While it’s only been open for three short years, Seattle’s Great Wheel has become an iconic part of the city’s skyline—as have the 175-foot-tall attraction’s light displays, designed by Gerry Hall. “It was a void in the job that needed to be done, so I volunteered,” says the wheel’s general manager.
“If I can make my own light shows in downtown Seattle—hey, let’s run with it.” Hall learned his new skill via conference calls from the light system’s manufacturer. With a glass of wine in hand and Phish playing in the background, Hall designs most shows for the wheel from his Everett home on his laptop, using a remote lighting program. There are 40 rows of lights on each of the wheel’s 21 spokes for Hall to create his nightly shows, which often tie in with holidays, sporting events or other occasions. Some shows take just a few minutes to program, whereas more elaborate designs that include moving lights and color fades can take Hall more than 20 hours. Hall says he gets plenty of requests for specific themes—most often he’s asked to project the Seahawks and “12” logos. But with a limited number of spokes, there isn’t a way to produce very defined images.
“I would do the logo if I could; it’s not like I haven’t thought of that!” he says. “I love it when people email me ideas, but I’m kind of two steps ahead of [them] on that one.” Of course, not all of the work can be accomplished on land; Seattle’s infamous rain can seep into any of the 500,000 LED light blocks, forcing Hall to climb a 90-foot ladder to the center to replace them. But does he get nervous? “No,” he says. “Climbing this thing is like a big jungle gym.”
NEED TO KNOW
1/ The 39-year-old light enthusiast devotes so much time and energy to the wheel’s display, he does no holiday lighting whatsoever at his Everett home.
2/ Hall rides the wheel once or twice a day, both to enjoy the view and to inspect the structure.
3/ His greatest challenge so far was a live light show with local alternative band Vaudeville Etiquette that took him more than 50 hours to complete.
Plus: a conversation with UW biology professor Jennifer Nemhauser on bridging botany and art