Thursday, April 18, 2013

Behind the Scenes: Vegas Weddings build for Tanked

When we were first approached by Brett and Wayde from Tanked to do a GloFish tank, we were naturally thrilled. When we heard it was to be an over the top, 700-gallon, "old Vegas" inspired build--well, we were just blown away. Anyone who has seen a properly lit and laid out GloFish® display knows how impressive a sight it isbut to do something on this vast scale in the neon capitol of the world was just perfect!

So after weeks of planning, hundreds of calls and emails back and forth with both the ATM crew and the awesomely talented Tanked production team we had a solid plan for what was to date the most creative and unique Tanked build we had been a part of. The build required the combined expertise of the master fabricators and tank designers at ATM, our own farm production coordinators (who oversee farming of all of our GloFish, which are raised right here in FL), our purchasing team, and lighting experts from Marineland/United Pet Group who provided a massive amount of high-powered LEDs in just the right actinic blue spectrum to best highlight the GloFishes' brilliant fluorescence. For my part, I helped coordinate all these details and was Segrest Farm's point of contact with the production team.
Original concept sketch for the Wedding Chapel tank
Aside from the hundreds of GloFish that this tank would need (which, as mentioned previously, are all raised in our own farms here so supply was not an issue), ATM also wanted a fish to tie in with the fact that this was a wedding chapel--so what would be more appropriate than that aquarium classic, the Kissing Gourami? To round out the tank we added a group of adult albino longfin bristlenose plecos (also Florida-bred) both to add interest to the bottom layers of the tank and to help keep the tank free of algae.

Once we had determined the group of fish needed, it was time to head on out to Vegas along with the fish to make sure they made it to the build site safely and on time. Our packing crew had bagged and boxed all the fish with sufficient oxygen to last at least 48 hours in transit, and sent them on their way to Southwest Air Cargo. I arrived at Tampa airport bright and (extremely) early for my flight out, armed with nets, salt, nitrifying bacteria, and a TDS pen (much to the confusion of TSA, I'm sure, who left a nice note in my checked bag to inform me it had been opened for inspection). 

Waiting for takeoff, the woman seated next to me struck up a conversation, asking if I was traveling for business or on vacation. When I told her it was to be a business trip, she asked what it was I did for work. Unfortunately in the fish business there really isn't an easy one-word answer to that question. To simplify things I just said I was going out to install a large fish tank for a business.
"Oh, you mean like Tanked?" she said, excitedly

"Sure, something like that" I replied noncommittally, not wanting to get into too detailed a conversation and hoping to get a few hours sleep on the flight out (which didn't happen)...

On arrival I headed on over to air cargo where the ever-competent Southwest staff informed me the fish had arrived right on schedule and helped me load all 18 of our large thickwall boxes into the rental van. For a minute it seemed like they might not fit but with some careful maneuvering we were able to get them all loaded in (barely!). with every square inch of space taken up by fish boxes, I made my way over to ATM to check in and then downtown towards Vegas Weddings.
Fish boxes completely filling the rental car

One of the best descriptions I've heard for doing any sort of work for TV is "hurry up and wait". This was definitely the case after I had unloaded all the fish on location and found myself sitting on a stack of Segrest boxes waiting for the crews to get there. As I mentioned earlier the fish had been packed for a long transit time so I was not concerned for their health but as always the sooner I got them in the tank the sooner I could breathe a sigh of relief.

As the hours dragged on and the delays continued (inevitable when dealing with so many variables), I started getting a little worried. The atmosphere was tense as the tank finally made it into place. Next, the crew arrived to complete the exterior theming for the tank to complete its transformation into an old vegas-style slot machine. Finally, ATM's installation and plumbing technicians arrived on the scene to plumb the filtration systems into place and ready the tank for water.
Fish in boxes as the crew finishes the installation
Now I know the show Tanked gets a some criticism for the way it portrays fish being added to their systems almost immediately and all at once. I don't want to debate whether or not they're misleading potential hobbyists or not by doing so, but it is important to keep in mind this is tv, and entertainment. Technical details like the nitrogen cycle and dechlorinating water just won't interest the average viewer. That said, there is a ton of behind-the-scenes prep work that goes into every build before a fish ever gets put into one of their tanks. Techniques like using aged water, pre-seeded biological filter media, and heavy dosing with laboratory grade nitrifying bacteria allow for what on TV appears to be a seamless introduction of fish into a newly filled tank. For many in the industry this is standard fare for setting up aquariums at trade shows, etc. where a tank needs to go from brand new to fully stocked in a very short time. When done properly, there is no detrimental effect on the fish and water quality should remain optimal.

Back to the install—it was long after midnight by the time the tank was filled (by which time I was thoroughly soaked), the last bits of plumbing tweaked, and the filtration up and running. One of the producers, myself, and an ATM maintenance tech were the last standing after a long and exhausting day. I had been awake now for almost 40 straight hours, and the fish in their boxes were nearing the upper limits of safe transit time. Despite my full confidence in the pros who packed up this order of fish, I still found myself really nervous by the time the fish were set to get acclimated into the tank.
As we unloaded box after box to temperature acclimate the fish, I could breathe a bit easier every single bag of fish looked pristine!
Fish in: large Kissing Gouramis checking out their new tank
After waiting for the fish to acclimate, and with the help of some much needed pizza and beer, the fish were in the tank, swimming happily and looking none the worse for wear. And what a tank! It was just awe-inspiring seeing a tank of that size just filled with brilliant, fluorescent GloFish®. And so after making sure one last time that everything was running smoothly, we left the build site and headed off to try to get some sleep... The last day of filming, including the big reveal to the client, started the next morning at 6am! As I drove up the Vegas Strip and back to my hotel, brightly lit as always but deserted at 3am, I felt tired beyond belief but very proud to have been a part of yet another awesome Tanked build. I was just very grateful I didn't have to do that every day!
All of the fish acclimated and in the tank

And of course the finished product. Stunning!

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