Imagine this: You're the executive producer of a major corporate client's signature event for 7,500 attendees at the Las Vegas Mandalay Bay Events Center, and you've just been given the green light to begin design and production for the unveiling of an ad campaign, only five weeks before the event. Now imagine the event is a 200% increase in both scale and scope from previous events, with more effects thrown in. As if that's not enough, imagine a right turn in the middle of the process where the branding campaign and messaging change.
“When that happened, we had to sort of stop and take note of the changes, which also drove our designs,” says Dave Lawson of Staging Solutions and the event's executive producer, who refers to the event as “a visual euphoria.” He continues, “So we asked, ‘Do we go all the way back to the drawing board, or can we continue on with what we've already designed and help implement that in some way?’”
Luckily, they were able to keep their designs and move forward. “Only having four weeks to put together something of this scale meant we really had to hit the ground running pretty hard,” explains Sean McCarthy, also of Staging Solutions, whom Lawson describes as the “creative brain” behind both the set and lighting design.
The challenge of a compressed time schedule presented two options: work on a 24-hour clock from the beginning to set everything up, or work with just one crew and don't get it done in time. As technical director, Staging Solutions' Mark Perkinson explains, “On my side of things, a month-and-a-half out, we would normally be pretty far down the road, but the time we had to work on this event was one-third or less than what we have on other events. It was sort of an expectation of, ‘Oh, by the way, pull out all stops and scale this stuff beyond the pale, exponentially, and get all of the rigging and lighting set up.’ There were guys scurrying everywhere. It was logistically and financially a challenge to pull this off in a way that fit.”
Logistically, there were a few rigging scenarios. A catwalk had to be built underneath an existing catwalk to accommodate the Anti-Gravity Troupe of flyers who dropped in from the rafters and flew across the stage as part of the event's opener. This was accompanied by a live band with fog effects and themed video set on a 20'×36' motion-controlled Barco iLite 10 LED wall — driven by Barco D320 Processors — that could split into six sections, either horizontally or vertically, and two 25'×75' multimedia projection canvases provided by XL Video. North Chelmsford, MA-based Jupiter Productions created all of the high-definition content, and a Vista Spyder control system drove all of the imagery on site. Another highlight of the show was the surprise appearance of a customized Orange County Chopper that rose on a hydraulic lift during one of the speaker's presentations.
Perkinson credits the rigging team with being one of the most crucial elements of the production. “Rigging is always critical because there is human safety involved, even when there is just static rigging,” he says. “We were doing motion dynamic rigging with micro precision controls. Although similar things have been done in the past, we definitely went farther in some ways, especially in such a short timeframe. Including human elements increased the emphasis on safety, and we had to setup approximately 128 points in a day-and-a-half, but you can't hurry safety. All you can do is preplan and identify everything. There was a huge amount of preproduction rigor and diligence, but that only goes so far — the rigging team was mission-critical and had among the bigger challenges to accomplish in the timeframe. If they got behind, then everyone else got behind, and safety cannot be compromised, ever.” Show Rig provided all rigging.
However, even the most intense planning can't account for everything, as Perkinson recalls. “All of this was diligently developed in CAD, to completely create the show and load it into 3D, before we ever flew out to the venue, and we certainly caught a lot of issues,” he notes. “For example, the video screens — we noticed, at kind of the last minute, that they were just a little bit wider than the actual building architecture would allow, and we wouldn't have known that. Sean had to go check the venue out and draw it all in. I am really proud that we do the kind of work that we do with CAD.”
McCarthy is grateful for the small amount of ESP preprogramming they were able to accomplish, saying, “We didn't do a lot of ESP Vision programming, but we did output the lighting system in a rudimentary version of the stage and set and created an ESP file. And although we didn't go as far as we would have liked, we still probably got a day's worth of onsite programming work done in advance, before we got to the venue, using ESP and preset focuses and groups, which obviously saved some time on site.”
McCarthy notes that the lighting was deceptive in a couple of ways. “There were 16 DMX universes used, and it was surprising, because when you look at it on paper, it doesn't necessarily look like it needed 16 universes, especially when you're talking about 70 moving lights. But we also had 34 Color Kinetics ColorBlaze LED fixtures on the panels left and right of the stage, and 12 iColor Flex lining the perimeter of the stage.” A High End Systems Catalyst media server was used for both the LED wall and the projection screens when the room switched over to “entertainment mode,” during a live concert the last night. “We ended up using 16 universes to drive all that because it's an awful lot of control channels with all those LEDs, especially with the iColor Flex — those alone were on four or six universes.” The rig also included Vari-Lite VL5s, Martin MAC2000 Performance units, and Syncrolite SXB5/2 B52s, as well as ETC Source Four ellipsoidals, PARs, and Sensor+ dimming. Control was via two MA Lighting grandMA consoles with four grandMA NSPs.
Perkinson insists that, while it may sound a little hokey, it is the crew and team that made the whole thing possible. “A lot of people rule by fear and intimidation, and we're more about commonality, and that works really well. You can pound somebody over the head to get them to do what you want, but it takes a lot of energy to do that…the only thing you can lean on to get extra from, really, is people. When people are actively engaged and want to succeed with you, then you can overcome problems that you could never overcome otherwise.”
To view the full gear and credit lists as well as light plots for this event, visit the Design Gallery on livedesignonline.com
Staging Solutions Crew:
Mark Perkinson: technical director
Sean McCarthy: event designer, set designer, lighting designer
Drew Griffith: lead video engineer
Blake Brown: show call director
Rusty Bumgardner: lead audio engineer
Kevin Wiggins: breakout rooms producer