When Hewlett-Packard held its HP Tech Forum and Expo 2010 at Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Events Center, hosting 5,000 technology professionals from around the globe, technology had to be center stage. With a theme of “Innovate, Transform, And Converge,” Staging Solutions, Inc., was called on to create just that—staging solutions—including an immersive 3D experience that comprised not just presentations but also live music, lighting, sound, panoramic graphic projection, and live 3D I-Mag.

The event was held in three areas that Staging Solutions refers to as “attendee experience components.” In the general session, attendees encountered 3D projection—yes, they wore 3D glasses—of a live theatrical and musical performance, followed by presentations by executives from HP, Microsoft, Intel, VMware, Brocade, and other technology partners. The HP Expo area treated visitors to more than 10,000sq-ft. of exhibition space with enterprise-class IT hardware and software, complete with a 60'x20' Barco Elements Stealth interactive LED wall driven by two Green Hippo Hippotizer HD units running custom animations that also tied to 60" HP Plasmas in kiosks underneath the wall. The final area included more than 150 breakout rooms for a more hands-on look at new offerings.

Staging Solutions’ scenic and lighting designer Sean McCarthy worked with HP executive producer Jim McNally and artistic director Claudio Gutierrez on the company’s vision for the events, including unveiling a new branding effort. “It was important to experiment with the boundaries of what could be done with the new brand, as well as to align with the rest of art direction coming from Claudio and his team,” says McCarthy. “In order to maintain consistency, individual design elements, like building blocks, were developed and distributed among all the design team members. Then each individual was encouraged to explore new ways of executing those elements.”

McCarthy and his team had only six weeks to pull it all off. While early concepts started about four months earlier, it wasn’t until about six weeks before the show that HP decided to emphasize a stereoscopic 3D presentation, specially requiring the general session to culminate in a presentation by Jeffrey Katzenberg, founder and principal of DreamWorks, an HP partner. Katzenberg was to preview examples of the latest 3D releases, Shrek, The Final Chapter and How to Train Your Dragon. This was followed by live performances by The Who’s Roger Daltrey and The Goo Goo Dolls.

“Jeffery Katzenberg was an early adopter of HP technology, and both companies have benefited greatly from the partnership,” says technical director Mark Perkinson. “That decision forced a radical redesign of the event, putting 3D projection front and center into the production design. My involvement ramped up to all on at that time.”

Project It And Light It
The production incorporated a 120' curved LED wall comprising Martin LC Series™ panels and panoramic mechanical traveler scrims that revealed the “silver screen” at strategic moments during the 3D animation sequence. “For this show, 3D stereoscopic video drove a lot of the video choices,” says McCarthy. “In order to meet the needs of the DreamWorks technical team, we needed to supply a theatre-style, perforated silver screen, large enough for an audience of up to 6,500 people.” 3D cameras captured live footage and projected I-Mag above the audience onto a 78'x28' Harkness Screens Spectral 240™ 3D center screen flanked by two custom 30'x30' trapezoidal Harkness Perlux screens cut on 13° angles to match HP’s branding. The LC Panels were used for what McCarthy calls “a punctuation to the main screen video, and, at various moments throughout the opener, the video on the panels responded to audio special effects.”

Content came from several playback sources, including Green Hippo Hippotizer HDs for the opening main content and the Martin LC Panels. “The center screen Hippo content gave way to the Real-D cinema playback during the high point of the opener, and that later gave way to 3D I-Mag,” says McCarthy. “Most of the remainder of the video playback came from either a [Barco Folsom] ImagePRO or was embedded in the [Apple] Keynote presentations.” The production also included some clips played back from the Hippotizers, triggered by audio. “This was a first for me, as I have always relegated ‘lighting’ media servers to a special effects role,” adds McCarthy. “After this show, and given some of the exciting new features coming out, I expect to start using Hippos to replace most aspects of the video playback pipeline.”

Other than I-Mag of the presenters, most of the video was pre-produced, with the exception of a 30-second segment during the opening dance number that was shot in live stereoscopic 3D. Walt De Jong and his team from SenovvA were “vital to successfully integrating 3D into the technical direction process,” says Perkinson.

