As the leading global production services solution provider PRG is continually working on some of the most creatively challenging projects; developing the next generation of technology and redefining the industry as well as our company. Keep track of it all in our news updates and case studies. We will also be posting articles and videos featuring some of our industry's compelling creative thinkers; designers and luminaries.

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PRG Surrounds Oblivions Sky Tower

For Universal’s new sci-fi movie Oblivion, starring Tom Cruise, Cinematographer Claudio Miranda, ASC, and Director Joseph Kosinski filmed many of the visual effects live in-camera rather than using blue screens. For the scenes in the “Sky Tower”, a set built almost entirely of floor to ceiling windows and highly reflective surfaces, Miranda wanted a 270° sky surrounding the set so that he could shoot in almost any direction. Using on-set projection and capturing the sky and clouds in-camera allowed Kosinski, Miranda, and the actors to truly inhabit Production Designer Darren Gilford’s stunning futuristic set.

The projection solution provided by PRG included 11 Mbox Extreme media servers and 21 Barco FLM-HD20 20K projectors to cover the 494’ wide by 42’ tall projection screen. The final resolution was 18,288 x 1,920 pixels and consisted of 62 synched layers of 1080p video. PRG Project Manager Zach Alexander, the Media Operator on the film, created a seamlessly blended image using the Mbox media servers to control cloudscape footage shot with three cameras over two–three weeks on top of a volcano in Hawaii. Alexander used the PRG V676 control console to call up the sunrise, full day, sunset, or night sky options. During filming Kosinski and Miranda selected the sky looks by viewing and selecting the video clips on the V676’s Media Window, prior to shooting. The front projected sky also provided almost 95% of the lighting used for many of the Sky Tower scenes. Alexander operated a separate system for the smaller “Cloud Tower” set with a PRG V476 control console, two Mbox media servers, and six Barco 20K projectors.

PRG Lighting Programmer Philip Galler controlled a wide variety of LED lights that were installed in Cruise’s bubble ship and in the Sky and Cloud Tower sets, along with banks of Kino Flo fluorescent fixtures. PRG Bad Boy Spot luminaires were used to simulate shafts of sunlight for the bubble ship cockpit sequences.

Project Contact: Brian Edwards

Additional Information: 

Tom Cruise Discusses Oblivion on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Film And Digital Times Magazine feature on Oblivion

Oblivion: Universal ©2013 / Bill Dobbs
Universal ©2013 / Bill Dobbs

Photo Credit: Universal ©2013 / Bill Dobbs, Universal ©2013 / David James

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How To Train Your Dragon

Projection Reaches New Heights with High-Flying Dragons

The immersive environment of DreamWorks’ How To Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular pushes projection technology. Not wanting to rest on their laurels, Global Creatures, the masterminds behind the #1 grossing world tour of 2010—Walking with Dinosaurs, are once again amazing audiences and pushing the entertainment technology envelope. Having teamed up with DreamWorks Animation, they are now sending dragons soaring through arena skies and immersing audiences in the mythical Viking world of DreamWorks’ How To Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular. Based upon DreamWorks' Academy Award®-nominated film, How to Train Your Dragon, the production has the largest number of animatronics ever to tour the globe, including the beloved dragon Toothless, who weighs over 7,500 pounds and flies over 1.2 miles during a performance. That is equivalent to having a Range Rover soaring through the arena.

Four years in the making, the show maximizes every inch of performance space as dragons soar overhead and effects encompass the arena including large-scale cinematic projections. To engage the audience, Director Nigel Jamieson and the design team have carefully balanced the amazing creature technology with production values of equally impressive scope to let the dragons inhabit a believable world. Sonny Tilders, the Creative Director, and his team at the Creature Technology Company, the animatronics arm of Global Creatures, produced 23 dragons representing 12 different species, some with wingspans of up to 46-feet.

Because of the turning radius needed by the dragons, the entire arena floor is utilized, which has pushed all the technology in terms of quantity, placement, and coverage. In order to create a suitable stage environment for creatures of such scale the Production Designer Peter England; Projection and Costume Designer Dan Potra; Lighting Designer Philip Lethlean, and Sound Designer Peter Hylenski have designed richly integrated production elements on an unprecedented scope.

