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Hiring a Laser Show - Introduction

    Many people are dazzled by the beauty and excitement of laser shows.  The word laser itself conjures up visions ranging from high technology entertainment to “death rays”.  This mystique can be a useful tool in promoting special events, or to make an event memorable.

Lasers at the grand opening of an IMAX theater
Lasers at the grand opening of an IMAX theater - Photo courtesy of LOBO

    LaserFX.com receives many E-mail requests for advice, information and recommendations on hiring a laser show.  These pages provide some helpful information and resources for those planning to use lasers at their events.   


Types of events

   Laser shows can be used for many different types of events where impact and unusual visual effects are desired.  In these pages we are providing information for those planning to use a laser show as part of a one-time or limited run event - permanent installations are not covered although some of the information given may be applicable to an installation situation.  The most common types of events where you can see laser shows are:

  • Large scale public and civic events such as national holiday celebrations or festivals

  • Laser and fireworks spectaculars

  • Grand openings and other store promotions

  • Awards ceremonies

  • Corporate Theater (in-house corporate meetings, promotions, product announcements and internal company events)

  • Trade shows

  • Laser Billboards

  • Traditional theater, musicals, opera, ballet, magic shows and rock concerts

  • Dances and raves

  • Birthday parties, bat/bar mitzvah parties and wedding receptions

    Depending on the type of event, different styles of laser shows and different configurations of laser system will be required.  For large scale public events and outdoor shows, high power lasers systems are required.  For indoor events, lower power systems can be used.  For a Corporate Theater, Trade Show or Laser Billboard, the emphasis might be on graphics while other types of shows, particularly dance and party events, may use more beam effects.


Should you be using lasers?

   While laser has a certain mystique and can be exciting to watch, it should be used with your production objectives in mind.  A laser system is a low bandwidth information presentation medium (unlike video) thus the message to be presented needs to be simplified into a series of bold images.  Unlike video, laser beams are intrinsically three dimensional and can "reach out" from the stage, over and through the audience to add impact.
    If you are considering a situation where you could use a laser system or video projection, it is important that you recognise the strengths and weakness of the two types of displays:

  • Video systems are capable of real-time displays of live subjects, full motion at 25 or 30 frames per second, shaded colour filled areas, and the images are relatively simple to produce.  Modern laser systems are capable of simulating some of these effects but with limited size and bandwidth images.

  • Video images are limited to monitors, video walls, or large screen projection. They suffer from limited resolution. No matter how large you make the projected image (and the current limit appears to be about 6 X 9 meters [20 X 30 ft]), it has limited resolution as you are making the same 525 or 625 lines of information larger.  Laser images can be scaled to very large sizes without degrading the resolution.

  • Video projection requires a flat surface for the image to be in focus.  Laser graphics are in focus all the way along the path and can be projected onto irregular surfaces without loosing focus.

  • Lasers are capable of large, bright, colourful displays of outline images but with a more limited information content than video projections.

  • The colours in laser displays are pure and more saturated than in any other medium. Speckle adds a unique effect not possible in other displays.

  • The contrast ratio (difference between light and dark parts of the image) is extremely high with lasers causing the image to appear to "float" away from the surface onto which it is projected.  This illusion can be enhanced by using 3D laser images.

  • Laser beam displays have a unique three dimensional aspect that is not possible with other types of displays.

  • Laser systems can also project large and colourful abstract and optical effects that are impossible to duplicate with other projected displays.

    In small-scale applications where detailed information must be presented, video is the clear choice.  In large scale applications where pure colours, bright images, and limited information must be conveyed in a spectacular manner, laser displays are the clear choice.  It is also possible to combine video images with laser graphics for added effect or to exploit the strengths of both of the imaging mediums.


Before you hire

    Before you start looking for a laser company, it is best that you have some idea as to how you plan to use the laser.  The laser show could be used as the main focus of the event or it may be used as a special effect.  For example, the laser show would be the main focus of the event when celebrating a civic holiday if it is presented after some brief remarks by civic leaders. 
    In a corporate trade show or laser billboard application, the objective is to convey a message or generate product or brand awareness.  This is best done with graphics and animations that are designed to get the viewer's attention and "imprint" the message or logo on the viewer.  While this type of laser show may be graphics intensive, the content of the show may repeat in a short cycle so as to get the attention of an audience that are more "passers by" than a group that has assembled specifically  to watch the laser show.
    A laser show typically plays more of a special effects role when used in a rock concert or theatrical setting as the main interest of the audience is to see the performers.  The laser show is designed to enhance that performance or provide an effect that is otherwise difficult or impossible to create outside of TV or movie special effects.
    Try not to go into a meeting with a laser show production company with fixed ideas about what you want to see at your show.  The laser company will have produced similar shows before and will be in a position to tell you if your production ideas are possible, and to suggest other enhancements and effects that you may not be aware of.


Selecting a laser company

    When selecting a laser company for your event, you need to consider their level of expertise, their specialty, their track record and finally the budget.  It is often tempting to go with the lowest quote but this many not be the wisest choice if the low bidder does not have the equipment and experience needed to properly produce your show.
   Be sure to ask the laser company about previous shows of the type you are planning to stage that they have produced.  They should be able to provide you with information about the shows and possibly a demo video tape.  A company with a good track record will have no problem providing a list of clients, and even contact information for the clients so that you can get their client's opinion of the show produced for them.

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