Creating a technological mini city in the middle of nowhere was the task at hand for Venice, CA-based Zed Ink when Microsoft's John Ellard approached the company to produce Xbox 360: Zero Hour Launch Event. By the end of the 30-hour pre-launch party/demo extravaganza, more than 3,600 hardcore gamers from around the world and 100 members of the media made their way to an undisclosed location in Southern California's Mojave Desert for the countdown to unveiling of the new video game system.

With only six weeks to plan for hundreds of gaming stations, live entertainment, and food stations in an airplane hangar running from sunset on November 20 through 12:01am on November 22, the folks at Zed — who all have backgrounds in production, from film and television, to concerts and special events — had their work cut out for them. According to senior creative director Julia Zarro, the objective was to create buzz and momentum for the launch by producing a signature event that truly appealed to the core Xbox audience — the gamer — and to reward this group by generating an epicenter of gaming.

Hangar 703 was converted into a gaming paradise where attendees could play Xbox 360 games on 500 gaming stations and enjoy over 30 hours of constant entertainment, ranging from live music to big screen multiplayer gaming competitions, from outdoor activities to tattoo artists. To fill the empty hangar and truly transform it, the job required loads of moving lights and conventionals, media servers, projection screens, plasma screens, and an amazing 11 miles of cabling.

“The old plane hangar had owls and rattlesnakes living in it, and it was right next to a high security military base, so just getting into the venue was huge,” says Zarro. “Once we got in there, we didn't have any of the facilities of a convention center. We had to bring in T1 lines and power. In essence, [technical director] Rick Jobson set up a miniature city out in the middle of nowhere.”

Zarro worked with creative director Erin Hearne on design ideas from the start, keeping sketches around the walls of the company's conference room. “Julia and Zed's core team worked on the initial creative concept of the event, and then I would work closely with lighting design, scenic design, and graphic design to bring the event into a cohesive vision,” says Hearne, who has a background in lighting design and brought in Manny Treeson to translate Zed's ideas. “Manny was brought in relatively early to participate in all of the creative discussions as far as what lighting elements would be integrated into the overall design,” she adds. “We had a lot of lighting integrated into the scenic and sculptural pieces and part of the stage design.” Zarro's and Hearne's ideas made their way to VectorWorks via production designer Kris Bast.

The overall design concept evolved from an idea from the Xbox team, who wanted to have the event evoke the feel of Burning Man (the annual art festival/temporary community). The company wanted to focus on the hardcore gamers. “We started off by looking into venues that were remote, a place to get to — like dry lake salt beds in the desert — doing something that was very destination-oriented to create a journey to get there,” says Zarro.

The event had to keep gamers occupied for 30 hours while achieving the branding the client wanted. “We've been integral in bringing the new look and the Xbox 360 brand to life,” says Zarro. “This was really a showcase of how the brand should be a living experience. At the same time, though, it needed to be very real. Everything in the space had to be there for a specific reason. I guess our main thread was really form follows function — functional yet completely distinguishing what the brand is. It had a very technological yet human quality to it. The Xbox 360 experience is not just about gaming but also a digital entertainment lifestyle energized by the gaming community with global appeal.”

The challenge of this particular show, according to Zarro, was the vastness of the space. “So, for example, within lighting every element of Manny's design had to have a pure purpose and not just light for aesthetics,” she says. “For lighting the interior and exterior of the building every fixture was designed to have a very specific function. Of course the other challenge with lighting with a brand that has such a particular color — Xbox green — is that we had to create moods and environments that not only reflected the brand and colors within the brand but also kept the environments fluid and organic.”

According to event producer Marc Buchan, the project was an incredible technological feat, with load-in starting on November 11 and the event going live on November 20.

“There was so much to do, with lighting, carpeting, and the scaffolding that provided the bulk of the scenery,” he says, “and then scenic elements like tables themselves. Add to that the fact that we had to set up 500 actual game units with the services of Microsoft's in-house supplier, TSG, who had a separate team working within our production schedule. We would lay power, and they would follow power with data cable — the first couple of days were incredible, but it was just a spider web of cable across the entire space.”

While Zarro and Hearne directed the overall looks, and Treeson created more than 1,000 lighting cues for the various shows and events and dealt with three High End Systems Catalysts, Creative Technology (CT) provided video equipment and a design solution, taking video content from the client and working with Zed to make sure that it all translated properly to the video screens.

“Basically, there were two levels of projection,” says Zarro. “One was video content, feeding to main screens, side screens, and plasmas — Xbox 360 game trailers, commercials, and live video feed. Then, there was all the branding for Xbox, which went through the lighting department and the Catalyst systems.” A separate Catalyst system also ran Element Labs VersaTUBEs onstage. In order to immerse the audience in the brand, around 100 video trailers from the client were used as content. In addition, live content was projected during demos, as well as to reveal IMAG of different players on the main screen.

To maintain excitement, the event was cued for the full 30 hours for both video and lighting, but the Zed staff knew they would have to maintain the flow and be able to allow stage manager Andrew Paul to call the show on the fly when necessary. “We figured out hour-to-hour what would be going where,” says Zarro. “We really did a cue-to-cue for 30 hours.” Hearne created playlists for video, so there was specific content slotted for certain times, but this could also be easily tweaked in case the schedule changed.

“The video for the show is delivered to the show site by our client,” continues Zarro. “It is our responsibility to design the content into the experience of the event and design playlists that are integral to the overall show. The influence of any graphic, video, or motion graphics designed from scratch for the show is always designed to relate directly to the brand.”

