To make a big splash at E3—Electronic Entertainment Expo—in Los Angeles in June, Microsoft held its big press briefing at the Wiltern Theatre to reveal Kinect and other new features of its Xbox 360 video gaming platform. “The briefing is a live 90-minute TV show and press conference all in one,” says Emanuel Treeson of NYX design, who has designed this event for the last four years and was responsible for the lighting, the choice of the large-format scenic LED screens, and the diverse media seen on them.
“It was live on Spike TV this year, so the design had to work for television, still cameras, and the live audience,” adds Treeson, who worked hand-in-hand with C7, the animation and graphic design firm that designed the main PowerPoint presentation and many of the elements for the LED screens. “I created a spreadsheet with a flow of the base looks for every moment in the show, based on direction from creative director Erin Hearne of Zed Ink, early story boards, what the PowerPoint looked like, and all the media files we received from the various developers of the games and Microsoft,” Treeson explains, adding that he and Hearne divided up the task of making the motion graphics between C7 and media server programmer/motion graphic artist Laura Frank.
“The design concept was to create a fluid canvas that transformed completely from look to look,” says Treeson. “This was to create an expression of the brand of the Xbox 360 itself and to more specifically reflect the look and feel of the different games as each one was presented. Both the lighting and the overall set transformed from brand looks that connected to the iconography of the Xbox, both in color and graphic elements, to game looks that tied directly to the game graphics, key logos, and icons.”
The design team faced specific tasks that the set, lighting, and media design all needed to support, such as the launch of the new Kinect hardware that required specific spaces on stage where this technology could be demoed. “Think: players jumping around using their whole body as the controller,” says Treeson. Each background also had to create a good photographic composition with the specific brand logos and other key graphic elements as part of the final picture.
“We also had to have a separate executive-speaking location that was equally as photogenic and a way to reveal a brand new secret console design that was hidden in plain sight on the set,” Treeson adds. “Microsoft understands that Kinect is a transformative product for the video game industry—it really does feel like magic—and they wanted the design for its public launch to represent ideas of transformation and immersion. This is what led us to the fluid canvas concept and informed us as we created the transitions from show moment to show moment.”
The lighting rig comprised both hard-edge fixtures—Philips Vari-Lite VL3000 and Clay Paky Alpha Profile 1200 units—and wash fixtures—Martin MAC 2000 wash and VL500s. “The show was color-corrected to 5,600K because we had so much projected material and LED in our set,” notes Treeson. “The talent was all keyed with followspots.” Dan Boland programmed the lighting on an MA Lighting grandMA console.
As the theatre did not have good frontlight positions or a good fill position, the designers created a large truss arch in the house that spanned the entire width of the theatre. Once this truss was in place, Treeson was able to use it as the primary frontlight position, with the legs as the fill position, and as a location for fixtures used to light the house.
“My lighting choices were all about small fixture size and flexibility of color,” says Treeson. “I needed to tuck fixtures into nooks of the set because of how open it was and how many angles it was viewed from. Because of a specific purple required for Kinect, I choose to use ETC Selador 11" Vivid fixtures on the central stage element, which was a grid of bowls with half silver lamps in the center of each. I wanted to ensure we could recreate specific brand colors as closely as possible, and with pure RGB fixtures, some colors are just not possible.” Illumination Dynamics provided the lighting gear.
Designed by Kris Bast, the set also incorporated metal poles, translucent panels, and decking at various heights, including an elevation bridge connecting the two sides of the stage. “Its neutral palette allowed us to make complete color choices that tied to the graphic look of the show,” notes Treeson.
On stage, one principal Stewart Filmscreen 30'x6.8' front-surface screen was used for the PowerPoint and all videos, via two Barco FLM+ HD20 DLP projectors. This was flanked with two large medium-resolution Winvision 18 screens, with three smaller high-resolution Winvision 8 screens for logos and game graphics lower on the set for closeup shots. Frank programmed a second grandMA console dedicated to video, with four PRG Mbox EXtreme media servers provided by PRG driving all the LED content. The scenic LED screens were supplied by Chaos Visual Productions, while the video package for the show came from Creative Technology.
“The goal was a seamless blending of the lighting and video, from a palette point of view as well as a transition point of view,” says Treeson. “By having a common cue structure, we were are to make the process simple for the team and visually blended for the audience. Stage manager Andrew Paul had one cue to call that changed the lighting and the set in sync with each other.”
The designers also worked within the core color palette for Xbox, which has evolved over time; at its heart, Xbox is mostly greens with a little yellow. “As they have added new experiences and products to the Xbox brand, they added specific colors to denote these elements,” says Treeson. “When Xbox introduced the Xbox LIVE brand, the company added orange as the key brand color, and now with Kinect, they have added a specific purple for its key brand color used in all marketing and graphics.”
This meant that the designers had to visually introduce the entire new brand look and feel this year, as well as several new products to the marketplace. “It all ties back to our choice of making a completely flexible canvas,” says Treeson. “We were able to gracefully slide from brand look to brand look and transform every aspect of the set.”
E3 Mircosoft Xbox Press Briefing Lighting/Video Gear List
Main Lighting Vendor: Illumination Dynamics (Mark Rudge)
Scenic LED: Chaos Visual Productions (Marty Wickman)
30 Martin Professional MAC 2K Wash
10 Martin Professional MAC 2K Wash
45 Philips Vari-Lite VL3000 Spot
20 Philips Vari-Lite VL500
12 Clay Paky Alpha Profile 1200
2 MA Lighting grandMA
180 Philips ColorKinetics Color Blast
12 Philips ColorKinetics Color Blaze
88 ETC Source Four ellipsoidal
18 10' Pipe and 50bls base
1 ETC Sensor+ 48-way Dimmer Rack
3 Space light with Boom Mounting
18 ARRI Broadcaster
10 Arri Cool Light 4 Bank on rolling stands with sandbags
4 PRG Mbox Extreme
255 Winvision 18mm (two screens)
48 Winvision 8mm (three screens, each 16 tiles)