Ross Ashton from E\T\C UK is no stranger to creating spectacular projections for an eclectic range of events. The company's Pigi projection system has been used for high-caliber events for a range of blue-chip clients including Sony, the British government, and ice-skating legends Torvill and Dean. The high-powered slide projection system is capable of transforming huge surfaces into evocative visions that defy reality, by projecting static slides, scrolling images, traveling mattes, and rotating images at any angle, and all done without the use of mirrors.
Ashton has a wealth of experience designing images to suit particular events and he relishes the challenges that come his way. When he was presented with the idea of revealing the history of a London heritage property through projected images, he was intrigued. "Chiswick House is a stunning house with an incredibly rich heritage. The architecture is superb and lends itself to high-power projection. The difficulty with this project was deciding what to leave out, as there was wealth of material to chose from."
Chiswick House is a historic 18th-century home whose walls have devoured tales of its many fascinating inhabitants. The house was designed and built by its wealthy owner, Lord Burlington, who was an amateur architect fascinated with the classical period. Hence, the lines of the house are simple and elegant: a perfect canvas for the projection of images to recall the spirit and lives of those associated with the glorious building.
Ashton was responsible for the creation of an absorbing 35-minute sound-and-light show that recalls the halcyon days of Chiswick. Famous figures such as King George I, the composer Handel, and poet Alexander Pope all succumbed to the charm of the House and it was these people that inspired Ashton and his collaborators. "When I was first presented with the idea of creating a son et lumière about Chiswick House the trickiest part was figuring out who would be the narrator. There are so many amazing characters associated with the house but we finally decided on Lady Burlington, as she had witnessed so much and survived most of her family."
Ashton spent a great deal of time in the archives of the English Heritage organization searching for images that would recall the rich history of the house. Many of the images and drawings were black and white, which Ashton then converted to color on a Macintosh computer. The decision was made to not include any visual effects other than the projected images, which cut through the blackness of the night sky onto the facade of the house, with vivacious color and clarity. Ashton said, "This was a show with a lot of movement. Normally our work is used as a complement to other things that are happening onstage, such as a rock band or actors, but here the Pigi projection and the soundtrack were the entire show and we had to keep the audience's attention over a long period."
E\T\C UK specializes in using existing architecture to add to the impact of its projections and Chiswick House with its columns, tall windows, and stately lines proved itself a willing subject. The images were made to fit the architecture perfectly so that individual aspects of the facade could be accentuated. Ashton used two Pigi Rotating Double Scrolling Slide Projectors to achieve the spectacular images, which were 23m wide by 15m high (75'x50'). He describes the projectors as being "standard slide projectors with a fancy front end which enables them to achieve a number of different computer-generated effects."
By using two scrolling projectors the images can scroll across and through each other and can act independently or interface to create startling effects. Traveling mattes were used to great effect with the faces of various gentlemen appearing to morph into each other and at times re-emerge. Ashton storyboarded the whole show and it took him three weeks to create the 40m (130') of film the event required. One of the challenging aspects was determining the speed of the projections to give the show the stately yet engaging pace required.
The recorded voice of actress Beth Hayward created a witty voiceover with incidental period music allowing the audience to drift back in time as the story unfolded. Canegreen provided the sound system consisting of eight Meyer MSL 4s, eight Meyer PSW 2s, and two Meyer R2650 Ps. Control was via BSS Soundweb running on a laptop PC and playback was direct from the hard disk of a Mac.
Ross Ashton said he was using the event as a marketing exercise, and rather than invite people into a warehouse for a dry demonstration he thought it would have more impact for them to see a show. Marion Docherty, hospitality manager for Chiswick House, said the event was "brilliantly researched and visually stunning. We were more than pleased." Judging by the reactions of the public and invited guests, the sumptuous projections and accompanying story provided E\T\C UK with a calling card second to none.