One scene that really exemplifies the beautiful integration of the various production values is when the dragons and actors dive underwater. “Everyone talks about the underwater scene,” notes Production Manager David Wright. “From the production end it is one of those scenes that is very satisfying in how the audience experiences it; it is the magic at work. Nigel [Jamieson] and the designers are talented illusionists; the way the lighting and the video work makes that magic happen. In the underwater scene there is fantastic lighting, amazing video and sound effects, and then we have eight bubble machines around the perimeter of the show floor. Bubbles filled with helium rise up to the ceiling. It is a wonderful moment in the show; an absolutely lovely scene.

Integration on Dragons really was literally a top-down endeavor explains Wright. “It is hard to take one department and look at their individual challenges; everyone had to really embrace the fact that it is an integrated show. When we trim A/V it has a cascade effect. Everyone has to trim with the tracks; all choices were determined by consideration of all the departments. That was an important part of the process in planning the show down in Sydney. It was definitely a big benefit to have one company, PRG, supplying all the production packages. As I said the integration factor for this show is key to its success. The fact that they had an overview of all the departments alleviated a lot of concern that the left hand didn't know what the right hand was doing. Everyone working together has made it so much easier, especially as changes or adjustments needed to be made; PRG can work as a single group to make those adjustments.

There are two rigging systems on Dragons, one is the first-ever touring flight track system, which weighs over 28-tons, for the animatronic dragons. The other rig is a static conventional truss system, for the production elements, that has a stage right and stage left truss that go the entire length of the show floor with a cross run of truss at mid-arena that runs between them. “The rigging required a lot of focus at the start,” comments Wright. “PRG's first task was the rigging and they delivered a system that has really worked for all the departments; it is the building block for the whole show. From there they then integrated all the lights, sound, video, and special effects packages from that. The integration on all of that through PRG has been great.

The primary challenge for the entire team—designers, puppeteers, and  technicians—was figuring out how to stay within the roof weight limits.  “That was something that all the departments really had to address and it  took a lot of work to get it down to weight and keep the integrity of the  show,” describes Wright. “When we originally put the show together in  Sydney we were at 98-tons (196,000 lbs), then we got down to 84-tons  (168,000 lbs), which was still too much for the arenas in North America  so we had to cut back again to make it fit. The guys back at PRG were constantly coming up with ideas of how to combine stuff so that we had less weight; in projection alone they cut three tons for us by changing the hanging method. Right now we are at 153,000 lbs and nothing was lost that affects the show.

Cutting down weight and fitting into the crowded rigging meant that the projection—a central aspect of the Dragons show—would need to be carefully laid out. Projection is the primary scenic element and is at the heart of both transforming the arena and transporting the audience to the Viking world. The projection spans more than 20,000 square feet throughout the entire arena with an upstage center projection wall; custom built out of a perforated sheet metal that is equivalent to nine movie screens combined. There are wings on either side of the center wall, which are built up over the seats. The production also covers the full arena floor with its own flooring and ground rows to create an enormous projection surface. PRG Nocturne provided the video playback system and the projection system. The show has 26 Barco FLM R22 20K projectors. Playback is handled on three PRG Mbox EXtreme media servers providing content—two main and one backup.

When you are projecting video over an entire arena floor plus the entire surface of the set and wings into the seats, it takes a lot time trying to find places that will work for the physicality of the image,” explains David Lemmink, PRG Nocturne General Manager & Director of Engineering. “There was a lot of math involved to figure out all of the projector distances. Adding to the challenge was finding the positions in the crowded rig; we are literally within inches of other devices. We had to have enough throw distance but not be obstructed by the rig or any of the objects that are flying through the area.” Both Wright and Lemmink noted that obviously there are times when the dragons do cross paths with the projection beam but quickly point out that if an actual dragon flew through the air it would make a shadow.

