Each year, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA®) hosts the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES®), the world's largest consumer technology tradeshow. The 2006 International CES featured five keynote addresses and united more than 150,000 electronics enthusiasts from 130 countries.

The keynotes, featuring a veritable “who's who” of the electronics industry giving product demos, were the main events of the four-day show. This year, Microsoft's Bill Gates kicked off CES with a pre-show keynote address on Wednesday night. Thursday morning, Sony's chairman and CEO Sir Howard Stringer did his presentation, followed by CEO Paul Otellini of Intel Corp. in the afternoon. The next day was loaded with product demos from Yahoo! Inc. chairman and CEO Terry Semel in the morning and an afternoon session with co-founder and president of products Larry Page of Google.

As expected, the CES keynotes were jam-packed with technology, as well as appearances by A-list celebrities. As a result, CEA was charged with delivering an unprecedented, high-tech show. So, they partnered with production company TPN of Seattle for the eighth year to create an unparalleled program.

To most, working with two high-profile electronics companies might be a challenge. This event was to feature five keynoters. “Over the years, we have refined our system,” says Richard Moore, TPN owner and CEA account manager. “It's kind of like doing repertory theatre because several major corporations' key presentations happen on the same stage.”

Customized Solutions

TPN worked closely with Kelly Ricker, CEA's director of events and conferences, from pre-production through event evaluations. One of the biggest parts of the job was to make sure parameters were communicated to each client as early as possible. With five heavy-hitter keynotes and limited time and space, pre-production planning was crucial — so crucial, in fact, that planning for 2006 began the day after the 2005 International CES.

The 1,200-seat Hilton Theatre in Las Vegas — known for its crystal-clear sound and challenging stage — is home to Barry Manilow's show, Music and Passion. Working around his scenery, TPN calculated the backstage space available.

“At the beginning of our client communication, we determine ‘acreage’ for each client,” says Greg Elder, scenic designer with TPN. “After that, we create a backstage space map to chart how all the different show components are going to piece together. It's truly a well-constructed jigsaw puzzle.”

The Base, TPN's repertory-theatre-type plan, enabled the company to move from one technical setup to another within minutes. To do so successfully, they needed to choose the right base system of video and lighting. The package had to be flexible enough to stand alone, with the option to add elements, such as extra screens, without disturbing the original system.

Five out of five of the keynoters at CES wanted HD as their base. With a modest increase in budget, HD provided the core video package, and CEA, of course, was happy to promote HD. High definition does take a little extra planning, though. “Every time we get HD on site, we immediately need to hire another makeup artist, because everybody needs to get touched up,” explains Moore.

By selecting a base system and creating a production shell, the keynoters were able to plug in their own unique addresses, all of which have grown in scope over the years. None were just talking heads. With the shell in place, speakers would plug their own production teams into it or hire TPN to handle the production.

Keynotes In High Definition

With video formats coming from five different clients and multiple sources, the show also needed a technical solution that could bring multiple technologies together to a common platform and output in HD. The presentations incorporated graphics and information from approximately 60 computer sources, feedback sources, and live cameras, all in HD.

“CES is unlike any other show, because it involves direct competitors sharing a stage, which needs to look completely different in an hour or less,” says Elder.

TPN turned to LMG, Inc. for a complete HD system. Bob Worden, director of TPN's Show Technology Group, and Tim Wiley, vice president of show services at LMG, worked together to design a system that would meet the show's needs. In addition, LMG provided standard definition and HD recording on-site for both CEA and clients to use for internal marketing and PR purposes.

To complement the HD system, HD cameras, projection, and image magnification on an 18'×32' Stewart Lumiflex screen captured every detail for the keynoters' demos. “The presenters at CES are demonstrating the products of tomorrow, so we had to deliver with the highest quality image possible,” says Les Goldberg, CEO of LMG.

Setting And Lighting The Scenes

From a scenic design standpoint, the team created the sets to move in and out quickly, with a setup of only 45 minutes between demos. Intel and Sony, for example, had very large scenic units with multiple LCD screens. It took six crewmembers to move Intel's wagons of electronics. In addition to designing for speed, TPN also decided to enhance the set for efficiency by creating sidewalls with small pixilated tiles that were specific to no single company but took light well. As a result, the staple set piece for each company could be incorporated later, giving each company a signature look through lighting.

Alex Berry, lead lighting designer on the production, says that three of the speakers actually brought in their own LDs for cueing, using his original design. “I ended up cueing Intel's and Google's keynotes,” Berry says. With the speakers set far downstage, most of the house lights were not used, and TPN brought in its own rig, supplied by Christie Lites. “Because we bring in our own truss and positions, we don't have to restore any of the Hilton's gear after the show,” he adds.

Berry designed the base lighting package — consisting of Martin MAC 2000 Performances for keylighting and fill and MAC 2000 Wash fixtures for backlighting — shared it with the other designers to add their own choices, and then resubmitted the light plot as a total package to be shared onsite. “I started using automated lighting for this event three years ago because it has the right color temperature,” he notes. “The set, in part, consists of a large video screen backdrop. The high color temp of the screen and the automated lights give a nice balanced IMAG shot.”

“We focus 70% of our energy on turnaround time and ask clients to communicate to us what they intend to do so we can help engineer the turnaround,” adds Moore. “You don't want to bring your scenery on stage in 115 pieces. If there is a mantra that my gang uses everyday it's ‘one-hour turnaround, one-hour turnaround.’ That is the biggest challenge.”

That's A Wrap

All in all, the show was a hit, with the keynotes drawing five out of five standing-room-only crowds. “We cut our teeth on finding ways to make this multi-client format effective,” says TPN's Worden. “Unlike any year prior, all the major presenters had full-blown productions with production value, complete with talent and music. Imagine doing The King and I and then having to do Les Miserables just eight hours later, with the turntable. But with the right team and technology in place, we had a major hit.”

CES Keynotes Equipment List:

LMG High-Definition Flypack System

Kahuna 4 ME HD/SD Switcher with 3ME control panel and 1ME control panel
5 LDK 6000 Camera
1 Sony HD C950 Camera

Computer Switching

2 Extron 32×32 High Band 450 RGBHV router
22 Image Pro HD
1 1604 Screenpro Plus

Projection

3 Digital Projection Inc. Digital 35HD
2 Sony CRX R110s
1 18×32 Stewart Lumiflex Screen
Multiple Sharp 45" HD-native LCD Screens

Playback/Record

BetacamSP, Digibeta, Sony HDCam, Sony HDCam SR, Panasonic DV-Pro, Panasonic HD-DVC Pro

Christie Lites Truss & Rigging, Scenic

6 Christie Lites Truss 16"×16" 4' Hammer Tone
53 Christie Lites Truss 16"×16" 8' Hammer Tone
30 CM Chain Motor L 1 Ton 220V 16fpm 60' Lift

Lighting

32 Martin MAC 2000 Performance
16 Martin MAC 2000 Wash
4 Vari-Lite VL3000 Spot
72 AC Lighting Chroma-Q Color Block

Dimming & Control

2 MA Lighting grandMA
2 Christie Lites Distro Rack c/w MLD 225 Main Module
10 Christie Lites MLD 208C
2 Christie Lites MLD 120C
2 Artistic License DMX to Ethernet Hub4

Effects

2 CITC DF-50 Hazer
2 Director Fan