Metreon is Sony's trademarked name for its own special brand of urban entertainment center (UEC). Created by Sony Development, a division of Sony Corporation of America, the flagship venue opened June 16 in San Francisco.
As do other such venues, Metreon combines entertainment attractions with food, retail, and a movie theatre complex that includes a large-format cinema (the Sony Imax 3D theatre is the very first of its kind in metropolitan San Francisco). But this is no cookie-cutter complex. In accordance with one of the cardinal rules in creating an urban entertainment center, this four-story, family-oriented center, located in the thriving South of Market area, has carefully customized its offerings. For instance, the restaurant area, Taste of San Francisco, showcases the city's outstanding chefs and eateries. Retail caters to upscale sophistication and includes Sony Style, PlayStation(R), Discovery Channel Store, and Microsoft(R)SF.
Sony Development is the master tenant of the building, designed by local architects Simon Martin-Vegue Winkelstein Morris and Gary Edward Handel & Associates of New York. Developers were Millennium Partners, New York, and WDG Ventures, San Francisco. Metreon promotes the involvement of local, women-owned, and minority-owned businesses. This effort began with design and construction, and the vendor list is dominated by San Francisco area companies.
The Sony team roster likewise contains a remarkable number of Disney veterans, including John K. MacLeod, senior vice president of development and operations for Sony Development; Trevor Bryant, senior vice president, creative division, Sony Development; Kari Novatney, VP and GM of Metreon; Scott Sinclair, executive creative director, Sony Development, and David Spencer, senior vice president, entertainment technology group, Sony Development.
The entertainment stars of Metreon are the three permanent themed attractions newly developed by Sony through the licensing of unique intellectual properties. In each case, Sony took the work of a living artist/author expressed in 2D illustration and text and opened it out into a 3D enter-the-book experience. In spite of all that ex-Disney talent, the way these books and stories are realized is quite different from what you might expect. Where Disney takes copious liberties in reshaping characters and stories to conform to certain values, Sony has done nothing of the kind, remaining faithful to the originals in artistic style, characters, story, and atmosphere.
Where the Wild Things Are/Night Kitchen is an interactive walk-through attraction for children, plus a restaurant and retail store, all based on the works of children's book writer/illustrator Maurice Sendak. Wild Things takes a classic theme park approach in allowing you to become a character in the story; you meet and manipulate Sendak's characters and creatures in a Wild Things funhouse. It's an interactive walk-through that employs many standard theatrical and magic devices.
The Airtight Garage is a sophisticated multi-user game room for older children and adults based on the work of graphic novelist Jean Giraud, known as "Moebius." The Airtight Garage fleshes out the other-worldly flavor and the futuristic fantasy environments of Moebius' work. You don't so much walk into the world of his novels as into a world devoted to and inspired by them. The attraction features three virtual reality games created in a collaboration between Sony and Giraud.
The Way Things Work--In Mammoth 3D is a walk-through environment culminating in a 3D video theatre experience, plus a retail store, based on the work of explainer/entertainer/author/illustrator David Macaulay. Named after Macaulay's best-selling book of the same name, The Way Things Work preserves the feeling of ink on paper and produces the sense of traveling through a giant version of the book with its layman's explanations and playful illustrations of machinery.
Everyone concerned with the show design and installation ran into challenges associated with combining show design and architecture, a simultaneous and compressed construction schedule, a pre-existing building design, and the physical aspects of the building and its maintenance. Natural light flooding through the mostly glass northeast face of the building limited what lighting designers could do. Fixtures would be permanent and would be serviced by a building maintenance crew. Seismic and structural requirements were stiff, partly due to location (earthquake country) and partly because the complex was constructed on top of an existing building (the nearby Marriott Hotel's underground ballroom).
HVAC was the worst culprit. Huge air ducts would appear in places other than specified on the plans, forcing show designers to compromise. The HVAC components also greatly reduced ceiling heights in places.