The final positioning has the projectors shooting down onto the arena floor actually mounted straight down. Damian Walsh, Operations Manager at PRG Nocturne, notes, “We worked with a lot of people at Barco to make sure that this was a feasible possibility and to clear the mounting method with them. We knew that lamp flicker would be imminent to some extent, so we started with brand new lamps for everything. They are now running the show going on a six-lamp rotation; we rotate six lamps ever 200 hours to keep the overall brightness of the show at a good level. Having the support of Barco, like we have, has been invaluable.

The bulk of the projectors are hung on the stage right and stage left trusses projecting onto the floor. There is another set of projectors that hang mid-arena, about where the scoreboard might be, that project onto the front of the set itself. The side wings are projected onto from the ends of the left and right trusses on either side. Lemmink points out, “Every position has at least two projectors. For some areas there are an overlap of up to four projectors. Everything is edge-blended so that it appears seamless between the quadrants on both the floor and on the set itself. Then there are two HD rasters—floor and set—that are played back by the Mboxes and are synchronized with the soundtrack and dialog. Obviously to do a raster of the size of an entire arena floor, the projection distance becomes extremely critical especially since we are projecting straight down so we are limited by the size of the image that we can create, which essentially required us to break the floor raster into six specific regions that each overlapped. Each one of those uses the extreme spec of the FLM 22K projector. In other words, we are about at worst-case as wide as you can go with those projectors.

Walsh describes the issues with selecting lens. “We have three double-stacked projectors shooting straight down for a total of six projector stacks; three on each side. It took a couple of weeks of finding the correct math to get these images stacked correctly. The projector trims at 13m – 17m (42.65-feet – 55.77-feet) to the edge of the lens; the trim changes depending on the venue. We are using a fixed lens, which is the worst thing possible to actually have to be using, but with the trim height that we are playing at we couldn’t go to the first zoom lens. Everything has to be digitally zoomed inside the machine, which of course can cause problems itself. But that’s why we have the genius of the amazing projectionists we have out there. We sent two of our best projectionists—Justin McLean and Drew Welker.

Walsh continues, “The higher trim works better for everybody, because 17m falls into what the native throw of the lens is. That’s why we used the 4:3 projectors instead of HD projectors because it’s more of a square surface than a rectangular surface; 4:3 just made more sense. Since the projectors for the floor are stacked we needed to get the image to lens as close enough together as we can, one is upside down and one’s right way up to get the lenses as close together as possible.

For the upstage center screen a standard shooting style is employed with four projectors, two each that are double stacked to hit the center screen. “This was redesigned because the projectionists weren’t happy with the brightness of the image that they were getting to work with every day,” comments Walsh. “When we used a fixed lens it was somewhat fish-eyed and it’s got the biggest, widest aperture in the whole suite of lensing. So we ended up going to the shortest zoom lens that Barco makes for the FLM projector; it’s like a 1.4.

Having addressed the challenges and stretched the boundaries of the Barco projectors, Walsh concludes. “We are all really proud here at PRG Nocturne to be part of this production. It was amazing to work with Global Creatures. They have a very clear vision of what they want to achieve and it’s exciting to have a client with a great dream but is also realistic about attaining it. They were extremely flexible, willing to compromise, yet knew how to never compromise the show. The whole group was just phenomenal and I can't say enough about David Wright; each different venue poses a whole new set of challenges and I know he is the right man to handle them.

After a hugely successful run in both Australia and New Zealand, How To Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular flew into the United States on the North American leg of the tour. The show's worldwide tour is produced by RZO Dragon Productions and exclusively promoted by S2BN Entertainment.

Creative Credits:
Nigel Jamieson: Stage Adaptation & Director
Sonny Tilders: Creative Director
Peter England: Production Designer
Gavin Robins: Movement Director & Associate Director
Dan Potra: Costume and Projection Designer
Philip Lethlean: Lighting Designer
Peter Hylenski: Sound Designer

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L-Arc-en-Ciels 20th Anniversary at Madison Square Garden

When the Japanese group L’Arc-en-Ciel became the first Japanese band to headline at New York City’s Madison Square Garden the production team turned to Production Resource Group, LLC (PRG) to provide a complete production solution. PRG provided lighting, video, audio, and staging, as well as technical crew for the international concert event that was simulcast to Japan.

