Digital Stage Chicago's Adam Dunaway gives us a first-hand account of creating media in the round for a corporate meeting.
The lighting industry is not new to the versatility of Barco High End Systems’ DL.3 or the imaginative visual freedom it can unleash unto an audience. Its ability to canvas ultra-large collages quickly has become one of our most frequently used features. When Joe West and I founded Digital Stage Chicago (DSC) in 2006, many thought we were crazy to purchase the then newly released DL.2 units for our visualization studio environment. We also added Green Hippo, Barco High End Axon, SAMSC Designs Catalyst, and Arkaos media servers to route separate video streams to the DLs and static projectors, allowing us to fully explore—individually and combined—the limits of these technologies.
To round things out, we added MA Lighting grandMA and Barco High End Wholehog 3 consoles. Lighting visualization software such as wysiwyg and ESP Vision have been available for many years, but back then, none offered much in the way of visualizing digital lighting. We knew, as early adopters of these technologies, that understanding them to the fullest was the only way we could successfully introduce them into the fast-paced environment of corporate events.
Fast-forward three years. West, our principal lighting designer at DSC, presented us with his design concept with initial renderings for a large pharmaceutical event being produced by Todd Street Productions. The venue was the Venetian Resort & Casino Sands Expo Convention Center in Las Vegas. We only had three weeks to put this all together, which, when combined with the holidays, was certain to make for a challenging ride.
Working in the round has always been one of my favorite stage environments. The biggest challenge is for the design to present a unified visual experience to all audience members. West’s design would require a 360° montage of 32 DL.3s surrounding an audience of 2,800 spectators with collages projected onto a 28'x600' ring of imagery. Alongside it were multiple LED displays in the ceiling and surrounding the central stage which was raised to reveal presenters. This outer projection ring would allow for I-Mag area openings from four Barco FLM HD20 projectors. The perimeter entrance area surrounding the projection ring needed to create a unique walk-in environment for attendees who would see the ring projection reversed from one side. The outer perimeter digital signage projections were created with additional DLs on the other side to create a visual tunnel routing people into the central seating area. We later learned from Barco that this event was the single largest use of DL fixture collages to date.
“Our objective for this event was to find a low-cost versatile solution to surround just under 3,000 people with over 600' of 28'-tall cyc material, to execute realtime cueing of large video files, and support graphics for a variety of speakers, headline entertainment, and live stage action,” says West.
The opening extravaganza—in a weeklong series of shows—would involve aerialists dropped in from above, choreographed to interactively move within the ring of projection. We also wanted to place robotic cameras strategically to capture the aerialists and reintroduce them into the media servers and DL fixtures via SDI. This would allow them to be placed onto the center LED ring and/or also within the DL collages, so one aerialist could be duplicated into many.
After the opening segment, the space was to be transformed for an awards and concert presentation. For this, the setup had to be converted into an arena proscenium environment providing a downstage area for the awards with LEDs upstage on traveler tracks that split to reveal Daughtry, the headline act setup further upstage. This setup also had to incorporate the band’s riser.
We also needed central I-Mag reinforcement screens projected from two additional Barco FLM HD20s. For the final night, the space underwent yet another transition, turning it into a large nightclub environment, with multiple platforms spread throughout for dancers in addition to another band on the main stage as the closing act.
All of this initially came across as completely plausible. We had done the 360° DL collage thing before—multiple LED display types across Green Hippo Hippotizer HDs, no sweat. We had routed camera feeds before into Hippotizers and DLs on tour designs. We understood and had used the Sony robotic camera setup. Individually and oft combined, we had worked with every single component prior to this project. All the DL fixtures had to be supplied from three vendors: Intelligent Lighting Creations, Main Light Industries, and Windy City Music. I decided to use standard lenses for all the DL fixtures. With spares, we were looking at 35 DL.3s and 12 DL.2s, with one Axon media server for dedicated fixture and media management.
“We worked closely in video preproduction to layout two different video formats to support the live stage action and presentation material,” says West. “To execute the design, we had to first convince our clients about the capabilities and success of all the products involved. If the client was to go the conventional route, thousands of dollars of additional spending would have been required to bring in a dozen 15kW doubled-stacked projectors along with countless crew hours in the alignment process. We feel that we resolved this with the use of the DL.3s.”