Designers compensated by leaving the spaces ceiling-less and painting out the elements overhead, specifying compact, versatile fixtures, working closely with fabricators to keep weight and load-bearing at a minimum, and generally adjusting and readjusting their work.
"Show design with a lot of theming was happening on top of standard building construction," says York Kennedy of Gallegos Lighting, which did lighting design for Wild Things as well as the interiors of all the movie theatres. "There was the HVAC, which kept moving around. There was lots of hanging foliage. There was rockwork and character work, including characters swinging in the air. Our lighting installation and everything else had to go in before the swinging things went in. While the crew was working on those, they'd knock our stuff back up into the ceiling. Then we'd have to reposition and refocus everything."
"HVAC is always a problem," concurs Dawn Hollingsworth of Moody Ravitz Hollingsworth (MRH), which lit The Way Things Work attraction. "It never gets coordinated properly. What engineers put on drawings is never what gets built in the space. But everyone needs to have a fair chance to have the ceiling space. Because the reason you're selling tickets--the reason you're there in the first place--is actually being impacted by these changes. But these things do happen on a construction site. The most amazing thing is that they get built at all."
"You have to enjoy thinking on your feet," says Scott Sinclair, the project's concept designer and a member of the Sony team that decided what to put into the building. "You have to be able to deal with someone saying 'I hate to tell you this, but there's a piece of ductwork going through your sky.' " Sinclair found the process very different from what he'd been used to in his days as a Disney Imagineer, where "the building would be shaped around the show." He also found it educational. "I learned a lot about HVAC and building codes. The architectural firms had to do some learning, too."
Continues Sinclair, "The San Francisco code restrictions are based on fear of earthquakes. The resulting building is a huge truss with heavy diagonal bracing and really large columns. The city may fall down someday, but Metreon will still be standing! I respect architects a lot more now than I used to. The codes are so restrictive that if they can make a building that looks good, it's quite an achievement."
Each attraction team relied on one or more peacemakers, whose job it was to coordinate the various aspects of things and keep people communicating and finding solutions. Kennedy credits Gus Sanchez of Cupertino Electric, Paul Strang meyer, the floor foreman, and Dave Clare, VP of Sony Entertainment Group Production, for keeping things from getting too wild in Wild Things. For playing valuable coordination roles on The Way Things work, Delphi cited Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction, the tenant improvement construction managers, and MRH praised Chris Collins of Yeager Design. Audio providers Intellisys Group and David Carroll Associates both mentioned Sony's Mike Haimson.
Entering the Wild Things attraction past the walls covered with his drawings, you know right away why the young hero, Max, is about to be sent to bed without his dinner. The show starts in Max's bedroom, where through a combination of scrim work and Pepper's Ghost effects, using a 50% mirror and a Sony VPL-1800 projector, the scene magically changes into a moody child's night forest.
>From there, guests progress through a Sendakian gallery of art, visual effects, and interactive elements. There's a smoking goblin's cauldron from which images mysteriously arise, thrown onto the smoke (a fog effect supplied by Ultrasonic Fog) by a sensor-activated Sony VPL-900 video projector triggered when a person leans or reaches over the pot. Footprints on the carpet talk back when stepped on. The low-lit, mysterious hall of mirrors is also low-ceilinged, with track and unistrut mounts holding MR-16 fixtures from Times Square Lighting, "Tiny lights with high output and good focusability," says Kennedy. In the echo chamber, your voice is hilariously distorted by Sony microphone processors. More Pepper's Ghost effects and theatrical illusions provide shifting pictures along the corridors.
Proceeding gradually uphill, you emerge onto a balcony. This is a play area with fake-out viewing devices that show you your own rear end, speaking tubes that let you communicate with folks on the lower level, and wisecracking little goblins that poke their heads out of holes and taunt you to push them back down. Other devices let you manipulate characters to interact with unsuspecting guests below. The various mechanisms were produced by Sony.
