Las Vegas can be a fickle mistress when it comes to entertainment attractions. A few years ago, the city that gambles all night decided to take a chance on family entertainment and quite a few hotels invested in a spate of venues deemed appropriate for children. That philosophy went bust rather quickly, and now that sin city is back to its old ways, many of these attractions have bit the dust (anyone remember the MGM Grand's theme park or their Wizard of Oz installation?). Others have proved successful and are now in need of technical upgrades and retrofits.

A case in point in the Masquerade Show In The Sky at the Rio Hotel and Casino, a show that features five overhead manned floats (including a mask and a hot-air balloon), that create a Carnivale-style parade seven days a week, several times per day, with 45 performers and a crew of six to nine. Elements of the show are automatically time-based without user intervention (warning announcements 15 minutes before the show, for example) and operator overrides are used along with an automated backstage countdown to ensure that performers are in place for the main show sequence. There are also a few timelines running simultaneously.

Audio and show control were two areas of the show that needed upgrading. Michael Paulin, production director at the Rio, was aware of problems with the audio levels for a show that takes place above the heads of gamblers in a busy area of the casino. “We had a chance to update our playback system and distribution technology, add new MPEG video, and tie it in with the other entertainment systems within the resort,” he points out.

The new audio system includes BSS Soundweb for audio distribution, a Yamaha DM2000 console that does scene recall mix presets for different shows and Tascam MX-2424 hard drive playback decks (for the main casino area and one on each float) that provide a clean digital audio connection (16 tracks) to the Yamaha mixing console. The only elements that remain from the show's original audio system are the Meyer UP1 self-powered loudspeakers on the floats and in the casino area around the show, plus 180 smaller 48V Meyer loudspeakers recessed in the walls in Masquerade Village.

“There were issues with the old sound system especially for live events that take place once a day,” says Jason Goldenberg, a technical services engineer at PRG Lighting in Las Vegas, who served as project manager, spearheading the technical upgrades and supervising the programming. “If a performer was too loud on a live microphone the entire system would shut down as a self-protecting feature. The sound operator had to be very careful.”

The heart of the new show control system is the Medialon Manager. “PRG is a Medialon dealer and programmer,” Goldenberg notes. “I saw a notice on the Entertainment Design newsletter that Medialon was holding training, so I went to California and took the course by Ken Bell. I was very impressed with the software and showed it to Mike Paulin. He liked it as well.”

PRG provided the Rio with all of the hardware, system design, and programming for the Medialon system. “This software is amazingly powerful and easy to customize,” adds Goldenberg. “The part I like the best is that the task creation is extremely powerful (both step-based and timeline) and the ability to create great looking user interfaces. It's like an AMX touchscreen and a great show control system all merged together into one package.”

The existing show control system had many “black boxes” and was spread out. Its elements included a Richmond Sound Design Stage Manager running on an Amiga 3000, along with an Alcorn McBride V16 and SMPTE Machine show controllers. Other equipment included 12 LCS LD-88s and a cue station running wild tracks for audio playback. The LD-88s provided audio distribution, mixing and playback to the over 96 different speaker clusters located all over the Masquerade Village. There was also a Yamaha PM-4000 custom configured audio console for live applications. “It was hard to make changes, as you had to go to each device and it became very complicated,” Goldenberg adds. “It is also hard to get replacement parts for the Amiga 3000. A few of these similar vintage systems in other shows in town have already gone kaput.”

Goldenberg could only work on programming the audio and show control updates in the mornings as the show continued to run several times every afternoon. “I had to connect everything back to the original system every day,” he explains. “I could write software and test every morning. For example, I could connect the [Flying Pig Systems] Wholehog® II via Medialon rather than the original Richmond system, find out the cues going to the console and translate them to the Medialon software and test them.” The floats also receive time code via show control and this was also transferred from Richmond/Alcorn to Medialon.

“The float itself sees the same time code as before,” Goldenberg points out. “All the hardware for the sound and lighting control on the floats was replaced but we kept the time code structure the same. Also, everyone asks me if this is replacing the automation system (float movement and motion effects), and it is not, just everything else. Previously, the show control system front end existed on the automation consoles (pop up window) now it has a dedicated 21" LCD with lots or pertinent info for show control use.”

Goldenberg finds that the new Medialon system has a very user-friendly interface for the operator, with large pushbuttons on the screens and multiple pop-up windows for manual control of certain devices that don't normally need to be touched. “Some of the other handy functions are a button that plays a testing announcement,” he says. “Since the casino is open 24/7, I needed to test certain functions of the sound/video/lighting system. The announcement was an easy way to let everyone know that a show isn't going to run and tell them what times it actually will run that day. Most people would think this is a simple task. There are also manual buttons for just about every operation, from executing lighting cues, sound cues, and video.”

The existing Alcorn McBride machines (one to receive SMPTE on each float) remained in place with an Alcorn McBride V4+ added to each float. “This is where the program is stored, it's the ‘brains’ of each float,” Goldenberg says. “There is also a Alcorn McBride Lightcue that stores real-time DMX values, like a tape player for DMX. It stores the data frames on its memory card, and is synced to time code.”

