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Guy Marsden
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Robert Ellison

Created for Podesto IMPACT Teen Center in the town of Stockton, California in 2004

The goal of the teen center signature piece is to draw attention to the center and identify it as a location for teens. To accomplish this, I have developed a combined form of a flying sphere and the wildly oscillating trajectory which directs the sphere to the building. This form flies toward the teen center building with all the energy and vitality which is characteristic of our youth. A third spherical form expands this metaphor. This element graphically portrays that which is probably the whole purpose of the teen center…impact. Impact on young persons lives, impact on the community, impact on the developing future. This metaphor is illustrated by the exploding projectiles which emanate from the point of contact between the flying ball and the building. At night this metaphor becomes even more evident. Sequential illumination of three different hues of intense neon will designate the center’s location with animated brilliance. First, a zigzag, oscillating wiggle will burst to life in blue neon. Then, in complimentary hue contrast, the ball will become a glowing red sphere. Then the image will become complete as the green impact projectiles flash on in brilliant yellow-white.
Robert Ellison


Robert asked me to build an animation sequencer for this piece that would sequence the 3 light sources.  While the trajectory and the exploding debris are simply neon that flashes, the lighting for the globe posed an interesting problem.  What I suggested was that he mount several 100 Watt light bulbs inside and then fill the holes with red acrylic so the light would shine out through them.  I engineered the controls to keep the light bulbs barely glowing all the time so that they would light quicker.  This also eliminates the thermal shock that wears lamp out more quickly.  Another benefit is that with many lamps, if a few burn out it would not be very noticeable - engineers call this a "graceful failure mode".

Robert also asked me to program the sequence so that the timing would vary randomly. The sequence varies in speed, and the interval between each cycle varies from 1 to 6 seconds.

The small control box has lights to indicate the sequence, and a knob to set the level for the lamps when they are in the dim mode.  I used a Basic Stamp to program the timing sequence, and heavy duty solid state relays for the switching.  The relays are protected by (red) MOV surge absorbers, since neon sign transformers are  highly inductive.  An industrial dimmer is wired across the relay which controls the lamps.

Here is Impact under construction at Robert's studio.

And being installed on site.

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