Scene - 2022 Features

Ask the expert: Bill Ellis

When Bill Ellis (B.F.A. Design & Production ’85) graduated from what was then the lighting and audio program, he pictured a career touring the country with live shows or working at a major theater. However, after more than a decade working in the entertainment industry, he was ready for a more predictable schedule while still pursuing his passion. Ellis co-founded Candela Controls, Inc., a company specializing in lighting system integration and control, where he has been able to apply his training to a range of projects, from theme parks to museums and more.

Today, Ellis uses core teachings from his time at UNCSA while working on projects he never imagined: the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum; the Space Shuttle Atlantis; and the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City. His company is currently working on a multiyear renovation of the renowned Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., helping reimagine all the museum’s exhibitions featuring iconic artifacts from throughout aviation history, like the 1903 Wright Flyer and Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia.

Q: Tell us about the Air and Space Museum project.

It is the largest contract we have ever undertaken. We are touching every square inch of the museum, because the building hasn’t undergone a renovation of this scale since it was built in 1976. Additionally, we’re working around priceless artifacts that haven’t been touched in decades. This poses logistical complications, so all teams involved must take extra care and planning with every step. As of now, the museum is slated to be completed in 2024.

Sunshine Skyway

Ellis' company, Candela Controls Inc. engineered, installed and programmed the lighting controls system for the Sunshine Skyway bridge in Tampa, FL. / Photo courtesy of Candela Controls, Inc.

Q: How has Candela Controls evolved over the past 20 years? What is your most notable project?

Since the founding of Candela, our services have become increasingly in demand because of the evolution of available technology. In the beginning, we did a lot of work in the entertainment industry, but when LED lights came on the market it opened a lot of opportunities for how lighting can become an architectural element. While the Smithsonian is definitely unique because of the scale, another notable project is the Sunshine Skyway bridge in Florida (near the company’s home base). The Skyway project blended the need for safety — the pillars needed to be clearly visible at night — and the local government’s wish for something that is aesthetically pleasing.   

Q: Why is it important to maintain a connection with current UNCSA students?   

I think it’s important for students considering what they want to do after graduation to understand all the options available to them outside of the entertainment industry. I like explaining that while we work with companies like Walt Disney World, we also get to work on bridges, museums, airports, casinos and other places they may never have considered. I currently have four Pickles working for me, and I can guarantee that coming from UNCSA they will have a good work ethic, discipline and a solid foundation of skills — which are attributes every employer seeks.

As told to Melissa Upton-Julio

This article appeared in the 2022 issue of Scene.

July 21, 2022