Artist explains how he brings vintage Vegas signs to life

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 take a closer look and you’ll notice that’s not the case at all.

Most of the bulbs are broken, some are hanging down by their threads. None of the signs are actually working.

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The program “Génial!” uses music and a technique called ‘augmented restoration’ to create an immersive time-traveling experience, bringing long-serving vintage neon signs to life.

John Locher / AP

In this photo from Jan. 24, 2018, spotlights illuminate non-functioning neon signs during an exhibit at the Neon Museum in Las Vegas. Starting this week, visitors will be able to see many of the city’s classic neon signs like decades ago thanks to a type of augmented reality that projects realistic animations on non-functional signs. (AP Photo / John Locher)

“Even the photo and video doesn’t quite compare to being here and seeing these real signs light up for you in a way you didn’t expect them to,” said Craig Winslow, the artist behind the project.

And the show has just been improved. This weekend marks the first since the museum unveiled “Brilliant! Jackpot ”.

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

“This is a new system update for ‘Brilliant!’ which introduces different thematic variations from a single show. “

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Amy Abdelsayed, 13 Action News

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

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

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

Restore relics, preserve their history

Winslow begins by digging through the archives, researching what the panels looked like in their prime.

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

To make the illusion compelling, Winslow must perfectly align his animated projections with the physical signs themselves.

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Amy Abdelsayed, 13 Action News

The final result ? Panels that have darkened for decades appear to light up like new.

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

Preserving history is the goal of the Neon Museum.

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

Mural painting is free and no ticket is required. It’s on the south wall of the north gallery, and it’s the first thing you’ll see just before entering “Brilliant!”

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

She and her husband of 15 years, Ali Fathollahi, painted the fresco together. Both have two master’s degrees, one of which is Iranian, and both have master’s degrees in fine arts from UNLV.

“I think we complement each other in the job,” Sharifpour said. “We work very well as a team.”

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Amy Abdelsayed, 13 Action News

One of the challenges they encountered with this project was that some of the characters just didn’t have a lot of good quality reference photos to work from.

“We had to refer to everything we had in hand and some kind of construction based on our artistic skills,” she explained. “Build what is missing. “

Bringing the past into the present

The mural begins in black and white and changes to color as time becomes more contemporary.

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

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Amy Abdelsayed, 13 Action News

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

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

This is something Winslow thinks of for “Brilliant!”

“When people come to see the show, I hope they leave with a sense of curiosity about their own history in their own cities where they come from,” Winslow said.

“What stories are hidden in plain sight? And how can they contribute, protect or tell these 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-members, tickets are $ 23 and for locals it’s $ 19. Tickets for the show do not provide access to the main Boneyard exhibit. To find out more visit

This story is taken from the “Las Vegas Art Scene” segment of our dedicated digital show “How to Vegas,” a weekly guide to things locals can enjoy. Watch “How to Vegas” at 10:30 PM on Fridays and throughout the weekend using the KTNV app on your favorite streaming device.

Do you know of an artist or artistic experience that should be featured? Send an email to [email protected]