Corporate Audio Visual Services (Corporate AV) knew that a commercial evolution to high definition was just around the corner. The home market had been moving toward HD for some time. Our industry has been lagging behind the consumer market for years now, with the high cost of new technology and a lack of HD content in the corporate marketplace. While we were conversant on HD and the growing availability of HD equipment, we had not yet made a significant commitment toward HD cameras, projectors, and other items. When we got hit with two HD events on the same weekend in the spring of 2008, we had to quickly immerse ourselves in HD technology so that we could produce the type of event that our company is known for.
THE PLANNING PHASE AND DESIGN CHALLENGES
It is not unusual for Corporate AV to be involved with two or three events on the same weekend, and this pair of events was no different. Our pre-event planning began several months out. The Channel 13 Teaching & Learning Celebration was scheduled for a Friday at the New York Hilton in New York City. The original simple design to handle standard definition included large screens for projection of presentations and videos to over 2,000 attendees and a three-camera shoot to capture the event. The Northern Westchester Hospital (NWH) gala fundraiser involved a black-tie dinner and dancing at a high performance racing venue in Westchester County, NY. As with the Channel 13 event, the NWH gala originally called for standard equipment. Our HD weekend challenge began approximately two weeks before the two events, when each team requested a last-minute change to HD.
The Teaching & Learning Celebration, hosted by WNET Thirteen, WLIW 21, and JP Morgan Chase, featured anthropologist Jane Goodall and marine conservationist Jean-Paul Cousteau, each of whom required projection equipment to show video clips. Both also were to be videotaped for future public television programming. Network producers attended one of our final planning meetings and requested that we switch to full native HD production for the general session and keynote speeches. Our personnel quickly needed to redesign our audio and video services to be compatible with the highest quality video that we had ever worked with. To maximize the impact of the production, every piece in the system was chosen for its capability to support native HD resolution — cameras, projectors, cables, and screens of the right size and proportion to handle HD images.
Additionally, the producers wanted to work in a studio-like environment, necessitating the design of a video village with multiple screens and multiple monitors for camera input so that producers could follow the event from all cameras simultaneously. Their new specifications called for splitting the audio and video signals during the recording of each segment. Space was tight, so we chose to locate the video village on the balcony of the main ballroom at the Hilton.
To add to the already difficult technical challenges, we only had seven hours to setup the entire show prior to rehearsals because of the hotel's tight schedule. This frantic schedule left much of our cutting-edge equipment in the hands of inexperienced setup personnel. This increased the demands of our onsite operations management and added to the morning requirements of our show video team.
The presentation portion of the Northern Westchester Hospital evening dinner dance included a video screening. NWH had contracted with Radical Media to produce its video, and we designed our audio and visual systems to handle standard definition media. With little time to spare before the event, the hospital notified us that Radical Media chose an HD format for the video and needed us to switch to HD equipment, including projectors and screens. We had already faced design challenges in adapting the unfinished space from black top to black tie. While an event partner, Tangram, handled the aesthetic design, we turned our attention to the stage, dual screens, and audio for the HD production.
RISING TO THE OCCASION: EQUIPMENT
We have extensive industry contacts to secure the necessary equipment. For the Teaching & Learning Celebration video equipment, our team chose the Sony J3 Multi-Format and DigiBeta playback decks to match the native HD 1920×1080 format for playback. Images from Sony HDC-1500 studio HDVS cameras were routed through a Snell & Wilcox HD-1010 control panel and mainframe. Switching was accomplished with a Leitch 12x HD switcher and a Grass Valley Group 2000 Digital VDA Frame. All images were routed to the main screens through SDI Video DAs. For projection, we used two Christie Digital Roadster HD18K projectors to deliver images onto two 12'×21' truss screens flown left and right of stage in perfect position to be seen by each of the 2,100 attendees.
Our recording engineers set up the video village with three Panasonic 1400 DVC pro-HD decks for the three-camera shoot. Each deck received an ISO recording from a designated camera to enable production for broadcast at a later date. The audio team sub-mixed the recording's audio on a Mackie 1604 and handled the front-of-house mix on a Crest HP-Eight 32-channel mixer. The Corporate AV team also chose 10 EVSX 300 speakers and four Apogee SSM speakers as front fills for the packed ballroom. Our original plan was to use the hotel's EAW boxes hung from the downstage truss to save setup time, but our audio team got better response and coverage from our own sound system. Room mics included two MX418 Shure podium mics, four ATM 935 mics for a children's choir, two SM-58s for solos, and a number of Shure wireless handheld and lavalier mics. Our personnel had to fine-tune the equipment on the fly before each presentation.
With only one week to go and the Channel 13 HD event already on board, we had to work quickly to convert the NWH event to HD. Senior account executive Ed Morrell switched his specs to include two Christie Roadster HD 18K DLP projectors to deliver native HD resolution to the two 12'×21' wide-format screens positioned on either side of the stage. The team chose a Barco Screen PRO II HD Seamless Switcher to switch between computer, camera, DVD, and HDCAM. For high definition video, we also used a Sony HDW-750 HDCAM for I-Mag and a Sony JH3 HDCAM deck for video playback. For audio, sound engineer Steve Sherer flew eight Renkus-Heinz line array speakers, four on each side of the stage. The four Renkus-Heinz subwoofers were placed on the floor left and right of the stage. Also flown were eight EAW FR 153 delay speakers to complete the sound design. Mics were chosen and positioned to capture the drum, horn, rhythm, and vocal sections of the event's 15-piece dance band. The sound engineer mixed from backstage, necessitating a second engineer in the front of the house to evaluate levels and check sound. We equipped a separate, glass-walled 40'×100' cocktail reception area with 12 Bose 802 tops and four Bose 302 subwoofers strategically placed around the area to fill for background music, an awards presentation during the cocktail hour, and live announcements of race results. Our team worked with lighting contractor Bestek to coordinate trussing for the lights and speakers.
RISING TO THE OCCASION: STAFFING
We handle production design internally and supplement our in-house event team with a network of experienced freelance engineers. Our challenge was to coordinate our tapped-out equipment resources and staffing to provide each event with the most capable team.
The team that we had in place mid-summer to design the standard definition systems for the Channel 13 event — Rob Friedland, show manager; Tim Bull, audio engineer; Fred Gaymon, video engineer; Mark Pavuk, director for cameras; Richard Palmer, assistant audio engineer — modified its design to accommodate the HD production. The video village for the Channel 13 event required additional recording engineers to handle the audio and video equipment and signals.
A second team worked on the NWH event. Our in-house team included Ed Morrell, Monica Moss as production coordinator, and Maurice Johnson in charge of operations. Steve Sherer handled audio design, and Jack Sinsabaugh was his A2, with Bill White as video engineer and Pam Traynor on camera.
Making the switch from standard definition to HD required us to educate our clients about cost. They have seen home projection and plasma equipment drop in price over the past several years and may not understand why HD production costs are so high. The projected costs went up 25% for the Channel 13 event and 20% for the NWH event, mainly because of the price of the HD cameras and projectors.
We also had to educate our own team on the design of HD systems. Our internal design team got very little sleep in the two weeks leading up to the events. Some of our experienced video engineers also required additional training on HD cameras and switching equipment, and so they were able to get some hands-on time in the week prior to the events.
As a result of our HD weekend, we held our annual recognition event for staff and freelancers in our warehouse and brought in our HD suppliers to provide hands-on opportunities and training. The HD revolution has arrived in the corporate event world, and we were glad to have the resources to make both events happen, even on short notice.