Nights To Remember At Kauffman Center

Walls of projections celebrated the debut of Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts last September in Kansas City, MO. Imagery was created by T2 in conjunction with Harvest Productions, two Kansas City firms that implemented an immersive wrap-around environment for 1,700 guests following the venue’s opening night performance.

The gala took place in The Grand Ballroom at Bartle Hall Convention Center, with kinetic imagery dancing on three walls, as well as onto the exterior of Kauffman Center. Four Christie Roadie HD+30K 3-chip DLP projectors double-stacked outside in an enclosure created the projections on the exterior of the building and completed the surround canvas of 25'-tall images. “There’s a fine line between being impressive and immersive, and not overwhelming the patrons with huge projections while they’re dining,” notes T2 creative director Travis Schlitter. “Like any artist given a canvas, we had to design for the proportions and parameters of the event,” adds Garrett Fuselier, T2’s experiential design director. “Our production partner, Harvest, partnered well with our team and was totally willing to work out of the box to make our projections look beautiful.”

T2 devised five vignettes, or performances, by leading local artists—a ballerina, cellist, contemporary vocalist, modern dancer, and percussionist—all shot with a high-speed camera at 2,000fps, to capture the desired movements. As T2 art director Claudia Chagüi explains, “Each vignette married an actual performance to a practical special effect, shot in camera, which ultimately was transformed into an animated graphic effect played back live during the dinner and choreographed to the band’s music. Each vignette also had its own color theme, reinforced by makeup and costume design.” For a seamless blend of live-action performances and animations, T2 transformed the practical special effects into programmatic graphic elements that emerged from the edges of the video. “We’re used to making animations and then hitting the render button,” says Fuselier. “But for the dinner, the particles on the walls were programmatic and existed only as code until the actual performance, and then reacted to the live music in the room. We used Cinder, a new type of programming language, which had the horsepower to do what we needed to do.”

A custom system, featuring desktop computer towers and a Korg MIDI controller, allowed the musicians playing during the dinner to control the particles flowing along the walls. “The program ran live and randomly, cueing the animation to take on a color code assigned to each vignette,” says Fuselier. Particles from the performers on one side of the room traveled down the adjacent walls and outside along the ribbed roof of the building, filling the exterior with light and patterns and “transferring energy from the performers to the performing arts center,” Fuselier explains. “It truly made the connection that the Kauffman Center is the new home for these performers,” adds Chagüi.

Ten Christie Digital Roadster S+18K-J projectors were hung on a T-shaped truss (three for each of the two 300'-long walls and an additional four, double-hung, for the shorter wall). “The final design for the projection system comprised three pairs of Christie 18K projectors on each of the long walls—18 panels that were roughly 15' wide and 25' tall,” says Alan Knutson, project manager for Harvest Productions, whose team also included Greg Turcotte, production sales, and Bill Hartnett, VP of sales and development. “The usable part of the image was actually about the middle third of the height of each projector. On the shorter wall, we doubled up the projectors and used a much larger portion of the image, played back at a higher resolution.” Image blending and switching between the 10 projectors was via a Vista Spyder 1608, which fed the images from Apple Mac Pros to the projectors via SDI at 720p, while a Sony d50 camera recorded and provided I-Mag for the entertainment. “We did use some of the Christie tools to get the images to line up,” Knutson adds. “Because the single, long truss was run down the center of the room, the projectors ended up slightly off center from the center of the image. We also had to make the edges line up relatively square so the area where two projected images lined up would appear square. Since the projectors on the shorter wall were doubled up, it took some extra time to get them lined up, and the truss that they were on was also in a position that was a compromise to stay out of the images on the long walls.”

Knutson adds that the biggest challenge was the budget. “The first stab at design was smaller projectors—Christie HD10 Mirage series—double-stacked with each projector lighting up three panels with lensing that would fall into a more efficient zoom range, not bending the outside portion of the image,” he says, noting that was too expensive a solution and caused issues for the interactive content playback. “We took a step back and looked at other options. Math-wise, the fixed .67 lenses allowed us to fill the wall, so we dropped the resolution down to a bit more of a manageable level and fit in the budget because the number of projectors dropped from 30 to 10. It also allowed the playback of T2’s interactive content to come from a single Mac Pro for each wall. We also were able to switch with a single Spider frame instead of two. It is interesting that the difference in resolution is not really noticeable, unless you happen to be standing two feet away from the wall and looking at the pixels. The higher resolution is really nice when you are putting up graphics or video that is intended to be presentation more than environmental.”

For the second night, T2 provided imagery for a more personal dining experience. “This time, there were no wall projections; everything was local and intimate,” says Schlitter. “We mapped projections onto 32 tables, strategically building animations around the place settings and centerpieces.” Ceiling-mounted High End Systems DL.2 and DL.3 fixtures were poised above each round table to display abstract imagery and changing colored light. “We designed and animated new graphic content and repurposed some of the video from the opening night gala,” says Chagüi, who created the content. “The body of the cello, the ballerina’s foot were recomposed in a kaleidoscopic kind of effect as pre-recorded Adobe After Effects animations.” The challenge for this experience was “to engage the guests with slower movements. We didn’t want people feeling uncomfortable or dizzy during dinner as the images changed,” notes Fuselier. “Even though it was a simple solution compared to the night before, it was still magical.”

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