Dealer Show Requires Videocam to Present Cars Perfectly

CAR MANUFACTURERS ARE remarkably particular when portraying their cars in TV commercials and print ads. Each highlight and reflection must be scrutinized and, if necessary, enhanced with carefully placed lights — or carefully executed digital effects — to attract attention. Every camera angle must be chosen with utmost care. In short, the vehicle must look perfect if the advertisement is to entice prospective buyers.

Nissan held its 2002 National Dealer Meeting in San Diego, with staging help from Videocam and Maritz Strategic Events. Photo courtesy of Maritz.

Most automobile manufacturers are equally meticulous about how their products are presented at live dealer shows. The 2002 annual Nissan National Dealer Meeting is a case in point. According to Kevin Glenn, Nissan is (like most major auto companies) extremely concerned about visual aesthetics when unveiling new models, marketing incentives, or support programs to its dealers at shows. Glenn is senior account manager at Videocam, an Anaheim-based A/V staging company. He worked closely with Nissan on the company's 2002 dealer event, held at the San Diego Convention Center in August. The event was coordinated by Maritz Strategic Events, a division of Maritz Inc. of St. Louis.

“Dealers are like consumers,” says Glenn. “They also must buy into new car models and accompanying programs. If a dealer is excited about what he sees at one of these meetings, he'll sell more cars.”

For the last two years, Videocam has provided video presentation for Nissan's dealer meetings. The company has also provided similar services for dealer meetings for Infiniti, Nissan's luxury car division. Maritz has been coordinating Nissan's dealer meetings for the past 15 years, and has handled numerous dealer meetings for Infiniti, as well.

At the Nissan dealer meeting in San Diego, approximately 2,000 representatives from U.S.-based Nissan dealerships convened for three days to preview 2003 models. During an elaborate product reveal show, 11 new vehicles, including the recently announced 350Z, zoomed across a stage, and up and down aisles. Accompanying the show was a presentation that showcased video footage and stills of the cars, projected onto seven different screens. In addition, attendees got to inspect the cars up close in an elegantly staged vehicle salon. They also were introduced to Nissan's new advertising campaign, and discussed issues such as marketing plans, new sales incentive programs, and sales performance. The event culminated with a final-night banquet featuring a concert by Huey Lewis and the News.

Sophistication Required

Maritz executive producer Bradley Craig says that as audiences have become increasingly sophisticated, dealer meetings have had to keep pace in terms of technological innovation.

“You can't do anything normal anymore and expect to generate excitement,” says Craig. “You must go above and beyond. You must break up the monotony of the single-screen image and continually improve upon previous years' programs so that everyone walks away excited, not only about the message being delivered, but also about the actual experience of being in the room.”

Craig says the 2002 Nissan meeting was the most technically challenging Maritz has ever coordinated.

“We had a huge set measuring 150 feet wide by 32 feet high, with floor-to-ceiling drapery,” Craig explains. “The backdrop included seven rear-projection screens showing imagery of the cars and informational graphics, all in a room in which 2,000 people sat in floor and tiered stadium seating.”

John Arnold, a senior project manager at Videocam, agrees with Craig about the complexity of the show. “I've done numerous car shows, and this was the most aggressive,” he says. “In terms of technical issues, the complexity was due to the number of screens, and the fact that they were lit from front and back.”

Craig and Arnold also agree that one of the event's most important requirements was making the video presentation as exciting as possible. Color and clarity of the projected images were crucial.

“Whenever a manufacturer is showing its car, it has to look perfect — whether it's there in front of you, or being projected on a screen,” Craig says. “So we had to make sure the video projection provided as great an experience for the people seated in the last row as it did for those who were in the front row. You never know where the most important dealer might be sitting.”

Display Keys

Videocam furnished an array of sophisticated equipment for the Nissan San Diego event. The company used three Sony D35 Triax cameras to capture footage of the Nissan presenters and the vehicles as they were rolled out on stage. The company also used a Sony lipstick camera to shoot footage of cars perched on a rotating turntable on stage.

Videocam projected this footage, plus BetaSP video and graphics that Maritz provided, onto a pair of seamless, 15'×20' Stewart Filmscreen rear-projection screens, and five 7.5'×10' Screenworks rear-projection truss-frame screens. Images were projected onto the larger screens with a pair of large-venue Barco ELM R12 projectors, while a pair of Barco SLM R6 Performer DLP projectors were used for the smaller screens. All of the projectors, which were double-stacked for brightness and redundancy, had a native resolution of 1280×1024.

Five 7.5’x10’ Screenworks screens were used in the presentation, with two 15’x20’ Stewart Filmscreen screens covered by sliding scenic panels. Photo courtesy of Maritz.

Glenn says the projection of the video and graphics was complicated. For one thing, Videocam had to converge all the double-stacked projectors perfectly to ensure clear projection. Another challenge concerned color matching and balancing the seven screens.

“Sometimes we showed the same image on all seven screens, so the color had to be exact,” Glenn explains. “It's a massive undertaking to put up seven screens, all pretty much next to each other, and color match and balance all of them. There is a level of artistry involved in matching that many screens.”

Another projection issue was the front and rear stage lighting, which threatened to blow out image contrast and quality. To ensure that light was not spilling onto the screens, Videocam tunneled the screens backstage.

“A tunnel is a structure made of cloth on a frame that goes between the projector's lens and the screen,” Glenn explains. “By creating this tunnel structure, we prevented the light from infiltrating the back of the screens.”

In addition to shooting and projection equipment, Videocam furnished Sony BetaSP players to play video content, and four Folsom Research 9700XL scan converters for graphics and animation as they were fed from four graphics computers into Videocam's Grass Valley 200 component switching system. The company also used a Doremi six-channel digital disk recorder system, along with a Buf Technology VTC-4000 controller.

Arnold says the switching system and controller allowed Videocam to sync-roll three different video feeds to three different screens simultaneously, with full redundancy. For the Huey Lewis performance, Videocam also provided video recording using Sony BetaSP decks.

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