Production Manager Tom Hudak’s decision to partner with PRG was based on two key elements—ability to supply the entire package and in-house expertise across multiple disciplines. “The key production challenge was installing a system that we had never seen before in a limited amount of time,” explained Hudak. “In terms of coordination it was much easier working with one company.”

To ensure a smooth load-in on a tight schedule at Madison Square Garden, PRG provided several of their proprietary products, which are designed to address the challenges of live entertainment events. The L’Arc-en-Ciel show marked the debut of PRG’s Rolling Deck. The portable decks are engineered for rapid deployment and they can be easily repositioned and reconfigured. The design is based on a standard 4-foot x 8-foot (1.22-meter x 2.44-meter) platform. The Rolling Deck system uses quick lock-in legs with heavy-duty casters so the stage can be quickly assembled and rolled into place in the arena. For L’Arc-en-Ciel the mainstage was 48-foot deep x 48-foot wide and it also had an 8-foot deep x 88-foot wide downstage thrust. There were also two 16-foot x 32-foot wings for the backline equipment and the monitor consoles.

Hudak was pleased with the speed of the stage assembly; especially when it went up in even less time than planned. “The new PRG stage was a massive advantage,” he said. “It’s very well engineered and it went together beautifully. They were able to put the whole mainstage up in just over an hour. It was astounding.”

The PRG Rolling Deck system is packed with features that make it both a safe and an efficient staging option. It uses an extruded aluminum frame design with a plywood top over an aluminum skin. This design provides a Class-A fire rating to the deck. All the platforms Roto-Lock from underneath to quickly and easily lock together large stage decks. The sturdy castered legs are available in 4’, 5’, 6’ and 8’ heights so unstable adjustable legs are not needed. And, a heavy-duty threaded-rod leveling feature engineered into the casters allows for precise leveling of the assembled stage deck.

The heavy-duty legs, which easily lock into place with a slip pin that requires no tool, are available in either a straight or bent version. The bent legs provide conflict-free joining of platforms during fast reconfigurations. The platforms are placed on legs fitted with either single, double, or quad mounting pin nodes for joining Rolling Deck sections. This innovative mounting pin node means that extraneous legs are removed from the set-up without compromising safety or stability. This unique leg system also minimizes the crew needed for installation and repositioning. The system also uses diagonal supports, which are all the same length to help avoid time-consuming sorting and to guarantee fast, accurate, and safe assembly.

For the large video walls in the L’Arc en Ciel design, the production chose PRG Nocturne V-28 LED Video Modules for its 28mm resolution, 30% transparency, and easy install. A total of 1,680 V-28 modules were used to create the screens which included two 29-foot wide x 22-foot high downstage LED video walls; a 41-foot wide x 22-foot high center upstage video wall; and two 20-foot wide x 22-foot high upstage side walls. “I was very impressed with the V-28 screens, they just blow the competition away; especially in terms of brightness and how fast they go up,” described Hudak.

Designed for use with a purpose-built quick-deployment touring frame, the V-28’s modular design makes the product lighter and easier to hang, providing rapid install and efficient disassembly. Available in different panel sizes, the PRG Nocturne Touring Frame allows for the creation of customized LED video configurations. Every V-28 LED video module is precisely color calibrated for accurate module-to-module color matching to ensure a superior image every time.

Power and data distribution for the band’s Madison Square Garden concert was managed by the PRG Series 400® Power and Data Distribution System. The Series 400 system saved the production time during load-in as well as significantly reduced the possible points of failure throughout the distribution system by cutting the need for the numerous additional opto-splitters and mergers required in conventional distribution products.

“This was a very high profile show for the band and technically it was quite challenging on such a tight schedule,” said Hudak. “But we made the right decisions, using PRG for the entire production package. Everything was handled well and the production came together the way it was supposed to.”

PRG continued to support the L’Arc-en-Ciel tour on their European and Asian dates.

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Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark Takes Entertainment Technology To A New Level

Broadway’s Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark is a massive technological achievement that required both meticulous engineering and the development of new technologies to create unprecedented production effects. From the installation in the theatre, which required extensive renovation to receive the show, to intricate coordination between the lighting, video and automation systems, the technologies developed for Spider-Man will no doubt be utilized in future productions.

