Starting Simple: Deconstructing Vegas
As I wandered around Las Vegas each night after the day’s AWS re:Invent activities, I took in the bright lights of the Vegas Strip. As I looked out along the strip from my hotel room, I saw a cacophony of lights, which was almost overwhelming. But as I headed out and visited these many points of light, I noticed that many are just small, individual features in the grand scheme of things.
Take the outside of the Luxor. Programmed lights run up the four corners of the thirty-story pyramid to a bright beam of light emanating from the top. It is a large structure, yes, but the display is simple. It reminds me of my Doghouse display—if I strapped a high-powered floodlight onto the top.
The Bellagio Fountains. Jets of illuminated water are organized in circles and a line, motorized in a sequence that can twist the water and shoot high up into the air. You’re not going to find the components at any local outdoor supply store or room in your neighborhood, but the concept, on paper, is simple. Illuminated water jets are choreographed to dazzle and display the awesome forces of water and gravity, set to beautiful, moving music.
The Vegas Eiffel Tower is simple, too. A half-scale replica of its namesake in France. No, I wouldn’t recommend you build a replica with an elevator and observation deck in your yard, but the light show is still simple. A single object illuminated with 300 lights and an additional 800 strobe lights generates a beautiful display.
The High Roller is a 520-foot diameter wheel. But it is still just a wheel with synchronized lights.
The side of Resorts World is just a 100,000 square foot LED screen that you can play a world record-breaking game of Pac-Man on, but it is still just an LED screen.
The Vegas Sphere is just a globe of 1.2 million LEDs covering its surface—the world's largest sphere and video screen at a cost of $2.3 billion. Yet, on the outside, it is still just a simple shape we learned to throw around the playground.
Yes, all these points of interest are complex and even more impressive because of their scale. But if you were to plop any one of them down in the middle of the desert, it wouldn’t be quite an inspiring, creative experience. Vegas wasn’t built in a day.
When we build software, a light show, or a model layout, we need to start with fundamental components and build up. A single prop, a single concept. It may work independently from what we, or others, build around it or work in sync. Regardless, it ends up becoming part of something greater.
During his 2021 AWS re:Invent keynote, Dr. Werner Vogels (CTO, Amazon.com) cited Gall’s Law (emphasis added by Dr. Vogels):
All complex systems that work, evolved from simpler systems that worked.
I guess I brought this post full circle back to AWS re:Invent.
You can check out additional photos in my Las Vegas 2023 album on Flickr or by watching the video below.
The video is fast-paced, set to electronic music, and displays many videos and still images of lights along the Las Vegas Strip. Most images are taken at night, showing various colors and lighting techniques.
The video begins with a close-up of the Bellagio Fountain shooting jets of water high into the air during one of its shows. The video then transitions to a split screen featuring the Vegas Sphere (the world’s largest sphere and LED display) displaying a flurry of squares of different sizes, the Luxor pyramid with its dark sides, illuminated edges, and a beam of white light shining from the top, and the Eiffel Tower lit up in red, white, and blue across from the Bellagio.
The three segments then change to show a Christmas tree densely decorated sitting on a platform in a fountain colored by blue lights along the LINQ with neon of an In-N-Out Hamburger just behind it. A portion of the High Roller Ferris wheel can be seen in the background. The middle segment shows a 100,000-square-foot game of Pac-Man on the side of the Resorts World Hotel. Though windows can be seen, the side of the building has a massive LED screen on its side. There are ghosts running through the maze and a laser searching for them. In the foreground is a Treasure Island pirate ship with rope lights outlining various features.
The third panel shows the Vegas sphere with a curious emoji seemingly looking at the viewer.
The video then cuts to the fountain in front of Ceasar’s Palace, with stone angels blowing golden trumpets and horses leaping from the water. The towers of the Roman-themed hotel rise behind with illuminated cornices.
At nine seconds, a hallway near the Venetian Ballrooms has illuminated globes several inches in diameter hanging from the ceiling. Each globe changes colors and rises and lowers independently from the others, forming synchronized patterns, including waves. Convention-goers (for AWS re:Invent) pass down the hall underneath. The hallway is illuminated in pink.
At sixteen seconds, a still image of the illuminated Trevi Fountain replica in front of the Caesars Palace Forum Shops is displayed.
A still image of an Egyptian temple illuminated in blue overlooking the Luxor Atrium. Pictures of the Blue Man Group adorn the bottom edge as it sits atop the ticket booth and entrance to the show. Behind the temple are the columns for the elevators that travel up the edges of the hotel at 39-degree angles and the open hallways to the rooms going 30 stories up to the top of the pyramid-shaped atrium.
At 19 seconds, a still image from the calm Bellagio fountain features across the Strip with the Flamingo Hotel on the left, Paris with the illuminated Eiffel Tower and hot air balloon in the middle, and Planet Hollywood on the right.
At 20 seconds, a still image close-up of the Roman cornice over an entrance to Caesars Palace. A yellow light illuminates the façade with a golden emblem of Caesar and laurels (the crown made of leaves).
A still image of a neon-like blue AWS (Amazon Web Services) logo is shown. It is a close-up image with the neon logo on a glass background that reflects the image of the convention center lobby with convention goers walking.