The calling of the show was done much on the fly, due to the nature of the event, “because the audience sort of does their own thing during the time there,” adds Zarro. “Suddenly, we would need more entertainment in one area to keep the event going.”

Hearne adds that even what was run on the fly was well planned, as they knew they had to be ready for any situation and expect the unexpected. “We created very specific cue-to-cue changes, but Manny and CT built in a ton of options, so if there was ever a demo that ran shorter than expected, for example, we had the ability to go to a separate playlist,” she says. “If the entertainment wanted to move to a different area, Manny already had cues built so he could change areas. We had lighting programmers…on for all 30 hours to be ready to adjust the looks.”

With so many layers of entertainment occurring at once — game-play, demos, a band, various performance pieces — everything was controlled from the central video village and front of house position.

Gaming stations were set up with a custom designed bracket system that held different sized plasma screens and a game system, all mounted at varying heights to the scaffolding that made up the majority of the set. Five or six different types of plasma screens were used for various purposes-some for branding wallpaper; others were optimal for games and movies.

For the ultimate load out, every gaming console had to be re-boxed after the show, so Jobson's crew had to make sure 500 gaming systems were repackaged exactly as they came in.

XBOX 360 LAUNCH EVENT EQUIPMENT

Lighting:
6 VARI*LITE VL6C
58 VARI*LITE VL5 Arc
36 VARI*LITE VL5
40 VARI*LITE VL2C
91 VARI*LITE VL2416
41 VARI*LITE VL2415
75 VARI*LITE VL2000 Wash
2 Syncrolite 7K
8 Syncrolite 3K
36 Martin MAC 2000 Wash
30 Martin MAC 2000 Profile
24 Martin MAC 2000 Performance
4 PAR46 WFL
121 ETC Source Four® 19° 750W
42 ETC Source Four 26° 750W
32 ETC Source Four 36° 750W
12 ETC Source Four 50° 750W
100 ETC Source Four PAR VNSP
8 ETC Source Four PAR NSP
108 ETC Source Four PAR MFL
91 Color Kinetics ColorBlast® 12
36 6' Mini Strip
8 6' Kino Flo Mega Kino Single
266 4' Kino Flo Single Tube
100 Element Labs 1m VersaTUBE
3 High End Systems Catalyst Media Server
3 VARI*LITE Virtuoso console
4 Le Maitre G300 Hazer
Video:
2 Digital Projection 28SX 17,500 Ansi Lumen Projector running HDSDI
2 Barco R12 Projector
8 Barco G10 Projector with HDSDI Input Card
2 PIGI DDRA Projector (6kW Xenon with 360° rotating double scrollers, internal dimming shutters)
1 Barco Encore/Screen Pro II Small Controller HDSDI
4 Barco Encore video processor
1 16'×29.7' Stewart Front Projection Screen
2 16:9 9'×16' Stewart Front Projection Screen
1 11.2'×19.5' Stewart Front Projection Screen
1 CTLA “H System” GVG Kayak DDI Digital System Custom
E\T\C Audiovisuel Onlycue Software
14 ImagePro HDSDI
1 Evertz Z1202H 12×2 HDTV Audio to follow Video with Dual AES
1 Lassen 32×32 HDSDI Router with 8 Satellite Panel
14 HD/SDI 14" Preview Monitor
2 12×6.5 Canon Wide Angle Lens
1 Fujinon 66:1 Long Lens Kit with HD/Tripod
2 QuVis Acuity HD Player/Recorder
2 HDWF500 HDCAM Recorder/Player
4 DSR2000 DVCAM Record Deck
15 Pioneer 7400 DVD Player
3 Panasonic DMRE85 DVD Burner

Vendors:

PRG Lighting (main lighting package)
Arc Light Efx, Inc. (lighting)
CWP Intelligent Lighting (lighting)
Kino Flo Inc. (fluorescent lighting)
Syncrolite (lighting)
Nightlights By Bebee (outdoor lighting)
Creative Technology (video)
Phil Burke Rigging, Inc. (rigging)
Studio Equipment Rentals (lifts)

For Zed Ink:

Executive Producer: Ray Zarro

Executive Creative Director: Julia Zarro

Creative Director: Erin Hearne

Entertainment Director: Arnold Serame

Creative Assistant: Carolyn Kovacs

Event Producer: Marc Buchan

Associate Producer: Johnny Camacho

Guest Liaison: Samantha Chambers

Office Manager: Charles Vaught

Technical Director: Rick Jobson

Assistant Technical Director: Mark Eis

Technical Coordinator: Diane Jobson

Art Director: Kris Bast

Lighting Designer: Manny Treeson

Assistant Lighting Designer: John Williams

Programmer: Christian Hibbard

Programmer: Daniel Boland

Decorator: Steve Auernhammer

Art Coordinator: Varsi Amerian

Leadman: Hugo Vargas

Swings: John King, Javier Torres, Erik Ullet, Chris Abbott

Rigger: David Jurros

Production Electrician: “Wild” Bill Lehmkuhl

Electricians: Robert Kerwath, Chip Foody, Chris Conti, David Grayson, Marti Wickman, Greg Smith, David Favortia, Dan Moore, Jason Trowbridge, Jeffrey Smith, Fred Waldman

Microsoft Leads: Shaun Robins, Nicholas Prestegaard

TSG Lead: John O'gara

PowerPoint Ops: Rob Jalil, Jeannette Pesco

Stage Manager: Andrew Paul

Assistant Stage Manager: Kerry Kranz

Associate Producers: Leslie Olczak, Luciana Hoffman, Cedric Mazzara, Tiffani Manabat, Scott Acito

Client:
John Ellard, Group Manager Global Events, Microsoft