As Frank Sinatra belts out the opening of “Luck Be a Lady,” red neon slithers around the curlicues of a sign for the Lady Luck casino that, until a few moments ago, had seemed a dead collection of snapped tubes and broken bulbs. But as the song hits its peak, it blazes alive in salmon and scarlet, pulsating in time to every finger-snapping beat. It’s just the first of many astonishing moments in Brilliant!, a new evening show at the Neon Museum.
Created by artist Craig Winslow, Brilliant! uses projectors to relight a chunk of the museum’s collection of unrestored vintage neon, synchronized to a soundtrack of Vegas classics. A Terrible Herbst cowboy seems to lip-sync to Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” while Dean Martin’s “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head” makes the Golden Nugget glitter. The artist’s favorite? A decommissioned Denny’s sign that lights up as an old commercial plays on the sound system. “I like the little details,” Winslow says.
The idea was born in 2016 as part of Winslow’s Light Capsules project, for which he reanimated faded “ghost signs” with projections in cities from Winnipeg to Washington, D.C. In Las Vegas, he used projectors to “relight” the Neon Museum’s defunct Mega Jackpots sign. Winslow was so effective that he and the museum hatched the plan for Brilliant!, which took slightly less than a year to execute.
To create the 360-degree animated display, Winslow used a combination of photography, video, drones and 3-D photogrammetry to recreate each sign. Las Vegas audio-visual design group Earth Water Sky aided in the system design, while the O.G.s of neon, YESCO, created a pair of projection towers based on the “Champagne bubble” neon towers of the old Flamingo.
Winslow states that the signs weren’t moved around, aside from “a few tweaks,” such as turning Liberace’s piano in a different direction. All of the pieces work together so well, it’s hard to believe. A collection of discarded giant Stardust letters (both cosmic and futura fonts) are the perfect backdrop for projected clips of old Fremont Street. A blank white sphere is returned to its previous filament-dotted glory, but is also transformed into a glowing moon for Doris Day’s rendition of “Beginning to See the Light” and a spinning disco ball for the Platters’ “Only You.”
After a string of old Vegas classics, Brilliant! closes with Panic! At the Disco and every light flashing. “This was the hardest one to choose—to find something that was positive, that didn’t already have a lot of memories attached to it,” Winslow says.
The signs in the boneyard also carry many memories for many people, but seeing them spring back to life creates brand new ones.