>From there, guests descend by slide or ramp to the jungle playground. Here, accompanied by vibrant klezmer music (which Sendak specified tune-by-tune, along with all the other music in the attraction) with the cityscape visible through huge windows, you can operate parts of the giant Wild Thing character on the wall by pulling ropes and stepping on trigger spots on the rug. There are also blocks to play with, made of dense foam painted to resemble wood; caverns to duck into, made of fiberglass finished as rock; and Wild Things flora and fauna to grab onto, sculpted of steel and fiberglass to endure.
The sculptors at Cinnabar, which handled the fabrication and installation for the attraction, cut cross-hatch grooves into the surfaces of their fiberglass creations to evoke Sendak's cross-hatch drawing style. Heading the Cinnabar model, sculpting, and prop shop is Andrea Whittier; others on the project included Cinnabar CEO Jonathan Katz, senior production manager Larry Conley, and painters Pietro Palladini, Ron Farnsworth, Holly Haas, Kathy Vincelli, Kevin Mahoney, and Max Gabl, receiving art direction from Sinclair, Heather Green, and Mike Spiewak of Sony. Hanging foliage flats in the attraction, of vinyl and wood, are by Applied Graphics Technology.
Key to Wild Things/Night Kitchen are the huge muslin murals that reproduce Sendak's art in painterly fashion. The largest, and one of the most striking, is the 130' by 20' cyclorama that wraps its cityscape of cooking implements 180 degrees around the Night Kitchen eatery. Gallegos lit the cyclorama with Elliptipar dimmable fluorescent sign lights, fitted with Mark X dimmable ballasts from Advance Ballast. Katz saw the decision to work in muslin as a turning point. "The original specs were to use printed vinyl, which is a digital reproduction process. But we felt everything should be theatrically painted, to give it richness and personality. It seemed all the more appropriate because Sendak himself is an opera scenery designer ."
Cinnabar set up five scenic paint frames in its shop and created a dedicated team to produce a total of 28 pieces. The murals were projected and painted with acrylics on continuous pieces of fireproof muslin from theatrical fabric supplier Rose Brand. The material was sized and stretched and cut exactly to conform with the interior spaces. After painting, it was installed onsite like wallpaper, then touched up and finished with matte sealer. "It was terrific for the artists, who got to paint in Sendak's style--a precious opportunity to work to the standard of a great living artist," says Katz. "Sendak was watching everything we did."
"Maurice Sendak is a very experienced stage designer and was deeply involved in the project. He was very specific about the music and scenery, also heavily into the food," says Sinclair, who lives not far from Sendak's home in Connecticut and became the conduit between the artist and Sony. "I bugged him for several months to determine the best way of working. It finally got to the point where I'd do a drawing and he'd only make minor changes."
Throughout the attraction is a layer of UV lighting to bring out UV paints used on the walls. Gallegos selected new compact fixtures from Wildfire. CSI open quartz halogens were chosen to create a wide, soft incandescent wash on the murals. "It was about accenting the truth of the colors in Sendak's artwork while making the environment feel fantastical; using the color palette that was there rather than having our own agenda," says Kennedy. "In this kind of an environment, you don't paint with light as when lighting actors; instead, you pick up on what the highlight color already is and celebrate that."
In high-ceiling areas, Gallegos specified a lot of ETC Source Four ellipsoidals. "The optics are really good, the lamp life is good, and you get longer throws for fairly low wattage," says Kennedy. ETC Source Four PAR fixtures provide color washes. All the lights are tinted. As in the other attractions, temporary colors were installed first, pending approval by all parties, to be gradually replaced with permanent glass and dichroic filters. The Wild Things temps are polycarbonate filters from Rosco, GAMProducts, and Lee, which will be replaced by matching Fade Not filters by Special FX lighting
In spite of its name, the Night Kitchen is flooded with natural sunlight during the day, as are large areas of Wild Things, making lighting design somewhat superfluous in daylight hours. Gallegos relied on Source Fours to help punch out accents in the Night Kitchen cyclorama mural and some of the accompanying scenic elements. Says Kennedy, "The fluorescents are highly efficient and give a soft base of light against the daylight. The Source Fours are warmer. Both stand out against the cool daylight." Musson was the show lighting contractor for both Wild Things and Night Kitchen, providing dimming and control systems, and installing the 500-odd fixtures specified by Gallegos, including some Rosco animation disks (motor unit #2910 with four-channel DC controller #6214) placed to create the effect of flowing water and sunlight rippling through trees.