For LED display, I chose to use 32 RGB Lights FlexiFlex high-res panels to create the LED ring surrounding the stage—to be used later on the traveler track and upstage back elements on the award and club events—combined with 400 1m Element Labs Versa® Tube HDs that were used as “ceiling tiles” for the awards ceremony. As with the LED drapes, the Versa Tubes would be taken down during the changeover to wrap the stage apron and to create West’s idea of “tube chandeliers” to hang over the stage, dropping down in vertical segments for the later events. The two Hippotizer HD media servers drove the FlexiFlex and Versa Tubes displays. HippoCritter was used for content management and to also playback audio from content requirements within the DL collage clips. This has worked brilliantly for us on numerous occasions, eliminating the need to have audio trigger the DL media playback via SMPTE.
We had to provide all house lighting in addition to stage wash and effects lighting. For this, we were looking to source approximately 180 ETC conventional fixtures with ETC 96x2.4kW Sensor+ dimmers and 100 moving spot/wash luminaires. That said, the ambient reflective light from so many DLs was more than adequate to provide atmospheric house lighting.
The lighting system needed to provide the flexibility to move from in the round to the proscenium stage act within a one day turn-around. In shopping fixtures, we chose to go with Morpheus Lights to take advantage of the company’s large inventory of PanaBeam™ XR2 units, combined with Philips Vari-Lite VL3000 and VL3500 Spot fixtures, and Martin Professional MAC 2000 Wash fixtures. Philips Color Kinetics ColorBlast and ColorBlaze fixtures were also used within the entrance parameter. We were all very impressed with the output and color range of the XR2, and its unique 360° pan/tilt effect brought an added touch to the environment. For the award/concert night, we added two followspot chairs above the audience, each with a Robert Juliat Manon 1.2kW followspot with dimming controlled by an MA Lighting grandMA console.
It is surprising how quickly media servers chew up DMX networks. Combined with two Hippotizer HDs and the HippoCritter, we needed 17 DMX universes just for digital lighting, and this comprised only half of the complete system design needs. Lighting required an additional 10 universes. We decided to run this across two Barco High End Systems Wholehog 3 consoles, one using two DP8000s, with the backup using one DP8000 and two DP2000s. The outer perimeter lighting was controlled from a Wholehog 3PC with one DP2000 and a second backup Wholehog 3PC with one Super Widget. Lighting was controlled from two grandMAs (one main and one backup) over four NSPs used to distribute DMX around to the lighting fixtures.
When I had looked at the scenic drawings of the seemingly naked expo hall, with a footprint of 300' wide by 400' deep and 38' high, the distances to travel with power, control, video, and system networking elements seemed huge. Soon after that, I began the task of creating a truss layout, which ended up becoming concentric rings with spokes at eight quadrants.
As is always the case, we had to network all media server fixtures together to allow ongoing uploads of content for our client’s graphic design team. In addition, this is necessary to allow for layer syncing of the units. I wanted all the DLs on the same gigabit network in addition to the Hippos, so we could upload content from multiple systems. For the network, we used two 24-port, two 16-port, and six 8-port gigabit Ethernet switches, the backbone of which was all Cat6 EtherCon cable. One 24-port switch was located on the north DL ring, one 24-port switch on the south DL ring, one 16-port and two 8-port switches east, one 16-port and two 8-port switches west, and one 8-port switch backstage, with the other 8-port switch at front of house. This was all arranged so no DL or media server fixture was more than three switches out, with the majority no more than two switches out.
So much cable was required—15 300' EtherCon runs, eight 150' EtherCon runs, and approximately 50 runs between 50' and 75', and 25 jumper runs—that no shop in Las Vegas could accommodate it from inventory. In the end, we purchased much of this cable. We came up with a network where we could load the approximately 16GB of custom content to the media servers in just over an hour. It was blazing fast, and the client loved the ability to almost instantly see single changes presented by the graphic designers.
The robotic camera network was provided by PRG. We had six Sony BRC-700 HD robotic cameras controlled by the Sony BRC-300, which allows for preset positions to be programmed and quickly snapped to. The BRC-700 offers an incredible picture for the package alongside a 12x zoom lens and for control signals to be up to 300m away and/or to daisy-chain out to one another.
All video was sent via SDI back to a Barco MatrixPro router that fed into a Barco ImagePro HD SDI. The MatrixPro also allowed the camera feeds to be routed to video village if they chose to use them. Coming out of the ImagePro, the SDI signal was sent back up to the catwalk to an AJA Video 3G/HD/SD Reclocking Distribution Amplifier that split the signal out to the DLs and back to the Hippotizer HDs.
