Large format projection specialists E/T/C UK have designed and produced a unique Son et Lumière, specially commissioned by Liverpool Culture Company to help celebrate the re-opening of the City's landmark St. George's Hall building.
The 800 Light Years show is the first UK Son et Lumière to use E/T/C's new and highly flexible OnlyView control platform.
This is running eight HD Christie S20+ video projectors, montaged together to produce a stunning 64 metre wide by 14 metre tall image onto the rear face of St George's Hall in central Liverpool.
St. George’s Hall is one of the finest neoclassical buildings in Europe. Designed by Harvey Lonsdale Elmes and originally opened in 1856, it re-opened following an extensive £23 million refurbishment.
The show ran twice nightly for a week and began on April 23 with 1,000 people a night visiting.
In just two weeks, E/T/C UK's Ross Ashton and Paul Chatfield researched, sourced, and created all the video material, visuals, and custom artwork needed for the 25-minute show, while Karen Monid compiled and recorded a special accompanying music track.
Taking on this dual imaginative role enabled E\T\C to accelerate the whole creative process, with visuals and sound working in tandem on blocks of the story “It was a great exercise in inter-departmental teamwork,” explains Ross Ashton.
Using OnlyView as the central hub, and as both a creative and a programming tool also allowed them to work extremely fast and to maximize time right up to the last minute—including that spent on site. The software produces images and effects in real time without any delays for rendering, and was absolutely instrumental in enabling the show to be produced in time
2007 marks Liverpool's 800th anniversary. The show's narrative, a collaboration between Jon Corner and Andrew Sherlock of River Media and the LCC Events team, highlights some of the individuals, stories, and events that have shaped Liverpool's colourful history.
LCC's event manager Kirstie Blakeman explains, "We wanted to produce an event that was entertaining, informative, and that also had a great sense of spectacle. Monumental projection ticks all the boxes, so it was an obvious choice, as were E\T\C UK, they are the experts." She adds that the fact that they could also produce both visuals and the music was "Just brilliant—a real bonus".
Ashton comments that in addition to the short timescale, the other massive challenge was to find a workable physical location for the projectors.
At the back of St. George's Hall is St. George's Gardens, a memorial area full of mature trees, shrubs, and carefully tended flowerbeds—not ideal for a show production area. The tree line meant the projectors had to be located only 23 metres from the building, immediately behind which the ground drops away steeply by 4 metres.
Two towers were constructed to house projectors, lighting, and sound. The Christie’s are fitted with 1.4 lenses and run as four double-stacked pairs for optimum brightness. They are also crossed over, angled at 25º, to squeeze every last centimeter of additional throw out of the beam paths.
This is producing severe keystoning and image distortion, all of which is corrected in the OnlyView computer, which also does all the edge blending to produce the single image. OnlyView also allows complex animations and window-in-window effects to be applied within the main projections. Some sequences—like the industrial revolution and the Blitz—particularly lent themselves to this type of treatment.
The source material—95% of it still images—was compiled from material supplied by the Liverpool Archive at the Central Library and various other local archives including the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo and the National Museums of Liverpool (Maritime Museum). This was an intense operation. Once initial elements were assembled, LCC kept streaming additional material down to E\T\C in London as and when it became available.
For the music track, Monid utilized as many Liverpudlian sources as possible: The LAs, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Boo Radleys, Cast, plus many others including local folk band, The Traveling People, who also recorded some special tracks. She deliberately chose offbeat medieval music and often fused contemporary sounds with historical footage. She juxtaposed the LAs “Liberty Ship” with the development of Liverpool docks in the 1800s because, “It captures the spirit of the time and brings the right texture to the storyboard.” She wove all the music sources seamlessly together with the voiceover.
E\T\C's site crew is being run by their head of video, Andy Joyes. Karen Monid is assistant programmer, and they are joined by Jack Middlebrook, Briony Margets, and Mark Hughes.
E\T\C also worked closely with lighting suppliers Audile, who are architecturally lighting other aspects of the building that are not part of the projections. Audio equipment was supplied by Mersey Sound.