PRG supplied and integrated the lighting, audio, video and automation systems, as well as engineered and built the massive scenery and supervised the extensive renovations made to the theatre. Essential to the integration of the technologies were several PRG proprietary products, including the Mbox Extreme® v3 Media Server, the V676® Lighting Control Console, PRG’s Stage Command® System (SCS) and the Commander™ Motion Control Console as well as the Series 400® Power and Data Distribution system. In addition to the core features of these products, PRG developed new features, which have been permanently incorporated into the products for future productions.

For all of the technical departments, the scale of the systems was the primary challenge. “Spider-Man’s biggest challenge was really just sheer size,” said Production Sound Engineer Simon Matthews. “The audio system is 50% larger than any other Broadway show.” For the main audio control, PRG supplied a Meyer/LCS CueConsole 2, used in conjunction with Meyer/LCS D-Mitri Digital Audio processors. Three Avid Digidesign Profile consoles handle additional audio mixing and routing. The audio system sends SMPTE triggers to the PRG V676® lighting console to trigger the video system and it receives MIDI from the V676® as a DMX channel to trigger audio cues from lighting. The centerpiece of the sound system is the Meyer D-Mitri mixing system, which has a very large input/output set up, 144 in x 144 out. “We aren’t limited; each speaker can essentially get its own mix,” said Matthews.

Spider-Man also has Broadway’s largest wireless RF system, which runs 100 wireless frequencies on a daily basis. “This system includes RF microphones; god mics; in-ear monitors for the aerialists; walkie-talkies; wireless intercoms; and then a whole slew of 2.4 GHz for all of the standard access points for control networks,” explained Matthews. “Lighting uses quite a lot of wireless for control and there is wireless in some of the props.”

PRG also provided a closed circuit video (CCTV) package in conjunction with a redundant intercom system for all of the stage managers, automation operators, orchestral performers and anyone who needed to be able to see what was happening during the intricate production. The 45-camera system handles the cueing and coordination of the orchestra, housed in two separate rooms below the stage, as well as providing needed life-safety support for both the scenic automation system and performer flying rigs.

The task of lighting Spider-Man as he scales walls and flies through the air fell to Lighting Designer Don Holder. “When you go through the show scene by scene, there are about 58 individual scenic set ups. Nearly every piece of scenery had built-in lighting and then there were all the moving parts and all the performers flying above the stage, above the audience, all needed to be lit. It was very complicated to say the least,” said Holder. PRG provided a package that included more than 1,800 focusable fixtures, 157 automated fixtures, 554 LED fixtures and over ¼ mile of linear LEDs.

The control solution had to provide seamless integration of the lighting and video during programming and performances. Both the Video Programmer Phil Gilbert and the Automated Lighting Programmer Rich Tyndall used the PRG V676® Lighting Control Console and while each programmer had his own console, the consoles were networked together and utilized the same show file. The V676® has a feature called partitioning that allowed the two programmers to assign a specific set of channels of fixtures to each individual console, so they never interfered with each other. Gilbert used the V676® to control the Mbox media servers, and Tyndall used a second V676® to control all the automated lighting in the show.

For the power and data distribution needs of the automated lighting system, Production Electrician Randy Zaibek is using PRG’s Series 400 Power and Data Distribution System. “It has been invaluable over the long haul,” said Zaibek. “With the amount of changes and shifting that we had to do in terms of universes and power; I didn’t have to run any extra data lines to any position thanks to the flexibility of the Series 400 system. I could easily just go back and re-port any universe to any location.”

Essential to the lighting design was addressing the complication presented by the overhead flying. Holder and programmer Tyndall had to devise new methods of lighting performers who perform in mid-air literally anywhere in the theatre. The lighting rig is trimmed on stage at over 40’ because the fixtures must be positioned above the fly wires. The action takes place all over the theatre, upstage to downstage, left to right, from onstage to the balcony, so it is a completely three-dimensional environment. The traditional followspot positions in the theatre wouldn’t work because the followspots had to reach from one end of the theatre to the other, so new followspot perches were installed.

