Artist brings vintage Las Vegas signs to life at Neon Museum through augmented restoration

By Amy Abdelsayed for KTNV 13 Action News

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — At first glance, the neon signs illuminating the North Gallery at the Neon Museum look like so many others you might find in downtown Las Vegas or on The Strip. But look closer and you’ll notice that’s not the case at all.

Many of the bulbs are busted, some are dangling by their wires. None of the signs actually work.

The show “Brilliant!” uses music and a technique called “augmented restoration” to create an immersive experience traveling through time, bringing long out-of-commission, vintage neon signs back to life.

“Even photo and video doesn’t really compare to being here and seeing these actual signs light back up for you in a way that you never expected they would,” said Craig Winslow, the artist behind the project.

And the show just got an upgrade. This weekend marks the first since the museum unveiled “Brilliant! Jackpot.”

‘Brilliant! Jackpot’: Vegas’ only slot machine that’s also a time machine

“I’m very excited about this ‘Jackpot’ edition,” said Winslow.

“It is a new system update for ‘Brilliant!’ that introduces different thematic variations versus just the one show.”

Those who visit “Brilliant!” will now experience one of several different versions each time, and as Winslow explains, the variations are randomly triggered so there is no way to predict which one it will be.

“It is truly a first slot machine in Vegas that’s also a time machine,” said Winslow.

But that’s about as random as it gets. Everything else about the show is extremely precise.

Restoring relics, preserving their history

Winslow starts out digging through the archives, researching what the signs looked like back in their heyday.

“What color the neon was, how they were animated,” he said. “Then I digitally trace them in a program like Illustrator and I animate them all together.”

To make the illusion convincing, Winslow has to perfectly align his animated projections onto the physical signs themselves.

The end result? Signs that have gone dark for decades appear to light up like new.

“It actually brings these [signs] back to life without harming the actual historical significance of the objects themselves,” he explained.

Preserving history is what the Neon Museum is all about.

‘Las Vegas Luminaries’: The lesser-known influencers of Vegas’ past

Just outside the show is a new mural called “Las Vegas Luminaries.” It celebrates some of the lesser-known figures in Las Vegas history.

The mural is free to enjoy with no tickets required. It’s on the south wall of the North Gallery, and is the first thing you’ll just before entering “Brilliant!”

“One of those characters that mural actually starts with is Theodora Boyd. She was one of the African American showgirls in Moulin Rouge,” said Nanda Sharifpour.

She and her husband of 15 years, Ali Fathollahi, painted the mural together. Both have two master’s degrees, one from Iran, and both have a Masters of Fine Arts from UNLV.

“I think that we complete each other in working,” said Sharifpour. “We work great as a team.”

One of the challenges they had with this project was some of the figures just don’t have a lot of good quality reference photos to work from.

“We had to refer to whatever we had in hand and kind of, like, build-up based on our artistic skills,” she explained. “Build out whatever is missing.”

Bringing the past into the present

The mural begins in black and white and transitions into color as time becomes more contemporary.

A notable section of the wall is a tribute to Betty Willis, the designer of the iconic “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign. The artists added something special to the reflection of her glasses.

“I took that initiative to paint the reflection of the street that she’s looking at right now, here, instead of what she had in the picture,” said Sharifpour. “So now she’s kind of like here in the location looking at the museum.”

Another example of artists bringing the past into our present-day and keeping the stories of an earlier Las Vegas alive.

It’s something Winslow thinks about for “Brilliant!”

“When people do come and see the show, I would hope that they leave with a feeling of curiosity for their own history in their own towns where they’re from,” Winslow said.

“What stories are just hiding in plain sight? And how they can contribute to or protect or tell those stories in their own way?”

The Neon Museum is located at 770 Las Vegas Boulevard North and “Brilliant!” takes place after dark.

For members, tickets to the show are free. For non-member tickets are $23 and for locals, they are $19. Tickets to the show do not grant access to the main Boneyard exhibit. To learn more visit neonmuseum.org.

This story was written by Amy Abdelsayed for 13 Action News. It was published on Dec. 18, 2021. Read the original story here.

Author: Amy Abdelsayed

Amy Abdelsayed is a journalist in Las Vegas, NV. She currently works as a digital content producer for KTNV 13 Action News (ABC affiliate). Previous work experience includes What's On Magazine, Boulder City Review, KSNV News 3 (NBC affiliate), Tesla and Apple.

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