Scharff Weisberg has teamed with projection designer Zachary Borovay to integrate video into two acclaimed Broadway productions, Lombardi and Elf. The relationship between Scharff Weisberg and Borovay goes back almost 10 years and includes Broadway productions such as Xanadu and To Be Or Not To Be as well as Peepshow in Las Vegas.
"The great thing about working with Scharff Weisberg's, Lars [Pedersen] and T.J. [Donoghue] is that they really collaborate with you on the design of the system. That's vital, especially when you're dealing with the unique challenges that both Lombardi and Elf posed," says Borovay.
Lombardi stars Dan Lauria as the Hall of Fame football coach and Judith Light as his wife. It is presented in the round at the Circle in the Square Theatre while Elf, based on the Will Ferrell movie of the same name, has been breaking box-office records at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre where it wrapped up its limited engagement on January 2.
For Lombardi, Borovay wanted to project images onto an oval, matte black stage that was admittedly, "not very projection-friendly," according to Scharff Weisberg director of technology, Lars Pedersen. "He needed projectors bright enough to handle that task which could be hung in an atypical fashion with the lens pointing straight down. Zak also required another set of projectors directed at screens hanging over the audience."
"I had to have projection systems for the floor of the stage and for the screens that were flexible enough to sync with the music and lighting," Borovay notes. "The content displayed is a mix of historical photos and footage edited together to help tell the story and add to the excitement: The Bears/Packers 'Big Game' climax takes place on the video screens and deck of the stage with footage edited to fit the dialogue of the show."
Borovay partnered with Scharff Weisberg to "come up with systems that gave us the brightest visuals possible at an affordable price point." The solution was twofold: a pair of Christie S+16 projectors suspended over the stage pointing down and edge-blended to create a single large image and two Barco R6+ projectors located behind the top row of seats on opposite sides of the theater projecting onto a pair of 11x4-foot screens.
"The deck of the stage has been treated to look like a chalkboard," Borovay points out. "It has lightboxes within it that illuminate Xs and Os. The scene where Lombardi explains a signature play comes to life with the lightboxes in the deck then the overhead projection turns into the play itself - it washes over Dan Lauria and the actor becomes part of the imagery."
The primary challenge for Elf was "projecting onto many different focal planes in the set and figuring out a way to minimize any issues with edge-blending," Borovay explains. "The concept of the design embraces rear projection but space limitations did not allow it. So we had to come up with a front-projection system that could paint every corner of the set with video."
The content displayed includes animated characters that interact with Buddy the Elf at the North Pole, Buddy's journey from the North Pole to New York City, and atmospheric 'sparklejollytwinklejingle' added to various New York settings. Content is projected onto four layers of portals in the North Pole that resemble snowy environments and even onto the show curtain.
The solution was two sets of projectors focused on the different planes: a Christie S+20 and a pair of Christie HD10Ks dual-converged for brightness and back-up purposes. "We used the Christie S+20 for its 4x3 aspect ratio and the Christie HD10Ks for 16x9 surfaces," Pedersen explains. "The combination of these three projectors allow us to hit all of the surfaces we need to hit."
The projectors are also housed on the balcony rail where the HD10Ks' compact footprint takes up less real estate than other possible choices.
"Lars and T.J. suggested stacking the 10Ks to create an image wide enough to cover the entire set so we didn't have to do edge-blending," Borovay notes. "Due to budgetary constraints, lighting designer Natasha Katz wasn't able to use as many front lights on the balcony rail as she would have liked, but by using the video system we're able to fill in gaps with projections to create a seamless blend of lighting and video."
Scharff Weisberg also furnished Lombardi and Elf with the latest Dataton 4.2 WATCHOUT media servers which are controlled by the shows' lighting consoles. "Watchout 4.2 has built-in MIDI functionality, so we no longer need to use a dedicated show control system as a go-between." Borovay points out. "We can achieve a cost savings and the system is actually more stable now."
In addition to hailing Scharff Weisberg's collaborative approach to problem-solving, Borovay also says, "when I rent equipment from Scharff Weisberg I always know it will work right out of the box- that hasn't always been true of other companies."
At Scharff Weisberg Tom Whipple was project manager for Lombardi with assistance from T.J. Donoghue who was project manager for Elf. The Dataton media server technicians for both shows were Raul Herrara and Alex Bright; the projectionist for both was Dennis Alfonso.
Scharff Weisberg and Video Applications are collaborating partners to clients requiring unique and imaginative solutions for their event, spectacle and large-meeting lighting, sound and video needs whether local, national or worldwide. For more information visit www.scharffweisberg.com or www.videoapps.com.