Dealer Event Pushes Brand With Flair.

Automobile choreography was made possible during Acura event thanks to a sophisticated stage design.

DESPITE THE SLUGGISH ECONOMY, Acura has been selling cars at a solid pace. So even though the company had no new models to present at its annual gathering in March, Acura decided to go ahead and bring about 800 of its dealers to Las Vegas to celebrate the brand at an event at the Venetian Hotel.

Martin Brinkerhoff Associates (MBA, Irvine, Calif.), a production company specializing in corporate theater presentations, has worked with Acura for many years and faced unique challenges in preparing the show, dubbed “Destination: Acura.”

“We are a turnkey operation with regard to the business meeting portion of the event,” explains executive producer Marty Brinkerhoff. “Since they didn't have any new cars, the client originally wanted to do just a small pipe-and-drape regional meeting. We persuaded them that if they were going into this big space in the Venetian, they really ought to make a bigger statement. Then, we set about creating a theatrical statement that fit that theme. Since we couldn't build a show around a core product, we made it into more of a brand show.”

Available Space

The only available space at the Sands Expo and Convention Center at the Venetian was a huge, industrial exhibit space — 300ft. to 400ft. long and about 250ft. wide — with concrete pillars.

“It was basically a warehouse space, and so not the most luxurious place to go into, and the client was concerned about that,” Brinkerhoff says. “So the first decision I made was to take advantage of its size by creating a false impression when the audience arrives. They come into a smallish space with a stage, and the curtain is drawn so it looks like it will be a pretty simple show as you walk in — a talking head and PowerPoint type meeting. That way, we created the element of surprise. The ‘wow’ factor of the brand was dramatized by the moment in the opening module when the center video screen traveled away and the curtain opened, revealing the stage, which was 120ft. deep by 100ft. wide. The offstage area, the wings and such, were 100ft. on either side and we left them clear.”

The wings were cleared to make room for several Acura vehicles, since the show included a major presentation of all the company's models. Later in the 80-minute show, many of the cars and trucks appeared in a choreographed auto presentation.

“The client really liked that — it's all about performance and the cars,” Brinkerhoff says. “So we did two numbers that involved car choreography onstage married to video elements that were created for it, along with an original score, original choreography, and performers in the opening number. In the second piece, the car choreography was more intense, with cars by themselves and special effects, such as more lasers and video.”

The Big Opening

The opening portion of the presentation began with the house lights dimming while three video screens and lights flashed. Then, the curtain opened slightly and a drummer stepped through and started drumming. Another drummer soon joined him and they commenced a drumming duel. The curtain then opened fully to reveal the playing space of operatic dimensions — 120ft. deep and 100ft. wide. There were also laser effects, strobe lights, theatrical fog, and performers on skates, making for a complex production.

“We develop the storyboards on PowerPoint software,” Brinkerhoff explains. “It's one of the techniques that we've used over the last several years to develop, refine, polish, and complete a concept. From the very beginning, we create electronic/digital storyboard files, which we continue to detail as we get closer to the show. We can then also send these out to the people [via the Internet] who work on the show but aren't in my office.”

Video imagery played a huge role in the presentation, with Creative Technology, Los Angeles, supplying expertise for the event. They utilized six doubled-over (two projectors per screen) Lightning 15sx projectors from Digital Projection, projecting 16:9 images onto three Da-Lite 11'×20' screens. In this configuration, a center video projection screen was rigged to travel in and out, while the other two projection screens were stationary, located on each side of the proscenium. When the center screen moved out of the way, two large, moving LED walls were revealed to the audience.

The LED approach included two 9.5'×16.8' walls over the stage, each made up of 48 LED (Lighthouse LVP102D) panels. Both of those large LED screens were rigged to move vertically, up to 15ft. high or down to 6in. above the stage.

Video projection played a crucial role during the show.

“[The LED screens] are self-contained, very bright, and they could compete with all of the lights and the lasers and smoke and still punch through,” Brinkerhoff explains. “They were just at the right distance. Sometimes they were so bright and so crystal clear that it looked very high resolution. It almost looked like the car on the screens was real. Projection would never have worked there.”


Rigger Dan Cassidy set up a Motion Labs Server System to move the screens and six 10ft. sections of truss during the show.

“We were able to create constellations of looks with different altitudes and attitudes between the LED panels and these truss sections by changing the heights,” Brinkerhoff explains. “We used IMAG mainly on the side screens during performance numbers and presentations by the speakers. The trick was to make sure the slight delay that the LEDs typically have in processing would not be objectionable to the audience. It worked out very well. We only used the LED IMAG occasionally during the performance numbers. So it was a blending of live IMAG with pre-recorded multisync video sequences. We produced all of it internally, from taping to postproduction and special effects.”

The IMAG video was fed to the screens by Folsom 2200 controllers, which permitted the crew to dial in different scan rates for the LEDs, as compared to the projectors. They controlled the rest of the projected and LED video using six double-sided DDRs operated by a Fresco control system assembled by Creative Technology.

The video team also relied on a Sierra 16×16 high-resolution router — a tool that permitted them to switch — any video signal anywhere, regardless of its origin or destination (projector, computer, LED, etc). In addition, a Screenmaster II 1608 hard drive unit (from Vista Control Systems) was used to send video or PowerPoint images to the three video screens or the two LED walls. For that system, the video team simplified things by setting up a macro switch that allowed them to switch all five screens with the push of a single button.

“In addition to the playback, there were multi-channel PowerPoint presentations for the speakers,” Brinkerhoff says. “So when someone got up to talk, it was a combination of IMAG and video rolls off the hard drives and multi-channel PowerPoint. Then, there were six cameras on this production. Positioning them was a little tricky to figure out because of the huge upstage area with cars going around and pyro going off, but we worked that out.”

MBA also produced all of the video inhouse on a series of Avid editing systems.

“We've developed the ability to do multi-screen simultaneous rolls for video very effectively,” Brinkerhoff says. “Not only is that cost-effective, but it also allows us to creatively control what we want to do on the video with regard to how it moves across the screens — what configurations we'll use, whether it's a single image or typography or performance video. The key in our productions is that the video is always tightly integrated with the live theatrical sequence. So the core clock is on SMPTE, the actual track on the video, and that drives the lighting console.”

To control lighting, Norm Schwab of Lightswitch (San Francisco) used a Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II lighting console, programmed by Rob Smith.

“Since the show was run off a SMPTE timecode, we ended up spending three days at Prelite Studios in San Francisco (see article on lighting pre-visualization technology, page 43) to pre-program everything using [Cast Lighting's design software] WYSIWYG,” Schwab says. “It wouldn't have been possible to do it at all if not for WYSIWYG, because we had two days to load in, a day to cue it, a day of rehearsal, and then the show.”

Vari-Lite production services, Los Angeles, provided all the lighting equipment, Schwab adds.

Brinkerhoff says that about 200 people were involved in putting the event together. Some additional key personnel included stage producer Jim Rossi of MBA, production manager Steve Swanson, and choreographer Fred Tallekson.

Catherine McHugh is also a regular contributor to Entertainment Design magazine. She has been covering event design for over a decade.