Corporate Conference Benefits from Ultra Widescreen Approach



AV Concepts used a 15’x50’ screen for the Starbucks 2003 Managment Conference.

When java giant Starbucks began organizing its annual 2003 Management Conference, the company decided on a theme — “Magic Moments: One Human Being at a Time” — that required ultra widescreen video as a backdrop. The company chose AV Concepts, Phoenix, to produce and stage the event, which took place in Seattle in January.

“Starbucks came to us saying they wanted a presentation that would make people feel special,” explains AV Concepts account executive Mitch Teitelbaum. “With 1,500 people, it's difficult to do a show that feels intimate. They thought a big screen behind the speaker, as opposed to putting a few screens in the corner as an afterthought, would be a way of making everyone feel included.”

AV Concepts used a 15'×50' screen for the event — a fairly easy screen to stage, according to Teitelbaum, but a complex affair for producing crystal-clear, widescreen imagery. “The challenge is producing for the wide screen,” says Teitelbaum. “Because widescreen is still very new, people have a hard time conceptualizing how things look really large, in a widescreen aspect ratio.”

CanvasMaster Approach

To do the job, AV Concepts turned to Vista Control Systems Corporation of Phoenix (founded by former AV Concepts chief engineer Clark Williams). AV Concepts and Vista talked seriously about making the conference the first major corporate event to utilize Vista's new Montage widescreen technology, but that new system was not yet ready in January. Instead, Vista relied on CanvasMaster, a PC-based server that automatically generates seamless screen overlap for output to large screens. CanvasMaster was used in combination with Vista's ScreenMaster, a live-event switcher that handles multiple source controls, including the Sony D35 Triax camera system, which was used to capture imagery of various speakers at the conference.

AV Concepts also brought Joel Buchholz, a freelance PowerPoint graphics artist who specializes in ultra widescreen presentations, onto the project. Working as a consultant alongside the AV Concepts team, Buchholz provided insight on how to maximize graphics and media elements to be displayed in the ultra wide format, and he also provided hardware, software, and expertise to produce the graphics.

Using Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft PowerPoint XP, and Macromedia Flash, Buchholz turned Starbucks' graphic murals (used as wallpaper in its stores) into backgrounds for the 50-foot-wide screen. Other packaged content, shot with a Sony HDW-500 HDCAM, included testimonials from Starbucks customers and employees.

“There are definitely pitfalls to producing graphics for the ultra wide screen,” Buchholz explains. “If not produced properly, you can show up on site with rendered graphics that don't look good across the entire screen. Good preproduction will take you to the goal line in a much easier manner.”

On location in Seattle, Teitelbaum and project manager Jesse Lawson worked out the logistics of producing the event's video package. To play back the HD video, AV Concepts utilized a Sony HDW-500 HD deck, and transferred the material to a QuVis QuBit server.

“The QuBit was amazingly important,” stresses Teitelbaum. “The widescreen presentation wouldn't have worked without it. Because there were lots of cues in the presentation, the QuBit, which is a hard drive player, gave us instant access to any clip, and there was a lot of video — 15 or 20 tape rolls. Instead of having to rewind and search, it was instantaneous.”

Stage manager John Barry, engineer-in-charge Abe Hermosillo, and head projectionist Richard Vinson — all widescreen veterans — had a two-day setup and a day's rehearsal prior to the conference. But once the event was underway, the widescreen was in use non-stop for the entire two days.

“The screen was never, ever black,” says Teitelbaum. “If it wasn't video, it was a PowerPoint display or some Flash animation.”

Projection

To project the footage, AV Concepts relied on Christie's Roadster S9 projector, one of a new line of three-chip DLP rental staging projectors. The Roadster S9, with advanced inverse telecine digital processing, also features a 1500W Xenon Cermax illumination system and Christie's proprietary Intelligent Lens System (ILS) for automatic recall of lens position, along with LiteLoc for constant brightness over the life of the lamp.

“The Christie Roadie projector provides 8,000 lumens and worked great,” says Teitelbaum. “The images were absolutely stunning.”

For audio, the presentation featured a range of music, from a classical string orchestra to a rock-and-roll DJ, and obviously, lots of speaker support. To handle these requirements, AV Concepts tapped Meyer Sound's M2D Compact Curvilinear Array — a unit featuring amplifiers on the speakers, replacing the old cluster and delay approach with conventional cabinets and amp racks.

The impact of this configuration on the staging of the show was dramatic, according to Teitelbaum. “It cut down a lot on labor because there were less speaker areas we needed,” he explains. “It cut down on floor space required, and more significantly, the trucking weight and size. I didn't need as much equipment to make it work. It was very cost-effective, both from the equipment standpoint and because there were so many fewer rig-points from the labor standpoint.”



AV Concepts relied on Vista Control’s CanvasMaster technology to create widescreen imagery.

AV Concepts also handled all the conference lighting, using 22 Mac 500s, eight Mac 600s, and eight Vari-Lite 2201s, along with Color Ram II color changes, over 400 feet of rigging, 20 chain motors, and over 100 conventional lighting instruments. The company also provided the equipment for 10 breakout rooms and two smaller general sessions.

With this ultra widescreen event under its belt, AV Concepts officials say that Starbucks has already contracted the company to provide a similar configuration for upcoming meetings in Orlando, Anaheim, and Toronto. The company is hopeful it will be able to utilize the Vista Montage system on one of those events in the near future.

At press time, Vista expected to have the Montage ready by February. The technology is designed to offer the same automatic overlap as CanvasMaster, but with much greater resolution, unlimited I/O capability, and more flexibility in terms of designing the virtual display, including horizontal, as well as vertical blending support.

“I'm very excited about the resolution and ability to input different configurations, maximize computer performance, and maintain canvas resolution,” enthuses Buchholz. “We want it to look good, and Montage will help us with our graphics.”


Debra Kaufman is a writer/consultant who has been covering the entertainment industry for 14 years. She can be reached at dkla@attbi.com.