ETC controls help penguins find their feet


Following the notoriety of its Breaking Bad locations tour, the City of Albuquerque has added another startling tourist attraction: a colony of penguins.

The Penguin Chill exhibit at the city’s ABQ BioPark is the first of its kind in the Southwest.  We wanted to know how well the new residents were adapting to their Southwest home and sent a Penguin-speaking ETC reporter for this exclusive interview.

ETC: So, where are you guys from?

PENGUINS: South Georgia

Oh cool. The Peach State.

Well no – it’s South Georgia, a 1,300-square-mile island about 8,000 miles south of here.  We became famous when members of the Shackleton expedition ate some of our ancestors back in 1915.

No hard feelings, I hope. Anyway, how are you settling into the new digs?

What’s not to like? We get the star treatment: a brand new 76,000-gallon tank, regular meals of small fish, and the thing we really like – an adoring audience.

You’re well known for your production values and great choreography – what were your technical requirements?

Good question. Apart from all the usual scenic elements of ice, snow, and a near freezing pool, we all loved the movie Frozen and tried to get the same designer. Our lighting has to be perfect.

So you brought your own LD?

Unfortunately not. Something about “value engineering.” We worked with an exceptional young man called Erik Baker from the local ETC Sales office. We would love to take him on the road with us. Instead of lighting a show, we asked him to re-create our home environment. Very tricky when you only have things called LEDs to mimic the splendor of the Antarctic landscape. As a group we are very tetrochromatic.

The ETC Desire D40 fixture in the Penguin Chill exhibit at the Albuquerque BioPark.
The ETC Desire D40 fixture in the Penguin Chill exhibit at the Albuquerque BioPark.


Tetrochromatic means that we process more of the light spectrum than you humans can – you can Google it. Also we can’t stand flickering lights and we don’t all wear sunglasses like in that silly movie. Erik lit us with Selador D60s which have a flicker rate of 25,000 HZ – that’s why they’re used on television. It’s imperceptible, even to us. But the part we all look forward to are the sunrises and sunsets. They even do a live replication of the Aurora Australis, also known as the Southern Lights.

So you felt at home?

Exactly. Erik spent hours playing with a big box called Paradigm and something called the astronomical clock, which the brainy folks back in Madison set to South Georgia time. Now we have perfect weather and great visuals year round. We didn’t make it easy for him.

How so?

Well we splash around a lot – the audience expects it – so we get everything wet. All of our lighting has to be wet-location rated, except our track lighting.

Thank you so much for this interview. As we finish up, can you tell me what you like most about being in the USA?

They let us watch National Geo on cable TV.

At the time of writing Erik Baker was still making minor lighting tweaks to the exhibit lighting. “My undergraduate degree in biology helped a bit,” he said, “but I have never lit anything quite so challenging.” With only a handful of precedents in the U.S., this is the first penguin exhibit ever to be lit with an all-LED rig. While 40 Selador D40s were the workhorses of the rig, Erik used a dedicated UV downlight to match Antarctic levels. “I am definitely not an ornithologist or a professional penguin LD, but I did an enormous amount of research,” he added. At least we know the clients are happy.



Eos feels the love in Freestyle Love Supreme

Previous article

LDI 2019: Lighting for every stage

Next article
Marshall Bissett
Marshall Bissett grew up in Central Scotland and studied theater direction at the Old Vic Theatre School. He worked on the original productions of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and toured with such acts as Chicago, Neil Diamond, and The Rolling Stones. In 1983 he founded TMB, a worldwide supplier of lighting equipment. He’s kept his hand in directing, which in retirement now vies for his time along with freelance writing and fly-fishing.