The Nokia Theatre Brings A Major Music Venue To Downtown Los Angeles
Let's face it: downtown Los Angeles has never been a place you'd want to spend more than a few hours. In fact, desolate-after-dark would be a good way to describe certain areas of downtown LA — until recently. Vibrant and alive are better ways to describe what's happening there now, as a major urban-renewal project is reshaping the landscape around the Staples Center sports arena (home of the Lakers and other local pro teams) and the Los Angeles Convention Center. The project calls for glittering new hotels, sky-high condo towers, retail, and restaurants, in the midst of which is the Nokia Theatre, a major music venue built by Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) as part of a $2.5 billion project called LA Live. The architects for the theatre are ELS, an architecture and urban planning firm in Berkeley, CA.
With opening concerts by The Eagles and the Dixie Chicks, the Nokia Theatre flexed its muscles as a serious player on the touring music scene. With 7,100 seats, the shape of the theatre is like a concert bowl, or half an arena, yet upgraded with comfortable fixed seats by Irwin Seating and carpeting throughout. Certain sections are removable for camera positions when the theatre is used for live broadcasts of concerts or awards shows. With 4,000 seats in the lower sections, the balcony can be closed off with a curtain if need be for smaller, more intimate events. Drapes are by Rose Brand; Q1 Production Technologies supplied the soft goods.
“The Nokia Theatre is the perfect alternative to the Staples Center, which is too busy during sports season for a lot of concerts,” says Paul Flanagan, project manger for AEG, who supervised the fast-track construction process. “The theatre is fully wired for HD television transmission and may just be the largest indoor theatre in North America,” Flanagan adds. “It is the first true concert venue of its kind, where arena shows will fit unchanged, from rock tours to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. The design of the theatre reflects the needs of the industry.”
A large loading dock with sliding doors offers flat, direct access to the stage, which measures 80' deep by 120' wide, with 35' wings on each side. The dressing rooms are under the stage. The grid height is 78', with 60' to the lowest steel. Off stage-left is a post- and pre-show lounge area.
Q1 Production Technologies was also closely involved in the development of the theatre. “Q1 worked on our first project for AEG back in October 2005 at the Nokia Theatre at Times Square in New York, which led to several others in LA and Seattle,” says Q1 president and COO Brian Konechny. “But it was right after New York when AEG's Paul Flanagan brought in the concept of using a rolling crane-style catwalk lighting truss for a new venue at the LA Live site.”
The idea for this kind of moveable catwalk is that, instead of using a boom lift or rigging a truss over raked seating, the lighting trusses come down to the stage, get loaded at ground level, and then each truss flies out to its respective position. “Q1 project division's Chris Nash, Eric Sambell, and Larry Darling got to work on this system and came up with the final design,” says Konechny, who notes that their crew also included Bob Smith, Todd Martin, and R. Scott Dell. Gary Douglas from Pathway Connectivity served as DMX-over-Ethernet technician.
There are three steel I-beams that run the length of the venue, perpendicular to the stage. On these sit six custom-built, 115'-wide catwalk trusses that can travel from out in the house to onto the stage. “The labor-saving concept of having the truss come down to the stage for convenient loading is only one of the reasons this venue is unique in North America and, perhaps, in the world,” Konechny adds. “Q1 collaborated with Total Structures on the custom catwalk design, which features four fixture-loading pipes on each.”
For the trolley system, Q1 brought in ChainMaster from Germany and Show Distribution from Quebec for the BGV-D8 Plus rated system, using 6-ton trolleys for each truss line. “Under each trolley is a 3-metric-ton hoist (6,600lbs.) that, after the weight of the truss, still gives each truss a load capacity of 14,000lbs., or seven tons,” Konechny explains. “We wanted to go to the BGV-D8 Plus rating to allow for rated static loads overhead. The trolleys use no festoon cables, as the power is supplied by an electrified rail power supply track with a digital microwave control system, making for a very clean setup. The control system features a sophisticated computer interface that will make it easy to control.”
In addition to the catwalks, the venue also has a comprehensive ribbon grid that features 37 custom motor transport dollies, each with a ChainMaster ½-ton motor, allowing for a chain motor drop almost anywhere. The space was intentionally conceived without a fly tower, and the industrial-style ceiling will remain exposed as a design element.
Each of the six catwalks features at least one 48-channel Strand Lighting Light Rack dimmer/power distribution system, with the remainder of a total of 14 racks that can be located anywhere in the theatre, as needed. “Chris Nash of Q1 played one of the advisory roles in the new dimmer/distro concept, as we wanted something that we could configure the way we need it,” says Konechny. “For example, you can have all 48 channels of dimming or, perhaps, 24 channels of dimming for conventional lights, 12 channels of 120V distro for LEDs and PSUs, and then 12 channels of 208V for automation.”
