[VIDEO] TORONTO’S CN TOWER NIGHTTIME LIGHTSHOW ACTUALLY A SLIDESHOW–urban planner ‘porn’

CN Tower beams a subliminal slide show

written by Jayme Poisson

Tuesday August 28, 2012

A word to the curious: Once you read this, you’ll probably find yourself squinting in the dark at the CN Tower’s elevator shaft, searching for lit-up Mounties.

A local visual effects compositor has pieced back together slivers of images beamed from the tower’s flashing hourly light show and put the results on YouTube. It turns out that among the pictures subliminally emitted through the 252 LED lights lining the elevator’s shaft is a group of Mounties and their horses, a trillium and a bed of flowers.

The way CN Tower operations manager Tom Mellon explains it, each image is panned through the lighting in sequence from right to left, over about 10 seconds’ time. But viewers only see a two-pixel width of the image at a time. What is visible of the picture appears in slits, much like old-time animations that feature an image running behind a narrow opening. Compositor Avi Salem envisions the effect much like film slowly pulled from a canister. The result: flickering lights that look little like their source.

“This is the first man to see it,” Mellon said of the reconstructed images spit back out in Salem’s decidedly cool video.

The light display on the 553-metre tourist attraction is a tourist staple, bathed in red for Canada Day, for example, or rainbow colours for Pride. But when a friend pointed out the slowly unfurling Mounties, the fact that images were being used to produce the show came as news to Salem — as it probably will for many Torontonians.

The images, employed for five years now, aren’t officially a secret, but they haven’t drawn much notice.

Curious, Salem, 30, set up a camera on the balcony of his condo in Liberty Village, with a clear view of the tower. Using composite software that grabbed dozens of frames of the show every few seconds, he was able to slide images across his screen and put them back together like a puzzle to reconstruct the full pictures. Images in his video that look like simple geometric patterns are actually just light effects he put through the same process. After rendering, putting together the hidden images took all of about 20 minutes.

“It’s very subtle,” Salem said of the small pieces of picture that pop up during the show. “It’s really hard to see. (But) If you understand what’s going on in the CN Tower, you can maybe imagine what it would look like pieced together in your head.”

Mellon, 39, said that he and his team use photographs in the light show because they offer up vibrant colours that take advantage of the light system’s capability of producing 16.7 million possible colours.

“Imagine flowers in bloom in the spring and all the different colours you would get,” he said of the flower bed photo.

The picture of the Mounties is filled with “vibrant red tones,” and the trillium photo creates a more dynamic effect than simply layering lights.

Mellon and his team chose Canadian images as a patriotic gesture. Provincial flags are also used. During the G20 in 2010, flags of every country participating in the summit flashed from the tower; during the Olympics and the upcoming Paralympics, the Canadian flag dominates. “It’s a very artistic representation,” Mellon says.

It was back in 2007 when the CN Tower installed its $2.5 million LED light system, replacing an old energy-sucking one. Each of the fixtures can be individually controlled.

Mellon, the guy in charge, can control them, testing and mixing colours, from his laptop at his west-end home. He’s even made the lights flicker from a park bench.

During the days leading up to the Nuit Blanche light show, Mellon tinkered with different combinations in a hotel room in the early hours of the morning, while most of the city was still sleeping.

written by Jayme Poisson

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As a boy in Edmonton, the downtown CN Tower’s red ‘CN’ lighting up slowly as if written (on all four sides), was super exciting, and i’d be mesmerized as I was driven past…kids these days need something a bit more complex…

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