The new Andrew Lloyd Webber West-End production, Woman in White, features a set unlike any other: video scenery comprises nearly the entire set design for the show. Therefore, XL Video–who is supplying all projection and playback equipment–had new challenges in store as they developed, along with Mesmer and Digital Antics, the technical requirements for the set’s projections. Check out the January issue of Entertainment Design for full coverage of the production.
In Woman in White, video designer Bill Dudley evolves the concept of video scenery to the next level, creating projected sets, video backdrops and locations to create scenes.
To fulfill the projected scenery concept, the projection screen is a 30m wide by 5m high cylindrical surface. At certain points, the side sections of the screen track all the way around the stage to form a surface across the front. A section of the screen also splits off from the main structure for several more intimate scenes, and tracks into the central stage revolve, complete with its own set of video projections.
Feeding the main screen are four over-stage Barco G10 ELMs, housed in special acoustic enclosures designed by XL Video and Mesmer. XL worked closely with Unusual Rigging to ensure that the projectors can be dropped in conveniently for maintenance. Another two Barco G10 ELMs sit on a newly installed FOH truss, projecting onto the main screen when it closes across the front of the stage.
The tracking section of screen is targeted by two Barco G8 SLMs, also on the FOH truss. For this XL and Mesmer developed a special moving mirror system to allow the images to track the screen movements.
"This is undoubtedly a landmark theatre production through its use of–and near total reliance on–video visuals for setting the scenes and moods and for special visual effects," says XL Video’s Malcolm Mellows, who worked closely on the project.
No off-the-shelf playback or control system was capable of dealing with the geometry and curvature of the Woman In White set. Since the set moves, the task of filling the space coherently and evenly with Dudley’s computer-generated imagery was a massive challenge. To meet this challenge, customized playback (dubbed "The Mesmerist" by its creators) was designed and built specifically for the show, and came from a unique tripartite collaboration between commissioners XL Video, Mesmer, and Digital Antics. Digital Antics helped develop the system and write the special software needed, enabling projection designers Sven Ortel and Dick Straker of Mesmer to up the ante on the image resolution from past productions.
"It was hugely exciting and very demanding" states Straker of the Mesmerist. "Developing the software on site during technical rehearsals meant we could be totally flexible in responding to the needs of the production. Some software fixes were implemented as we reached specifically difficult-to-program cues. In past productions, limitations to the show may have been dictated by the video system, but on this occasion our capacity and versatility more than exceeded the limitations of the physical set and mobile structures."
The Mesmerist, developed for XL Video by Digital Antics’ Quintin Willison, to Mesmer’s spec, includes a fully programmable PC interface that controls all playback, serial and DMX devices, as well as 12 digital media servers (hard drives). It’s complete with its own bespoke playback engine capable of dealing with the shape of the screen and soft-edge blending. Treating the stage as a 3D environment, it also has the mapping capability to move the shapes and images across the stage in real time, keeping pace with the screen movements. Damian Ridge and Patrick Achegani were specially trained to operate the custom-built Mesmerist for the show.
In all, five kilometres of video department cable was installed for the production. The whole projection system is serial and data wired via a massive UTP cable infrastructure, installed specifically for the production. The UTP Cables are a mixture of CAT 6 and a special video transmission optimized UTP. Physically smaller than the alternative BNC data cables, this is ideal for transmitting high-resolution XGA graphics over long distances with no earth hums or interference. DMX can also be sent over the same cables without alteration, plus serial data transmitted to serial servers located close to the specific devices they are controlling.
Ian Galloway did additional editing of the footage and Paul Scullion worked with Willison on specific control aspects.