''We just have to kind of use our own judgment,'' Mobley said. ''We try to stick to whatever the actual color is.''

Mobley was working on lighting ''King of the Jungle,'' a grandiose piece depicting a warrior figure slaying a lion. The base was colored green to represent grass, the lion was lighted an orange shade and the human figure was a lush red.

Mobley admitted the reasoning behind the latter color was less than scientific. ''I figure the red will probably make him stand out more than any other color,'' he shrugged. ''Plus, he's in battle, he could be covered in blood.''

Mobley's dual reasoning is an interesting reflection of the nature of the light crew. On the one hand, their work can be very blue-collar and demanding. By the numbers, the team has to light a total of 70 or 80 pieces, including the gargantuan sculptures in the children's park. They unfurled about four miles of cable this year and put around 500 high-wattage halogen lamps in place, each in its own safety box. Mobley said the electric bill for the park runs about $15,000 for the month of March.

The crew's job is a big one, and they don't always have all that much time to do it. While the sculpting teams have six days to complete the sculptures, the crew had to try and get all 12 lighted in time for the official lighting ceremony Sunday night, less than 24 hours after the competition ended.

The sculptors work under white work lights, all of which are removed by the crew and replaced with the halogen lamps, which are then turned into colored lights through the use of the filters.

As frenetic as the work might be, there's also an artistic aspect to the endeavor, which is clearly what hooked Mulholland. She compared working with the ice to dealing with diamonds and gems.

''It's pretty intricate and pretty complicated, and there's nothing like that,'' she said. ''This is like jewelry or cut crystal, but on the biggest scale ever.''

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Distributed by The Associated Press.

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