“I think of the followspots as the first layer of the flying lighting. They can follow the flying anywhere in the theatre and they were incredibly helpful,” explained Holder. “The second layer involved tracking the flights with automated lights using positioning data received from the flying system and finally we put in the infrastructure so that the entire space was illuminated. In the end most of the flying sequences use a combination of all three techniques and I think the results were pretty successful.”

“At one point PRG was sending trucks everyday to handle changes and adjustments being made in the theatre,” commented Holder. “PRG was really great about it. I think they were very supportive; I needed their backup and they gave it to me.”

Scenic Designer George Tsypin, a trained architect, is an opera designer whose inventive scenery has made him world-renowned. Spider-Man’s Technical Director Fred Gallo, also PRG President, Scenic Technologies, noted, “PRG worked with George for the longest time, coming up with ideas and different ways of doing things; we had to actually invent ways of automating and engineering scenery that had never been done before.”

Among the highly articulated scenic pieces PRG engineered, the Chrysler Building, which reaches out from the stage and unfolds into the audience, is particularly remarkable. In its hanging (stored) position, it is pointing vertically straight down and folded in half. As it flies in, it actuates and opens to a total length of 50’ in a horizontal position and it extends over the fourth row of the audience. Adding to the effect of the web-slinger’s bird’s-eye view, the stage floor rises up on an angle, revealing lightboxes built-in to the ramps that are digitally printed with stylized Art Deco building elements. Associate Scenic Designer Rob Bissinger explained, “That particular scene shifts the audience’s perspective so they view the stage as if they are standing on top of the Chrysler Building looking down onto the street, it is absolutely breathtaking.”

In Tsypin’s design, even scenery that at first-look seems straightforward is not what it appears. “For me, one of the most successful and magical elements, scenically, are the City Legs,” said Bissinger. “We have four sets of legs in the show, which are large panels with city graphics printed on the front that move in and out and also light up in different colors. Each panel moves independently and is able to not only track side to side but also tilt up to 45º, which gives us these sweeping cityscapes. The effortless way these legs move and the lightness in which they have been engineered to me is nothing short of a miracle.”

“We tried a lot of different techniques to varying levels of success and then finally the engineers at PRG came up with this kind of internal web-like structure, that would actually help keep the legs plumb and square even as they tilted and went off their center of gravity,” explained Bissinger. “As these web frames inside the legs catch little bits of light, they give them an internal life and an internal structure that is both Spider-Man-like and architectural. It was a really great thing to be able to work with an engineering team that also understands the beauty of the visuals, of the artistic impact of what their engineering is doing. And that was something that I found very unique to PRG.”

For the ‘Bouncing off the Walls’ scene, PRG determined that carbon fiber would be an ideal material. “We needed frames and support for scenic pieces that had to have high strength and low weight,” explained Mark Peterson, PRG Project Manager, Scenic Technologies. “We explored many different options and ended up working a lot with carbon fiber. It has the rigidity of steel, but is lighter than aluminum.” Scenic panels representing Peter’s bedroom walls, 18’Wx14’H, were fabricated using carbon fiber tubing and covered in spandex. For the Manhattan apartment, carbon fiber frames with rare earth magnets were used to quickly assemble the walls for the scene.

For the stage floor ramps that double as lightboxes, PRG designed custom LED fixtures. When not lit, the stage deck is black, but when lit and raised at an angle, the floor becomes part of the skyscrapers set. “The Plexiglas tops are digitally printed on the underside in blacks and grays,” noted Peterson. “There was no real depth to be able to diffuse incandescent lighting properly and there would be too much heat. So we decided to design our own version of a white LED board, which let us mount the boards into different configurations to fit the trapezoidal lightboxes. We provided 250 LED dimmers to deal with the enormous amount of circuits needed for the whole floor. All together, we have about 9,000 LED boards in the floor ramps.”

The ramp construction allowed for intricate articulation when they were raised up. The trapezoidal pieces are 37’ long and 12’ wide on the narrow, downstage side and approximately 16’ wide on the upstage end. All of the stage ramps are hinged on the downstage line. The center ramp has an additional ramp built into it that can go up another 14’. This added articulation reinforces the illusion of forced perspective that is used throughout the scenic design.

