The Inspiration and Tech Behind the Space Needle’s NYE Spectacle

Dreams made real

Key Takeaways

  • The Seattle Space Needle’s New Year’s Eve virtual show that has now gone viral was created from a dream.
  • The virtual light show depicts what can be done when you combine technology with art.
  • The creator of the show hopes it inspires others to try out creative outlets in 2021.
The Seattle Space Needle with a virtual, purple storm over it
Modern Enterprises

Seattle got a different kind of New Year’s Eve event in the form of a virtual light show over the Space Needle. The performance captured the world’s attention for its creative ingenuity.

Due to the global pandemic, Seattle had to cancel its annual New Year’s Eve fireworks show at its iconic Space Needle. However, for creative minds like Modern Enterprises founder Terry Morgan, the absence of an in-person show allowed for something out of the ordinary to mark the end of a year that was anything but ordinary.

"We wanted to create something that no one had ever seen before," Morgan told Lifewire in a phone interview. "We recreated illusions that you can’t create in reality, but we can beam them in your home and hopefully give you 10 minutes of hope."

The Inspiration

The 10-minute show featured the Space Needle and out-of-this-world CGI effects that were broadcast once the clock struck midnight. The sci-fi spectacle was full of movement, color, and symbolism that Morgan said was all based on a dream. 

"This was a vivid lucid dream where I was semi-conscious and saw beautiful colors and faces in the skies and floating in the clouds," he said. "I get a lot of my best ideas from dreams."

The Seattle Space Needle with virtual fireworks and pink hands around it
Modern Enterprises

Morgan said the psychedelic and colorful images told a story of how light is an energy source that sparks life. The animation sequence started with a big bang and evolved into cellular divisions, metamorphosis, and the Space Needle serving as the "tree of life" through it all.

Morgan said light always has been his muse. Most notably, he worked on Seattle’s 2018 BOREALIS - A Festival of Light, which featured a unique combination of music, light art installations, and multimedia projection mapping. He said that this virtual light show project was a tribute to the challenging year 2020 was for all of us.

"We made this as a tribute to humanity and its ability to endure and adapt, and that's represented as a celebration here," he said. 

The Tech

The virtual show was executed so well that some even believed the swirling colors and lights emitting from the Space Needle were actually happening in real life. Twitter users had a lot to say about the NYE show and its out-of-this-world graphics.

Even if it looked simple on-screen, Morgan said the project took two months of hard work fusing CGI animation with actual shots of the Space Needle.

"It took careful editing and a bit of wizardry to maintain its real perception and edit it like it’s a live show," Morgan said. "We had to build it like a television production, which was kind of a challenge."

Morgan said they shot 4K video footage of the Space Needle from three different locations for a total of six perspectives. Once they got the footage, a team of a dozen or so animators from Maxin10sity, along with Global Illumination, worked around the clock to make Morgan’s visions come to life. Animators added those layers of CGI images over the video using digital sky-mapping technology. 

"Things like this normally take six months to do," Morgan said.

Since the final product ushered in the new year, Morgan said he hopes that it inspires a creative spark in 2021 for those who watch it.

"We want to inspire people to become creative and express themselves," he said. "I’d like to see a whole generation of kids get inspired by seeing something like this."

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