Autodesk's motto, “Experience It Before It's Real,” was the inspiration for the 2007 annual users' conference, Autodesk University, bringing together 9,500 attendees at the Venetian Resort & Casino last November in Las Vegas. Autodesk challenged TenCue Productions, a full-service event production and design company, to create not just a general session for the annual meeting, but a true experience for the audience.

Autodesk develops 2D and 3D rendering products, such as AutoCAD. The Autodesk University annual event brings together attendees from all over the world to discuss and explore new products. The general session kicks off the four-day series of events, and this time around, Autodesk wanted to preview one of its much-anticipated products, Metropolis, which renders an entire city in a 3D environment. The general session had to act as an effective platform not only for a product reveal, but also to demonstrate the software in a way that would allow the audience to experience the product in a live, virtual environment.

CREATING A LIVE PROTOTYPE

TenCue Productions has produced conferences for Autodesk for many years, but this show was breaking new ground. With months of planning and concept development, the goal was to immerse the audience in the product, encompassing them in a 360° presentation showcasing the 3D nature of the software and engaging the attendees in the demonstration. The audience took center stage at this event, with a seating arrangement in a circular pattern around the center stage in the middle, surrounded by approximately 800' of high-definition video that encircled the perimeter of the room. “We wanted to overwhelm the audience with an experience that would be powerful and engaging and make them feel as if they were a part of the technology,” says Jeffrey Wilk, executive producer for TenCue Productions.

TenCue turned to LMG Inc. to develop a technical solution for the visually immersive display. “We worked with TenCue for several months to figure out the best solution to deliver content to the screens,” says Kevin McCabe, director of technical services for LMG. “We went through numerous ideas, starting out with a complete 360° edge-blended design to the final solution, which used 20 individual images. The project had a limited budget, so we tried to come up with a simple solution that would work, yet still be very effective in conveying the message.”

Ten 18'×84' screens for the perimeter display conveyed two images in high definition each, with a gap of a few inches between them, but the display images and video were edge-butted on each screen to create a seamless appearance across the room. In addition, four 16'×27' screens in the center of the room projected high definition graphics and I-Mag in the round over a circular speakers' area, enhancing the 360° feel of the room toward the interior.

MAKING IT WORK

As the perimeter screens would be the primary means of demonstrating the software, they were sourced by 20 of Autodesk's computers. One of the main concerns during the design phase was how to accomplish the signal distribution and switching with so many sources. In addition, the solution also had to involve a minimal amount of risk. With a large, high-definition 360° demonstration as the cornerstone of the general session, even the slightest glitch was not an option. “It would have been difficult to miss if something went wrong,” says Wilk. “The screens were everywhere the audience turned, so we needed a plan with minimal risk and a working backup plan.”

To address this concern, LMG designed a routing system using Barco Folsom ImagePro-HDs in conjunction with a high-definition router. Each computer fed into an ImagePro-HD, which then fed the HD router, making it possible to distribute content directly to the screens. “The router needed to be very large,” says Neil Morrison, LMG's video services manager. “All the sourcing was DVI, so we had to figure out how to convert from DVI to a format that was high enough resolution for the screens, and that is how we settled on the ImagePros to go from DVI to HDSDI.”

The routing system also allowed content from any of the sources to be distributed to any screen. Therefore, if one of the sources failed, another type of source could be brought up as a backup. In addition, LMG wrote multiple custom salvos on the router to bring up content so the side screens could display different images, graphics, or video. All the screens could also come together with the immersive content, or all go black at once.

To create the HD perimeter display, 40 double-stacked Panasonic DW10000 projectors output a 1920x1080 resolution to the screens. For the center screens, eight Digital Projection Lightning 35HD projectors were fed by LMG's custom-built high-definition flypack system using the Snell & Wilcox Kahuna switcher. The center screens simultaneously displayed content from the speaker presentations, as well as a section of vertical I-Mag, on each screen.

LMG also provided audio support with directional sound to enhance the experience for the audience. The unusual configuration presented a challenge for speaker placement, given the circular setup in the square room. “As some of the audience was sitting close to the speakers and some very far away, we used four line array systems in each corner, which allowed us to sculpt the loudness of each speaker in the cluster,” says Billy Walsh, audio technician with LMG. In addition, screens naturally reflect sound, and they surrounded the entire room. “We had to make sure the speakers were aimed dead-on to avoid any problems,” adds Walsh. The directional sound that followed the images across the room during a jet takeoff portion of the software demonstration was accomplished manually using the joystick on the DiGiCo D5 112 EX console.

