Marcel DeKeyzer, founder of XL Video, was instrumental in the development of the product that would become MiPIX from Barco. If you've seen a production with innovative design using video and wondered how they did that, there's a good chance XL Video is behind it. Since the world's introduction to MiPIX for the Mercedes Benz exhibit at the Frankfurt Auto Show in the fall of 2003, innovative designs using the new technology have included auto shows around the world; concert designs for Britney Spears, Kylie Minogue, and The Corrs; television projects for TNT and the 2005 NBA All-Star Game; the Republican Convention; and various MTV shows. XL Video is supplying the new Destiny's Child tour that is starting in Europe and is also the video supplier for the current U2 Vertigo tour that features the new Barco MiSPHERE LED spherical module.
DeKeyzer's mission is to show designers the flexibility of using LED video — working to build packages that let designers break out of large, rectangular screens into other creative possibilities. Start thinking outside the box.
LD: Would you discuss how XL Video has branched out into the scenic and lighting uses of video imaging and how you work with designers?
MDK: In 1999, XL Video purchased a complete custom-designed low-resolution LED screen for the summer tour of Marius Westerhagen, the Westerhagen screen (WH). After the tour, we had this screen collecting dust in our warehouse for years. Suddenly, with the development of media servers, use of video as lighting effects, etc., production designers started to use this screen more and more for its effect and not so much for IMAG, for which it was developed. It soon became one of our most popular products and is still used around the world. By continuing to build on this creative customer base for the WH screen, we have now built a creative product inventory that includes: MiPIX, MiSPHERE, OLite, Soft-LED curtains, LED lights, WH screen, etc. All of these products can be used very flexibly and creatively. To utilize this inventory around the world, we focused our sales effort on no longer renting out “big TVs” but more on educating designers on what we can do for them. Our manufacturing capabilities, developed originally to just make our own modules and LED trailers, fit well with this strategy.
LD: How long does it take you to build a set with this technology incorporated into it for a typical concert or large industrial?
MDK: It takes about one to two months. We did the Britney Spears show in four weeks and the custom LED screen for Destiny's Child in six weeks.
LD: Does XL Video specialize in doing a lot of the custom fabrication and custom metal work?
MDK: You cannot show a designer all of these creative things, then when he or she says, “Okay, that's great, I am going to do that,” you tell him he will have to go find somebody else to make it. When they go for something, we can manufacture all of the set pieces and creative elements that incorporate our LED products. The more you support your customers by giving continuous feedback about what you can build with the growing inventory of creative LED products, the more they understand the limitations and possibilities of these new LED technologies. This will increase the chances that they design something cutting edge. For Britney Spears, it was very much a process of showing Steve Cohen the MiPIX — showing what we could do with it — at ETS-LDI a year and a half ago. “We can do this, this, and this.” He comes back two weeks later with a complete design. We look at it and we say, “Okay we can manufacture it; we will make the whole thing work for you and be able to tour.” We went through a very similar process with JUSTIn [Collie] from Artfag this year regarding Destiny's Child.
LD: How can most productions afford a design of this scale?
MDK: We say to them, “This is the price to make it, and here is the rental price.” What is attractive about that is that, if the design is not completely crazy, it doesn't need a complete custom solution that we can never use again. We can subsidize these structures, because they will stay in our rental inventory. We build up an inventory of set pieces, almost like a set company. These set pieces can be loaded with LED building blocks in many different ways, so there is enough room to use existing set pieces and make them look completely different from the show for which they were made. For example, we are using all of the Britney tour modules. We don't put them together the same way, but we are using the pieces and the parts we manufactured for all kinds of corporate events, concert tours, award shows, and trade shows. We keep using them for one-offs, where designers are asking, “What do you have?”
LD: So they are basically like Lego Blocks.
MDK: Exactly — bigger Lego Blocks.
LD: What is new with LED video technology?