Gordon Pearlman, director of research and development for Strand Lighting, developed the Strand Light Rack system, which features quiet IGBT dimmer modules. “The idea was to develop a lighter, more versatile dimmer system, as requested by rental houses,” says Pearlman. “I worked with Marc Raymond of Q1 for two years and went through lots of schemes.” Pearlman, who did his concept drawings in Google SketchUp, was amazed at how much the finished product looks like the drawings.
What he has created for the Nokia Theatre — and is now being released as a new Strand product — is a rack with interchangeable plug-in modules that can be easily replaced in the shop to meet the requirements of each tour, based on the number of automated fixtures versus conventionals, for example. “They are primarily a touring product, with Socapex connectors only,” Pearlman points out, adding that a fan-out can be used if stage-pin connectors are needed. “The Nokia Theatre is built like a touring venue. They can set up the racks the way they need them for each show.” In-house control is via a Flying Pig Systems Wholehog 3 console. A second Wholehog 3 serves as a back-up.
Emmy Award-winning LD Jeff Ravitz of Visual Terrain in LA designed and specified the in-house stage lighting package, which was then supplied and installed by Q1. This is the second project Ravitz has done for AEG, having worked on the Nokia Theatre in Times Square. “I wanted to design a system that can be used by any band that comes into the venue, so we built in a lot of flexibility, and I spec'd every type of light and wattage for every position,” he says. “Then we worked with Q1 to massage the system and found some solutions that worked best for everybody.” Ravitz notes that many bands will be able to leave touring rigs in the truck and use the in-house rig or use it as an excellent backbone for a custom-touring rig. The automated catwalks provide a multitude of lighting positions, even out over the audience, as the catwalks can be used in front of or behind the proscenium. “It makes it a very multipurpose room,” adds Ravitz. “They asked me to design a space I would be comfortable using, and I did. What's great about the theatre is that no one is further than 250' from the stage.” Kristie Roldan from Visual Terrain was the on-site project manager.
“The amazing output of the Vari-Lite VL3500 wash fixture, the versatility of its zoom, and lens kit make it the perfect fixture for a venue of this type,” adds Konechny. Vari-Lite VL3000 spots round out the automated portion of the rig. The conventional lighting package comprises ETC Source Four PARs and Source Four ellipsoidals, with Lycian SuperArc 4K Xenon long-throw units chosen for the followspots. “Not a lot of venues have a house lighting rig as comprehensive as this,” Konechny notes. (See full gear list on page 74.) “Although everything about this job was executed very well, with all the new dimmer and control systems, there were many, many long hours spent, especially by dedicated guys like Eric Sambell.”
The Nokia Theatre is designed as a touring venue so that individual bands can bring in their own lighting and audio gear when desired. In terms of the audio, the in-house system is pulled up on hoists, out of sight into the grid area when not in use. The in-house audio system was designed by Robert Patrick of LA-based IPR Services with JBL Professional. “Overall, the goal of the Nokia Theatre is to provide a flexible venue for concerts and award shows,” says Patrick. “In addition to video IMAG, the theatre has an HD production studio that feeds the in-house displays and the outdoor plaza displays. It is configured for up to six HD cameras.” The IMAG screens are 20'-wide by 16'-high Mitsubishi 10mm LED screens, set into the walls of the theatre on either side of the stage. For the opening series of concerts, The Eagles added “eyebrow” screens at the top of the proscenium arch so that the video wrapped around the stage.
“The Eagles used Doremi video servers for their playbacks. Our in-house playbacks are via Sony XDCAM HD F70 blu-ray disc players. We feed full HD to the screens,” says Dennis M. Kornegay, an independent technology consultant who served as chief technology officer for the project as part of the IPR Services team. He notes that, while there are no in-house projectors at the moment, the projection booth is, in fact, wired to support large projectors. “Analog Way Ultra VIO boxes are used to cross convert signals to feed the screens,” Kornegay explains. “The video control room and the theatre are connected by Evertz HD fiber media converters so we can send signals both ways.” Larry Spurgeon from Las Vegas was also part of the team, brought in by Patrick specifically to assist in some of the audio requirements and designs for this project. The acoustician was Chips Davis from Concord, CA (whose acoustics are getting rave reviews from concert-goers).
Q1 also supplied all the Color Kinetics architectural lighting fixtures and control, both inside and outside of the building, including 2,400' of Color Kinetics iColor Cove MX Powercore. The Nokia Theatre opens onto a 40,000sq-ft. outdoor plaza that features six 80'-high towers on which an array of signs, high-resolution Mitsubishi LED screens, and lighting fixtures are mounted. Shows from the Nokia Theatre can be broadcast live on a high-def video screen, and live events can be produced right on the plaza.
