CyberSmart Segment Focuses on State-of-the-Art Audience Interaction.

Audience members helped create a cyber-host for Intel’s presentation.

NORMALLY, ACCORDING TO DAN Yaman, the only thing you can be sure an audience will take from an event is whatever free merchandise organizers happen to be giving away.

Yaman insists, however, that people attending events put on by his Minneapolis company, Event Think, will leave with more to think about than a T-shirt. Event Think's staff is trained in psychology, persuasion techniques, and accelerated learning skills, which are all part of a strategy to use information about how the human brain perceives, remembers, and learns information (often called “brain-based learning” in academic circles) to help organize and present all aspects of major corporate events.

According to Yaman, Event Think's president, the reason for this strategy is to send audience members home with clear, strong messages that are designed to be retained long after a show is over. “What happens on stage isn't as important as what happens in the audience's head,” he explains. “An effective event engages the audience. If you don't engage your audience, 24 hours later, 95% of them will have forgotten your message.”

To pull onlookers in, Event Think routinely utilizes visuals, sound, games, and interactive, computer-animated characters, created by its Interactive Personalities division. A key example of this approach is the company's work on Intel's presentation for CyberSmart 2002 in several cities around the country earlier this year.

Smart Presentation

Sponsored in part by Intel, CyberSmart is a product and sales training event that enables retail sales professionals to meet face-to-face with leading software and hardware vendors, preview new products and technologies, and improve their selling skills and product knowledge.

Intel's participation in this year's tour consisted of a 45-minute program produced by Event Think and staged by Avtech Audio/Visual Services (Vancouver, Wash.). Presented three times per evening in Chicago, Boston, New York, Dallas, Los Angeles, and San Francisco this past spring, the Intel presentation was designed to introduce audiences to the power of its new Pentium 4 microprocessor.

For the presentation, Event Think developed an educational approach to entertaining the audience. To immerse the audience completely in the experience, the event also included a game show called “Didja Know” that pitted audience members against each other.

An Intel regional channel manager hosted the game, and an interactive 3D character representing a typical retail salesperson co-hosted it. “The Intel person delivered technical information, and the character showed what salespeople should absorb from it,” explains creative director John Slater.

To get the audience to relate to the CG character, Event Think and Interactive Personalities went a step further than they had in the past. As Slater explains, the typical CyberSmart audience comprises males between the ages of 18 and 45, with the younger set typically having a limited high-tech background and the older group sporting several years of industry experience. To present Intel's message so that it would be perceived as credible by both groups, Event Think allowed the audience to design the character's look.

“We knew they'd be more engaged and retain what was being presented if it was being delivered by someone they could identify with,” Slater explains. “We let the audience decide what this virtual salesperson would look like. And we did it right before their eyes, using state-of-the-art technology.”

Setting the Stage

The concept Event Think developed for the presentation revolved around a gag where the host told the audience that Intel had developed new retail salesperson simulation software to help them better understand the sort of people selling Intel products at retail stores. After explaining to the audience that she would be demonstrating the beta version of this bogus software, the Intel host presumably “launched” the software, and a generic-looking, 3D human head appeared on a video screen.

Then the host asked what the typical retail salesperson looks like. Young or old? Newbie or a geek? Slacker or employee of the month?

As the audience shouted answers, the host manipulated sliders on a console, and the CG head morphed from one look to another in realtime. “By the end of this part of the presentation, the audience had made the spokesperson their own. He had built-in credibility,” says Slater. “How can you argue with something you created?”

Interactive Personalities modeled the CG head beforehand using Discreet's 3D Studio Max animation software, running on a Boxx Technologies P4 workstation. Prior to the show, the company also used the software to create the potential extremes of the character — every shape its face could go through — and different looks, based on likely audience answers.

Cyber-host "adjustments" were performed in realtime, projected onto a screen.

To morph between the facial shapes and appearances in realtime during the presentation, the team relied on Kaydara's Motionbuilder software, a 3D animation tool with realtime character animation capabilities. Meanwhile, an actor behind the stage utilized a Polhemus (Colchester, Vt.) Isotrak II 3D motion-tracking system to move the CG head, and a proprietary hand control developed by Interactive Personalities to manipulate the character's facial features.

After the audience designed the character, the presentation moved to the high-level messaging stage, where it delved into the benefits of the Pentium 4 processor running on a Boxx P4. Each supporting graphic in this portion of the presentation was created in Adobe Photoshop and pre-rendered as a QuickTime file.

Next, the audience played a game, which featured the character interacting with the host and audience and again being manipulated in realtime. The game concluded with a final round that included an audience drawing for a new P4 motherboard.

To avoid having to switch between a workstation running the animated character and a workstation running the supporting graphics, Event Think controlled the entire event through Motionbuilder, a tool often used in the production of animation, TV shows, and visual effects for feature films.

“Motionbuilder is designed for realtime 3D character animation. It's not a presentation package,” Slater explains. “It took more work (before the show) to run everything through Motionbuilder, but it made sense because it required less hardware onsite.”

Audio and Video Specifics

While the presentation's content was handled through Event Think and Interactive Personalities, its staging was handled by Avtech.

According to Skot Barker, Avtech's president and CTO, the video portion of the event was fairly straightforward. For video processing, the company utilized an FSR Omni Navigator switcher and a Sanyo XF10 data projector. The presentation was projected onto screens of various sizes, depending on the venue, but he notes that the maximum screen size was 7.5'×10'.

The audio portion, on the other hand, proved somewhat challenging because of the size of the venues.

“The audio included music, plus the voice of the host, who was onstage, and that of the co-host, which was coming from an actor backstage,” Barker says. “Both voices were live and played off each other throughout the event.”

Avtech knew this could be problematic because the music and the actor voices would be competing with the audience, and because most of the venues were small and had low ceilings. “We knew it would be crucial to keep the sound at an exciting level and the mics at a level that didn't cause feedback,” Barker recalls.

To conquer the problem, Avtech relied on a Sennheiser UHF wireless mic package comprising three EW 500 series handheld wireless microphones, an EW 500 lavalier pack with an MKE 2 element, four channels of EM 550 receivers, and an NB 2 lavalier headset adapter.

According to Barker, thanks to the wide selection of frequencies available through the Sennheiser system, Avtech was able to use the wireless mics at all six venues with no interference problems. Barker also notes that the system was quick and easy to set up, and it was space-efficient — not only does the one-rack EM 550 frame house two receivers, plus an internal, integrated active antenna splitter, but it also uses one central power supply.

In addition to this equipment, Avtech also utilized Apogee AE-5 speakers, an AE-2 for center-speaker fill using a left-center-right configuration, a Soundcraft Spirit FX16 for mixing, and a Yamaha DME32 for processing.

Audrey Doyle is a freelance writer and editor with almost 20 years of experience covering computer graphics and digital video.