Projection art brings old Vegas neon signs back to life

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The Vegas strip has a rich history – and one museum is devoted purely to the collection of old hotel signs that once graced Las Vegas Boulevard.

Standing as a final resting place for old Las Vegas hotel signs, the Neon Museum’s “boneyard” lets visitors be transported back in time when Frank Sinatra and Liberace were selling out performances.

The mausoleum to Vegas’ heyday is a collection of hulking, colorful monoliths of steel adorned with light bulbs in every direction. But they are only front-lit at night for visitors, remaining just a shell of their former selves. Not restored, the light bulbs do not flicker and there is no power generator that illuminates them.

Now, technology is responsible for resurrecting some of the vintage signs. In a new exhibit in the north gallery of the museum called “Brilliant!,” 40 of the most iconic signs are reinvigorated and re-illuminated using an augmented reality experience through the use of projection mapping.

Two 20-foot tall projection pillars stand parallel to each other and emit 80,000 lumens of light in a 360-degree panorama to bring back to life the historic markers. Signs from the Golden Nugget, Lady Luck Casino and Hotel, and more encircle the space.

“I hope people kind of get an understanding of what Vegas was like, get like a visceral feeling, this whole experience, this immersive that you’re sort of surrounded by tells this narrative, this nostalgic feeling, you can feel it,” said Craig Winslow, the artist and experiential designer who conceived the project.

The collection began as old hotels were being torn down to make room for newer projects on the Strip as it expanded.

“Some of the major sign designers in Las Vegas were watching all of their beautiful works in danger because all of the hotels were being imploded and they were going to see their signs go away,” said Rob McCoy, President and CEO of the Neon Museum. “We’re the only city in the world that implodes its buildings, but saves it signs.”

The light projections perfectly align with the bulbs, the neon tubes, and the bent metal on the signs, while a soundtrack simultaneously entertains the viewer playing musical scores by Elvis and Elton John, and Dean Martin. Old black and white scenes from Vegas also are projected, eliminating the boundaries of time as the viewer feels like they’re at the Riviera pool in the 60s or gambling at the Golden Nugget on Fremont Street.

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