by Jonathan Vatner | April 01, 2006

Polo, Buick, and HP exhibits

Left: A Polo exhibit by Tom Yurkin of Freeman. Center and right: Exhibits for Buick and HP by H.B. Stubbs

“Exhibits are always changing,” says Tom Yurkin, vice president, creative, at Dallas-based exhibits and events conglomerate Freeman. “You just have to go along with what's happening in our culture.”
Named 2005's Designer of the Year by the Atlanta-based Exhibit Designers and Producers Association, Yurkin gets his inspiration for booth design from all over. He reads 50 to 60 magazines every month, paying particular attention to architectural trends and automotive design, and he visits museums to look for ideas in art installations.
    “Exhibits need to do a lot more than they used to,” Yurkin notes. “They're more complicated and so full of technology.”
    Following is a taste of some of the country's top exhibit designers' latest inspirations.

“Lighting can make or break the booth,” says Costas Varkarotas, GES' western region exhibit and design manager, based in Las Vegas. Indeed, changing the color and intensity of light can
affect a viewer's response, emotionally and even physically; best of all, compared to the exhibit's physical structure, lighting equipment is a relatively lightweight component.
    Recent advances: Lighting within exhibits has been getting more intense; it's not uncommon to see booths using a $100,000 projector with 12,000 lumens (nearly as bright as direct sunlight). Lighting also permits some really fantastic tricks. Varkarotas has put in holographic screens, rotating plasma screens and fog walls, created by pouring a curtain of fog from the ceiling and projecting an image on it.

LED systems
Really ambitious booths feature LED light boards, in which individual bulbs are placed just a few millimeters apart on a wall; the bulbs combine to form a pointillist video image. Why go LED? Such lighting is far brighter than that of a standard TV or projector, both of which can easily get washed out with all the other competing lights, explains Ernie Barna, design director at H.B. Stubbs, an exhibit design firm in Warren, Mich., with clients such as General Motors and Hewlett-Packard. “Really, nothing can compete with LED video walls,” he says.
    The walls have other advantages. First, because they are run by a computer that readily can be reprogrammed, the presentation can be adjusted up to the last minute, which isn't possible with most other media. Second, the walls can be painted to look like part of the architecture until the program launches and the walls are illuminated. Third, says Tom Yurkin, the technology permits very theatrical lighting without requiring big, heavy, hot and expensive rigs.
    Recent advances: LED walls now have better resolution. A decent wall will have bulbs separated by 10 mm (from the center of one bulb to the center of the adjacent bulb). The newest walls have separations as little as 4 mm, says Barna.