Because the scenery was almost entirely made up of screens or LED video walls, only the presenters, the stage, and some aerial effects required lighting. “We couldn’t put color on the presenters because the show was being recorded and I-Mag’d, so that basically only left aerial beams and a little bit of texture on the stage,” says McCarthy. This was achieved via a combination of Martin Professional MAC 2000 Wash and Profile units.

All lighting was controlled via Art-Net, while the Hippo media servers ran on their own media/control network. SMPTE timecode generated by the audio playback system synchronized all of the playback equipment during the opening. “I wish I could say that it was a seamlessly integrated system, but several devices did not accept a direct SMPTE line,” says McCarthy. “These systems required a separate RS232 interface in order to stay synchronized to the timecode, and in the case of the scenic automation, those systems were operated manually.”

Hang It, Move It, Solve It
The challenges were many and came at a breakneck pace—no surprise given the scope and tight schedule of the event. “At every level of this project, there were crucial design elements that were in direct conflict with other crucial design elements,” says McCarthy. “HP wanted a live band but didn’t want to see them, except when they wanted to, so we had to build a two-story backstage area.” The Staging Solutions team put the band up on the second floor of the structure positioned directly behind the Martin LC Panels. “This allowed us to use the LC Panels as a scrim and do a ‘now you see ‘em; now you don’t’ sort of thing,” adds McCarthy.

Gutierrez also wanted the audience to enter an environment that didn’t have the typical elements of a corporate meeting but to “appear as if there weren’t any screens for the walk-in look, just a field of undulating, glowing shards,” says McCarthy, who designed a large automated center-split curtain from Sew What? with the leading edges rigid-cut to HP’s 13° branding, matching the flanking Harkness screens. Into these were embedded a system of projection “shard” surfaces upon which imagery was pixel-mapped during walk-in. A Fisher Technical Services Navigator setup automated the moving sequences.

“The shards kind of looked like crystals when they were stacked up in asymmetrical groups,” says McCarthy. “While we had originally wanted these shards to be dimensional elements, in the end, we had to create a similar effect with painted soft goods and video projection. The video team created a vector graphic layout of shards in Adobe® Photoshop® that I imported into Nemetschek Vectorworks and Autodesk® 3ds Max®. This allowed me to create layouts for the painted drops that would match the video as exactly as possible. The real key to making this effect work was using Hippos for the media playback, which allowed us the flexibility to adjust the scale and position of the video much easier than traditional methods.”

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Another moving element was the 12'-diameter HP logo, hung in front of the center screen for its starting position. “Then, in sync with the audio soundtrack, it lowered to just above the deck,” says McCarthy. “When it reached its low position, there was a really low-end thump in the audio track that ‘activated’ the LC Panels, which, up to that point, were dormant. We used the Hippos to cut a ‘hole’ in the video and project a soft glow on the logo. When the logo moved down into its home position, the Hippo tracked with it. In its home position, the logo also served as a door for presenter entrances, and raised and lowered each time a presenter entered or left stage.” In addition, four chain-driven lifts built into the stage revealed HP server racks that were debuted at this show, while a series of three elevators to lift presenters and products also required automation.

Perkinson notes that rigging wasn’t at all trivial for this show. “John Perri was our production rigger, and he brought in a lot of guys who could free-climb to the high steel again and again, while always maintaining the top priority of safety compliance,” says Perkinson. “Also, there was a good deal of over-the-bleachers rigging and marrying of trusses in air. A large platform for projection was flown—very large, very stable, obviously—for projection to not be affected by even the air handlers. That all took some effort.” Most of the rigging was supplied by Christie Lites, while the automation equipment was provided by SGPS.

Another challenge was the preference for a completely dark arena for optimal conditions for the 3D screen, but with live dancers performing as the 3D video played and requiring lighting of their own, that just wasn’t possible. “In order to minimize bounce from the stage to the screen, it would have been ideal to have a dark, carpeted stage to reduce as much light bounce as possible, but because there wasn’t much in the way of physical scenery and because we had dancers that needed a Marley stage, we went with a combination of gray and black vinyl for the stage—not ideal, but we made it work,” says McCarthy. “On that same note, the lighting was forced to fly much higher and further away than we would have preferred, because we had to have it up out of the way of the front projection screens. For that matter, the PA had it even worse. In order to be out of the projection cone and out of the line of sight for as much of the arena audience as possible, most of the PA had to be flown above the low steel.”

