David Niles of NYC-based Niles Creative Group is about to make technological history (once again) by stepping back through the pages of Philadelphia’s history and presenting it in a breakthrough, HD-3D theatre. In fact, history will wrap around you in a full 360° at Liberty 360, a new indoor 3D panoramic experience opening later this summer in the Historic Philadelphia Center at Sixth and Chestnut Streets. Niles already made Philly sit up and pay attention with his eye-popping mega-high-def video images on the wall in the Comcast Center lobby.
“This needs to be a world-class attraction to celebrate the birth of America, tell a meaningful story, and communicate an important message,” says Niles, who designed a cylindrical theatre that holds up to 65 guests who stand on a circular platform for the duration of the 12-minute show. “The small footprint in the building was a challenge,” he adds. The cylindrical theater itself has a metal frame with a sheet rock interior, which comprises the white projection surface. The outside of the cylinder is wrapped in a custom-designed LED screen with bespoke LEDs (AKA The Niles Strip), which announces the show to the outside world. “This LED screen is more artistic and abstract than the Comcast wall,” explains Niles.
As the audience enters the round theatre, they see a red velvet curtain, which covers the 360° projection surface. In fact they are looking at a projected version of a 40’ wide x 10’ high curtain that was filmed...to then be projected onto the white, painted projection surface that measures 150’ in circumference, 50’ in diameter, and 8’-high.
“When the curtain opens it’s as if there is a small room behind the curtain,” says Niles, a true master of illusion. “The opening eventually expands until there is an image all the way around you.” The audience wears special 3D glasses that enhance the illusion of 3D images floating right in front of you, no matter where you are standing in the space. “The illusion is that the rooms and scenes are behind the curtain with depth to them,” says Niles, a modern-day Prospero, bringing his visual magic to the screen, as he turns history into a history-making event.
With actor Charles Hall playing Benjamin Franklin, much of the footage was filmed right in Niles’ studio—where the scenery ranged from real to digital—using Panasonic HPX 3700 HD cameras running at 1080/30p. The 3D control system is so new that when Niles was shooting, there were only two in existence: The Synchronous Control System by Fujinon with two HAs 18x7.6 BZD-T5DD lenses, also by Fujinon. The project took one year in the making, with a core team of six people, plus extras such as the 64 studio musicians in Nashville who recorded the original score with a 130-track mix on an eight-channel sound system.
The images are projected by eight Barco Galaxy NW12 projectors, which sit in a metal doughnut above the heads of the audience. The 3D display technology used is called interference technology, from the German company Infitec, with special dichroic filtering to avoid eye fatigue while wearing the 3D glasses, with a solid-state playback system from 7th Sense in the UK. The edge-blended single image as perceived by the viewer has a 360° fly over, with images coming at you, passing you by, and behind you. “The technology is the delivery method for telling the story,” insists Niles. “I love to create the unexpected through illusion. This is quite a voyage and it’s incredible too see it in 3D.”