The ImagePro also allowed for a confidence monitor of which camera feed West chose to send to the DLs. The DL.3 can route SDI in and out, so we only needed to land a certain number of DLs to allow all those in the ring to receive the SDI feed. We had to cut many corners in the video area. Ideally, we would have confidence monitors for each camera, but the budget kept things pretty simple. We only used one focus preset for each camera, and West knew which he would switch to when. The final confidence monitor from the ImagePro allowed him to decide if the look would go out and to which fixtures. All live video rode on the top layer of the DLs and Hippotizer HDs, which were on single handles at the lighting consoles.
Gear secured. I then snapped into a more urgent realization: Not only were the counts high for everything, but more importantly, so was the amount of crew it would require to accomplish this within a two-day fit-up, plus rearranging it all a couple times during the week. Who would we absolutely need? My drawing and system notes work screeched to a halt. I picked up the phone and called two of our very best MEs, Christopher Nye and Dave Haar.
Next realization: Very few, if any, programmers could touch this thing alone. West had commented that we might need three programmers due to the limited setup and rehearsal schedule in addition to the lighting and digital signage requirements for the entrance area perimeter. My next call was to Warren Flynn, a veteran designer and wizard behind the lighting desk—someone who can read both West and my minds.
“When I got the call from Adam asking me to be involved in this project, I figured it was the normal, run-of-the-mill big drug launch,” says Flynn. “When I arrived in Las Vegas, and Adam and Joe fired up the DL.3s, and we all started focusing, I knew immediately that I was wrong. Just focusing the collage took the better part of the morning, and the final product was amazing.”
We also needed dedicated DL and LED techs, a Hippo tech, and a video tech dedicated to setting up the robotic cameras. Nye anticipated no less than 20 electricians over the two days scheduled to get this all rigged, hung, and rung out. I also called my friend Jens Hillenkotter to come onboard as the DL tech.
Fortunately, earlier in December, we had made plans to get together at DSC for cross-training. Combined with Flynn, Hillenkotter would be brilliant to have on board as another designer/programmer.
One might think having this many designers could be a case of “one too many cooks in the kitchen.” However, with corporate events, the right team of LDs who are also brilliant programmers can make quick work out of seemingly enormous creative tasks. Design has always been a very competitive environment, and many designers have learned to be careful not to allow others to wedge into relationships and opportunities. For our team, nothing could be further from the truth. We have each brought opportunities to one another while combining talents to ensure opportunities continue for the group as a whole. As designs get larger and more intense, spilling over into many new and existing technologies, it’s near impossible to go it alone.
As the show neared load-in, we decided to keep Hillenkotter at the Wholehog 3 and bring Paul Hancock in as dedicated DL tech. Steve Dubay was in Las Vegas, coming off a show the week prior to load-in, so we chose him as our Hippo and video tech. Nathan Davis, who works with us at DSC through DK Productions, had used the FlexiFlex system numerous times on tours, so he was an easy choice as our lead LED tech. For the Element Labs supplier, we went with Rozone Productions out of Austin, TX, using Sachem Arvidson as lead tech, assisted by Thomas Mayfield of Rozone. Incredibly we only had two DLs give us issue on this event.
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Flynn also took control of programming the Hippotizer HDs—not part of the original plan, but, he says, “I was happy to get in on the action. I have done extensive Hippo programming in the past, so it wasn’t an issue, and when it was all up and running, the show looked awesome. The pictures really don’t do the real product justice. The wow factor was an 11.”
Almost everyone onboard had worked together with one another in some capacity. We were also fortunate to have Jeff Riedinger, Kenny Keene, Garland Purdy, and Joachim Krause of Las Vegas Rigging in charge of the scenic and lighting rig. Mark Anson, the technical director, was wonderful in making sure that everything we needed for lighting fit together with all the scenic elements into a schedule that proved to be really fluid over the load-in. There were seemingly very few surprises. Last, but not least, the great guys with LMG really helped when “those lighting guys playing with video” needed something extra and/or ideas if something slightly awry required a “factory reset.”
“After a very simple circle hang and a unique network setup by Adam, delivery of the client’s objective was done one time and during standard hours, eliminating the need for overtime,” says West. “The flexibility of the Hippotizer network playing back all the audio files synchronized with the DL.3s meant total control of the visual experience FOH to speed up the process and increase the visuals. With FOH control, the design was executed to the degree it was presented to the production company and end client. With our additional software images and skilled programmers, the client was extremely pleased with the additional looks of non-stock images and enhancements the design team was able to create in seconds to add extra excitement into each and every presentation. Even last-minute changes were executed with no pressure on the event.”
