Applying the knowledge and expertise it gained during the Radio City Music Hall run of the groundbreaking Sinatra: His Voice. His World. His Way in 2003, Scharff Weisberg has designed the projection system for Sinatra at the London Palladium, the latest in a new genre of live entertainment created by the convergence of projection and cinematic technology.
Sinatra at the London Palladium, produced by Running Subway, LLC, fuses a 24-piece orchestra, singers, dancers, an extensive lighting system and animated set pieces with multiple, moving projection screens and surfaces displaying images--some of them never-before-seen footage of Ol’ Blue Eyes in concert, in the studio and in his private life--running in frame-synch with the live elements. London critics have hailed the show’s impressive video technology and use of “technology in the service of entertainment, not vice versa” [The Sunday Times].
“We jumped at the opportunity to take what we learned at Radio City and using current technology, apply it to the new production in London,” says Scharff Weisberg president Josh Weisberg.
“I wouldn’t have thought of doing the show without Scharff Weisberg,” states Running Subway’s Joshua Rosenblum who produced Sinatra at the London Palladium with James Sanna. “Scharff Weisberg was involved from the initial conception through the completion of the project from the designs they did for our bid package to sending their technicians to London. I consider Scharff Weisberg to be a partner, not a vendor. It’s not an easy proposition attempting what’s never been done before; you want to surround yourself with people you trust, and I did.”
Rosenblum notes that the Palladium show is “a very different design” from the Radio City production. “It has evolved significantly due to new technology that’s emerged in the last couple of years. We relied on Scharff Weisberg’s understanding of that new technology.”
Josh Weisberg agrees that “three years have made a substantial difference” to the London production. “It took a ton of equipment to do the show in New York, and it was hard to program. Today we need less equipment, and it’s easier to operate. Four people ran the video system at Radio City, but it only takes one to run the system at the Palladium.”
Rather than employ an HD video system and high-resolution graphics system to source original 35mm film footage of Sinatra, early Kinescope material, video clips from television appearances and custom graphics, Scharff Weisberg opted to design the system around multiple Green Hippo Hippotizer media servers all running synchronously. Cues are executed through a grandMA console which receives and locks to incoming MIDI timecode data and simultaneously interprets data from the screen automation system to pinpoint the screens’ positions and synch the video projection with the screens’ rise, fall and glide from side to side.
“We have had good experiences with Hippotizer, its video quality is great and it does edge blending,” Weisberg says of the choice. “Hippotizer was custom-programmed to allow the screen-movement mechanism to talk directly to it, giving us the direction information we need to make the video move with the screens. All of this was done manually when the show was at Radio City, and it was incredibly time consuming”
Cameras hidden onstage, which permit the live superimposition of performers onto the vintage Sinatra footage, are also input and processed by Hippotizer. The London office of XL Video supplied all video hardware, including Barco high-resolution and low-resolution LED screens and eight Digital Projection video projectors. Malcolm Mellows of XL Video directed the staging effort [ ”XL Video Brings Sinatra To Life In London“, March 15, 2006]. Stage Technologies furnished the screen automation and Autograph Sound the sound design.
Scharff Weisberg programmer Sean Cagney and vice president/system integration John Ackerman were onsite in London during the tech rehearsals, previews and the glitch-free opening night performance. “Only a few people in the world know how to make the technology we’re using work, and we had most of them with us in London,” says Josh Rosenblum.
“The audience doesn’t understand, and doesn’t have to understand, what makes the tricky parts of the show work,” he concludes. “That’s because Scharff Weisberg makes it all look easy.”
David Leveaux is the director of Sinatra at the London Palladium, and Tom Pye is the show’s set designer. Colleen and Bob Bonniol of Mode Studios were the media producers.