Earlier this year Atlanta History Center opened “Cyclorama: The Big Picture,” featuring the fully-restored cyclorama painting, The Battle of Atlanta. Longer than a football field and standing 49 feet tall, the unique 132-year-old hand-painted artwork is one of only two cycloramas in the US – a rare survivor of a type of spectacular, immersive public art display that crowds marveled at in the 19th century.
Now, 21st century crowds are marveling once again at the cyclorama onto which content from Cortina Productions is projected for the first time. Atlanta-based Communications and Entertainment, Inc. (CEI), a national design build AV integrator and contractor servicing thousands of clients nationwide, performed the AV design build for the new space housing the historic treasure. CEI selected Alcorn McBride A/V Binloop HD systems and a V16Pro-S show controller to meet the audio and video needs of the innovative 13-minute show that brings the giant canvas to new life.
“The cyclorama is a one-of-a-kind installation – it’s probably the only one in the world like it,” says Terry Frye, Director of Engineering at CEI. “It has a very impressive ‘wow’ factor, almost like a theme park ride.”
Painted by a team of 17 German artists, the cyclorama debuted in 1886 in Minneapolis. It originally depicted the historically accurate Union victory, but when the painting relocated to Atlanta six years later it was modified to show a Confederate win that would please southern audiences. The changes were reversed in the 1930s.
Now, visitors enter the cyclorama rotunda through an entry tunnel that passes underneath a diorama, which fills the center of the space and appears to merge with the sides of the canvas. They ride an escalator to a 15-foot-high viewing platform, which gives them a 360º view of the painting and the theatrical presentation displayed by five edge-blended projectors and enhanced by 16.1 surround sound. Most of the projected content is displayed on the vast sky portions of the painting. Additional exhibitions in the venue explore the story of the painting and changing perspectives of the Civil War.
“Our biggest challenge was that construction was going on right up until opening,” recalls Val Dempsey, CEO of CEI. “We could only work at night when the construction and lighting crews were gone, and we only got a chance to test the systems on the day of the VIP opening. Alcorn McBride is a great company known for its world-class equipment. We needed tried-and-true gear – that’s why both CEI and the center’s independent consultant, Bill Thrasher, who was very familiar with Alcorn McBride gear from when he worked for Disney, endorsed Alcorn McBride for the cyclorama.”
To display the new projected content “five extremely bright Digital Projection laser projectors break the massively wide video into five segments with overlapping pixels for the edge blend,” explains Frye. “We needed two A/V Binloop HD systems to sync the five videos and 19 audio tracks.”
A touchpanel interface, with one-button operation, triggers the V16Pro-S, which starts the show’s audio and video and cues the rotunda’s lighting system, including gobo effects. While operators manually commence the show at their discretion as visitors arrive, show control could be fully automated in the future should the need arise.
“Cyclorama: The Big Picture” has been performing with “no hitches” since its debut last February, Frye reports. “Everything has been very reliable, and Alcorn McBride’s support has been outstanding. We don’t work normal business hours, and Alcorn McBride is always there for us, even on weekends.”