THERE'S ALWAYS SOME RISK

One of the biggest challenges throughout the process was the simple fact that the software being previewed was still in development and untested for this type of application. “There were so many layers of complexity to this show — the software, the display technology, dealing with the gaps between the screens, and the space variations,” says McCabe. Autodesk's technical team, led by vice president Brian Mathews, had to make several software adjustments to make a live demonstration work in the large environment. For example, the team had to compensate for the screen gaps within the software, writing it directly into the program and using a black mullion between each image. They also wrote a program to turn on their 20 computers simultaneously. In addition, Carl Bass, CEO of Autodesk, was directly involved in the process and personally approved the project for the annual event.

Another challenge was limited setup time. Pre-planning, testing, and advance setup turned out to be the keys to building a show of this size and complexity in the allotted timeframe. The concept and technical solution took months of beta testing by the project team to assure it would work in the show environment. “The 40 perimeter projectors were pre-rigged in advance and packed in the cases, so on show site, all we had to do was clamp them to the truss,” says McCabe. “They were also balanced in advance for color and light output and packed in pairs to match each other.”

AN IMMERSIVE SUCCESS

At show time, the presentation of the Metropolis software was left until the end of the general session, and the audience was treated to a jaw-dropping demo that was completely unexpected. Starting in black, one screen opened with a view of Earth from space and then expanded outward until all the screens lit up with a ride through a 360° cityscape, taking the audience on a visual and auditory journey through the skyscrapers, parks, and streets. Comments from the Autodesk attendees on the presentation ranged from “stunning” and “blew me away,” to “I was left speechless.”

“The issue that you have with any show, especially ones that challenge you in this way, is delivering on the promise to your clients,” says Les Goldberg, CEO/President of LMG. “This event represented an effective use of show technology to reveal a new product, and it looked amazing.”

TenCue Productions was thrilled with the outcome, so much that they actually popped a few bottles of champagne after the event for the crew. “Because we worked so closely, we were able to produce a show that was unique and provided a sensory experience for the audience,” adds Wilk. “They were truly immersed in the technology.”

AUTODESK UNIVERSITY
GEAR

PROJECTION

8 Digital Projection Lightning 35HD Projector

8 1.45-1.8:1 DPI 35HD Lens

1 Sony DSC-1024HD Scan Converter

4 16'×27' Screenworks FP Screen

40 Panasonic DW10000 1080P Projector

40 Panasonic D75LE1 1.4 - 1.8:1 Zoom Lens

10 18'×84' Screen

SWITCHING

1 HD/SD High-Definition Flypack System with Snell & Wilcox Kahuna HD/SD Switcher

CAMERAS

3 Thomson Grass Valley LDK-6000 Worldcams

3 Canon 17× 9.3 HD Lens

3 Canon 75:1 X75 HD Field Lens 75×9.3

VIDEO PLAYBACK/RECORD

4 Sony J-3 HD Player

4 Sony DSR-1800 DVCAM Player/ Recorder

2 Sony 8" PVM-8041Q Monitor

1 Sony 1450 VHS Player/Recorder

GRAPHICS

5 Barco Folsom ImagePRO-HD Scan Converter

2 13" Sony PVM-14L5 Monitor

6 42" Sony PFM-500A Plasma Monitor

4 Large Speaker Timer Package

4 Master V5 Graphics Cueing Package

ROUTING/SCREEN CONTROL

32 Barco Folsom ImagePRO-HD Scan Converter

25 DVI Fiber Link Cable

10 1×2 DVI DA

4 17" TV Logic LCD Monitor HD/SD

4 60" Plasma Zenith 16:9

2 Sony BVW-65 Betacam SP Player

1 32×32 DVI Router Package

AUDIO

1 Digital Console Package including DiGiCo 112EX

PROCESSING/FX

2 Meyer Galileo 616 Processor

1 Meyer SIM System 3 Package

WIRELESS MICS

2 Shure UHF-R Wireless Combo Kit

8 Countryman E6 Lightweight Headset Mic for Shure Wireless

2 Helical Antenna System

MICROPHONES

1 Podium Kit

2 AKG C747 Shotgun/Low-profile Lectern Mic

1 Sennheiser Switched VO Mic

SPEAKER PACKAGE

24 L-Acoustics dV-DOSC Speaker

4 2 Mix Amp Rack

1 XTA Control Rack

4 L-Acoustics dV-DOSC Reversible Bumper

SUBWOOFERS

8 Meyer 700 HP Powered Subwoofer

DELAY SPEAKER PACKAGE

12 Meyer UPJ-1P Powered Speaker

ARCS FILL

12 ARCS Full Range Speaker

4 Clusters of 3 Arcs

4 2 Mix Amp Rack

1 XTA Control Rack

36 L-Acoustics dV-DOSC Full Range Speaker

6 Clusters of mains

6 2 Mix Amp Rack

2 XTA Control Rack

6 L-Acoustics dV-DOSC Reversible Bumper w/Flown Rigging Package

12 Meyer UPM-1P Compact Powered Speaker

4 Meyer UPM-1P Compact Powered Speaker

4 EV SxA360 12" Powered Speaker