How I Did That: Tandem Effects

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Tandem Digital designed a massive multimedia installation at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Check out the video and story.

Ever since video and music made it to the handheld device, multimedia content has become a staple of our techno-culture. Although small, portable devices have a place on trains, in cars, and in other transient locales, they can’t measure up to a growing trend in the live event industry: massive, vibrant, and immersive visual displays that provide larger-than-life entertainment.

For decades, books, films, and television shows have predicted the advent of these enormous displays into our culture. Think Blade Runner. The live event industry seems to have taken the first real steps toward this new vision of the future and display technology, with presentations as grand as the opening ceremonies for the 2008 Olympics (“Going For Gold,” LD, September 2008) and in more comprehensible arenas, such as concert halls and conference centers.

Recently, we at Tandem Digital were contracted by event producers Extraordinary Events and Tom Bercu Presents to design the visual and sound content for a massive multimedia installation at the Moscone Center in San Francisco for a Fortune 100 technology company’s global sales meeting. In fact, the event was awarded a Special Events Gala Award in the category of Best Entertainment Concept and Execution (Entertainment Budget Above $100,000).

This project came at a perfect time, as we have been delving deeper into the live design world, having already established a solid foundation in the broadcast television and film industry. A turning point came for us when we provided concert graphics for the latest Rush world tour (“A Day In The Life,” LD, July 2008) supporting the band’s album, Snakes and Arrows. Witnessing 15,000 fans experience the large-scale visuals that we created for playback really had an impact on us and fueled our desire to create more content for live applications.

For The Moscone Center event, we observed attendees watch in awe as a 25'-tall sumo wrestler took down his opponent on screen. As the presentation shifted from one region of the world to the next, viewers were transported from the grandiosity of the Taj Mahal, to historic Scottish castles, Venetian canals, and a surround of vivid South American volcanic eruptions. All of these and more were hyper-real due to the scale and treatment of the presentation.

To create a full hour of original material for this event, we employed various motion, color, texture, and timing techniques. Much of the presentation consisted of complex composites of multiple images. By overlaying and treating several images simultaneously, we were able to obtain greater depth and subtle changes in feel and pace. Color overlays, glows, lighting effects, and graphical elements were added throughout for added surrealism. Motion effects were used to create transitions from one set of images to the next and sometimes to create the illusion that the walls were of limitless depth. To achieve this effect, we maintain static foreground images, and move background images horizontally or vertically across the screen. With this technique, viewers had the sense that they could practically reach through the foremost layer of the screen surface.

To transition from one segment of the presentation to the next, we rendered huge 3D animations of the Earth, pulling out from a particular region or continent and then diving back through clouds and into another region. On a screen that is 300' wide and 25' tall, this is truly spectacular to witness.

Sourcing images, video, and sound for a project like this can be a tall task, but here is where the online stock world shines. Many stock sites now offer high-definition video, high-resolution images, and great pricing packages. For this event, we couldn’t spend $400 on a particularly gorgeous stock photo from Corbis, for example. However, we were able to obtain literally hundreds of excellent, relevant images and videos through Istockphoto.com. The site provides different download sizes and resolutions, with cost adjusted to those parameters.

Pre-Visualization
In approaching a job of this scale, pre-visualization is an invaluable asset. We created the full pre-viz animation in a few days using Adobe After Effects. In the animation, we incorporated a floor plan that we received from our client in PDF format. Using only the PDF and some measurements, we were able to quickly build graphics and basic architectural structures to scale. A traditional 3D/CAD program would have been too time-consuming and less capable of handling and incorporating the evolving video content. In fact, as we were building the show content on one computer monitor, our 3D pre-viz was updating in another monitor simultaneously.

Greg Christy and his team at Brite Ideas coordinated lighting changes to timing and thematic shifts in the visual and sound content.

Next Page: Projecting It All

Previous Page: Tandem Effects Going Big With Multimedia

Projecting It All
To get our content on the screens, we used 16 Christie 15,000-lumen DLP projectors, with content delivered via three SAMSC Catalyst Media Servers, each running three synchronized content streams. The final output resolution for each surface was 4750x371 pixels. With a total width of 14,250 pixels, we were looking at 7.5 high-definition videos lined up side-by-side.

The screens were custom white Celtic fabric—made by Studio RFD—tied to trusses at the top and weighted with a pipe pocket at the bottom. It would have been ideal to implement more projectors, yielding a higher vertical resolution. However, cost is always a deciding factor, and more projectors weren’t feasible. We also had to consider the fact that attendees weren’t going to be situated in close proximity to the projection surface, so a higher resolution wasn’t worth the added cost.

Tom Bercu, president of Tom Bercu Presents, doesn’t deny the often lofty expense of contracting projection technology and content creation for events, but he says, “It rivals the cost of transportation for any name act, rider fees, staging fees, production costs, and other associated expenses. With this technology, there is never a bad seat in the house.”

A large multimedia install is a viable alternative to live entertainment. In a perfect world, where recessions are a thing of the past and budgets flow freely, live entertainment and grand multimedia presentations work in harmony and offer a full complement of sensory delights. Hopefully concertgoers will be treated to this combination of spectacles, regardless of economic factors.

Greg Russell is owner and creative director at Tandem Digital, an award-winning provider of content design and production services for live events, television and film clients across the globe.

For the full gallery, check out the Tandem Digital gallery.


For the full story, check out the May issue of Live Design.

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