MDK: The OLite is a new product from Barco that you will see on some big tours this summer. It is a small indoor/outdoor video tile with 10mm resolution. What is original about OLite is that you can use it to build indoor or outdoor 10mm SMD (Surface Mount Device) screens, and it can be used creatively. The first generation LED screens used in the concert touring industry, like the Barco D7 (14mm resolution), was developed for outdoor use in full sunlight in stadiums and for billboards. Each pixel was built out of multiple red, green, and blue LEDs. Many LDs complained about the brightness, and when they lowered it to a comfortable level, the picture quality became too low. New generation LED screens that reduced this problem use SMD LEDs. Each pixel is one small LED component with red, green, and blue incorporated in it. This technology has been used for a few years now in the trade show industry and by some indoor tours. However, it was not bright enough for outdoor use and not waterproof. Barco has now taken this high-resolution, indoor technology, made it waterproof, and increased the brightness. In the past, Barco made only 1.5'×1.5' tiles, which were smaller than industry standards when it came out. Now they are pushing limits again by supplying the OLite technology in approximately 3"×4" tiles. Although a little larger than the MiPIX, there are still a lot more creative effects that can be built than with the standard Barco products.
LD: How do you see the technology being incorporated into sets and production designs?
MDK: The TNT set for the 2005 [NBA] All-Star Game uses MiPIX with acrylic. The backdrop of that set is completely built out of MiPIX on both sides. It is a truly three-dimensional set built out of video LEDs. It is curved, double sided, and shaped like the logo. Another great example is the Mercedes booth at the 2004 Geneva Motor Show. The complete exhibit booth was formed by a three-dimensional curved MiPIX/acrylic combination. There are more and more examples of that, where the designers create a shape or three-dimensional form that we can load with OLite tiles, MiPIX tiles, or any other creative LED product to create an effect and a set. These projects are a great illustration of the way the video business, the lighting business, and the set business are all merging together. Technology is incorporated into set pieces.
LD: So you see the lines between lighting, video, and scenic elements becoming more blurred?
MDK: They are all ways to create visuals. LED lights can be used to build large DMX displays, and bright LED video pixels can be used as lights. The LED elements built into the U2 stage look like lights, but they are not; they are just very bright video pixels. This means no control by DMX but by visuals sent to a LED video processor. Since all of this technology is now so flexible, it can be built into any scenic element that can be designed. Set designers never had to know much about video other than what size “big TV” they wanted to use. Now, they have to know all the LED video building blocks that are out there and how they can be used creatively. In addition, they also need to know how the look of these video elements can be changed by combining them with various types of materials (acrylic and metal, for example). More and more set designers have to work with LDs as one team during the complete design process.
LD: How do you see the new technology affecting designs?
MDK: Designers are moving away from large TVs and are creating any type of creative, three-dimensional configurations that they can design. I think we will get to a point where designers stop thinking of the possible limitations of incorporating LED video building blocks into the sets. They will just follow their creative vision and design whatever they want. After that, it is up to companies like ours who are well informed about LED video building blocks and the new ones that are coming out every month — or with manufacturers — to custom develop a product to realize a design. In addition, we can build the LED sets and rent or sell them the technology.
LD: Is the new technology or the packaging of the technology influencing the direction of the industry?
MDK: As far as all LED video products are concerned, the true technology behind them is not substantially different from the Jumbotron screens of the ‘80s. Basically, a computer controls a large number of red, green, and blue lighting elements in a way that they become the pixels of a video screen. Although the computers are a lot smaller, the main development is that the lighting element is now a LED lighting element. Since this technology is using a lot less power and is generating a lot less heat, manufacturers are now able to create complete new products by only changing the way they package the technology. Until a new lighting element replaces LEDs, I think that most new product development in the LED video industry is going to be based upon re-packaging of the same technology. It makes video LED pixels more like a true building block for the architect, or, in this case, the designer. If you are a designer and you want a video screen that is concave, convex, curved, that is three inches high and whatever resolution, you can say, “That is what I want,” and then you can design anything out of it. Most of the limitations that the designers are used to when they are working with LED video are disappearing now.