One of the highpoints at E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) in Los Angeles in June was Microsoft’s press event launching new games for their Xbox, including “The Beatles Rock Band,” with real Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, as well as Yoko Ono, on hand for the fun (and games!). “This is a focused communications moment for Microsoft,” says Manny Treeson, who served as LD for the event, which included a live broadcast on G4 as well as presentation to thousands of members of the press, from bloggers to network news. “The goal was to tell the story of the Microsoft vision for gaming in the coming year and create excitement for new technologies coming down the road,” says Treeson. “There was a certain amount of celebrity factor, not only with the Beatles but also Steven Spielberg who was on hand to speak about Project Natal, a new system that tracks players' voices and body movements.”
Working with event producers Zed Ink (led by creative directors Julia Zarro and Erin Hearne), for the visual side of the presentation, Treeson notes: “Lighting and media had to create a picture that would look good on TV as well as for 3,000 guests in the room. We went for a balanced, layered look.” To make the visual statement, they opted for a WinVision 1875 (18.75mm) LED display module, rented via Chaos Visual Productions. Drew Findley collaborated with Treeson on the system design and did the media programming on PRG’s MBox Extreme media servers, with content created primarily by both Treeson and Findley, as well as various sources including the Xbox division of Microsoft and Rob Jalil of C-Seven, which had animation teams in London and LA, allowing for almost 24-hour delivery of new files.
The media was programmed on an MA Lighting grandMA console with a PRG Virtuoso consol used for the lighting, and programmed by Jason Badger. There were six of the MBox media servers (three primary and three for backup for full redundancy) rented from PRG, while the lighting gear came from Illumination Dynamics. Two of the MBox media servers were used for the images on the WinVision, with the third one on side and center 25’ HD screens with graphic animations.
“The sensibility and look of the lighting and video helped to communicate each brand,” notes Treeson. “Our goal was to make the stage morph into an identity of their game world and use the game’s palette in terms of tone and color, as seamlessly and flexibly as possible.” As Xbox is an urban, high-tech brand, some of the design elements were textured like rusted metal, yet polished for effect, and Treeson used a grid of Mole Richardson 5K SkyPans tungsten flood lights (lamped at 2kW) behind the video to push through. “They are old-school film lights,” he says, to add to the grungy yet glossy, architectural look of the set elements. “There were a lot of circles in the design,” Treeson adds. “Kris Bast, the production designer, layered everything to give us a fantastic pallet to work with.”
Additional fixtures included Martin Professional MAC 2kW washes used as back light, with the addition of four Lycian 1290 followspots as the sole key light, “Similar to an awards show,” says Treeson, who wanted to see “crisp people against the set, without a full front light system washing everything out.” At times, the spots drop away and the whole picture can be seen. For special moments, such as the reveal of an Audi R8, part of the WinVision tracked off stage to reveal the car.
“I am really proud of the entire team,” says Treeson, who notes as an aside that there were a few Carnegie Mellon grads involved: himself, then Findlay and Hearne, who attended later than Treeson. “The real success,” Treeson adds, “is how the team worked together to create specific images There was real glue between the departments, which allowed us to create a seamless design with the scenic, lighting, and video elements.”