An Interview With Jay Miller
The Genesis of the Star Trek Theater. An interview with Jay Miller, President of Acoustic Innovations
March 8th, 2011
Home Entertainment Magazine: Obviously the owner of this home theater is a big star wars fan. Was it a given that he’d build a star wars-centric home theater from the get-go?
Jay Miller: It only became homage to Star Wars once I found R2D2 and C3PO. The original concept grew out of a conversation between the owner and his architect. Acoustic Innovations was invited in to the project by our California representative, Eric Leicht of A/V partners, and the Integrator, Modern Home Systems of San Diego, CA. We have designed and built several space ship-style theaters, including one that won CEDIA’s Themed Theater of the Year in 2007.
While a concept like this can look great on paper, translating those plans into 3D is altogether different. Our company also designed the acoustics, both inside and outside the theater. And based on everyone’s reaction to the finished product, we hit it out of the ballpark!
Home Entertainment Magazine: Let’s start with the size of the space and the footprint you had to work with. It looks like a pretty tight space.
Jay Miller: Keen observation…my first questions to the architect and general contractor were “can we raise the ceiling?” nope. “well, can we lower the floor?” not possible. So our first challenge was to scale the design of the room to the lower ceiling height. By using numerous layered ceiling elements and adding what we call “deep space” just a few inches above the ceiling, despite these constraints the theater feels surprisingly spacious. We also had to work around a structural support on the right wall which made the room a wedge shape, so the floor plan widens out as you walk toward the screen. Fortunately, the layout adds a sense of openness to the room. Suffice to say, every square inch was utilized.
Home Entertainment Magazine: This theater is layered with complex detailing. I’m sure it was difficult to build.
Jay Miller: That’s a bit of an understatement: it’s extremely complex with multiple compound angles and curves. This required us to design the room with AutoCAD 3D. The walls actually lean into the room, and they narrow from the floor to the soffit, and away from the center of the room (leaning toward the front). The columns also slant inward at the top, just like the walls. I get dizzy just thinking about it! To overcome this nearly impossible build, every element of the theater was cut on our CNC machine, which allows complex parts to be built with incredible precision. We then pre-assembled the theater to check all the details before it went to our paint shop.
Home Entertainment Magazine: I don’t think you just buy spaceship panels online or from a vendor. How did you create the illuminated space ship panels, the galaxy beyond the windows, etc.?
Jay Miller: These spaceship panels are custom-designed fiber-optic acoustic panel modules that recess between 14 inches and 20 inches away from the window openings. They wrap around so you can’t “see” the edges, which creates the illusion that there’s an endless void out there.
Home Entertainment Magazine: It looks like each panel is different in terms of the switches, buttons, screens, etc. ? How did you come up with these different designs?
Jay Miller: We start with the ‘bones’ of the theater. This process is the same for any theater we design. We consider egress, floor plan, seating, projector, screen and speaker locations, etc. Usually this will help with column placement and finally acoustical design. In this case we had column surfaces that lend themselves to images of space and theoretical locations on the ship. Rather than try and build 3 dimensional items we used Photoshop and created backlit transparencies.
Home Entertainment Magazine: Do the control panels flash or light up? Is there anything interactive here?
Jay Miller: They do, and the stars you see through the windows twinkle as they would in space. The ceiling is the same way. Our design goal is to make the starship appear to be “floating” in space. Since the galaxies are visible through the windows and ceiling, you feel that effect.
Home Entertainment Magazine: Where did you find R2D2 and his friend, C3PO?
Jay Miller: It was serendipity. As we were completing the theater design, both life-size figures became available. Since the theater is wedge-shaped, we had room to recess them into special compartments. We designed each compartment to rotate from a closed to open position on a motorized turntable that was controlled by the Crestron system, but the client chose to have them permanently mounted in their respective compartments. They also talk!
Home Entertainment Magazine: And what exactly do they say? Can you program them to say something custom?
Jay Miller: C3PO has about a dozen sayings that were recorded onto a microchip by Anthony Daniels, the ‘person’ inside of C3PO. R2D2 clicks, beeps and whistles – just like the movie!
Home Entertainment Magazine: Please discuss your ceiling treatment. The neon-lit perimeter and the pinkish, globe-like lighting fixtures work well together.
Jay Miller: his is my favorite part of the theater. In the original Star Trek cinema we designed, we installed what I call “lighting pods” under the glass bar countertop at Quarks Bar in the Lobby. These globes are the same technology—electrostatic generators in which positively charged electricity arcs to the inside of the negatively charged glass creating ‘lightning in a bottle’. This technology pays homage to a Van de Graff generator.
The blue color caste is a result of a liberal use of “cold neon,” which is produced from led lighting tucked into a flexible tube that’s filled with translucent goo. That goo diffuses the light in a very even glow. It’s basically neon without the high voltage, plus it’s extremely energy efficient. This cold blue neon illuminates the columns, adding depth. This is another trick we use to create a sense of spaciousness in a small theater. By the way, the color of the Theater is not as blue as in the photos.
Home Entertainment Magazine: It looks like the entry doors are in the back of the theater. Any special sound effects here—does the door make that spaceship “whoosh” sound when it opens and closes?
Jay Miller: The single entry door open with a motorized mechanism and it disappears into a wall pocket. There was a dust-up regarding the look of the entry door’s exterior: some of the group didn’t want to see any detail and others wanted the same detail as used on the interior of the door. In the end, the door looks the same on both sides. That way guests know there’s something special awaiting them on the door’s other side.
Home Entertainment Magazine: Are any of those vents I see around the room functional?
Jay Miller: Yes. Due to the room’s height restriction, moving air in and out of the room was a big challenge. We built the HVAC supply into the grills at the top of each column. The return is located in the rear of the room; it draws air from the theater, past the equipment racks and into the return of the a/c unit. It’s very efficient.
Home Entertainment Magazine: The equipment racks are concealed behind two concave panel-like doors on the back wall, on either side of the glass shelving. Looks like these doors replicate that of the entry door?
Jay Miller: They do, here’s the surprise: they rotate 180 degrees! They can be closed to showcase the detail, or they can rotate 90 degrees to expose the front of the A/V gear. They can rotate another 90 degrees to provide complete access to the back panels.
This was a big hit with the integrator. In addition, the rack’s center shelves and backing panel are removable for access to the LED power modules, as well as the back of the projector. It’s a very easy theater to work in.
Home Entertainment Magazine: Any special features in this theater that we can’t see? Does the Star Wars theme automatically play when the theater is entered?
Jay Miller: No Whoosh or theme is played when you enter, like our previous Star Trek Theater. I love the etched glass bar at the rear that’s illuminated from the sides and glows blue. I found some very cool holographic projection technology that would have allowed us to project images above the support elements above the 2 ends of the glass bar but the technology was a bit costly and in the end it was nixed. I would love to use this technology in a theater, so if any readers are interested please call me!
Home Entertainment Magazine: Any closing remarks?
Jay Miller: Our first spaceship theater, the Enterprise NCC-1701, kicked off in 2001 but wasn’t finished until 2006. During that project, we designed and installed two more spaceship theaters…I refer to them tenders for the Mother Ship!
It’s great when clients allow us to use our imagination and design something that hasn’t been done before. What’s even cooler is each theater project seems to get bigger, better and more fun every time!