This 15,000-sq.-ft. attraction is complemented by a retail space of equal size, for which Cinnabar built and installed the fixtures. The space is themed as an old theatre, with a stage for readings and performances, and a collection of Sendak characters as flats, dolls, and sculptures, some suspended from the ceiling and some leaning over catwalk railings. Paul Chavez of Intellisys Group was audio engineer and project manager for Wild Things, working with Sony's sound designer Aaron Richards. Others on the audio team were Intellisys' James Renney as programmer/show control designer, and John Neff, field supervisor/chief installer. All the audio processing is done by a Peavey Media Matrix system. This newest version of the Media Matrix is Windows NT-based and has an audio-to-ethernet interface that involves a Media Matrix 980 mainframe CPU to hold CobraNet digital sound processor cards, which plug into 100 base T computer hubs, which plug into standard audio interfaces. Peavey-supplied software enables custom setup of a user-friendly graphical interface for remote monitor and control.
Audio effects emitting from props play on PC card digital playback units from Meris Liberty. Background music runs on Sony RS-232 CD players. Speakers used in the attraction include EAW JF60s and JBL Control 25s for props and Renkus-Heinz TRC 61s for background music, plus some JBL Control 24 CT ceiling speakers and some Renkus-Heinz TRC-81s. Amplifiers are mostly Crown ComTechs. Everything feeds into an Anitech show control system that includes a custom hands-off audio (HOA) panel. The show control system alone includes some 2,000 wires, 90 loudspeakers, 88 inputs, and 80 outputs.
To streamline the audio work and simplify installation and maintenance, Sony's Mike Haimson brought all the audio engineers together for weekly meetings to exchange ideas and establish some overall audio standards. The Anitech show control systems and Media Matrix processors and operator control panels, for instance, are used building-wide. "It was an economy of brain power," comments Paul Chavez. "If the audio had been developed separately from space to space, it could have been a disaster. Mike made sure that didn't happen. Every team didn't have to develop every single thing, and the operator benefited from the standardization."
Recreating David Macaulay's whimsical approach to explaining and illustrating the mechanical objects we take for granted, such as can openers and zippers, The Way Things Work area is filled with his signature characters, such as woolly mammoths and angels, and his calligraphic pen-and-ink style. Some of the images are projected effects using Technobeam(R) automated luminaires fitted with custom gobos from High End Systems.
You begin the three-part experience walking past a representation of the cover of Macaulay's famous book into a gallery of murals, hanging flats, and household appliances. Melvin the talking robot, designed to Macaulay's specifications to look like a comical, found-object sculpture, works the crowd. This Sony telepresence robot, which via a remote operator can see in color, hear, respond to what audience members say, and turn his head, is as big a hit with schoolchildren as B.B. Wonderbot at the Sony Wonder Lab in New York City.
The murals, flats, and other scenic elements were developed and fabricated by Delphi Productions. "David Macaulay was very concerned about preserving his line quality, the variations you get with pen and ink, the feel of pen on paper," says Delphi CEO Justin Hersh. To create the hanging flats of angels and other characters, Macaulay's original art was digitally scanned into a bitmap file, then converted with Adobe Streamline software to a CAD-style vector file, used to guide the computerized router in cutting out the shapes of MDF. The flats were then hand-painted by Delphi's scenic artist B.J. Frederickson and others.
The flats are about an inch thick. Since seismic codes and the crowd of HVAC, lighting elements, and soda conduits overhead made it impractical and unaesthetic to hang them with cables, Delphi created each flat in two matching 1/2" layers, routed with 1/4" grooves. These sandwiched together into single pieces with 1/2" holes running top to bottom. The holes were threaded with rods and powder coated to match the ceiling color--a stable and inconspicuous solution.
