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FRA: Airstar Provides After Dark Centrepiece for Festive Winter Experience

The award-winning, opulent grounds of 18th-century villa, Chiswick House, served as the canvas for an illuminating display where classical architecture met modern technology, care of renowned lighting designer, Nick Gray from Renegade Design. Several art installations by up-and-coming artist Finn Thomson also featured at the event, which was launched on Thursday 15th November, running from Thursday to Sunday until 30th December.

After Dark is billed as a festive extravaganza like no other – which means there are no reindeers, fake snow or Santa Clauses in sight. Instead the event organisers have opted for vibrant state-of-the-art light displays that offer a sleek, modern and classy experience – as well as providing stunning picture content for snap-happy social media fans – in a breath-taking historical setting with delicious food and drink aplenty.

One of the main attractions at After Dark was a 6m inflatable luminous moon, which was suspended outdoors between the trees and provided the ideal spot for photos and feasting.

Producer / founder of After Dark, Sophie Lemm, began the story: “We decided to pitch for the project after finding out about it through our freelance work for Jennifer Davidson, who owns Sleek Events. The brief was broad and included objectives such as bringing visitors to the gardens in the winter months in order to highlight their beauty and to avoid building too many things that don’t look good during the day. We set out to do something that hasn’t been done before, but we couldn’t have predicted that Serge from Kasabian would create original music for us to use on the house or that we would get to work with other great artists such as Finn Thomson.”

She continued: “From the beginning we wanted to work with Starlight Design. With their experience and prestigious client base we knew we could rely on them to light the grounds. We also have a long-standing relationship with Renegade Design and have worked with Nick Gray on many fashion shows and live experiential events. Sumee Holloway, After Dark founder, and our own lighting expert oversaw the whole process.

“We did our research and spoke with a few different companies before settling on Airstar, who we felt understood our idea very well, and engaged with us from the start in finding solutions for rigging and flying the moon. The service throughout has been constant and unwavering.”

Once After Dark had approached Airstar about the specific brief for the moon – which included the balloon being as seamless as possible – it was then down to their experienced team to fabricate a number of prototypes in order to ascertain which combination of materials, light sources and rigging would work best.

Luke Baudouin, UK events lighting manager for Airstar, commented: “We made some small prototypes in nylon and PVC to see how pronounced the seams would be in different materials. The PVC solution was chosen in the end, as it brought a great glossy finish and the seams were much less obvious. It’s the first time we’ve really worked with PVC material, particularly on a large outdoor project like this.”

He continued: “Once we were happy with the material, we had to run tests using the internal lights. The initial setup of a warm white LED cluster of seven lamps was good, but cold white seemed to have a nicer effect. We also added a dimmer to control the intensity – it only runs at about 10-15% to maintain a level of subtlety, and we’ve employed external lights to hide the seams even further.”

The Airstar Pendulair balloon was fitted with a total of 24x 12W, 4,000 kelvin LED lamps, which were as close to cold white as possible in a dimmable lamp. The LEDs could be switched off during the day to save energy, though the lights and onboard fan were constantly powered and the balloon had an external pressure release valve. All of the exposed hardware was treated with a waterproof solution, so the rain couldn’t interfere.

Lemm went on to explain some of the potential challenges: “Having the moon suspended from trees means that we had to enlist arborists for the installation. The unpredictable nature of installing something like this in trees as opposed to truss meant that we had to undertake further structural calculations. We have had to lower and raise the balloon several times and had a backup moon made from nylon. Even so, we have tried to keep going for as long as possible with the PVC moon as the finish is flawless on a still evening.”

Baudouin gave further detail: “Although the balloon is designed to European standards, the time of year invariably means more chance of storms and bad weather in general. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there were high winds following the opening weekend resulting in a puncture caused by a tree, so we immediately took actions so it could better withstand such threats.

“On the current layout, there are 32 hanging points in total. If you think of the balloon as a globe, we have 16 points on the ‘north pole’ alone, which all come together to form the central rope. There’s also a number of points along the ‘equator’ and three more further down that are attached to the adjacent trees in order to minimise movement in high winds.”

Despite the challenges, the client was extremely happy with the end result. “The Airstar moon has turned out to be one of our most popular installations,” Lemm enthused. “It’s beautifully lit and visitors can get up close and personal with it as well. HaHa Pop have a candy floss and popcorn stand there which has been very popular. On busier nights we also put a mulled wine stand in there and people sit and watch the moon. It’s great to see people enjoyed it so much.”

Baudouin was equally as pleased: “We’ve had great feedback on the balloon from the client as well as from visitors to Chiswick House – the moon itself has enjoyed a great amount of visibility on Instagram in particular. By maintaining a regular dialogue with the client, we were able to help and train them to be self-sufficient. The project has also allowed us to go outside of what we usually do. It has given us a bigger portfolio of shapes, material and rigging innovations, and as a result, an offering that is even more comprehensive.”

Lemm concluded: “I think this has been far from a run of the mill job for all of us. For the amount of time, and the British weather, I think the balloon was the most challenging and rewarding element of our event. The visitors loved the moon and it was one of our most popular attractions. It looked magical day and night, close up and from a distance in the woods.”

Photo credits: James Wicks