Scharff Weisberg Rocks Out With Blue Man Group

Scharff Weisberg continues its longstanding relationship with Blue Man Group by supporting the performers’ technology needs as they bring their talents to arena-sized venues and select theatres coast to coast with the How to Be a Megastar Tour 2.0

In the production, Blue Man Group downloads a tongue-in-cheek ‘how-to-manual’ on becoming a rock star and is joined by an eight-piece band. Subsequently, they take the audience through--step-by-step and song-by-song--every head-bobbing, fist-pumping moment of a real concert.

“The tour is a new version of the complex rock show that debuted a couple of years ago,” notes Blue Man Group artistic director Caryl Glaab. “We reworked a large majority of the show, expanded some concepts and remade every piece of video content. So this is a very different-looking show, from a video standpoint, from the original rock tour.”

Scharff Weisberg, which programmed Blue Man Group last tour and served as design consultants and system engineers for the sit-down shows, furnished How to Be a Megastar Tour 2.0 with three Green Hippo HD players, an iLite 6XP LED wall, Olite 510 LED strip displays, two Christie Roadster S+16 projectors, and a complement of Sony cameras.

The reconceived show marked a move from a Medialon controlled Doremi video playback system to the Hippo HD media-server system. “This was a big thing for us,” says Glaab. “We’d used servers before with mixed results. But working with Scharff Weisberg and using a system made for video made a huge difference--the results were amazing. The Hippo really made the process of making changes to the show and tweaking cues more streamlined than ever before. Merging the video cues into the grandMA lighting board and having the board operator handle all of the cues also made for a smoother, more efficient process.”

“Using the Hippo as the front end of the system optimized the content acquisition process” points out Scharff Weisberg project manager John Ackerman. “And combining video and lighting cues in one board without using a separate show control system and operator has tightened up the look of the show and created a more elegant system. The video in a Blue Man Group show is immersive; it’s more than just magnifying the staging of a song. It’s much more integrated.”

The LED wall and strip displays were “a bump up from what we used in the first tour,” Glaab reports. “We increased the resolution of both displays to give the video a crisper more detailed look.”

“At the last minute, when the tour started selling out, we needed to add an IMAG component that required two projectors, big screens and a system designed to easily incorporate them,” Glaab points out. “John and (system engineer) Barry Grossman devised a system to accommodate us a week before we started tech rehearsals. They created a system that didn’t feel like two IMAG screens sitting on the sides of the stage, allowing me to put live camera feeds as well as other show content on them, integrating them into he overall stage look.”

Scharff Weisberg’s two Christie S+16 projectors, placed stage left and stage right, surround the stage. For image capture, three Sony XC555 cameras are used by Blue Man Group on stage: One, with a 3mm wide-angle lens, is used as a “throat camera” while the other two are strapped to the back-pack rigs. Traditional image magnification is handled by an additional Sony DXC537 camera located in the front of house; a Sony DXC990 with Frezzi remote PTZ (pan-tilt-zoom) rig is used as a front of house “spy” camera. All video is fed to the projectors and LED wall over custom Belden/Scharff Weisberg cabling using Magenta Research video to CAT 5e converters via a 16x16 Magenta Research matrix.

Sean Cagney, Scharff Weisberg’s programmer for the show, was challenged by “all the scrolling text” in the content. “It is the most brutal type of video as it saws against the vertical refresh of video,” he explains. Cagney used his technical acumen to overcome the jittery nature of the scrolling text; some cues in the show have four such files played back simultaneously while running at near double speed pulling well over 100 megabytes per second off the RAID system in the Hippotizers. “The machines didn’t even bat an eye,” Cagney explains.

He notes that “we’re not throwing away any of the subtlety in the content by using media servers to play back Caryl and his very talented compositors’ masterful content. This isn’t video wallpaper. The video makes the crowd stand up, clap and scream. The entire premise of the show is first and foremost about the crowd being a part of a great rock show,” Cagney concludes.

Joe Volpe is Scharff Weisberg’s assistant project manager for the tour. Dan Bolland is the lighting designer for the tour and Patrick Brannon his programmer; the video road crew includes lead tech/crew chief Sean Kelly, projectionist/cameraman John David Williams, and Hippotizer tech Brandon Oosterhoff.

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