Diva Bling, the grand-opening night party for the 2007 Special Event Show in January glittered across 96,000-sq-ft. of the Los Angeles Convention Center, exactly as event producer Charles Banfield had painstakingly planned. Banfield, the guiding force behind some of the nation's biggest events — both private and corporate — for Charles Banfield Productions, wanted this party to shine. Every element of Diva Bling reflected Banfield's vision as his 3,000 guests were entertained with a host of divas including Eartha Kitt, Taylor Dayne, Shanice, and original Dreamgirl Sheryl Lee Ralph, performing along an extravagant runway stage.
From the moment guests arrived at Diva Bling, the technical design work was put to the test, with a large, never-seen-before-in-the-US Airstar entrance unit. Once inside, the pathway was bathed in a star maze, supplied by LA-based TLC Creative Productions, which also provided lasers and all the CO2 effects for the evening. Further down the path was a long fountain with dazzling hanging ice-pendant curtains. Banfield cleverly moved his arriving guests to the back of the hall so that when they came over the waterfall-style staircase, they had a full panoramic view of the beautifully lit room and then flowed down and out into the party space.
Banfield set up the lighting as he did other parts of the evening. “My approach to all the technical aspects was to bring in the best people for the job, tell them exactly what I wanted, and let them do what they do, and they all exceeded my expectations,” he explains. The technical director for Diva Bling was Jeff Rudner of Exhibit Lighting Group (ELG).
ELG also supplied all the lighting and rigging for the evening, as well as the LD services of Larry Oberman. Rudner explains the design philosophy, saying, “The goal of the lighting design was to first light the elements of the events in an artful and architectural fashion, and second, to bring energy to the party and also provide a level of ambience while allowing for the practical needs of the event.”
The culmination of those design goals was seen in the stunning cone-shaped canopies that rose above each one of the bars. The enormous spandex units were provided by Pink Inc. and served double-duty as Banfield points out: “There was over $50,000 in moving lights in the room, and one of the most striking uses for them was the lighting for the bars, which were not lit specifically but rather were washed with the reflected lighting off the Pink fabric.”
Rudner explains the creation of the effect. “Inside the spandex panels were a combination of Martin and High End intelligent lighting fixtures to provide color changing washes and patterns. The bars themselves were lit via only the ambient light from the spandex above. We all felt it worked out really well.”
To artfully light a space of such size and provide a full show rig for the stage, the equipment list was not small, but Rudner points out that it wasn't overkill either. “You don't necessarily need a lot of light to make something happen — actually, quite the contrary, where sometimes just a couple of well-placed lights will do the trick.” Even with an eye on keeping the gear list in check, Rudner had ELG provide a mile of truss, 118 chain motor points, 1,500 lighting fixtures, and 4¼ miles of cable. With Rudner's careful planning, the entire rig was hung in a single 12-hour day. “The whole crew was great,” he says. “Also, Charles had a terrific production team, and his production supervisor, Bonnie Covelli, was absolutely outstanding.”
One of the most technically advanced effects of the evening was when Banfield introduced the mermaid diva, Nalu, a computer-generated, 3D character that was able to hold an improvised conversation with him in real time. Nalu was operated by a live puppeteer and projected through the Henson Digital Performance System (HDPS). The Jim Henson Creature Shop developed this groundbreaking animation technology, allowing an unprecedented level of spontaneity, quality, and interactivity through a combination of proprietary hardware and software.
Jeff Forbes, computer/electronics supervisor for Henson's LA Creature Shop, explains the ease of using the HDPS system: “The HDPS is designed for one rig and two performers to work in a minimum of an 8'×8' footprint. The rigs are all rackmounted and in rolling road cases. Once they are rolled into place, they can be set up and operational in about 45 minutes. We then just supply the output of the graphics card to whatever video vendor is working the event or show. The output can go to whatever the need may be, such as a small monitor or a 10K Christie projector, like we used at Diva Bling. The same thing goes for the audio. We provided audio off a microphone on the puppeteer to the audio crew so they could route it to the sound system and then to the monitors, wherever they wanted it to be. We simply become another video-source device, and we are just another channel on the sound board like the mic of any live character. You just mix accordingly.”
Banfield found that it really was that simple to have such a wonderful addition to the evening. “It is actually the most amazing and easy technology to work with because it is done in real time, and it was one of the easiest things in the whole event. We literally didn't even have a meeting about it until two hours before the event started. They were giving talking points, and the rest we improvised. Henson is a very easy company to work with, and I think the HDPS has so many uses. It can be applied at award shows; it is great for corporate events; it can interact with audiences. The character can even field questions.” There is no question that Diva Bling was a huge success.