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Old Posted Jan 31, 2007, 7:32 PM
Via Chicago Via Chicago is offline
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Location: Chicago, IL
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"How Do They Do That?" (nightime images in skyscrapers)

Ineresting read in the Trib today. I always thought it was computer programmed and controlled. Guess its a lot more primitive than that.



How do they do that?

By Robert K. Elder
Tribune staff reporter
Published January 31, 2007

`Everyone thinks there's a magic button, but it's not -- there's no Hollywood moment," says Charles Boesel of what it takes to create the Bears logo and the words "Go Bears" on the sunset-red CNA Center.

The images are designed on computer, says CNA Financial spokesman Boesel, but the rest of the work is done manually. Every blind is changed, every light switch is clicked on or off by human hands.

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Bears lights

The man behind the designs is Dan Perez, a 17-year CNA veteran and senior software manager, the Michelangelo of the Chicago night skyline. Over the years, he has chiseled words, a Chicago Bulls logo, ribbons -- even an American flag -- in the windows of CNA Center.

Across the city's skyline, many buildings are using similar systems to engineer this illuminated tribute. Here's how it's done at one building.

1. From the top.

CNA chairman and CEO Stephen Lilienthal makes the call, often dictating specific words or ideas. "We've got the available real estate, so why not use it?" Lilienthal says. "It's a great focal point for our employees and our civic duty for the city -- because we don't just work here, we live here."

2. Grand design.

Perez gets the word and starts mapping ideas on AutoCAD (above), the same kind of software Pixar used to model characters for "Toy Story." Like a sculptor, Perez clicks away at individual windows inside a computer mock-up of the building, removing the unnecessary, until an image emerges. He only uses the top 22 floors; the lower floors are blocked by the buildings along Michigan Avenue.

From start to finish, the process can take as little as 20 minutes or more than an hour for intricate patterns. Perez provides tech support for AutoCAD, which CNA's interior designers use, so he knows the program well.

3. Modeling.

Perez creates a 3-D model of the building in AutoCAD to see how the design will look from different vantage points. In this case, the words "Go Bears" appears on the front and back and the Bears logo appears on both sides.

Though other downtown structures have shown window-lit team spirit, Boesel says, CNA is the only building that lights up all four sides.

4. Final tweaks.

Perez shows his printouts to his office mates, including his brother David, who sits two cubicles away. "He doesn't need any review, really," Boesel says. "If he designs it, then we're good to go."

5. Reverse view.

Perez prints out "reverse copies" (how the image looks from the inside) for the building staff. They are responsible for opening and shutting the blinds, via a numbered grid (above), showing floor and window numbers. In all, the CNA building staff is responsible for 1,452 blinds in 66 windows on the building's top 22 floors.

6. Eyes.

The bears on the building's north and south sides were particularly tricky. "The eyes are the most important part," says Perez, noting that building staff uses huge, diagonal cardboard sheets in windows to give the eyes of their bears menacing slants. "Otherwise, he was just too teddy bearish."

7. Notice.

Interoffice memos are distributed to employees asking them not to turn on (or off) certain lights. The memos, printed in English, Spanish, Serbian and Polish (above), are posted on windowsills. Is it an annoyance for workers? "Actually, it's completely painless," says Peter Kierys, national marketing director for CNA's small-business unit. "It's really cool because we get to see our building on TV -- [I get to say], 'Hey, I work there.' "

8. Blinding.

Building electricians disable floor timers, so lights can be manually manipulated. Then, six people from CNA's carpenter and janitorial staff take the reverse copies and attach fluorescent yellow stickers on blinds that stay open -- everything else is closed.

9. Field test.

Building carpenter Neal Novak drives around the perimeter of the building in his white Ford pickup with a grid map and walkie-talkie, checking for errant lights and dark spots. "It doesn't take that long, and if there are any mistakes, it's usually just a cleaning lady who turned a light off," Novak says.

10. Sunday night.

Any plans if the Bears win? "We'd want it to be a surprise," Boesel says. "We would certainly show our support."
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