The largest shopping mall in the world is also home to one angry dragon. At the West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton, Canada, in the lobby/main concession area of Famous Players Silver City Theatres, visitors experience a 51/2-minute show timed to the movie starts and finishes that features the dragon and her three little dragonettes, making lots of noise and generally carrying on like dragons.
Each show begins with the sound of rain, which builds as though a storm is approaching. Next you hear low growls beneath the wind and rain; from their nest, 20' above, the three baby dragons stir. Then you hear something that sounds nothing like a baby; follow those sounds down the corridor and you see an immense dragon suspended high above. A complex of sounds and ominous chords build until the dragon plunges her neck, eyes flaming laser-red, and shoots a 20' flame from her gaping jaws.
The dragon-and her scheduling-are the work of Production Resource Group. The Famous Players dragon was a collaborative effort among PRG's sister companies: Scenic Technologies (which recently joined forces with Harris Production Services under the name Entolo), Production Arts, and ProMix Installations, a division of ProMix, now part of the Systems Group within PRG and known as SPL Integrated Solutions (SPLIS).
In the fall of 98, senior VP/general manager of Scenic Technologies Roy Sears came to ProMix with the dragon project. Sears had been contacted by Richard Bartokowski of Famous Players, who had seen another PRG/Scenic Technologies dragon in Las Vegas. Impressed, he felt that something similar would be right for the new cinema complex at the mall. Soon a PRG team was assembled that included Production Arts, ProMix (Felix Robinson, director of operations, for installed systems), and John Swain as overall project manager.
"We began by figuring out the sonic requirements for the program we had in mind," says Robinson, "the overall sound pressure requirements, the acoustical environment-hard to predict, based on the information we had, which was basically the cubic- foot volume of the space as designed-and the audio program itself, which would consist of growls, thunder, screams, and other audio components, including the music."
Robinson and the PRG team took a "thematic" approach to this event, which meant enveloping people in the lobby (and further away) in a fully realized experience supported by a cinematically conceived soundtrack that would build, draw people in, and grab them for the duration. Robinson, with years of experience in recording and composing soundtracks, volunteered to write and produce the audio sound bed. "We had to compose the music first," he says, "get that under control, before we could determine what we needed out of the audio system."
Robinson notes that on the project, throughout all phases, the one constant as far as equipment was concerned was Tannoy loudspeakers. "The needs of our program called for a speaker with extended low frequency response," he says, "and given the extremely unfriendly acoustical environment we had to deal with-circular, with no acoustical treatment-and the location of the listeners, we needed a speaker that would help minimize reflections."
Eighteen Tannoy i12 full-range (45Hz-25kHz) installation loudspeakers with 12" dual concentric drive units and 60-degree conical dispersion patterns surround the beast in a 360-degree array. Eight Tannoy B475 compact, direct radiating sub bass systems with a single 18" bass drive unit and a 28Hz-240Hz frequency range deliver bottom-end support.
A total of 21 Tannoy CMS12-TDC-60 ceiling speakers carry the prelude to the dragon's awakening down the 150' long corridor that connects the baby dragon nest to the main lobby/concession area, the lair of the she-dragon. A single Community R2-474 loudspeaker, aimed down the corridor, funnels highly directional sound from the she-dragon. An Anchor Liberty powered speaker system provides sound for the baby dragon nest.
Digital systems from Akai and Alcorn-McBride provide playback material for the dragon event: an Akai DR16 for the dragon lair and Tannoy ceiling speakers, and two Alcorn-McBride DAMs, one each for the baby dragon nest. Fourteen Crown MA Series amplifiers and one CT810 drive the Tannoy i12s, B475 subs, and ceiling speakers. A Crown MA drives the single Community loudspeaker.
With system basics decided upon-and a thematic approach to the dragon event approved-ProMix chief engineer for installations Peter Romandetti refined what the dragon system would need to include, and eventually finalized the system design. System control was accomplished through an AMX Midi Events Timer converting SMPTE to MIDI, which links all audio, lighting, and special effects.
Begun in February 99 and completed in mid-March, the dragon installation was not a simple matter. Part of the dragon had to be lowered by crane through the roof. The lobby area had to be enclosed to protect against the elements, and often severe cold temperatures. In spite of acoustically fortified walls, the overwhelming 51/2-minute sound world the design team had created interfered with theatre systems several hundred feet away. (Eventually, the designers attenuated the system.)
"We actually produced the final finished audio product onsite," Robinson says. "Scott, Peter, and I worked for three days, around the clock [after SPLIS' Bruce Manning completed speaker installation], adjusting the program with ProTools and Timax, making hundreds of adjustments and tweaks."
Billed as "the world's largest shopping and entertainment center," West Edmonton Mall spans the equivalent of 48 city blocks in the west end of the city and features over 800 stores, over 110 eating establishments, plus seven "World Class Attractions." It's not known whether the dragon show now puts that number at eight.