Early December 2012, I was asked by Michael Verlatti to help design a custom system that would drop a curtain on cue during the unveiling of the NASCAR Fan and Media Engagement Center. The room was unique in several ways; one of the most notable was that its walls consisted of thick glass panels from floor to ceiling.
We looked at pictures of the space and did a site visit to assess our options. We immediately figured out that typical Kabuki Solenoid systems were out of the question since there was nowhere to hang anything and adding structure would take away from the look of the room. Instead, we opted to use electromagnets to do the drop. The magnets would be turned on to hold the curtain up via a piece of metal attached to the fabric. When it was time for the reveal, the magnets would be turned off and the curtain would drop.
I then set out to design and implement the electromagnet system. I found a company in New Jersey that had what I was looking for and purchased four 12V magnets for a test run. The mock-up successfully dropped the fabric and I knew we had found what we needed for the reveal. I ordered twenty more magnets, each a little shorter and more powerful than the test ones.
The large quantity of magnets required a bigger power supply than we had in-house at JHE so I ordered some equipment to power the magnets and give us precise control to cut power. I built and wired up a control box that housed all the electronics then installed a large button to release the magnets and a safety switch to prevent an accidental drop.
Next, we ordered a somewhat translucent, neutral-colored, lightweight fabric and had it sewn into a drape that would fit the room’s dimensions. Small squares of steel were attached to the drape with buttons so we could place them where they needed to be on-site. I soldered and attached all the magnets to a cord, placing each one evenly apart yet close enough so the fabric wouldn’t sag. The process took quite a while; imagine putting together a strand of Christmas lights from scratch, where each light is the size of a hockey puck and weighs a little over a pound!
In order to attach the magnets to the glass, we wrapped the top six inches and glued the magnets to the wrap with superglue to keep them sturdily in place. The wrap enabled us to attach the magnets to something other than just the glass so when the event was over we could peel-off the wrap and magnets, leaving the glass clean and undisturbed.
After several test drops it was clear the system would work excellently. The day of the event, the team used a few tiny pieces of Velcro to keep the fabric tight around the room. With some other fancy set pieces and decals the room looked excellent and was ready for the big reveal.
The event started, people started filing in and I took my position at the control box. Verlatti was up front and cued me over radio when to drop the curtain. The time came and I “armed” the box and hit the button when I heard “drop, drop, drop.” I heard the sound of the curtain falling, immediately followed by people clapping and amazement with the engagement center. We had some people in place to pull the curtain away and out of sight quickly. Interestingly enough since I was always the person hitting the button, I never actually saw it happen first hand.
It all happened very fast but all that prep work paid off. The custom-made system designed exclusively for this event was just what the client had in mind.
– Joe Sullivan