This week, Tim Anderson is helping inspire awe in San Francisco.
Timed to coincide with the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Conference of international leaders, including President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, Anderson deployed an array of laser cannons he and his Folsom-based company designed – shooting variable colors of brilliant lights up Market Street from cannons based near the San Francisco Ferry Building.
The stunning array can be seen from Telegraph Hill and throughout the city.
If something feels familiar to folks in Sacramento about the San Francisco beam — dubbed Illuminate San Francisco — there is good reason. Anderson, founder of the Folsom-based company, Nu-Salt Laser, designed the now internationally renowned Sacramento Kings Beam.
“As I move on Market Street, I have never seen so many people smiling. People are dancing, exchanging numbers, and making friends. It’s transformational,” Ben Davis, the founder of the non-profit Illuminate SF told The Bee.
Illuminate SF and Anderson are collaborating on the laser cannon display, which has been nightly since Monday. The SF version of the beam’s final performance is tonight until dawn Friday.
Anderson has become a celebrity of sorts (at least in laser circles) because of the popularity of the Kings’ beam. At one point, though, he thought he was destined to be the fifth generation in his family working in Michigan’s upper peninsula in iron ore mines. Instead, looking to serve his country, Anderson joined the Coast Guard in 1989. That’s where he developed a love of electronics.
After he was honorably discharged in 1993, Anderson became fascinated with lasers. He first showed up at a company called Las Vegas Laser and began working on live music performances, which involved lasers — for free.
Anderson helped hone his knack for transforming cityscapes by working on past projects with Illuminate SF in the San Francisco art scene.
First, in 2021, Anderson and SF Illuminate worked together to project poetry on the facade of the San Francisco Academy of Science for an entire month.
Davis said he was fascinated with the potential of lasers to transform the city.
“I’m not a technical person,” Davis said. “That’s Tim. So I asked a million questions.
“Can you shoot them through windows? What about water? What kind of permission would we need to go big, really big?”
A year later, Anderson came back to Davis, with answers and the news that he had received FAA permission to deploy laser cannons in downtown San Francisco. Months later, they launched the Pride Week City of Awe spectacle.
“We shot six lasers directly up Market Street and over Twin Peaks,” Anderson said. “It was really interesting and nerve-racking. We knew we could do it safely. We had FAA approval. But it had never been done before, slicing through a metropolitan city like that.”
It’s not lost on Davis or Anderson that the APEC conference is happening in the shadows of war in the Gaza Strip, Ukraine and amid other troubling international issues such as climate change.
“I think San Francisco has always been a city where people can protest and get their beliefs and ideas across,” Anderson said. “We have seen a lot of that going on in San Francisco this week, including right here at the ferry building.”
But, ultimately, Anderson and Davis say they hope, at a time of conflict, their laser cannons deliver messages of peace and unity.
“Ben and I are hoping that with the world leaders in San Francisco for APEC they will address ending some of these wars. That is why we are here to display a beautiful piece of laser artwork for the community of San Francisco and the world to enjoy. It’s a very important historical moment, and we’re proud to be involved.”
Anderson said that he and his team at Nu-Salt Laser are brainstorming about bringing a project to Sacramento as well, perhaps emanating from the Capitol dome.
“I’m not sure yet,” Anderson said. “We’re looking at different locations.”