Aside from the enormity of the event and the tough schedule, it was a resounding success. “It was a great gig—very successful in all sorts of ways, good times,” concludes Perkinson.

HPTF 2010 Crew And Gear
Jim McNally, Hewlett-Packard, Executive Producer
Claudio Gutierrez, Hewlett-Packard Creative Director
Dave Lawson, Staging Solutions Executive Producer
Sean McCarthy, Staging Solutions Scenic and Lighting Designer
Mark Perkinson, Staging Solutions Technical Director
Mark Shannon, Staging Solutions Audio Engineer
Drew Griffith, Video Systems Lead Engineer
Troy Eckerman, Lighting Director/Programmer
Walt De Jong, SenovvA Lead 3D Video Engineer
Ken Jones, Programmer (Hippotizer/LED)
Darryl Morant, Monitor Engineer
Rob Pushkin, Stage Manager

Lighting
2 MA Lighting grandMA Console
2 ETC 24 x 2.4kW Sensor+ Dimmer Rack
3 ETC 96 x 2.4kW Sensor+ Dimmer Rack
32 Martin Professional MAC 2000 Wash
38 Martin Professional MAC 2000 Profile
18 4-Light Blinder
16 Philips Color Kinetics ColorBlast 12 TR LED
36 JB-lighting JBLED A7
60 ETC Source Four Ellipsoidal
30 ETC Source Four PAR
23 6-Way Lamp Bar/ETC Source Four PAR
2 Le Maitre Radiance Hazer
2 Martin JEM ZR Fogger
1,800' 16"x16" Truss
91 1-Ton Motor
33 ½-Ton Motor
188' Schedule 40 Pipe

2D Video Equipment
1 Barco Folsom Encore With 24x24 DVI Router
5 Barco Folsom Encore Video Processor
12 Barco Folsom IP-2003 ImagePRO HD
8 Barco FLM HD18 Video Projector
4 Sony HXC-100 HD Camera
2 Sony HD Robocam
4 Sony DSR-2000 DVCAM Recorder
2 Sony DSR-1800 DVCAM Recorder
2 Advantage Medium HD/SDI Rack
14 46" LCD Monitor (NEC and Panasonic)
3 Sharp 52” LCD Confidence Monitor
2 Apple SuperMac Tower
2 Apple Mac Playback Pro USB Software

3D Video Equipment
1 GVG Kayak 1.5 HD/SDI Production Switcher
1 Sony SRW-5800 HDCAM–SR Deck
1 Technica 3D Quasar Beam Splitting Side-By-Side Camera Rig
2 Doremi DCP-2000 Digital Processor
1 Sony MPE-200 3D Image Processor
4 Barco DP-2000 Projector
3 JVC GD-463 10U 46" 3D Monitor
120' Martin Professional LC Series LED Panels
1 Harkness Screens 79'x28' Spectral 240 3D Screen

Automation/Show Control
1 Spear Morgan Fresco Show Control System
1 Fisher Technical Services Control System
1 Vertical Configured Winch Automated System
1 Custom Traveler Track System
4 Automated Custom Stage Elevator
4 Endless Winch

Audio Equipment
1 Yamaha PM5DRH Console
1 Yamaha PM5D Console
75 L-Acoustics DVDOSC
14 L-Acoustics DVSUB
24 L-Acoustics SB28 2x18 Sub
4 L-Acoustics ARCS
10 L-Acoustics MTD108P
17 Shure UHF-R
12 Telex BTR-800 Intercom System
1 RTS Source Panel SAP-612
34 RTS Communication Beltpack/Headset

Vendors
Staging Solutions, Event Design and Production Management
VER, Video
Christie Lites, Lighting and Rigging
LD Systems, LED
PRG, Audio & Backline
SGPS, Automation
SGASi, Staging
Harkness Screens, Screens
PSAV, Breakouts
Sew What?, Fabrics