The LookOut news

An Arctic Blast

By Constance Tillotson

Oct. 10 -- Frosty the Snowman meets Jurassic Park? That's what excited Bayside officials got when they set out to light up Downtown with cutting-edge decorations that would make Santa Monica a shining holiday star.

The result - an Ice Age transformation for the Third Street Promenade that will melt the heart of any Scrooge and hopefully send Downtown cash registers ringing.

"We were looking for someone who hadn't done this kind of thing before," said Kathleen Rawson, executive director of the Bayside District. "We needed someone who could put décor to the test of the wear and tear of the outside elements. Someone who is creative and different."

So Bayside officials sought out a designer known for his unprecedented vision of the world. Award-winning set designer Ramsey Avery, they decided, was the man for the job.

Avery's innovative images had stamped his vision on myriad works, including two Steven Spielberg films. He was the art director on "Minority Report" and an assistant art director on "A.I., Artificial Intelligence."

For his work on the Animation Pavilion at Disney's California Adventure, Avery garnered a THEA award, the "Oscar" of themed entertainment. His atypical work has graced theater and television sound stages. He even designed the royal wedding for the Princess of Saudi Arabia.

Inspired by the topiary dinosaurs along the Promenade courts, Avery decided to turn their sunny, arid world into an icy, snow capped land. He wanted to give visitors what they would never see in Santa Monica - a white Christmas.

"I do love the play of growing, living vines creating an extinct animal which is then surrounded by up-thrusting ice," said Avery. "Ice has the quality of being transient while appearing permanent. Even when it melts, it hasn't disappeared, only altered its form.

"Certainly the spirit of the holidays has the same quality. While it is only around in a tactile way for a few months a year, if we live our lives according to the qualities that comprise that spirit, we are affected by them throughout the year."

Project coordinator Daniel Lucas is charged with etching Avery's vision into the translucent hardness of ice. For reference, he keeps in his notebook a photo of a haunting canvass by 19th century romantic painter Caspar David Friederich, whose oil depiction of immense ice shards served as Avery's muse.

"There will be about 120 ice shards that will be dressed around the dinosaurs," said Lucas. "The seven-foot ice shards will be dangling from the light posts, and they will be made to swivel in the wind."

When a visitor enters the wintry wonderland, Avery wants them to experience a cross between realism and fantasy, Lucas said. "He wanted the shards to look organic, like something you would see out in the world, but also a departure from what is real."

The centerpiece of the decorations will be three 22-foot illuminated trees that appear entirely made of ice. Avery was asking for the seemingly impossible when he wanted the ice to be clear, but his workers obliged. Each piece of ice starts out a white opaque, then is sanded down until it is translucent. It is then sprayed with a diamond glitter for an iridescent sheen.

"I have never done anything like this before," said Paul Haney, the project's foreman. "I think it's going to be a special, truly one-of-a-kind display." The entire scene will be lit from beneath with a rainbow of colors that give the diamond glitter a shimmery luster and shine on the multitude of paints the ice shards are bathed in.

"During the daytime the sunlight will catch the glitter," said Lucas. "At night time, it will capture an entirely different look. So people will need to come back and visit at least twice."

Building an art piece in a public domain brought an added dimension to the project, one that doesn't exist for the designer on a film set. "Designing in a public space brings the challenge of building codes and safety issues," said Avery. "We were not allowed to touch or even obscure the dinosaurs, as they are public art. We had to be sensitive to their place on the Promenade, and we were also conscious of not reflecting any one particular religious framework or design."

But having his design in a forum that gives visitors a one-on-one encounter with his creation, instead of a group experience with an image on a screen, brings the joy of seeing people have "very personal, tactile responses to your work," said Avery.

The imminent completion of the two-year project has Bayside officials anxiously looking forward to the "Flip the Switch" Lighting Celebration that will take place November 23.

"We want to create a new tradition that would drive people to Santa Monica," said Marivi Valcourt, Bayside's marketing manager. "We already have the great restaurants and shopping. We hope this customized décor will provide that special and magical holiday element."
Avery, too, takes a pragmatic view of his glacial creation. He hopes visitors to the display will take away, "Lots of full shopping bags. Though my heartfelt answer would be that the design contributes to a great day out with their friends or family."

Bayside officials hope their unusual icescape will keep visitors coming back when they unpack the design each of the next four years. For Avery, working with the City of Santa Monica on a public display of this magnitude is a holiday wish come true.

He said he enjoyed "creating a place where no one has ever been before and especially working with creative, involved, talented people. And getting it done on time and on budget, so I can sleep the next day."

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