Outside Caesars, a tree with blue and white leaves for lights stands in front of a tent. In the background, the Bellagio can be seen on the left and the Cosmopolitan on the right. The Cosmopolitan has lines of dark blue LED lights between the floors of its towers. The lights are segmented, each slowly coming on and off.
At 27 seconds, a daytime still image of the High Roller is presented. The view is from the side, looking at a baby-blue sky with some clouds. The giant Ferris wheel-like structure is over 500 feet tall, and the wheel is attached to the center via cables resembling bicycle spokes. Each carriage is a sphere that can hold around eight people with room to walk around. The spheres are slowly rotated to remain upright as they are lifted around the wheel.
Another still of the blue and white tree outside of Caesars Palace. The tree’s blue contrasts with the yellow façade lighting of Caesars and the Bellagio in the background.
Another still of the High Roller, this time at night, with blue LED lighting around the wheel performing a light show.
A still of the Bellagio Lobby ceiling with the glass flower ceiling called “Fiori di Como” was created by Dale Chihuly. It is one, if not the largest, glass sculpture in the world, featuring illuminated, multi-colored, hand-blown glass flowers hanging down. The next still image shows a close-up.
At 35 seconds, the Bellagio Fountain Show is shown from the view of the High Roller, about 500 feet over the strip. The line of fountains is waiving back and forth, each illuminated. On a side note, a truck-based crane can be seen removing stands from the previous week’s Formula One race along the strip.
A still image of one of the ships outside of Treasure Island. The old wooden ship has three masts with two crow nests on each. Lights along the ropes and sideboards of the boat reflect in the water below. The tower of Treasure Island Hotel rises into the deep blue sky as the sun sets. Another ship sits across from it, represented in the following still image.
The Vegas Sphere is seen at night from the High Roller. It resembles a lava lamp with multi-colored globs forming on the bottom, rising, breaking apart, and coming together at the top. It illuminates the surrounding structures, including a parking lot and stands still set up for the previous week’s Formula One race.
At 47 seconds, a close-up still of a section of lights hangs from a ballroom at the Caesars Forum event center. Over one hundred glass globes are lit in yellow with a blue light cast behind them. The blue light is from the floor, providing a gradient towards the right. However, an unseen curtain gives a harsh edge to the blue light on the left. The bulbs almost resemble pixels.
A still of the Flamingo Hotel leans back into the night sky towards a small white dot of the moon. The pink façade has neon lights near the hotel's base and palm trees along the street.
The following image is also of the Flamingo from the corner of the hotel. The feathery neon sign representing a showgirl headdress is prominent.
A video of the Vegas Sphere, again at night, from the High Roller. Blue and purple strands flow across the sphere, forming a twisting web. It looks three-dimensional as we are looking through the surface of the sphere.
A still image of White Castle and Casino Royale along the strip. It is a two-story façade with blue-lit windows on the second floor. White Castle has a stone front resembling a castle. A twenty-foot neon fork hangs on the building to the left.
We again see the Bellagio Fountain show from the High Roller—the fountains in the middle form multiple rings. Soon, the string of sprays and two smaller rings join in, shooting water several stories into the air.
The video then switches to a ground view of the fountain show. The fountain waved jets of water into the air. The Eiffel Tower is in the background with its light show. It has a red, purple, and white mix with twinkling lights. Several people can be seen in the foreground watching the show.
At one minute and twenty seconds, a still image of the LINQ promenade entrance to the Flamingo. Two thirty-foot flamingo statues stand in front of the entrance. Above the entrance is a neon sign with “Flamingo” in cursive.
A still of the fountains in front of Caesars Palace. Caesars has several hotel towers going into the night sky.
A skyline view from the High Roller at night. The Flamingo and Bellagio can be seen on the right, Paris and Cosmopolitan in the middle, and MGM, Mandalay Bay, and the Luxor in the distance. The Luxor’s light beam shines into the night sky.
A closer look at the Luxor from the High Roller.
Video of the fountains from the ground. The string and circles are spraying water in patterns. There are hundreds of jets of water illuminated from lamps below the surface.
At one minute and thirty-five seconds, a still of the jets of water with the Eiffel Tower and Paris in the background. Then, another angle of the fountain and Eiffel Tower is looking towards the Flamingo, High Roller, and even a glimpse of the Sphere behind.
A still image where purple is the prominent color coming from the lights covering the top of Harrah’s Casino. The Harrah’s video board displays red line art animation of a slice of pizza walking. In the middle is a McDonald’s, and to the left is Casino Royale.
We then end with another view of the Sphere from the High Roller. The webbed yarn-ball-like purple and blue lines of before are getting thicker as they weave a three-dimensional pattern.
The end credits card displays the Sphere’s “Amazed” emoji in the lower left corner as the words “Music: Press Fuse by French Fuse, YouTube Audio Library License” appear. The globes hanging from the Venetian hallway are again shown, rising and descending in a different pattern than the one shown before. Instead of wavy lines, they mimic waves along the ocean's surface. Pink, blue, and white are the predominant colors. The amazed emoji remains as if entranced by the smaller spheres.