Montage Advances Highlight Staging of Computer Conference

The theme of Sun Microsystems' 2003 JavaOne computer conference, which took place at San Francisco's Moscone Convention Center this past June, was “Java Every-where.” Behind the scenes at an event that featured all sorts of cutting-edge technology, however, it was Vista Systems' Montage video processing technology that was everywhere.

The challenge of delivering Sun's message fell to San Francisco-based Pedersen Media Group, a creative communications agency responsible for designing and producing the keynote sessions for the four-day conference, and Video Applications, a Tustin, Calif.-based live-event staging and technical design firm. The two companies have worked together on the JavaOne event since its 1996 inception, as has Video Applications' director of engineering Neal Gass, who oversaw technical design and supervised the video department.

The center 15’x45’ rear-projection screen was flanked by two 22.5’x30’ screens set within a sculptural scenic piece.

Expanded Montage

The first challenge was the conference room — Hall D at the Moscone Center, which was 545'×265' deep, with 4ft. diameter columns obscuring sightlines. To provide the best visual support, they designed a set that featured a center 15'×45' rear-projection screen, supported by an SXGA two-image overlap, and flanked by a pair of 22.5'×30' screens.

Though the Montage system had been in use for over six months when the event began, JavaOne 2003 was one of the first event in which it was used to provide imagery on discrete screens of different sizes, according to Video Applications executive VP/COO Darrell Hennegen. Video Applications VP of technology Carl McMillan reports that the first task, in concert with Vista Systems, was to calculate a mathematical formula for dividing the Montage's seven million pixel display to properly assign space between the three screens.

The Montage also enabled Video Applications to stack as many inputs or sources on a single output as was necessary, which was ideal for the JavaOne conference's many keynote addresses and demonstrations, which sourced material from input devices as disparate as videotape, camera feeds, laptops, and servers. At times, the side screens displayed three independent picture-in-picture (PIP) windows over a background, from four separate sources.

“One of the classic problems we deal with in a technology conference is the many sources — you have a slide source, a demo, and an IMAG, and you may want to reference all three,” says Pedersen president Mark Pedersen. “From our perspective, the Montage enabled us to flexibly handle a variety of different visual sources and present them to the audience in two completely different aspect ratios. From a design perspective, this allowed us to create a more engaging show.”

The Montage's signal processing abilities were of special importance for JavaOne, where many attendees sat more than 100ft. from the screen. “The image quality from the Montage is orders of magnitude better than what we've been able to offer with other platforms, especially with video signals,” Hennegen says. “The de-interlacing is exceptional, and in addition, we can finally pass [high-definition video] through a scaler without any compromise in image quality.”

Another advantage was the ability to add drop shadows and borders to the PIP windows, adding an appearance of depth, he adds. Subtle, soft blue-toned HD animations, created by Pedersen, played on a loop from an Avid/Pluto HD server on the center and side screens for the walk-in. The animation also served as backgrounds for PIP windows and presenter IMAG. A stylized Java image video, produced by Pedersen, ran anamorphic HD images on the center screen and SD letterbox on the side screens.

Audio, Lighting Issues

Hall D's size also presented challenges for the audio team. The hall is 130,000-square-feet overall, but with a ceiling height of only 28ft., so Video Applications principal audio designer Richard Bevan and senior audio engineer Ken Newman had their work cut out for them.

Whereas the general sessions were set up to hold 7,000 people, for some of the technical sessions, attendance dropped to around 3,500. “The speaker system had to be designed so the outer sections could be muted when those seats weren't filled, to reduce the echo created when people aren't present to absorb the sound,” explains Bevan.

The solution was a mix of vertical and horizontal line arrays. At the event, Video Applications debuted its VerTec 4888 vertical line array speaker system. Video Applications' officials say that system, specifically tailored to rental and staging applications, was a good fit at JavaOne because it allowed for even audio coverage over a greater area than a conventional speaker system. Five VerTec 4888 cabinets were used per side to cover the bulk of the audience. Four L-Acoustics ARCS were used as a center cluster, and two ARCS providing 45-degrees of coverage were used as outfills.

Seventeen Apogee AE5s were used as delay speakers, hung 50ft. before the back wall so that the line-array speakers could be focused down and away from the back wall to prevent slapback and echo. At JavaOne, every presenter used the Countryman E6 Ear-worn microphone, and all keynote presenters wore two RF transmitters, both connected to a single E6 microphone.

Independent lighting designer Bill Berner created a look for the 300'×20' walls, with the central aluminum-framed cyclorama pierced by the three projection screens. “We used about 30 Vari-Lite VL1000s,” says Berner. “As a moving light with dichroic color mixing, we could take this sweep and do rainbow treatments, or solid colors of any color, or any type of color grade, and that way we were able to achieve a great range of colors.”

The Vari-Lites were controlled by a GrandMA computer lighting console (from MA Lighting) for moving lights and enabling focus, pan, and tilt to be controlled remotely. Fifteen Martin Mac 2000s added the ability to do a variety of motion effects and textures over the Vari-Lite's colors.

Production electrician David Hatch hung the lights, and Berner worked with console operator Rodd McLaughlin to develop the actual looks. Since the projection screens were in close proximity to the scenic elements that needed to be lit, Berner had to be mindful of keeping light off the screens, while still lighting scenic elements that came right up to the screen. He accomplished this by using the remote-control shuttering capability on the Vari-Lite and Mac-2000 lighting units. He lit presenters on stage with ETC Source Four Lekos, creating large stage washes so people could walk wherever they wanted to on stage and still be lit.

With multiple cameras shooting the presenters and transmitting those images to the side screens and other locations, the colors of the video graphics on stage had to stay true when the IMAG was seen onscreen. That was a challenge since video projectors, in general, put out roughly 5600 degrees Kelvin versus 3200 in conventional theaters. (For this job, Video Applications used Panasonic PT-D9600U 12,000-lumen, 1280×1024 DLP projectors.) Berner's solution was to gel the theater lights closer to the video pro-jector's levels, to create a smaller shift in reference white.

“It was a much colder light [used in the venue], no doubt about it,” says Berner. “But Mark Pedersen likes a colder light. And when it rendered a proper flesh tone, the colors on the video screen remained very true.”

At the end of the conference, Hennegen noted the serendipity of having utilized the latest technological breakthroughs — especially the Montage system — for a technology conference focused on new applications. “We all used to work in a 3'×4' box,” he says. “In the past, the media dictated the design. Now, staging designers can design incredible canvases that don't conform to any standard.”

Debra Kaufman is a writer/consultant who has been covering the entertainment industry for 14 years. You can contact her at