Terry Morgan does some of his best work while he’s asleep.
That’s when the Seattle impresario came up with the idea that will be at the heart of the Space Needle’s re-imagined New Year’s Eve celebration this year. Instead of fireworks at Seattle Center, we’ll be ending COVID-19-marred 2020 in the most socially distanced way possible: with a virtual display that can be seen only on a screen.
“Well, to tell you the truth, I had a dream,” Morgan said. “I was semiconscious in the dream and the sky was just beautiful colors and faces, all just kind of floating like clouds in the sky. And it was really one of those landmark dreams. I woke up and I told my wife about it.”
Two weeks later, he was meeting with Karen Olson, chief operating officer and chief marketing officer at the Space Needle. After eight months of planning and designing a pyrotechnic show, she was in the market for a solid Plan B as the coronavirus began its predicted cold-weather surge and King County banned large public gatherings.
“And I told her about this dream,” Morgan said.
She was intrigued, so Morgan recruited the Budapest-based computer mapping company Maxin10sity to submit concepts. He’s worked with the company as an associate producer before, most notably for Seattle residents on the “Borealis: A Festival of Light” installation at South Lake Union in 2018. The digital artists came back quickly with sketches, which Olson and her colleagues approved.
“And this was just over two months ago, mind you,” Morgan said. “This was not something that has been planned for a year. Once the Space Needle decided they were physically not doing fireworks because of the social restrictions due to COVID, this really kind of popped up and became an alternative.”
How’s it work? Well, it’s pretty simple. Find a nice, warm, comfy spot, fire up your favorite device and enjoy. All the magic happens on-screen only. Anyone looking directly at the Needle will see it lit with magenta lights and nothing more.
“At first we were going to just do the same pyro show digitally,” Olson said. “And then we thought if we’re going to design a virtual show, we can do anything. And so we’re going to take over the sky.”
The show will be broadcast live at 11:35 p.m. on KING 5 and KONG-TV and streamed on KING 5 and Space Needle websites with a series of appearances by local celebrities, front-line workers and others and musical performances. KING 5’s “Evening” team will host the event as usual, but they’ll broadcast from T-Mobile Park to discourage people from gathering at Seattle Center to try and get on camera.
“We’ll have a lot of surprises, too,” Olson said. “So, I think this year, unfortunately we can’t gather in public, but for people at home watching on TV, it’s going to be a really, really fun show.”
This is just the second time the fireworks have been canceled since the Space Needle began producing the New Year’s Eve shows in 1992. High winds forced the cancellation in 2019, though residents still gathered to watch a rather gusty light show.
While some might be disappointed, Morgan sees it as an opportunity for Seattleites to enjoy the growing medium of light art. A musician and talent manager, Morgan has also found an interesting niche working as an associate producer for Maxin10sity over the past six years. He’s traveled around the world watching light shows.
“It’s a small community here in the States,” Morgan said. “There are maybe 12 light festivals. In Europe, there’s probably a hundred or more. It’s the fastest-growing art form in the world. And some of these cities are attracting millions of people to these events.”
The Seattle presentation will be unique. Digital artists took video footage and have layered on light and effects. Morgan also enlisted Lacey-based film and game composer Daniel Sadowski, who added a fast-paced score. Among the first of its kind, Morgan said the event has attracted attention from others who see practical applications in the time of coronavirus.
“Just since we announced that we’re doing this, we’ve had interest from various other clients and other cities about the possibility of creating these kinds of activities because you don’t need to gather a crowd,” Morgan said. “You can just beam it into people’s homes and they can get a new art experience where they wouldn’t have the opportunity before. And it’s great because there’s no pay wall. You can see it for free and gather with your family and have this great experience.”