The world's favorite orphan returned to the stage last winter at the Children's Musical Theatre in San Jose, CA for a brief run of Annie Warbucks, picking up where the 1977 Tony Award-winning hit Annie left off.
As Annie helps her beloved Daddy Warbucks search for a suitable wife, SFX software from Stage Research helped set the stage with special AV aspects. Hooked to an ETC Obsession II console, SFX enabled sound effects playback, cued a traditional slide projector for text displays, and triggered TroikaTronix's Isadora software for more modern digital scenery changes.
Chris Larson did the sound design and automation design and crafted the setup, which facilitated SFX control of the show's AV elements. The Obsession II output a MIDI show control signal received by the main SFX computer, a custom-built Pentium 4 Dual Core, RAID 0 Array, 2GB RAM PC running Windows XP SP2, via the 192kHz/24bit M-Audio Audiophile Card. The computer triggered audio cues through the Audiophile MIDI in to the main sound console. A second duty for this PC was controlling the slide projector that displayed dates and placed names in text format during the play. Each scene had a separate incremental MIDI control change number so if the lighting console triggered a cue twice by mistake, it wouldn't advance the scene prematurely.
The most complex of the operations was triggering Isadora version 1.2 realtime video manipulation software that supplied video footage that “performed” as scenic backdrops.
An Apple G5 Dual Core desktop computer with added dual graphics cards, a 1280x1024 control screen, and 800x600 projector feeds also ran Isadora to drive three video projectors (a Hitachi and two Panasonics). The projectors displayed video footage of a moving train and the New York City skyline passing by the deck of a ferryboat on three large screens built into the set.
“To 90% of the audience, the three screens looked like an almost seamless single screen displaying background scenery the set designer devised,” notes Larson. “Instead of having to fly backgrounds in and out, sets for the train and ferry scenes and for various interiors were displayed digitally.” Although the screens gave the illusion that there was no more than three or four inches separating them, an actor crossover behind the stage left and stage right screens and in front of the center screen allowed actors to enter from upstage center.
Footage for the two rear-screen projectors, which were turned on their sides in portrait-mode, was bounced off Mylar mirrors and displayed on screens about 10'×7.5' at stage left and stage right. A front projector configured in normal landscape mode displayed footage on an approximately 10'×14' screen in the center of the stage.
The train and ferry scenes featured several different layers of elements, including a layer of water effects with a slowly scrolling shoreline behind the ferry's deck. Up above, an airborne blimp glided. A train scene involved several layers of buildings that scrolled progressively faster as the train gathered speed and the buildings receded in the distance. “By rendering these elements with their own scroll speed, a more convincing dynamic movie file could be projected,” Larson explains. In addition, smooth transitions of video footage depicting interiors gave the illusion of moving down a hall, for example, while the living-room windows scrolled to stage right and bookcases scrolled in from stage left. For a detailed gear list see www.livedesignonline.com