After the past two years coping with the confined space of the Beacon Theater, followed by the out of the way Basketball City location, for 2014 the YouTube digital "Upfront" (formally called Brandcast) found itself within the spacious environs of the Theater at Madison Square Garden. That space provided the canvas for an innovative scenic design penned by the design team at Good Sense & Company, led by creative director Joshua Cicerone and head of design Chris Jones.
The resulting design, arrived at after much iteration, provided unique challenges for the production team with its reliance on techniques more likely to be seen on a Broadway stage than a one-off 90-minute presentation for an audience of 2,200 New York advertisers and agencies.
"The new location and a direct line with the client's content creation team allowed us focus on the overall look and come up with a fresh design that makes the MSG Theater more dynamic," says Jared Siegel, Co-Founder and Production Director at Brooklyn-based Good Sense & Company. "Our goal was to combine impressive LED, projection mapping and automation using rotating and tracking scenic units as a great way to reveal performers."
To handle the technical requirements for the lighting and visuals, Good Sense turned to WorldStage Inc and Senior Project Manager, Josh Perlman, who returned for the third year in a row. Siegel credits WorldStage for their willingness to "roll with the punches on a show that underwent many changes along the way," Siegel says. "I think we had 16 or so rounds of budgets. WorldStage was always very patient and accommodating."
According to Perlman, WorldStage began working with Good Sense some four months prior to the Brandcast, reviewing each design and working out the complicated technical systems required to support them. "This year the design introduced a significant projection tracking element, which added a bit of complexity to the show," he says. "To make it even more fun, the tracking pieces, when rotated, revealed an LED video wall on the reverse side of the dimensional projection surfaces. This provided the best of both worlds - punchy LED visuals and sculptural projection mapping with all visuals tracking the movement"
The movement of the four large scenic pieces allowed presenters, guests and performers to enter and leave the stage area in dramatic fashion while keeping the visuals flowing in an uninterrupted stream as the projections remained in view throughout the rotational movement. ShowMotion was again tasked with handling the scenery and automation. Their extensive Broadway experience gave them an edge, however Brandcast required them to install and test intricate automation in just a few (long) days, while normally they would get weeks to prepare for a show. Luckily the expertise of Ashley Bishop (Senior Project Manager at ShowMotion) provided her team with the focus to execute a flawless show.
"Our design required the projected images to follow the screens as they opened up," says Siegel. "Then, we combined those visuals with the big "hero" screen, which used Barco C5 LED, as well as 9mm LED for the other scenic units. They looked great and worked well together.
"The screens had a very glacier-like appearance with multiple protruding planar surfaces, but the LED on the back was very flat," he explains. "Adding the tracking of the projections really changed things a lot. It required a lot of time and programming, but it was very much worth it because it created a great effect - as if the imagery was painted on the surface of the scenery."
Siegel notes that, "generating content pixel maps for a set like this is always a challenge. They need to be very precise and they create very large files, which makes content coordination tricky. For example, one performance featured a dancer on stage interacting with an animated, hand-drawn partner who was flung in the air for quite an amazing effect across the screens. That sequence alone was very complicated and it was one of many."
To support the multitude of content and display requirements, WorldStage deployed a veritable mountain of technology. The main backgrounds and show content played off ten d3 Technologies' media servers (primary and back ups), which fed all the destinations. The d3s and all the other playback sub-systems were routed through five Vista Systems' Spyder X20 units. "Everything worked just great," Siegel reports.
The image tracking function was supported by a custom app created by the WorldStage Integration team and kept the visuals glued to the projection screens no matter where and how they moved.
Perlman notes that in addition to the major screen switching elements, WorldStage provided a 7-camera live video shoot during the Brandcast, switched through the companies large Ross HD rig. "This coverage was switched to IMAG feeds as well as to records, which were cut down and posted quickly on YouTube after the event concluded," he explains.
"Let's not forget that WorldStage also supplied the lighting for Chris Dallos' lighting design, and that was great, too," Siegel says.
At WorldStage Mike Alboher was the EIC who oversaw the entire system: d3 integration, Spyder implementation, Ross Video switching and video transmission. Raul Herrera was the lead programmer with Alex Bright the server tech and projection warper. Programmer Bruno Fare and system tech Jason Spencer commanded the Spyder X20s. Mike Naylor is the Ross engineer.
Sound Designer Dave Ferdinand (One Dream Sound) had his own set of challenges to overcome. Siegel originally wanted to use the main array at the theatre, but the design called for a stage that extended into the audience and the large rotating projection screens that occasionally blocked the main array. Ferdinand needed to add a second vocal array downstage, but with all the front projection he needed something with a small silhouette. He chose Meyer Sound's MINA arrays, which offered the punch he needed in a tiny package.
Good Sense & Company is a Brooklyn-based agency that designs and manages live events for some of the biggest and most enterprising arts and entertainment groups, charities, corporations and private interests around the world.
WorldStage Inc., the company created by the merger of Scharff Weisberg Inc and Video Applications Inc, continues a thirty-year legacy of providing clients the widest variety of entertainment technology coupled with conscientious and imaginative engineering services. WorldStage provides audio, video and lighting equipment and services to the event, theatrical, broadcast and brand experience markets national