Creating A Fashion Runway For A Monster John Deere Product Launch
This isn't your average tradeshow in-the-booth product launch. John Deere's New Product Launch and Dealer Strategic Review at the Cincinnati Convention Center, featuring an impressive 60-plus new products launched in about an hour, rolled out — quite literally — tractors, combines, and all the machines you would expect to see from the manufacturer whose worldwide divisions include agricultural, commercial and consumer, construction, and forestry equipment.
Six-thousand dealers and company insiders were broken up into four waves of shows, the goal of which was to introduce new products while driving home the value of the John Deere dealer organization. Putting on this production was no small task, as witnessed by the creative team that included executive producer and co-owner of See Our Solutions Inc. Curt Reed, creative director John Styron, music composer Todd McGuire of TMC Music Production, production designer Jerrod Smith of designSMITH Collaborative, lighting designer John Ingram with associates David Rees and Paul Sharwell of Unlimited Visibility Lighting Design (UVLD), technical director Tony Siekman of The WIT Company, and a host of other vendors and crew members to make this immense undertaking happen smoothly.
Having worked with Reed since 1987, John Deere turned to See Our Solutions once again, but this year was different. “This year, the sheer breadth of new products gave us the opportunity to kick it up a notch,” says Smith. With Reed directing initial meetings, Smith adds, “Curt Reed and John Styron spent about four hours telling us about John Deere and the goals of the company, which was really helpful to have something that in-depth. They really made everything happen.”
“Over the years, many different approaches have been taken to keep the new-product launch programs fresh for the dealer audiences,” says Reed. “We've incorporated everything you can imagine into these events, including original music, actor-singer-dancers, corporate presenters, marching bands, 100' widescreen HD video with a custom screen system that opened to reveal new products, lasers, theatre in-the-round, moving scenery, floats, pyrotechnics, live bands, performance groups like LUMA, and, of course, the ‘stars of the show,’ the new products.”
These products are “like a rolling house coming at you,” says Smith. For past shows, around 100' separated the audience from the back of the stage, but Smith wanted to create a more intimate and interactive environment for this show, including moving the audience much closer.
“We played with an in-the-round setup, but logistically, once we looked at the space, that would have required a huge playing area, just because of the sheer size of the product,” Smith says. “One piece was 110' long, and one was 18' tall.”
The solution was to create the atmosphere of a fashion show, complete with a runway for tractors and including alley seating with the audience on each side and two proscenia. “When they walked in, the audience didn't realize where the staging came from,” says Smith. “They just saw a translucent scrim and some lights. The sides were closed off.” To open the show, performers flew in, kabuki drops fell, and lawnmowers lowered in on platforms. “Then the drapes went away on house-right,” says Smith. “Next, the audience saw the stage, the tunnels, and the proscenium open up, and more product was revealed. Then house-left opened up, revealing a second stage.” Reed was responsible for the content, creative development, production elements, staging, and choreography. Infinite Dimensions constructed the set. Autodesk® AutoCAD® was used for the 3D model of the set and drafting of the scenic elements. Robert McNeel & Associates' AccuRender® and Adobe® Photoshop® were used for the renderings.
For the duration of the tightly timed, 60-minute show, the audience witnessed a total of six projection zones, four tunnels, two proscenium stages, six moving-spotlight chandeliers, and a hidden catwalk system for quick entrances and exits. The finale included four 40' combines driving onto the stage through giant proscenium arches and coming within a few feet of the audience.
With as many as a dozen pieces of equipment on the stage at once, sometimes including up to four huge combines, lighting them all was “like solving a jigsaw puzzle,” says associate LD Rees.
“I love tractors. They are so big and green!” adds LD Ingram, noting that his directive included industry-standard design goals, such as making products and people look great and keeping light off the video screens, “coupled with a request from the producer to keep the event intimate,” he adds. Ingram notes that it was a challenge to keep the shiny green and yellow metal glare of the immense products from lighting up the venue. “In general, we endeavored to seclude musicians and machines from one another,” he says.
Due to the large ceiling footprint of scenic projection screens, flying musician and lawn mower platforms, roll-down banners, kabuki, and traveler tracks, as well as six proscenium entrances, it was necessary to mount lights wherever scenery and projection were not. Projection for the event included Barco SLM R12+ Performer DLP video projectors and Digital Projection International Lightning 28sx DLP video projectors, which, along with the audio, were controlled by and slaved to timecode running off Grass Valley Turbo iDDRs. While main presentations played on four 9'×16' Screenworks front projection screens arranged in a stadium array and tilted toward the audience for better sightlines, two 20'×44' Rose Brand scenic scrims displayed video on two opposing prosceniums and acted as ever-changing scenic drops.
Placing lighting around this, Ingram notes, “TD Tony Siekman and rigger Roy Bickel did great homework, providing us with ample hanging space on multiple levels. They were able to overcome weight restrictions and various limitations of the venue.”
Using primarily Martin automated fixtures throughout most of the rig, Vari-Lite VL2500 spots were also used on the moving platforms. “Space and budget limitations made it necessary for the main body of automated fixtures to be versatile in their purpose,” says Rees. “From scene to scene, any given light could be used for atmospheric effects, band and set lighting, or lighting a 40'-wide combine.” Rees adds that conventional fixtures were used for general area lighting and set highlighting. The rig also included AC Lighting Chroma-Q Chroma Block LED fixtures and Chroma-Q scrollers. Christie Lites provided the lighting and rigging gear.
Some of the most complicated programming for the event involved following six musician platforms and the three lawnmower platforms as they flew in. “Different rates of speed coupled with tempo and dynamic changes in music drove us crazy,” Ingram admits. “Ultimately, it worked, kind of like solving a Rubik's Cube.”