The next gallery is filled with humming mechanical exhibits a la Rube Goldberg with lots of pulleys, gears, and rope, plus a booth where you see Melvin's human operator. This is followed by a video preshow broadcast on a 50" diagonal front-projection screen by Stewart Filmscreen with a Sony VPL-1800 projector, and on two Sony PGM-200 R1U monitors. Able to display both computer and video input, there are hundreds of these monitors serving various uses throughout the Metreon complex.
The preshow sets you up for the main show, which is a nine-minute, three- screen "live" session with Macaulay and some of his sketched characters, and 3D effects on the center screen. The 199-seat theatre is equipped with eight VPL-1800s. One is used for each of the outer screens and two for the 3D center screen. (The original plan was to have double the number of projectors working on each screen for more brightness, but this was found unnecessary, so four projectors are redundant.) The show includes in-theatre effects such as seat rumbles created by Aura transducers and a water spray provided by Mee Fog nozzles. Animation sequences were by Bob Kurtz & Friends; Sony's Valerie Johnson produced the video, which is stored on Sierra Design Lab uncompressed digital video disk playback units that process 270 megabits per second and feed the data stream to the projectors
Audio playback is also digital, using a Tascam MMP 16 digital dubber specified by David Carroll & Associates, which provided project management and system integration for audio, video, and show control throughout the attraction. Speaker equipment used includes C-6 three-way PA front cabinet speakers from Audio Tech, Control 25Ts, Control SB subwoofers, and SP 212s and SP 222s from JBL, as well as Renkus-Heinz TRC 61s and TRC 81s. Amplifiers are Crown CT and Macro series. In this attraction as well as in many satellite equipment rooms in the complex, engineers saved precious space by using front-mounted, swing-out equipment racks from Signal Transport. The preshow audio playback is done with a pair of V-1M digital disk recorders from Doremi Labs.
A priority for lighting designer Moody Ravitz Hollingsworth was to gradually reduce the illumination for guests as they proceed through the space, so that by the time they enter the darkened theatre, their eyes adjust easily. About 120 track fixtures from Juno are the lighting workhorses for both the 14,000-sq.-ft. attraction and its attendant 2,500-sq.-ft. retail store. Says Hollingsworth, "The Juno fixture profile is very clean and it takes color and accessories. Anything more theatrical would cost more and be harder to maintain."
The lighting color palette was based on the colors in Macaulay's book. "His colors are very grayed," says Hollingsworth. "The blues are greenish, the pinks are salmony. The yellow arrows the angels hold are not bright, they're more golden. He rarely uses a primary color unless he's talking about light. This was one of the fun parts of the project for me, because they were colors I don't often get to use. I probably spent more time picking color on this project than I have on many others." Temporary colors are gradually being replaced with permanent glass filters.
In the 3D theatre, MRH specified MR-16 lamps from RSA to light the top and bottom of the screen, with GAM filters. Studio Avanti designed the architectural space and helped develop the attraction. As elsewhere, there are no ceilings; the elements are painted out in dark blue above the 12' mark. "I wouldn't have wanted to be the painter on that job," says David Carroll. "I think Hathaway Dinwiddie did three or four 'last passes,' and every time they had to bag all the fixtures and mask everything off below 12'. Then someone would come in and put in a couple more pieces of conduit, or blast a hole through the wall."
A sculpture of Malvina, the mythic female who colors the work of Giraud, encloses a trapezoidal screen that flashes video images at the entrance to the Airtight Garage. The picture is rear-projected through a piece of privacy glass using a Sony VPL 900 unit. This 15,000-sq.-ft. attraction was created in collaboration with Giraud and themed as a slightly moth-eaten game room, watering hole, and intergalactic space portal.
