The fireworks won’t be blasting off from the top of the Space Needle this New Year’s Eve, but the iconic landmark will still be front and center in a virtual and colorful digital effects production that will stream to homes in Seattle and around the world that night.
The Space Needle and Seattle Center won’t be having any in-person gathering due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The area around the Needle usually attracts an estimated 20,000 people as part of the “T-Mobile New Year’s at the Needle” celebration, but Washington state recently extended restrictions on gatherings through Jan. 4.
T-Mobile is still sponsoring the event, and in the real world the Needle will be lit up in the Bellevue, Wash.-based wireless carrier’s familiar magenta coloring. In a broadcast streamed on television by KING5 and online by the Needle, a special video production will replace fireworks with graphics that make it look like the tower could be a central player in a video game.
“At a time when you can’t gather people in public, the ability to do something that comes off as a massive virtual event is really kind of cool,” said Terry Morgan, CEO and owner of Seattle-based Modern Enterprises, who has decades of experience in event design and production.
Morgan is partnering with Maxin10sity out of Budapest, Hungary, who he worked with on another unique art and light show in Seattle in 2018, called “Borealis,” where the Museum of History and Industry was the center of attraction.
The New Year’s production, which the Space Needle teased in a recent video trailer (above) uses digital mapping technology with a twist, as layers of images are laid over real video of the Needle, shot in advance from multiple camera angles.
“We have taken a little bit of liberty with the mapping technology and not just applied it to the Needle, but applied it to the sky,” Morgan told GeekWire. “So we’re calling this a new term – sky mapping. It’s something that we don’t think has been done before, but the entire sky becomes our pallet and the Space Needle stays a central focal item in all of the illusions. ”
The New Year’s broadcast starts at 11:35 pm on Dec. 31 and the digital special starts 10 seconds before midnight. It will last about 10 minutes and features a musical score by Pacific Northwest film, TV and video game composer Daniel Sadowski.
The effort to produce the show has taken much longer than the finished product, as developers have been at it for a little over two months. Morgan said he’d normally take six to eight months to come up with such a production.
The Needle has added some tech flare beyond just fireworks in recent years. In 2018, a choreographed light show was added to shoot powerful beams of light into the night sky. Video shot by GeekWire that year showed the traditional fireworks display.
The last time the in-person celebration was canceled was in 1999, when Seattle Mayor Paul Schell called off festivities at Seattle Center because of fears that the area was a terrorist target. The decision came just a couple weeks after an Algerian man was arrested with explosive material in Port Angeles, Wash., in what was determined to be a plot to disrupt Millennium 2000 celebrations on the West Coast.
Fireworks were called off last year at the last minute because of high winds, but there was still a light show.
The Space Needle spent $ 1 million on state-of-the-art cleaning technologies and safety measures to reopen this fall after being closed for months due to the pandemic. Capacity has been limited and attendance at the city’s prime tourist attraction is much lower than in normal years, a spokesperson said.
Morgan, the show producer, said he personally loves fireworks and the ancient art form that pyrotechnicians undertake, but he said you can’t really compare that with what viewers will see in the streaming show.
“We’re creating images that literally cannot exist in the physical realm,” Morgan said. “We hope it will inspire awe and make New Year’s Eve a little bit more exciting than just staying at home with your family.”