Gallo is particularly proud of the solution PRG engineered to meet the challenge of the speed required when moving the ramps. The stage ramps actuate up and down; going up to a maximum height of 14’ with a speed capacity from 0’ to 14’ in under four seconds. Said Gallo, “Since the ramps had to move really fast, a hydraulic system was deemed the only sensible way to go. We put in a hydraulic pump room specifically for this show and then plumbed it all with steel pipe rather than hoses, because of the amount of oil that had to be pumped around the building. This is the largest hydraulic automation system on Broadway.”

Tsypin’s design called for three scenic elevators downstage, where the theatre’s orchestra pit was located. However, the pit wasn’t deep enough to accommodate the scenic lifts. “To put in the three elevators, we had to dig out the pit another seven feet,” said Gallo. “The problem was that we were on New York City granite; bedrock.

It took six weeks with heavy machinery to excavate deep enough. We started with jack hammers; then we brought in a specialty hydraulic robot that jack hammered on its own; when the rock got too hard, we brought in crews trained in digging subways, who drilled holes and used a hydraulic splitter. Then we poured concrete to create a sub-base to put in the three lifts.”

Two PRG Commander consoles are used to control the automation effects, one for scenery in the air and one for deck effects. They control 145 different automation effects in the production, including PRG’s proprietary Stage Command System (SCS) winches and other automation devices. To put this in perspective, a typical Broadway musical has 15-20 automation effects with the largest musicals topping out at about 50 effects.

Media Designer Howard Werner believed that it was crucial that the projections be seamlessly integrated with the scenery and lighting. He specified a video system that provided the maximum flexibility in manipulating content. PRG met the demands of the specification with a mix of proprietary products, new software features and a new 15mm LED video product.

Mbox Extreme media servers, controlled by the V676® lighting control console, were used for content management. For Gilbert, the V676’s® Media Window, which displays all the video clips graphically on touchscreens, made programming easier. “The console interface really gives us a ton of geography to lay out palettes and presets and all the things a programmer uses to manipulate servers,” said Gilbert.

There are eight LED panels, each 8’w x 33’h, that are configured as four pairs of legs, which track on and off stage. The LED panels are completely covered with a 15mm SMD LED video product that was provided by PRG, and the legs were covered with black rear projection screen to soften and blend the LED imagery. In addition, they were covered with black sharkstooth scrim material so that when there was no video being displayed, they disappeared. If lit, they look like standard black fabric legs. Each leg weighs 1,300 lbs., has 100 video tiles and can track back and forth on stage to put video just about anywhere the creative team wished to underscore a scene.

“Since the legs are fed by the Mboxes, we have a myriad of specialized layer and fixture controls that allow us to discreetly address each individual leg and gives us a lot of control on a layer by layer basis for how those LED screens are mapped,” explained Production Video Electrician Jason Lindahl. “The best part about working with PRG was the response that we got with developing these new features for this show. We had a pretty tall order for this show, especially for the media servers but nobody at PRG batted an eye.”

One of the biggest challenges for PRG involved the requirement for the video content to track with the LED legs as they moved on and off stage. To ensure the accuracy of the video mapping, the video system received positioning information from the automation system that drove the LED walls. Encoders were added to the SCS winches which feedback the video panel position to the Mbox. Both the automation and the projection systems know exactly where the LED legs are at any time, allowing quick and accurate mapping of video content while the LED legs are moving.

PRG developed two modes for the video output from the Mbox—Discrete mapping and Projected mapping. In Discrete mode, the video projection tracks with the LED leg as it moves, with the image appearing to be attached to the individual leg. Essentially, a single pixel of video output from the Mbox is mapped to a single pixel on the LED output and tracks with the screen. In Projected mode, the output appears to be projected onto the stage, not attached to the individual leg, but simply allowing the legs to move through the projection. The PRG Mbox allows the Discreet or Projected mode to be set for each individual LED leg.

Looking at Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, it is easy to see how new products, features, materials and techniques created for this groundbreaking musical will affect theatre technology moving forward and will become standard for future productions and for the live entertainment industry as a whole. Perhaps the unprecedented level of integration among all the production systems is the true technical legacy of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.

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