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Reno restaurant hosts a different kind of laser show. Lasers - once the death rays of science-fiction B-movies - have become rather commonplace in the modern world, showing up everywhere from our CD players to our operating rooms.

Unfortunately, the use of lasers as a visual effect seems trapped in another sort of artistic ghetto, consigned to late-night classic rock shows at the local planetarium: "Whoa, dude - it's Laser Floyd tonight."

But in the proper hands, lasers can be used to reach an audience far beyond the dreams of the stoner set. The spirograph shapes and hard-edged images familiar to most of us aren't the only game in town. A gifted designer can use lasers to create a mood of elegance and romance.

That's the case at Romanza, the restaurant in Reno, Nevada's Peppermill Hotel Casino. Laserium Laser Images Inc., Van Nuys, Calif., designed and implemented a light show using non-traditional optical effects to accompany the music of Andrea Bocelli, creating the appropriate atmosphere of tasteful elegance and romance.

Laserium president Ivan Dryer notes his team brought nearly a century's worth of combined experience to the project, which helped them design, choreograph and install the show over a one-month timeline.

The show itself takes place in a domed, curtained space visible from the patrons' booths. While a few of the effects are familiar to anyone who has seen a laser show (starfields and fireballs, for example), the show relies chiefly on an effect Dryer calls "lumia," soft, cloudlike effects that suit the music in a way hard-edged scans can't. The eighteen different lumia are textured and subtle, allowing for what Dryer calls a "greater range of artistry" than is commonly seen in typical laser shows.

In addition, souvenir 3D glasses at each table allow the patrons to appreciate the clouds in all their subtlety. Individual booths also include volume controls so the customers can make the music as unobtrusive or overwhelming as they choose.

The four- to five-minute shows are presented every twenty minutes, or upon request, so Laserium creative director Scott Anderson developed eight different shows for variety's sake.

Show controls are simple. As Dryer notes, they have to be operated by the restaurant staff and are located in a control booth and at the hostess's station. For the project's debut on New Year's Eve 1999, Laserium's John Tilp, who handled the engineering and installation, doubled as the system's operator.

The Romanza installation has certainly drawn its share of industry attention, picking up an award at the International Laser Display Association in October. But Dryer believes Romanza is just the beginning of a new age of laserlight attractions.

"Unique and exciting imagery that can be directly controlled by guests is a new artform appropriate for the coming of age of the wired generations," Dryer notes. While Romanza is the latest wedding of light, sound, and interaction, there's much more to come. Technology continues to advance and the medium will continue to develop. The potential is obvious - even if you've listened to too many Pink Floyd albums.

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