The Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, CA, is one of the most famous churches in the country — it was even parodied on The Simpsons — so when this monumental house of worship needed a new audio, video, and lighting system for a new production called Creation: Once Upon All Time, Electrosonic Systems Inc., Acoustic Dimensions, and Entertainment Lighting Services, Inc. rose to extraordinary heights, literally.

Founded 50 years ago by Dr. Robert H. Schuller, Crystal Cathedral is the home base for the international Crystal Cathedral Ministries, including a congregation of more than 10,000 members and the internationally televised Hour of Power. The soaring, airy Cathedral, designed by celebrated architects Philip Johnson and John Burgee, features more than 10,000 windows of tempered, silver-colored glass held in place by a lace-like framework of white steel trusses — a challenging environment for a house of worship where audio and video play a regular role in services as well as in special shows.

“Electrosonic accomplished technical feats never before achieved with a live theatrical presentation,” says Larry Ganson of Ganson Production in Dallas, who acted as production manager and senior technical director for Creation. “They overcame numerous challenges on this project from the size of the screen to dealing with compressed video and the server system. But the biggest challenge was the audio system.”

For Creation, Santa Monica-based Threshold Entertainment crafted a complete two-hour computer-generated film with original digital content displayed on a 252'×28' screen installed by Electrosonic, which is the largest on the West Coast. “The screen is actually comprised of seven individual Harkness Hall screens,” explains Bryan Hinckley, Electrosonic's systems sales engineer. “We also supplied seven Christie S+16 projectors, on floating platforms hanging from the ceiling of the Cathedral, and all butt-spliced to create a single image across all of the screens.”

High-resolution imagery was essential for the CG display, but the distance from the projectors to the screens was too far for DVI digital signals to span. So Electrosonic used DVI fiber converters to run the digital signals over fiber optic lines through the ceiling and to the projectors. “The big challenge was the overall size of the screens [hung] from the ceiling and connected together to create as seamless an image as possible,” notes Hinckley. “And we had to make sure the seven floating projectors did not move, although they're integrated into a very busy ceiling where aerial performers fly through the space.”

In addition, “the show was originally going to use HD MPEG sources but to meet quality requirements, we went to an uncompressed high-resolution video playback system,” he says. Electrosonic installed an IRIDAS Frame Cycler cinema playback system and, with the help of IRIDAS, developed custom software to lock together seven uncompressed streams of video. “It was the first time we've used IRIDAS and the first time IRIDAS synchronized seven streams together,” Hinckley points out.

To handle the huge number of moving lights, smoke effects, confetti cannons, and water misters that are in the show, Electrosonic used a Medialon Manager show control system.

Late in the video installation cycle it was also decided to revamp Crystal Cathedral's large audio system. “The Cathedral is world famous for its all-glass design, but the acoustics of a glass room make it incredibly difficult to control the audio and deliver intelligible sound,” notes Hinckley. “We worked with Acoustic Dimensions of Dallas that — with the help of multiple acoustical software programs — designed a sophisticated, multiple array audio layback system to meet the demands of the challenging space.”

The new sound system consists of five JBL line array clusters for main left, center and right; the left and right arrays consist of 10 self-powered boxes and are approximately 15' tall. A surround sound line array of five QSC Wideline speakers moves the audio around the huge space. All 10 speakers are connected together, painted white to match the Cathedral architecture, and suspended above the projection screens out of the projection cone.

“We worked incredibly hard with the Creation team to get the audio system installed in time,” Hinckley reports. “JBL and QSC helped with quick equipment delivery, and we able to get installation completed in six weeks.”

Electrosonic's Stan Gilson was audio systems project manager, Olaaf Rossi was the video systems project manager, John Louis was the audio systems engineer, and John Notar was lead projectionist. Guy Fronte and David Boudreau supervised installation teams. Craig Jansen, principal of Acoustic Dimensions, served as lead audio designer with Ryan Knox lead audio engineer and programmer for the company.