Around the plaza, which provides access to sub-level parking, are additional buildings destined for an array of uses, including the 2,300-seat Club Nokia, the Grammy Museum, ESPN studios, retail, and restaurants — all covered in video screens. “LA Live will be like Times Square in downtown LA,” says Flanagan — without the horn-honking and yellow cabs!
THEATRE STAGE LIGHTING
42 Vari-Lite VL3000Q Spot
38 Vari-Lite VL3500 Wash
180 ETC Source Four PAR (Six Lamp Bars)
51 ETC Source Four Ellipsoidals 5°
71 ETC Source Four Ellipsoidals 10°
28 ETC Source Four Ellipsoidals 19°
12 ETC Source Four Ellipsoidals 26°
12 ETC Source Four Ellipsoidals 50°
6 Lycian SuperArc 4K Xenon Long Throw Followspot
2 LeMaitre Radiance Water-Based Hazer, DMX-Control
1 Clear-Com System
2 Flying Pig Systems Wholehog 3 Console with Expansion Wing
4 High End Systems DP-2000 DMX Processor (4 DMX Universes Each)
14 Strand Lighting Light Rack 48-Way Dimmer/Power Distribution Rack
1 Pathway Pathport Network System
6 Total Fabrication Custom 115' Moveable Catwalk Bridge with Integral Lighting Positions and Computer Control
42 20.5" × 20.5" Box Truss
1 Main Valence Truss on Motors (4 Sections)
10 15' Leg Truss on Two Motors Each
18 ChainMaster BGV-D8 Plus VarioTrolley
18 ChainMaster BGV-D8 Plus VarioLift 3 Ton Chain Hoist
4 ChainMaster BGV-D8 Plus 2.5 Ton Hoist
12 ChainMaster BGV-D8 Plus 1 Ton Hoist
37 ChainMaster BGV-D8 Plus 1/2 Ton Hoist
18 Load Cell
1 Computer Motor Control System
1 115'×35' Downstage Traveler, Motorized, Variable Speed
1 115'×35' Upstage Traveler, Manual Drawn
10 25'×45' Legs
12 10'×35' German Masking Drapes, Walk Along, Under Fly Floor
THEATRE ARCHITECTURAL LIGHTING & CONTROL
35 Custom Source Four PAR Pendants
2,400' Color Kinetics iColor Cove MX Powercore
1 Lightolier Lytemode® DMX Architectural Lighting Controller
1 Color Kinetics Light Systems Manager
6 Entertainment Technology Optio Dimmer Rack
148 ETC Source Four PAR (22 Six Lamp Bars, 16 Single)
1 ETC 24/96 SmartFade Console
2 Entertainment Technology Optio 36-Channel Dimmer Rack
2 Lycian M2 Followspot
4 Applied Electronics L-16 Lift
216 Color Kinetics ColorBlast 12
1 Flying Pig Systems Hog PC Controller
AUDITORIUM SELECTED SOUND SYSTEM
2 Soundcraft Vi6 Optical Digital Console (one FOH, one monitor)
42 JBL VT4889 VerTec line array speakers (main left and right arrays, outfills, center array downfills)
6 JBL VT4887 frontfill speakers
22 JBL VT4880A VerTec subwoofers (center sub arrays)
6 JBL PD5212/95 delay speakers (upper balcony)
7 JBL AC2212/00 delay speakers (under balcony)
1 Lake Pro 26 Digital Loudspeaker Processor
11 Crown IT8000 amps for JBL VT4880s
42 Crown IT6000 amps for JBL VT4889s
3 Crown IT4000 amps for JBL VT4887s
3 Crown CTs3000 amps for balcony delay
4 Crown CTs2000 amps for under-balcony speakers
6 JBL VT4889-AF rigging frames for VT4889 and VT4880A
6 IPR custom mounting brackets for PD5212 speakers
PLAZA TOWERS SOUND SYSTEM
24 Crown PIP-USP3 PIP modules with DSP and Monitoring/Control Functions
24 Crown CTs3000 amps for tower speakers
6 IPR Services Custom Plaza cluster hanging frames
24 JBL AM6315/95 Plaza speakers
1 Soundweb London BLU80 DSP Processor - 16 analog out
1 Soundweb London BLU80 DSP Processor - 8 in × 8 out
1 Soundweb London BLU32 DSP Processor - 16 analog out
1 Soundweb London BLU32 DSP Processor - 4 AES out × 4 AES in
1 Soundcraft Vi6-Optical Digital Production Room Console