Judy Garland returned to the stage after 40 years, in a show at Boston Symphony Hall that combined images and performance footage along with the live symphonic sounds of the Boston Pops. Three front projection AV Stumpfl Truss Screens “recreated” her existence, the images framed by moving light structures and graphic animations inspired by the look of her 1960s TV show, expanding the environment of her performance while keeping the visual focus on Garland. Between songs, the presentation of images and rarely seen home movies from throughout her career helped the audience understand her as an artist, mother, and survivor. Projection was via four Panasonic PT-D10000U 10,000-lumen 3-chip DLP projectors, two on the center image for redundancy and one each on each side screen.
“The recordings of Judy's performances are so compelling and evocative — because her performances were so compelling and evocative — that her existence leaped off the screen,” says projection designer Leah Gelpe. Working with lighting designer Garin Marschall, the team had to look to the lighting to provide a frame for the projection screens without wiping out the images. “Because most of the footage in the production is black and white, we had to use color cautiously,” adds Gelpe. “Purple light, for example, made the screens appear green to the eye. Another challenge was that we used live feed during several numbers — live feed of the conductor, the orchestra members, and the audience. Garin had to light these people in such a way that we could get decent exposure and contrast on our live feed images without sending too much bounce onto the screens.” The lighting rig, programmed on a High End Systems Wholehog 2 by Pam Smith, was made up of a mix of Philips Solid-State Lighting Solutions ColorBlasts, Vari-Lite VL3000s, VL2000s, VL500 Wash, VL1000 TS, VL1000 TI, and Martin Mac 2000s, as well as assorted conventionals.
The center screen was 15'×15' with a 1:1 ratio, and the two side screens were 10.4'×14' surfaces, oriented horizontally, with almost a 2' gap between the screen images, which were aligned along the bottom edge. Sometimes Gelpe used these screens as three separate surfaces, composed and moving in unison. Sometimes they were seen as one large canvas with footage and imagery spanning all three screens. “The unusual dimensions and large size of the center screen enabled us to direct viewer focus onto the primary screen where Judy performed during her musical numbers,” she explains. “The side screens provided an expansive canvas on which to extend the graphics of a Judy concert environment and to build multidimensional visual sequences during the biographical segments between her musical performances.”
Gelpe went through several stages of previsualization, initially creating moving storyboards in Apple Keynote, using one document to lay out a miniature version of all three screens. After that, she moved into Adobe After Effects to work out the complex interstitial gestures that incorporate images, home movie footage, newsreel clips, and also the first-person narrative Garland shared with her audiences in between songs. Gelpe then output movies from After Effects that represented all three screens in a single composition that were then programmed on a Dataton Watchout system from Show Sage along with all the content used to create each movie. The Watchout system delivered content to the three-channel projection system and interpreted and sent eight-channel extensible wave files to an M-Audio FireWire 410 box.
Programmers Randy Briggs and Austin Switser used the movies as a guide to recreate the choreography of these sequences. The projection system was provided by Scharff Weisberg. The lighting rig was the house rep plot, designed by Clifton Taylor for the Pops season and provided by High Output.
Chris Giordano, director and executive producer sums it up, saying, “At the end of the day, this was just really a testament to Judy Garland's dynamics as a performer. Our job was to get out of her way and show her in concert, and I think the audience responded to that.”