Some things we learned: A cyc projection ring this large tended to get “inflated” by the enormous air conditioning system in the expo hall when they turn the A/C on full blast, thus making the collage a bit off only minutes from doors. Softening the fixture focus a bit helped alleviate this on the first day, and by the later shows, we had corrected for this. Keeping the spare DLs on the network backstage was something we knew from past work was important, but on this event, with the amount of data, it was downright crucial. It was a beautiful site when we tilted up the DL.3s onto the cyc projection ring, and they were almost perfectly aligned to one another.
The time spent creating a 3D model of the set and fixtures in the studio had paid off. The venue had four large-support pillars we had to shoot around, and not one DL fixture had to be moved or relocated from its intended use. The building of three different collage types (1x5, 1x7, and 1x8) was a timely endeavor that Hillenkotter, Flynn, and I tag-teamed to get done. Once the collages were built, the fixtures could quickly jump from one collage type to another.
My mind becomes a blur when I imagine where these technologies will lead us next. Regardless, I know it will always take a dedicated team of talented individuals to bring forth spectacles of this size.
“Overall the event was massive in size and scope, but at no time was the vision of the project compromised,” concludes West. “With the tools available to designers today, all we have now is our imagination to guide us. I credit this design to the risk I took to push technology and the tools past conventional use. It felt like a small tour or summer stock as I found new uses for tools that had primary uses in some people’s minds. Take a risk, and enjoy the benefits.”
Todd Street Production
Michael Portnoy, Project Account Manager
Janyce Ferrara, Executive Producer
Mark Solan, Scenic Designer
Digital Stage Chicago Crew
Joe West, Principal Lighting Director
Adam Dunaway, Visual Designer/
Associate Lighting Director
Warren Flynn, Moving Light Designer/Programmer
Jens Hillenkotter, Barco High End Systems DL.3 Digital Lighting Designer/Programmer
Christopher Nye, Master Electrician
David Haar, Moving Light Technician
Steve Dubay, Green Hippo/Video Technician
Paul Hancock, DL Technician
Nathan Davis, LED Technician
Sachem Arvidson, Element Labs Technician
35 Barco High End Systems DL.3
12 Barco High End Systems DL.2
1 Barco High End Systems Axon
2 Green Hippo Hippotizer HD v3
1 Green Hippo HippoCritter v3 Media Server
6 Barco FLM HD20 Projector
1 Barco ImagePro HD SDI
1 Barco MatrixPro 8x8 Switcher
400 Element Labs Versa TUBE HD
32 RGB Lights FlexiFlex Hi-Res LED Drape
6 Sony BRC-700 HD Camera
2 Sony BRC-300 Robotic Controller
27 Philips Vari-Lite VL3000 Spot
27 Philips Vari-Lite VL3500 Spot
10 Martin Professional MAC 2000 Wash
48 Morpheus PanaBeam XR2
40 Philips Color Kinetics ColorBlast 12
8 Philips Color Kinetics ColorBlaze
2 Robert Juliat Manon Followspot
60 ETC Source Four Ellipsoidal
112 ETC Source Four PAR
1 ETC Sensor+ 96x2.4kW Dimmer Rack
2 MA Lighting grandMA
4 MA Lighting grandMA NSP
2 Barco High End Systems Wholehog 3
4 Barco High End Systems DP8000
3 Barco High End Systems DP2000
1 Barco High End Systems Hog3PC
1 Barco High End Systems Hog3PC Super Widget
2 Netgear 24-Port JumboFrame
2 Netgear 16-Port JumboFrame
8 Netgear 8-Port JumboFrame
Business Switch (two for grandMA and Wholehog 3 networks)
Adam Dunaway is a Chicago-based lighting and projection designer who holds BA and MFA degrees in Theatre Design and Technology. He is the principal designer for Dunaway Designs and a design partner with Digital Stage Chicago and DK Productions. Recent designs include digital lighting video systems for Jamie Foxx’s 2009 US tour and Chris Brown’s 2010 Brazil and UK tours, as well as the upcoming Bermuda Music Festival, an annual R&B event he’s been glad to be a part of for the past eight years with Great Sound and Lighting.