When granted the chance to get a backstage tour of two of Cirque du Soleil’s latest and greatest Las Vegas shows, Love and KA, I thought my most vivid impressions would be of KA’s enormous automation infrastructure—after all, it’s directly reminiscent of Zion, the vast, mechanized underground city from the Matrix movies. But the thing that this projection designer walked away thinking about was Love’s projection system and the very small department of technicians that are dedicated to maintaining it.
The system is remarkable enough on its own: 28 DPI HIGHlite 12000dsx projectors, some mounted on Brother, Brother & Sons V-Base Yokes, driven by 20 Hippotizers. But the really catalytic, forward-looking development in Love isn’t the hardware—it’s the four guys who make up Cirque’s first official department dedicated to projections. These technicians are responsible for maintaining the entire system, soup to nuts: servicing projectors, maintaining focus, configuring the networks, running a render farm of machines dedicated to artwork notes, doing artwork notes, synching to SMTPE feed from audio, loading and monitoring the servers, programming and running the show from an MA Light.
To the rest of the world, this department is a stranger beast than maybe is apparent at first. The projection technicians on Love regularly undertake troubleshooting and maintenance tasks that would make most stage technicians balk. Like opening up $60,000 projectors to service the light engine, the very guts of the machines. Of course, Cirque is unusual in that, due to the anticipated 10-15 year show lifetime, they purchase equipment rather than rent, but the effect on the technicians is pronounced. The most eloquent statement on their required range of skills was made to me by the lead technician when discussing their ideal candidate for a new hire: “A videographer/animator with some broadcast experience who understands theatrical lighting and has worked in rental/staging.”
Cirque has led the way in creating a dedicated projections department within the larger show structure. Rumor has it that Cirque shows in the immediate future are planning even bigger projection components. Will this set an example to the rest of the entertainment world? Does Cirque du Soleil’s structure even translate into the organization of a more transient theatrical production? If so, the way we train and orient the technicians that staff those departments will have to be radically updated.
For in-depth Live Design coverage on what it took to produce Cirque du Soleil’s Love, please see Love Is All You Need.