The lighting on the floats had up to 15 Color Kinetics ColorBlast 12 units added (depending on size of float) for extra color and sparkle, while existing PAR56s and Birdies stayed in place. Goldenberg reprogrammed the lighting, and coordinated the colors to change all at the same time on all the floats during the parade. Additional automated luminaires were added in the casino area, including eight Martin Professional MAC 2000 wash fixtures and eight Martin Professional MAC 2000 Profiles, while the original High End Systems Studio Colors® remained in place. The new fixtures were programmed at about the same time by lighting designer J.J. Wulf, but didn't impact Goldenberg's schedule.

That 70s Lounge

Another project recently redesigned at the Rio is the I-Bar. This 80' round ultra-lounge has a retro-70s look with wood, rock, and stainless steel, and doubles as an unusual performance venue. Several times per night the performers (a.k.a. cocktail waitresses/models) stop what they are doing and perform for the guests. The stages are small 5' diameter Plexiglas cylinders, with benches around them. “Since this is a fully functional bar with intelligent lighting, sound and video, a show control system was needed,” says Goldenberg. Michael Paulin designed the lighting; J.J. Wulf was the programmer.

“It is complicated project since this is an operating bar with live shows,” adds Goldenberg. “The manager hits the Medialon control panel and the performers do a 90-second ‘pose’ then the lighting goes to the bar settings, ambient levels of light with background music, and the [HES] Catalyst server plays its video content on the 18 50" plasmas.” Color Kinetics iCove LED fixtures add color to a fountain on one of the outside walls, while two ColorBlasts and two ColorBursts on each of the two performance pods light the Plexiglas beneath.

“Medialon's wireless rugboard portable control panel (a Windows XP embedded tablet) has controls for setting the mood of the bar depending on the time of day and what the crowd is like,” Goldenberg explains. “There are buttons for ‘cool’ mode, ‘medium,’ and ‘hot’ mode. At any time, a manager can go to the touchscreen, select a show, which stage and at what volume level, and press go. When this happens the normal audio fades out, the lights change and the show audio, lighting, and video start playing for that particular show. Everything is synced to SMPTE.”

The Rio is luckier than some of the other hotels in Las Vegas. Their investment in Masquerade Show In The Sky has paid off; the show is a crowd-pleaser and unlike other attractions that have long since disappeared, this one is still making its daily appearance. I wonder if their slot machines pay off as well?

Masquerade Show In The Sky Selected Equipment List:

Medialon Manager Pro V3.2 Yamaha DM2000 Digital Mixing Console 6 BSS Soundweb 9088iis Tascam MX-2424 Hard Drive Playback Units Ircon USB Extender System Midiman 8×8 Midisport Netgear Ethernet Switch Dell Computer with 21" LCD and Wall Mount High End Systems Wholehog® II (existing) Building Emergency and Automation eStop System (using Ethernet Snap I/O) Alcorn Mcbride Information Station (Video mpeg playback) Extron Video Switcher Multiple Brainstorm Electronics Distripalyzers Gray Pathfinder CR System with 5 Full Frames Show Floats via RF SMPTE:

Alcorn Mcbride V4+ on each float
Alcorn Mcbride SMPTE Machine
Alcorn Mcbride Lightcue (SMPTE jam-synced lighting controller)

8 Martin Professional MAC 2000 Wash Units
8 Martin Professional MAC Profile fixtures
Medialon also ties to the headset system making prerecorded vocal announcements to the crew.

I-Bar Selected equipment list

18 LG 50" HD Plasma Screens (facing inward of the round bar)
3 Extron 108 Seamless Switchers
1 AutoPatch Modula Crosspoint Video Patch System
4 Custom-painted High End System Studio Spot® 250s with wide lens
8 Color Kinetics ColorBurst 6 fixtures
4 Color Kinetics ColorBlast 12 fixtures
16 Martin Professional CMY 150 IIluminators (center oil “Lava-Lamp” sculpture)
1 High End Systems Hog® PC with 2 DMX widgets, 1 LTC widget, 1 Playback wing, 1 Programming wing, 1 USB hub widget
1 High End System Catalyst (w/ 250mb secondary HD)
1 Mackie Digital Mixer
1 Brainstorm SMPTE Distribution Amp
1 Dell PC for Hog PC (w/ 19" Rack Mount LCD)
1 Stealth Rack Mount PC for Medialon Manager
1 Edgeport USB to Serial Server (8 serial ports)
1 Midiman 2×2 USB to midi
1 Netgear Ethernet Switch
2 Audio Request Nitro MP3 Audio Servers
1 4 port KVM Switch
1 19" Dell Rack Mount LCD Monitor (Middle Atlantic mount)

Medialon Manager Pro V3.3
Medialon Wireless Rugboard (Tablet PC, running windows embedded)
Pathway Connectivity DMX Opto-Splitters
Various Satellite TV Receivers
Third party-installed Crestron Control System