Wes Lane sits down with Debi Moen to discuss the transformation of Austin’s storied Vulcan Gas Company and how LITdESIGN’s lighting design helped create a sense of a living, breathing space.

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The design firm gave the latest incarnation of the Austin nightspot changeable hues and a steampunk vibe.

The walls are breathing with embedded LED columns floor to ceiling, an ebb and flow of color saturation fully controllable and synched to the music. The lighting rig, on trusses in the center of the room, pumps like a giant heart, churning out organic fluid-motion digital images and 3-D shapes flipping and spinning in space.

It’s Saturday night in Austin, Texas, and the nightlife comes alive at the Vulcan Gas Company. The club, opened two years ago on the musical mecca that is Sixth Street, was tagged with various honors including #1 Best Club Lighting in the 2015 Austin Chronicle Music Poll and third place for Best New Club in the Austin Music Industry Awards.

The club’s namesake is the long-gone 1960s-era psychedelic club, where light shows and trippy music were the main attraction. There’s no connection aside from the new club owners wanting to emulate the old vibe.

Austin-based Lightfaktor is responsible for the atmosphere of the place, making the walls breathe and the dance floor pump. They handled the architectural lighting design, custom fixture design and fabrication, automated lighting system design and programming as well as truss, power and data distribution design and installation.

The club encompasses 9,500 square feet on two levels with a 658-person standing room capacity. Because it also hosts private events and product branding launches, the Vulcan offers a green room, catering room, two bars and an outdoor terrace.

The entire space takes on a Steampunk decor. As accents, Lightfaktor created rustic lighting elements to gently illuminate the bar and the leather-couched seating areas. But the bulk of the lighting focuses on the hip hop/EDM music performed by touring artists and DJs.

High End Systems products are the main feature in a moveable truss system above the dance floor. Four SolaWash 19 LED fixtures pan and tilt their solid LED color washes, while four DLV digital moving lights project aerial imagery and 3-D digital gobos throughout the space. Two Le Maitre hazers enhance the beams, while a Road Hog 4 console controls it all.

The custom wall-embedded LED pixel columns each feature 340 individually addressable RGB-LEDs, controlled with a Madrix Pro audio responsive LED pixel control.

The projection system features Digital Projection E-Vision (1080P-8000 lumen single-chip DLP projector), a Da-Lite Large Cosmopolitan Electrol front projection screen (106 inches x 188 inches), and an HD AV Switcher with HDMI, DVI and VGA inputs.

›› An Emotional Response
“Good lighting is all about setting the mood and getting the correct emotional response,” said Lightfaktor’s lead designer and founder Wes Lane. “Most people don’t notice lighting, but they can feel it when it doesn’t feel right. Sometimes places feel fat and boring. They don’t know it was the lighting that caused it.”

Lightfaktor is out to transform that environment, to elicit the correct emotional response. “The Vulcan comes alive,” Lane says. “There are pixels embedded in the walls, and the place lives and breathes. When it is pumping in there, you feel the vibe, not just from the bass but from the columns in the walls, which are audio responsive. It is interactive. We used a suite of High End Systems products including DLV digital moving projectors to add an extra dimension to the user experience. We are able to project onto the stage, crowd and walls allowing us to use the whole venue as a palette. There’s camera feedback, sensors, especially on the dance floor – people love to see themselves dance, but if you can add cool features that give people that feeling and it looks cool for everyone else, we like that kind of stuff.”

Wes Lane’s first foray into business was with his custom lighting company, Solux Design, started in 2000. In 2006, he re-imagined it and created Lightfaktor, a lighting design and custom fabrication company.

Their specialty is the “lifestyle” market of hotels, retail spaces, nightclubs, hospitality design projects, restaurants and themed environments.

“Lifestyle environments are where you experience something you couldn’t experience at home,” he explains. “The lifestyle hotels are created to feel like an experience from the food to furniture to atmosphere.”

Lane says they can handle general hotel lighting, and at the same time, enjoy adding the special “wow” factor through LEDs, video projection and mapping, lighting control integration and programming, custom content creation and custom fixtures.

When one enters such an environment that appeals to the senses, Lane says, “You remember cool things that were dynamic or changing, or maybe they were interactive. We are heavily focused on media facades and dynamic interactive pieces. That is where we are headed.”

›› Archi-tainment
Lightfaktor’s company highlights include clubs in Las Vegas, Miami and Dallas, and a downtown entertainment district now undergoing revitalization in Laredo, Texas. Lightfaktor also has designed Austin’s F1 Race parties for the past three years, giving them their branding look.

Lane refers to his past years of designing architectural fixtures at Solux Design. When it comes to full-filling the need for “the best lighting possible,” his current mission statement still applies: “To bridge the gap between architectural and entertainment lighting.”

It’s still a challenge, he says. “You barely had color on buildings back in 2000. Even now, I am also trying to push people into color changing in their landscape.”

What are the challenges of installations? “Control systems,” Lane points out. “Most installs will be through an electrical contractor, but we have learned to step in at certain points and take over the installation so we can keep the frustration levels down. There’s frustration of people not understanding the new technology, and what it takes and costs to install it. From final wiring of control systems to maintenance, it can get complicated, especially when mixing architectural and entertainment lighting and trying to create a cohesive system.”

Lane offers an example. “Most clubs have a lighting guy design the dance floor and an unrelated guy designing the architectural lights over the bar, and it is not tied together or cohesive,” Lane says. “We like to tie it all together. At the Vulcan, I can black out the whole club from home if I wanted to. I can correct things on the DLVs, the pixel columns, even the house lights. So the club can call me and tell me they need a special look, and I could do it from home. To have the technology to do that is basic, but most places are not doing it.”