The featured sports are Quaternia, a video console game; HyperBowl, a virtual bowling alley; and Badlands, an outer space treasure hunt. Quaternia is what's playing on the bulk of the 105 standup game stations, each equipped with a Sony PGM 200 R1U monitor. Putting you in charge of a bowling ball-sized trackball custom engineered by Sony Development Inc., HyperBowl lets you knock down virtual pins on the streets of San Francisco. Sony VPL 900 video units project onto tall vertical screens that allow spectators an easy view. The screens were painted right onto the walls with a special substance from Stewart Filmscreen. Badlands is a competitive game played in individual motion simulator pods, themed as space travel vehicles housed in a "garage." The 28 ride vehicles were supplied by Jesler. Each is equipped with a Sony VPL-600 rear projector that provides real-time CGI views of the game environment.
These multi-user games provide CGI 3D-rendered environments using Intel Pentium 3500 motherboards, RIVA TNT2 3D graphics processors from NVIDIA, Diamond Viper V770 AGP video cards, and Diamond Monster sound cards. The games are linked through an ethernet network. Game controls were developed and manufactured by Sony.
Self-described "storytelling architect" Studio Avanti worked on the project from concept development through project management. Says Avanti principal Paul LoNigro, "Giraud would draw the images, the Sony team would interpret them for three dimensions, and we would implement them into the fabric of the space. It was our responsibility to make sure the architecture didn't overpower the other elements: we were creating a canvas, a physical environment for Giraud's world to live in. A lot of thematic items were developed from found objects."
To create a sense of grandeur, Avanti vaulted the ceiling high at the entrance and in certain other areas. As you travel through the space, the sense of height is diminished. As in the other attractions, no ceilings were installed. The HVAC and other overhead elements were thematically painted out with greens and deep purples.
Under contract to Sony, Sunbelt Scenic Studios was responsible for the production drawings, design development, and fabrication of most themed and painted elements of Airtight Garage. Sunbelt's Doug Knab was project director, working closely with Giraud and with Sony project manager Deborah Rager. Sunbelt graphics manager was Karen Bartsch.
The job included duplicating Giraud's art in brushstroke-for-brushstroke murals, creating fiberglass elements, and finish detailing. Sunbelt also built the pedestals, screen surround, bar, lecterns, tables, and other aspects of the HyperBowl games. Smaller items were cast of glass fiber-reinforced gypsum to keep them lightweight; larger items were of plain fiberglass. Metals and exotic hardwoods were also used. To get that look of a well-used outer space hangout, Sunbelt developed specialized metallic finishes, mixing graphite into the paint for the look of distressed nickel. Some items incorporate found objects. Sunbelt worked mostly with Deborah Rager, project manager for Sony.
Key to the project was the computerized router table. "It was going 16 hours a day," says Knab. Sunbelt uses a Gerber Saber 408 router that runs Artpath, Compose, and Art Carve software. Another heavily used tool was the EnVision plotter from Gerber Scientific Products, to cut stencils out of vinyl.
Lexington Scenery and Props fabricated the cladding of the game consoles, corner pieces, benches, and cabinets, endeavoring to make them look like Moebius' designs and also be impervious to people eating, drinking, and thumping. Steel superstructures were faced wood, metal, and fiberglass. Lexington also built adjustable lean bars that raise and lower via spring-loaded pins.
Lighting design for Airtight Garage was done by Lightswitch, relying heavily on the Lightolier 8201 track fixture. Lightswitch principal Abigail Rosen Holmes also specified a few pendant fixtures from Abo Light and Limburg Glass. There is no natural light in this space; illumination is low and dramatic, in keeping with a game room atmosphere. The audio vendor was Baker Entertainment Integrators.
Whatever practical snags were encountered along the way, everyone interviewed on this project was uncommonly inspired by the level of the original material. All those who worked to bring Metreon's attractions to life spoke of the need to earn the trust of the original artists, the desire to do justice to their work, and the welcome challenge of realizing that work in three dimensions. Knab, a longtime fan of Giraud, sums it up nicely: "This was the most exciting project I've ever worked on. For me, it was the culmination of a lifetime of effort and artwork. It fit with the way I draw and think and work, and I tried to make it better than anyone, including the artist and the client, ever expected it could be."