The Bat Cave and the Oarsmen: Secrets of How the Fountains of Bellagio Work

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The Fountains at Bellagio (Photo: MGM Resorts)

There are few things in Las Vegas more iconic than the Fountains of Bellagio. Since 1998, the dancing Fountains have performed more than 180,000 times before millions of people. They’ve also played beside Clooney and Pitt in Ocean’s 11, provided the stage for a Britney Spears performance, and been Richard Branson’s personal watercraft playground.

But while many people think the Fountains of Bellagio are fully automated and simply start at the designated times, there’s a complex system in place to ensure this show goes off with out a hitch—as it has every 30 minutes from start until 7pm, then every 15 minutes until midnight, every day, 7 days a week, for the last 14 years.

I had a chance to go behind the scenes—travel down into the maintenance crew’s Bat Cave and climb into the tiny control tower high above the property—to see what it takes to make these fountains dance. Here are the secrets to how the Fountains of Bellagio work:

 

The Fountains first performed in October of 1998

 

The 8.5 acre Lake Bellagio is 13 feet deep at its deepest point and holds 22 million gallons of chlorinated water. The water is replaced about every year and a half.

 

Sun Valley, Calif.-based WET developed the Fountains of Bellagio and continues to handle the design and choreography of all new songs

The view of the Fountains from the control tower (Photos: Eric Rogell)

There are 1,214 fountains on the Lake, spanning over 1,000 feet and able to shoot water up to 460 feet in the air.

 

Four types of water-emitting devices make up the Fountains: Oarsmen, Mini-Shooters, Super Shooters, and Extreme Shooters.

 

208 Oarsmen spray water in a movable stream up to 140 gallons per minute, 77 feet high, and each is individually programmable. These are the “dancing” fountains, the only devices in the show able to change the direction of the water, front to back and left and right.  13 backup Oarsmen are kept on hand in case one goes down.

 

798 Mini-Shooters shoot water straight up to a max height of 100 feet.

 

192 Super-Shooters can blast water up to 240 feet high.

 

The 16 Extreme-Shooters are the ones everyone waits for, propelling water 460 feet in the air, almost as high as the Bellagio itself.

The different types of fountains: The dancing Oarsmen (left) and the shooters (right)

The loud booms heard during the shows are not sound effects, the Mini-, Super- and Extreme-Shooters are powered by air pressure, and the booms are air escaping the shooters.

 

The fountains have 3 positions: “Hidden” under the lake for between shows, “Show” where they rise up above the water to perform, and “Maintenance” so they can be worked on.

 

The music of the Fountains is fed through 183 speakers located around the Lake’s perimeter, and 30 additional speakers solely for the Bell Tower bells, for a total of 213 speakers, equivalent to the amount needed for two major concert venues.

 

There are a total of 4,792 individual lights on the support structure and Oarsmen. (The Oarsmen have 4 lights each.) All lights are water resistant to approximately 15 feet.

 

The lights are the biggest maintenance issue. One recent week they replaced 410 lights.

 

Each 575-watt bulb puts out 12,360 Lumens each. Multiply that by 4,792, and you end up with 59,229,120 Lumens of power.

 

A dedicated team of 30 people, including engineers, pool specialists and maintenance divers, keep the Fountains working.

Workers in the Bat Cave on one of the floating workshop barges. (The bottom of the pool in the Cave is painted bright blue.)

The main maintenance area is nicknamed The Bat Cave. It is a large cave under the property, with an opening that leads directly to the Lake. Workers use small barges as floating workshops, and divers can swim out to the fountains to make repairs on site.

Looking out to the Fountains from the Bat Cave

The pre-choreographed shows are automated, but there is still a worker who has the job of actually starting the shows. He sits in a tiny tower above the property, and watches over an array of computer equipment, selecting each show from a pre-determined schedule of music.

The view from the tower control room

Wind gauges send information about wind direction and strength to the show’s computers so it can adjust the fountains’ direction and height, keeping spectators from being doused in high winds.

Digital wind gauges help control the direction and height of the water, keeping spectators from getting doused

There is a catalog of exactly 32 choreographed shows, everything from Luciano Pavarotti and Andrea Bocelli, to Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, to Michael Jackson and The Beatles.  (For the complete list, see below.)

3 new shows were added in December 2011, the first time a new show was added in 6 years. They are: “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson, “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” by the Beatles, and “In the Mood” by the Glenn Miller Orchestra.

 

And finally: About every year or so someone jumps into Lake Bellagio.

