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Installation Profile: Shedding Light on Franklin

Mar 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Trevor Boyer

Sophisticated networked systems illuminate museum's rotunda.


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The classical and ornate look of the marble rotunda in the Franklin Institute Science Museum can be deceiving. After undergoing a complete AV overhaul, the rotunda now boasts its own networked AV systems for lighting, audio, and video that are almost completely invisible. With the new function married to its classic form, the rotunda is now a popular place for private events such as weddings and parties.

The classical and ornate look of the marble rotunda in the Franklin Institute Science Museum can be deceiving. After undergoing a complete AV overhaul, the rotunda now boasts its own networked AV systems for lighting, audio, and video that are almost completely invisible. With the new function married to its classic form, the rotunda is now a popular place for private events such as weddings and parties.

Michael Mountjoy is the computer specialist for the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia, and he's also an amateur climber. His skills with carabiners have come in handy in his professional life when he's serviced lights while perched high up in the Franklin Institute's rotunda — a marble-and-stone temple with a 20ft. statue of Benjamin Franklin that sits below the 82ft. domed ceiling. Founded in 1938 in honor of the famed scientist, inventor, and Founding Father, the Franklin Institute is a private science museum that hosts attractions such as an IMAX theater and artifacts from the Wright brothers' workshop. The rotunda serves as both the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial and the visitors' welcome area to the museum.

Before late last year, Mountjoy was on his own with regard to safety. While tiptoeing around the 40ft.-high marble ledge that rings the room above its Corinthian columns, he used a self-supplied safety rig. Recently, however, the rotunda was completely renovated; there's now a steel cable that rings the room, providing an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)-certified anchor for a safety harness.

A 32-input/32-output Medialon system serves as the control backbone for the AV devices installed in the rotunda. During scheduled intervals, the Dataton Watchout software triggers the system to start a video about the museum’s exhibits. LED lights awaken, shades are drawn, and the software stops cycling static Ben Franklin quotes and starts the video.

A 32-input/32-output Medialon system serves as the control backbone for the AV devices installed in the rotunda. During scheduled intervals, the Dataton Watchout software triggers the system to start a video about the museum’s exhibits. LED lights awaken, shades are drawn, and the software stops cycling static Ben Franklin quotes and starts the video.

Increased safety is only one new aspect, and it's perhaps the one that museum-goers notice least. Much more obvious is that every surface has undergone a thorough cleaning, and the room has receieved a complete overhaul of its audio, video, and lighting systems. David Rome of RomeAntics Productions (New York) served as the project's AV system designer. He brought in McCann Systems of Edison, N.J., to integrate the rotunda's video and control systems.

The room's old lighting was horrible, according to Mountjoy. “It was six point-source lights bolted to a homemade support system,” he says. For every special event in the rotunda, Mountjoy had to spend several hours on the process of renting lights because the existing lights did not illuminate the room properly. Video in the rotunda in those days was nonexistent.

Now, when visitors enter the rotunda, they're greeted with an integrated video and light show about Benjamin Franklin that previews some of the museum's exhibitions. When a bolt of lightning strikes the key that's attached to the inventor's famous kite, for instance, lights with gobos flash to emulate the natural phenomenon. GToo Media in Bethesda, Md., produced the approximately 3-minute show. The company also came up with the idea to project Benjamin Franklin quotes at times when the show isn't running.



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