For more than 20 years, we’ve been creating dramatic visuals, scenic effects, and brand experiences. In fact, in the early design years, we used simple slide projection, celluloid film, and alternate surfaces to create. Those techniques laid the foundation for today’s sophisticated technology and techniques.

However, the fundamentals of good live design remain the same: create an image across a dimensional surface that gives illusion of some imagined reality.

In designing a national sales meeting for Target stores at the Target Center for Minneapolis-based producer Media Loft, DesignContact needed to create a digital billboard to both support the sales presentations and provide a dramatic performance environment. To achieve this, we created a mix of scenic and media elements that worked together seamlessly to create a unified look that remained true to the well-established brand.

The design for the event evolved to a blend of high-resolution projected video on Barco MiTrix translucent LED video screens and Barco/High End Systems DL.2 intelligent digital lighting fixtures driven by PRG Mbox Extreme media servers. The design featured two curved columns of MiTrix, flanking the main screen, which added dimension and gave the broad audience seating a better view of the surfaces. The aspect ratio of these two surfaces was slightly modified after the initial design so that each were exactly half of a 4:3 aspect video image to allow the media production team to create a simple single source video image and use half of the net picture on each of the two screens. This change also greatly simplified production and assured precise coordination of the media at playback, as well as client review in coordination with the main screen content.

The main content was projected on the center screen, a 16:9 aspect ratio high-definition surface that also had a secondary use. When raised up to its out trim, the scrim-covered 6' screen skirt filled the top third of the projected video image. The image was cropped to this wide ratio and used as I-Mag to capture and convey the intensity of the various musical performances on the stage that were revealed when the screen was raised.

Above all this was the “video eyebrow,” a muslin-covered set piece that arched and bowed over the stage. On it were trained four DL.2 projectors with content carefully crafted and positioned to appear to create a seamless blend of media over the 5'-high, 40'-wide piece.

Not all the scenery was devoted to the support of the media. To extend the look out into the arena area, we created a series of “bangles” with the distinctive Target bull’s-eye logo in a variety of sizes and forms, including white foam, film on Plexiglas, and painted medium-density fiberboard hung in strands and turned freely in the air. Light played off them in a variety of ways, making the look of the set lively and kinetic as they spun in the gentle natural air currents. In addition, the press boxes got their own Target treatment, with the area wrapped in a necklace of logos. These components came together to form a dramatic imaging surface that beautifully supported the meeting content, created a dynamic environment for the headline entertainment, and remained true to the brand.

To help the Target team pre-visualize the idea, we made many 3D visuals in Autodesk AutoCAD to show wireframe drawings of the basic idea. These files also allowed us to express the idea technically, so the technical director and video vendors could start engineering the solutions. Those same 3D AutoCAD files were rendered in full color using the AccuRender plug-in for AutoCAD. This application allows us to place lighting, materials, and graphics directly into the AutoCAD drawings, place a number of cameras, and run Cast Software Wysiwyg renderings.

To further the experience for the client, we ported the files to Autodesk 3ds Max and ran animations of the set in action using the files from the media team and video images of the on stage talent in action. In this way, the client got the full experience—live talent, the actual media and a realistic representation of the lighting—all before ever setting foot in the arena.

These tools let us use the same files that would become construction drawings to render the event for the truest picture possible. In fact, when walking into the arena, it was possible to hold up the rendering and compare it directly to the fully built and lit set and see a near perfect match.

These invaluable technologies, coupled with the basics of strategically sound design and innovation, created an experience that reached far beyond the walls of the Target Center.

Tony Castrigno is a founding partner and CEO of DesignContact, an award-winning New York City-based intelligent space and experience design studio.