From Vision to Execution (Part 3: Bringing a Water Feature to Life)

Posted in Insights -

water feature

Have you ever wondered what goes into the making of a water feature? Delivering a beautiful fountain, cascading waterfall, reflecting pool, or other water feature is a multi-layered process that is part art and part science.

In this three-part series, OTL describes the creation of our water features from start to finish. In Part 1, we discussed the intricacies of our design process. Part 2 focused on how our water features are constructed, and Part 3, below, details how we bring each water feature to life.

Part 3: Creating Liquid Art: Bringing a Water Feature to Life

By Chris Roy, Director of Creative Design

A spectacular water feature is truly a work of liquid art – delivering excitement and engagement to urban gathering places and busy retail centers; relaxation and healing to hospitals and healthcare campuses; innovation and productivity to corporate office properties; immersion and awe to theme parks and zoos/aquariums; as well as prestige and beauty to private estates.

As we detailed in Part 1 of this series, OTL’s water features begin with an organic and creative design process that is unique to each project and informed by stakeholder goals and site parameters.

In Part 2, we outlined our construction phase, including our focus on safety, planning, scheduling, and attention to detail, through which we deliver a seamless experience to project owners and developers.

Today, we will delve into the exciting final phase: how OTL works to bring a water feature to life.

This process involves fine-tuning and perfecting the many aspects that go into a water feature, and often culminates in a dramatic presentation or reveal that brings all stakeholders together in unison before the finished product is turned over to the Client.

It is these extra steps – going the extra mile for the project owner or developer – that guarantees that each water feature will function at its peak potential. To do this, the OTL team provide each Client with recommendations on precisely what is needed for the project to operate optimally for years to come.

The aspects of the water feature that we review at this stage include the following:

Innovations and Inventions

In building a water feature, OTL will often invent custom design elements to meet the specific needs of a particular project. Because these elements are unique, we must fine-tune them at the end of the construction process to ensure proper functionality for the long term.

For example, OTL is currently building a stunning show fountain within Arlington, Texas’ $250 million Texas Live! development. To deliver the vision the property owner is seeking, our team designed custom air-powered water jets which create a sparkling burst of water.

As we phased out of construction and into testing and startup, our technicians and designers analyzed the nozzles’ water character in relation to the water level of the basin, finalizing the nozzles’ elevation to create the most dramatic effect.

In other projects, we analyze and test all custom-designed features such as jets, lights for illuminated weirs, and other elements to ensure that the intended effects are consistently achieved.

Programming and Choreography

This is a fun and gratifying project stage. Synchronizing the movement of water in a show fountain with music and colorful lights is one of the most exciting ways we can bring a water feature to life. 

OTL’s in-house programming and choreography capabilities are at the heart of delivering the emotion, energy and desired result for each water feature we design and/or construct.

This phase takes time and precision, and thus careful planning in order to achieve the movement necessary. For example, programming a three-minute song can take as much as a week to complete. This is because the translation of sounds into stunning visual effects requires constant pausing and replaying segments of songs in order to glean inspiration while applying our artistic talents to the overall movement of the fountain.

Because these processes are so detail-oriented, we begin them during the construction phase and fine-tune them at the end of construction to ensure exact synchronization.


Correlating closely with programming and choreography, the audiovisual elements of a water feature have the potential to integrate and engage an entire property into what will become a show.

Here, the water’s effects are coordinated with sounds as well as images, lights, and shadows that can be projected onto property walls to create a multimedia effect that resonates with visitors.

In bringing this element of the water feature to life, OTL looks carefully at equalizer curves and speaker placement, thoughtfully setting sound levels that match the energy and intensity of the images and water movement.

Recognizing that sound travels slower than images, we often tweak the volume so that music and sound effects are heard at the same time from all speakers, regardless of the speakers’ distance, eliminating any dissonant echoing effect that would detract from visitors’ enjoyment of the show.

Much of this work must be done at night to observe the full impact of lights, images, sound, and water, so our engineers will typically arrive at a project site in the evening, often working throughout the night to make sure the effects are right on target.

Introducing the Fountain

One of the most rewarding aspects of bringing a water feature to life is holding a grand-opening ceremony with an exciting “reveal” to introduce a completed fountain to owners, project stakeholders, and the surrounding community.

An event like this is especially significant when a fountain is the focal point of a larger development’s grand opening or re-opening.

For example, at the beautiful Grand Park fountain in Los Angeles, which OTL reconstructed and re-energized in partnership with Raymond Group, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held during which the City’s Mayor cut the ribbon and pushed a giant button to activate the fountain’s colorful interactive LED light and water show. And the crowd went wild!

While the button-pushing was all for effect, the OTL team went above and beyond to deliver the anticipation and excitement, as well as the precise activation that ensured the fountain was breathtaking at that event, and for many years thereafter.

For water features that are not show fountains, a grand opening ceremony infused with meaningful connections to the site can be just as effective. For example, when OTL reimagined the botanical gardens at Ganna Walska Lotusland in Montecito, California, our construction team built a new koi pond to replace the owner’s previous one. This required moving the fish offsite to care for them during construction. Upon completion, the koi fish were re-introduced to the pond in time for a beautiful grand opening ceremony.

Transitioning the Fountain

After a water feature or rockwork project has been brought to life, it is equally important to transition the control of that feature to ownership in a way that supports optimum long-term care.

For example, when the programming and choreographic elements have been perfected, OTL trains users on how to maintain the fountain and monitor the control equipment. In addition to live training, we deliver a training video and a fully detailed manual explaining all parts and their future needs, ensuring that our support remains with the project throughout its life.

For show fountains we also present project owners and/or managers with an iPad that is customized with specific operating controls for their water feature, giving them remote access for water feature control and monitoring in the future.

This deliverable dovetails into OTL’s ongoing maintenance offerings, through which we offer maintenance packages on a regular basis, with frequency depending on the complexity of the project.  These packages give owners and managers the opportunity to proactively protect their investment by ensuring proper operation through all seasons and at all times.

While the details are unique to each project, bringing a water feature to life is always an exciting and satisfying moment for the OTL team, our partners, and our Clients.

By testing and perfecting our innovations and inventions, creating stunning programming and choreography, integrating and fine-tuning audiovisual elements, preparing for special events to introduce each fountain in an awe-inspiring way, and supporting a smooth transition of operational items, OTL continues to exceed our Client expectations while delivering liquid art to development projects throughout the globe.