Even with a limited grid height for the installation, a catwalk was installed above the set for the cast members and musical performers, “creating a dense, multilevel environment that necessitated exceptionally careful planning in the design of the rig,” says Rees. “This created quite a challenge for the TD and rigger.”
This setup created artistic and logistical challenges for the lighting department. “It required careful use of angle to provide adequate lighting of very large equipment without blinding any audience members,” says Rees. “We needed to spend time programming from both sides of the house.” Programming was done by Rees and Sharwell. “The use of the [MA Lighting] grandMA allowed us to easily go from two programmers to one operator in subsequent waves,” adds Rees. “The multi-user environment employed by the control platform made for quick and easy editing and maintenance during the extended run of the show.”
The logistics involved in moving the sheer scope of equipment on a comparatively small stage required efficiency beyond just any run-of-the-mill production. “This is the only show that we work on where the lights are used as spike marks for the drivers,” says Rees. “The size and weight of the tractors didn't allow us to use tape or any other conventional methods for marking tractor positions.” To accommodate the positions, the lighting department marked them with white dots via automated spots for the drivers during the show's live moves. “This added another unconventional level of complexity to the programming,” adds Rees.
While Smith and his team recommended sizes and placement of the screens, projectors, and scenic elements, Siekman was also responsible for the video setup. As technical director, he says the biggest challenge for the event, however, was the rigging layout. Although he says there were no real issues with rigging and safety, he notes, “We were forced to spend a lot of time planning for both.” In addition to accounting for the huge pieces of machinery, such as flying lawnmower platforms, this included rigging the catwalk in the venue ceiling for performers — they flew in on top of the moving-light chandeliers — two kabuki drops, four tracking drapes, four split drapes, and the flying chandeliers.
The base rig was all Christie Lites custom 12" and 16" box trusses with loads of motors, including ½-ton, 1-ton, and 2-ton units, featuring a combination from CM, Atlanta Rigging, and Wit Co. The moving pieces in the show were on 1-ton, 32'-per-minute, and 1/2-ton, 64'-per-minute, Kinesys-converted CM motors, making them variable speed motors. The motors were all controlled on a Kinesys system. Siekman adds, “Once the rigging was final on paper, it wasn't too bad. Everything fell right into place.”
After the launch program, the attendees were able to come to the stage to see the new products, which were in an adjoining area in an exhibit-type setup.
And so, the entire amalgam seemed to work together effortlessly, according to the creative team. “The lighting gave the set and products a great deal of additional life and movement,” says Smith of Ingram's lighting. “The lighting transitions from product to entertainment were particularly stunning. Over 60 products were highlighted during the show, and due to the lighting, the audience always knew where to look. John Ingram really pinpointed the lighting looks to best display the products. It took a lot of theatrical staging techniques to make this event happen.”
“In the end, the most important thing that can be said about this event is that the audience felt it was one of the best — if not the best — new product launches they've ever attended,” concludes Reed.
JOHN DEERE GEAR
186 ETC Source Four 750W Ellipsoidal
82 ETC Source Four PAR
26 14" Scoop
6 2kW Fresnel
96 Martin Professional MAC 2000 Profile
16 Martin Professional MAC 2000 Performance
46 Martin Professional MAC 2000 Wash
16 Martin Professional MAC 500 Spot
63 Martin Professional MAC 600NT Wash
18 Vari-Lite VL2500 Spot
3 MA Lighting grandMA console
4 MA Lighting NSP
3 ETC Sensor+ 96 Dimmer Rack
2 ETC Sensor+ 24 Dimmer Rack
4 60 × 208V HD Rack
5 30 × 208V MLD Rack
21 Martin Professional Atomic 3000 Strobe
60 AC Lighting Chroma-Q™ Color Scroller
36 AC Lighting Chroma-Q™ Color Block DB4 LED Fixture
4 Le Maitre Radiance Hazer
6 JEM ZR33 Fog Machine
8 Barco SLM R12+ Performer DLP Video Projector
4 Digital Projection Lighting 28SX DLP Video Projector
Grass Valley Turbo iDDR
4 9'×16' Screenworks Front Projection Screen
2 20'×44' Rose Brand Scenic Scrim
125 CM ½-ton Motor
78 CM 1-ton Motor
2-ton Motor (from Atlanta Rigging)
¼-ton Motor (from WIT Co.)
33,176' of Multicable
4,272' of Christie Lites Custom Box Truss
Curt Reed, Producer, See Our Solutions, Inc.
John Styron, Creative Director/Writer
Todd McGuire, Music Composer, TMC
Jamie Henley, Video Producer
Jerrod Smith, Production/Set Designer, designSMITH Collaborative
Marie Lynn Wagner, Production/Set Designer, designSMITH Collaborative
Michael Goldsheft, Assistant Production/Set Design, designSMITH Collaborative
Maureen Quintin, Assistant Production/Set Design, designSMITH Collaborative
Paul King, Video Designer
John Ingram, Lighting Designer, UVLD
Kelly Epperson, Sound Design
David Rees, Associate Lighting Designer, UVLD
Tony Siekman, Technical Director, The WIT Company
Bryan Hemberger, Stage Manager
Paul Sharwell, Associate Lighting Designer, UVLD
Roy Bickel, Rigger
Pete Campbell, Production Electrician
Jerry Walls, Moving Light Tech
Christie Lites (Larry Thomas), Lighting/Rigging Vendor
Infinite Dimensions, Set Construction
OSA, Audio Vendor
Corporate Image Associates, Video Vendor
ID3, Scenic Vendor
Universal Images, Video Graphics and Editing
Atlanta Rigging, Specialty Rigging
SGA, Audience Risers