Bob Bonniol is used to unusual requests. As the principal creative director of Mode Studios, he is often called in to design some of the most technologically advanced digital scenery setups for large-scale productions, such as concert tours, plays, and local festivals. Or even to develop the digital scenery and AV infrastructure for the Seattle Opera’s simulcast of Madama Butterfly.
Always up for a challenge, Bonniol jumped at an invitation from the Seattle Opera's director of production, Bob Schaub, to tackle the in-house presentations of scenic video and simulcast of the Madama Butterfly production along with his wife, Colleen Bonniol, who produced the event. Performed live at the Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, the opera was simulcast at the KeyArena at Seattle Center to 8,000 attendees, free of charge.
The libretto and musical score are the main focus of any opera, but visual elements, such as acting, costumes, and scenery, are also very important to help increase drama and emphasize the storyline. While attendees in McCaw Hall were able to witness the pageantry of the costumes and set and take in the grandeur of the opera house in person, Bonniol had to recreate that same feeling for the audience down the street in the KeyArena.
Using multiple cameras, I-Mag, and a backup system in case the live feed went down, Bonniol ensured an exceptional live viewing experience for those in the KeyArena. To support his workflow, he used Blackmagic Design’s ATEM 1 M/E Production Switcher, HyperDeck Shuttle, and a variety of Mini Converters, as well as Figure 53 QLab media management software running on an Apple Mac Mini.
Not Your Typical Opera Experience
Bonniol's main challenge was bringing the complex production together on a very tight budget. He didn’t have access to a high-end production truck, and he also had to incorporate graphics, interstitials, sponsor media, and pre-recoded footage with the live feed.
At the KeyArena, Madama Butterfly was projected onto a 50' by 80' rear projection screen using Barco FLM-HD20 projectors. With such a large screen, Bonniol was easily able to convey the opera’s grand scale to the 8,000 attendees. However, he was also tasked with helping the arena audience, many of whom were not regular opera attendees, better understand the storyline, which he achieved through the use of behind-the-scenes footage and cast interviews.
“As this was no ordinary event, we weren’t just using line cuts, but also incorporating different videos, images, and live camera switches,” says Bonniol. “Even though this was a complex event, I didn’t need a complex system to ensure everything ran smoothly.”
With the ATEM 1 M/E Production Switcher and ATEM 1 M/E Broadcast Panel, Bonniol projected footage from the opera house’s main front-of-house camera as well as two additional inbound fiber runs, which were broken into feeds, to the screen in the KeyArena, as well as to monitors located throughout the concourse. He also incorporated pre-produced graphics, including behind-the-scenes footage of sets, costumes, and cast interviews, as well as logos and intermission information, and even a cartoon, all played back via QLab and input directly into the ATEM 1 M/E Production Switcher then output to the screen and monitors.
“As with any live event, we couldn’t control exact timing, and there was at least a five- to ten-minute disparity between the preplanned schedule and when it would actually happen,” notes Bonniol. “We needed a contingency plan, and this is where the graphics, recorded footage, and cartoon came in handy.”
Bonniol was able to make decisions on the fly and queue up extra media during delays, then pick up the live cut from the opera house without missing a beat. “I didn’t have to worry about the delays, and it worked brilliantly and looked gorgeous,” he adds.
Better Safe Than Sorry
Another contingency plan came in the form of the Hyperdeck Shuttle, which was used to record the dress rehearsal on solid state drives (SSDs). According to Bonniol, the director of the opera reviewed the footage, which was recorded onto the Hyperdeck Shuttle, to ensure the image and color quality was excellent. When he played back the uncompressed footage using an Avid HD codec, his clients and the opera management were impressed.
“We needed a running backup just in case anything were to happen, such as losing the live feed from the opera house,” says Bonniol. “Luckily everything worked out fine, but having the reliable Hyperdeck Shuttle running alongside the ATEM 1 M/E Production Switcher was a huge confidence booster for both myself and everyone involved.”
“The digital scenery field is a pretty close knit group, and we all know each other and tend to carry the same equipment,” says Bonniol. “Since each gig requires different formats, my kit always includes a bunch of Blackmagic Mini Converters. And now I’ve added the ATEM 1 M/E Production Switcher and Hyperdeck Shuttle to the mix, creating a reliable and efficient toolkit that helps me get the job done, no matter how unusual.”