Every year, Anheuser-Busch gathers all of its national wholesalers together at a convention center where they spend three days discussing the business of beer. (The evenings are reserved for partaking of the products at the Expo set up next door — a sort of hands-on quality control.) With 5,000-6,000 attendees, it's one of the largest corporate events in the country. This year, from March 8-10, the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando hosted the convention, which featured the slogan “Think Fresh.”
For the past nine years, lighting designer Warwick Price has kept the lighting looks fresh. He worked closely with the production company The Spark Agency and, specifically, with technical director Joe Farell, who oversees the set design. “They really do things right in terms of budget and time,” Price explains. “These events are always huge undertakings with wide sets that are almost as tall as the building — just enormous.”
Video screens for presentation graphics and information as well as IMAG play a large role in the visuals, and the Spark Agency produces the video content to deliver the company's message. “Talking heads form the nucleus of the show,” Price says. “All of the top executives get up and talk for a half-hour or 45 minutes. The fun part is that there is a huge set behind them for me to paint with color and come up with looks that stay interesting for a half-hour.”
The 90'-wide stage was dominated by a 60' × 20' video screen, and the set extended out from that. There were also four towers (topped off by crowns befitting the “King of Beers”) and randomly sized, low-res MiPix video screens (made by Barco) filling in the spaces between the towers. “The MiPix screens didn't do presenter support, but they handled graphics well — they basically became a piece of the set that you could paint with video images,” Price says. “On day one, we only had still images on the MiPix screens. On day two, what had just looked like a lit piece of scenery on the side went into motion, so that was a nice build for the audience.”
Before the show, Price was given background video content for each speaker. “They generally have a title or a graphic that goes with them when they're speaking,” he says. “Most of the time it's blue or red or a mixture of both, so I make complementary speaker looks based on that color because you need to match the colors or it would be a total disaster.”
Having done the show so many times, Price knows how to avoid any potential problems. “When I design it, I make sure we have something to cover all aspects of the set,” Price explains. “When you settle into the speaker looks, everything has to be lit on that stage — the towers, the flats, the other screens, and the cycs behind everything else. That really dictates which instruments I need and where they go.”
Price always programs the show, and this year, he used Martin's Maxxyz console. “I learned how to use it last year, and it handles everything very well, and choosing the instruments I wanted to use was fairly simple,” Price says. “The MAC washes are the workhorses of the rig — they are quite possibly the best lights in the world right now as far as color and manipulation of the beam. They're rather incredible. With a set that big, you have to have something that is punchy for stage wash, so it was a natural choice. I always need to have a gobo light that does ballys in the audience or lights the general stairs around the step, so the Profiles were there for that.
“I was most impressed with the Performances,” Price continues. “This year's set had a lot of flats that needed framing to make sure it looked nice and clean, and the Performances really did only that. Plus, it was really fun playing around with the animation wheel and getting some great motion going across the set. It actually made the flat set panels look digitized instead of just looking like a gobo splash. When you first look at the light, it seems limiting because it only has five gobos and an animation wheel, but there are so many different variations you can get just by putting it in and out of focus. Then, when you overlay that with being able to rotate a gobo and move the animation wheel, it's pretty phenomenal.”
Supplied by PRG in Orlando, Price's lighting choices included: 70 Martin MAC 2000 wash lights, 22 Martin Performances, 28 Martin Profiles, 44 Atomic Strobes, 36 5Ks, 12 ETC Source Four lekos, 900' of 20' truss and one 60' minibeam truss, four bars of ACLs, and two 3K Strong Gladiator Followspots, a Martin Maxxyz console, and an MA Lighting grandMA console (for the Mbox by Light & Sound Design/Fourthphase).
“I chose to use a mainly Martin rig because you just turn them on and they work,” Price says. “The reliability factor is pretty huge. For a show of this size, we don't have a lot of time every morning to fix anything. We used the Mbox as well. Drew Findley from Fourth Phase programmed it. It was the first time I'd used it, and it added a whole new dimension to the looks.”
Findley also received video files beforehand. “It was just a matter of downloading them from a hard drive onto Drew's computer,” Price explains. “Then, we had the ability to manipulate or change the image once we had it. It impressed everybody who hadn't really understood what the Mbox could do. When something was too blue or we needed to dim the level down or flip something around, the Mbox really came into its own. Without that, they'd be taking the file back to programming land, re-editing the file, and bringing it back to us. It saved a lot of time, and Drew's had such experience with the Mbox that he was a great asset. So, I was pleased with it, and it was a good learning curve for me, as well.”
Cityscape imagery featured prominently in the video content, so Price used a cityscape gobo from Apollo Design Technology in the Performance units. “It made sense to have that for continuity, and that turned out to be one of the best decisions ever,” he says. “In one of the opening modules, we had a cityscape scene on the MiPix screens, cityscape all across the set from the Performances, and cityscape footage on a huge Stewart Aeroview video screen. By putting the animation wheel over it and blowing it out of focus, you couldn't tell it was the cityscape gobo — it had great texture. With the animation wheel, you could create this great mirage effect, so it almost looked like the buildings were shimmering.” For the project, Rose Brand built two White Leno Filled Scrim Cycloramas (each at 35' × 60') and several black commando cloth maskings.
Price was also able to turn the set's crowned towers into stunningly effective light boxes. “The towers were split into three sections each. I put two MAC washes behind each segment and one Atomic Strobe behind each panel,” he explains, “so we were able to color those and change them and chase them.”
Because the large video screen is the main focus of attention, Price used 12 MAC wash lights to backlight it. “I put them right above the video screen to get coverage across the 90' wide stage,” he says, “and I put the motorized barn doors on them, which were great. Last year, people could see the sources, so I had to run them at 50 percent for the whole show. With the 12 barn doors on them, I was able to tip the top of the bottom barn door in and lose any spill on the screen and any spill into the audience. I was quite pleased I used those. I also had fun with the 44 Atomic Strobes. Those wake people up at 8:30 in the morning! Plus, you can do some serious effects with them.”
The rig's two followspots saw little action. “We mainly used them to pick out celebrities in the audience like Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Cedric the Entertainer,” Price says. “We didn't actually use them onstage. I used lekos for the podium and MAC washes for general stage washes.”
The lighting rig included three 60' trusses for the basic front truss as well as two 300' cable trusses that went from backstage all the way to the FOH and one FOH truss. “That gave me the ability to spread lights out and put 5Ks where I needed to for audience light,” Price says. “And everything went up quickly and in great condition because I had possibly the best lighting crew ever assembled for any show,” Price says. “Barry Claxton put them together for me. It was truly like having six crew chiefs: Jerry Vierna (crew chief), Dave Grayson, Bobby Braccia, Robin Downes, Dino DeRose, and Patrick Connelly. Peter Alexander was the Fourth Phase account rep, and we really couldn't have done the show without him. He was there the whole time making daily runs to Starbucks, which was fantastic. That was actually part of the equipment spec list that I sent to him.”
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