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What makes neon signs glow? A 360° animation - Michael Lipman

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  • 1,533 Questions Answered
  • TEDEd Animation

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When the Hoover Dam was completed, it created a huge source of hydroelectric power and zapped a sleepy desert town to life: Las Vegas, Nevada. With the power supply from the dam, Las Vegas soon exploded with vibrant displays. The source of these dazzling lights was electrified neon gas. In this special 360° animation, explore the colorful world of neon signs as Lippy shares what makes them glow.

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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Lippy
  • Director Lippy
  • Narrator Addison Anderson
  • Animator David Winn
  • 360 VR Integration Idle Hands
  • Special Thanks Shawna Peterson
  • Sound Designer Weston Fonger
  • Music Jarrett Farkas
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Associate Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Associate Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Script Editor Alex Gendler
  • Fact-checker Joseph Isaac
  • See more
Additional Resources for you to Explore
Do you have a Cardboard™ viewer? Here are the instructions to enjoy the TED-Ed 360° animated video:

1. Open this video in the YouTube app on your phone.
2. Hit pause on the video.
3. Tap the 3 vertical dots on the top right corner of the view window. This will slide up a sub-menu where you will choose the quality setting of your video stream. Choose "2880s." Note that if you are not streaming over Wifi, YouTube will only allow "720s" quality.
4. Tap on the “Cardboard viewer” icon on the bottom row of the video window (it looks like a mask). This will present the video full screen in prep for the Cardboard viewer.
5. The screen is now divided into 2 halves, separated by a thin white line that runs halfway up the screen. Make sure to rotate your phone so that this thin line is coming from the bottom of the screen. This ensures proper stereoscopic depth.
6. Insert your phone into the Cardboard viewer and press play. The video will begin. Enjoy!

If you do not have access to a Cardboard or smart phone, you can watch on your browser. Use your mouse to drag and explore the space above, below, and behind you. Enjoy!

Chances are good that you’ve grown up seeing some form of neon lighting in your town. But when was the last time you stopped to consider how that particular type of signage is created and by whom? Neon signs have always been individually made by hand and they still are. Even corporate signage for national beer brands or chain stores create their neon by hand. There is still no method to produce neon signage by machine on an assembly line. It’s a handcrafted art form.

History
Neon signs first became popular in the 1930s because their piercing light was visible from a long distance. Consumers in fast-moving automobiles could identify a lit sign from far away and still have time to pull over and patronize the business. Additionally, neon production was cheap and the illuminated gas lasted much longer (up to 40 years!) than the incandescent lighting that was popular around the turn of the last century.

Neon In Your Town
A big part of neon’s charm is the way that different craftspeople come together to create some seriously stunning results. A typical neon sign utilizes the talents of graphic design, font manipulation, sheet metal fabrication, electrical engineering, color theory, animation, and most especially the talents of the hot glass fabricators, the “tube benders” themselves. Each tube bender has to map out their own individual course of action when looking at a particular sign’s design and lighting structure. Though there may be two signs that look very similar (say, a “SHOES” sign) each one will have its glass bent in accordance with that particular craftsperson’s idea of how best to manage the unwieldy and fragile tubes of glass. Where to make edits in a letter, and how long to run a continuous tube before heating up another to continue the letterform(s) are all decisions which are unique to the individual tube bender. Even when there is an industry standardized plan of attack for laying out the bending method of a particular sign, the actual path to completion is always decided by the assigned tube bender. This is why close inspection of a neon sign is so rewarding. It’s possible to see the thought processes involved in the manufacture of a sign that would have been easy to dismiss as “just another sign” on first glance. A deeper dig into the mental and physical attention devoted to the fabrication of a neon sign is a surprisingly rich experience.

Neon has been the subject of renewed interest and preservation in the past few years. Some cities have their own organizations devoted to the mapping and renovation of historically important and at-risk neon signs in their town. There is even a museum dedicated to neon as a cultural art form in the Los Angeles area. Watch this short video to learn about neon’s cultural significance in Hong Kong, and how its future is being threatened by cheaper, mass produced alternatives.

For more of Lippy's animation works, check out his website at www.Lippy.com

Special Thanks to Shawna Peterson, PetersonNeon.com


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Create and share a new lesson based on this one.

About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Lippy
  • Director Lippy
  • Narrator Addison Anderson
  • Animator David Winn
  • 360 VR Integration Idle Hands
  • Special Thanks Shawna Peterson
  • Sound Designer Weston Fonger
  • Music Jarrett Farkas
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Associate Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Associate Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Script Editor Alex Gendler
  • Fact-checker Joseph Isaac
  • See more