 

The 32 Songs of the Fountains at Bellagio:

  • Title: Billie Jean Artist: Michael Jackson.  Composer: Michael Jackson. Work:  Thriller, 1982.  Length 4:54
  • Title: Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds Artist: The Beatles.  Composer: Lennon-McCarthy. Work:  Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967.  Length 3:28
  • Title:  In The Mood Artist: Glenn Miller Orchestra. Composers: Glenn Miller & Joe Garland. Work:  10” Record Single, 1939.  Length 3:25
  • Title: One Singular Sensation Artist: Original Broadway Cast. Composer: Marvin Hamlisch. Work: A Chorus Line, Broadway Musical, 1975. Length 4:43
  • Title: Hoe-Down Artist: London Symphony Orchestra. Composer: Aaron Copland. Work: Rodeo, 1988. Length 3:30
  • Title: Simple Gifts Artist: London Symphony Orchestra. Composer: Aaron Copland. Work: Appalachian Spring, 1988. Length 3:12
  • Title: Singin’ in the Rain Artist: Gene Kelly. Composer: Alex North. Work: Singin’ in the Rain, Movie Musical, 1952. Length 3:32
  • Title: Rondine al Nido Artist: Luciano Pavarotti. Composer: Vicenzo deCrescenzo. Work: La Rondine, Opera, 1990. Length 3:23
  • Title: Luck Be A Lady Artist: Frank Sinatra. Composer: Frank Loesser. Work: Guys & Dolls, Broadway Musical, 1955. Length 5:14
  • Title: Winter Games Artist: David Foster. Composer: David Foster. Work: Composed for Winter Olympics, 1987. Length 3:00
  • Title: Hey, Big Spender Artist: Gwen Verdon & Original Broadway Cast. Composer: Cy Coleman. Work: Sweet Charity, Broadway Musical, 1966. Length 3:35
  • Title: Con Te Partiro (Time to Say Goodbye) Artist: Andrea Bocelli & Sarah Brightman. Composer: F.Sartori, L.Quarantotto. Work: Pop Song, 1996. Length 4:04
  • Title: Your Song Artist: Elton John. Lyrics: Bernie Taupin. Work: Elton John, 1970. Length 4:10
  • Title: God Bless The USA Artist: Lee Greenwood. Composer: Lee Greenwood. Work: American Patriot, 1992. Length 3:57
  • Title: Star Spangled Banner Artist: Whitney Houston. Composer: Francis Scott Key. Work: CD Single, 2001. Length 5:08
  • Title: Pink Panther Artist: Henry Mancini. Composer: Henry Mancini. Work: The Pink Panther, Movie Soundtrack, 1964. Length 2:39
  • Title: My Heart Will Go On Artist: Celine Dion. Composer: James Horner. Lyrics: Will Jennings. Work: Let’s Talk About Love & Titanic: Music from the Motion Picture, 1997. Length 5:08
  • Title: Fly Me To The Moon Artist: Frank Sinatra with Count Basie. Composer: Bart Howard. Work: The Very Best of Frank Sinatra, 1957; Length 2:28
  • Title: This Kiss Artist: Faith Hill. Composers: Beth Nielsen Chapman, Annie Roboff and Robin Lerner. Work: Faith, 1998. Length 3:00
  • Title: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini Artist: Mikhail Rudy. Composer: Sergei Rachmaninov. Work: Theme of Paganini, 1992. Length 2.55
  • Title: Gayaneh – Suite: Dawn, Ayeshe’s Dance Artist: London Symphony Orchestra. Composer: Aram Ll’yich Khachaturian. Work: Spartacus, 1942. Length 4:12
  • Title: Overture/And All That Jazz Artist: Catherine Zeta-Jones. Composers: Fred Ebb & John Kander. Work: Chicago Soundtrack, 2002. Length 4:37
  • Title: Ecstasy of Gold Composer: Ennio Morricone. Work: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly Soundtrack, 1966. Length 3.22
  • Title: Viva Las Vegas Artist: Elvis Presley. Composer: George E. Stoll. Work: Viva Las Vegas Soundtrack, 1963. Length 2.25
  • Title: Hallelujah Chorus Artist: Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Composer: Handel. Work: The Messiah, 1992. Length 3:53
  • Title: Carol of the Bells Artist: Los Angeles Master Chorale. Composer: M. Leontovich. Work: Christmas Carol, 1996. Length 1:29
  • Title: O Holy Night Artist: Placido Domingo. Composer: Placide Clappeau. Work: Christmas Carol, 1984. Length 3:57

 

For more, follow me @ericrogell.

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