Eighty years after King Kong first appeared on movie screens, audiences are once again being captivated as the legendary creature is being brought to life, only this time he is live onstage. For the groundbreaking musical, presented by the world-renowned animatronics technology leader Global Creatures, PRG was named the general contractor handling the majority of production services. PRG provided the theater’s structural preparation and the lighting, audio, scenic automation and scenery packages.
When Producer Carmen Pavlovic, CEO of Global Creatures, was looking for a story that fit the capabilities of the company’s animatronics technology but also offered strong narrative and musical possibilities she landed on the to the idea of developing King Kong as a live theatre piece. KING KONG took five years to develop prior opening during the summer of 2013 at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne, Australia. To tell this epic story onstage, Pavlovic brought in director Daniel Kramer; production/scenic designer Peter England; costume designer Roger Kirk; lighting designer Peter Mumford; sound designer Peter Hylenski and projection designer Frieder Weiss.
PRG worked closely with the design team as well as the technical director Richard Martin throughout the production process. They started first with ensuring that the theater was structurally prepared and capable of handling the show. With a leading man that is a 19½’ tall, 1.2-ton puppet it was important to address the size and weight of the large amount of machinery required to move Kong but also for the numerous scenic elements.
Martin explains the massive structural work that PRG helped coordinate, “It was a major project, especially for theatre in Australia; it is unheard of here. The first thing that we did was the venue engineering impact. There were five structural engineers involved to get this into the theatre, and we did a significant amount of work with the PRG engineers. We completely removed the existing orchestra pit lifts; excavated some of the orchestra pit structure in the base to get a bit more depth; put in new supports; and installed three new pit lifts. We removed the theatre stage and all its support; put in new structural support to bear the increased loads, and installed a huge hydraulic lift element covering the majority of the new stage floor. We added in nearly 20-tons of structural steel to the grid; and completely removed 80 fly lines. We also upgraded the power because we needed 2,000 amps in the building. It was a major overhaul and upgrade to the theatre.”
Everything is built to fit within a 63’ grid height; from stage floor to grid surface. They installed a full sub-grid, known as the gantry work platform, at a working height of 32.8’. It covers the entire stage, wall-to-wall; back wall all the way down to the within three-feet of the smoke pocket. This is the operational platform for the crew and flying performers as well as housing scenic elements, automation rigs, winches, lights, sound, Venetian curtains, and connections to the LED wall underneath it. The platform itself weighs 12.5-ton plus houses another 3.5-ton of video processor racks, automation racks, winches, and performers.
King Kong hangs from the main re-enforced grid and moves via a gantry crane-style automation rig, known as the Kong apparatus. Sub-contracted by PRG, Stage Technologies supplied the King Kong apparatus automation system, which specifically controls the Kong’s broad movement on stage, operating in a large “keyhole” cutout that allows him to move around the majority of the stage.
PRG engineered and installed the separate scenic automation system that controls all the flying scenery, the hydraulic lifts, Venetian curtains, and the winches for the flying performers. The scenic/flying automation system uses the PRG Commander automation console. With both automation systems operating in the same area PRG knew it was important to avoid conflicts between the two systems. “We did a lot of studies on impact and potential issues between the two systems,” notes Martin. “Everything was done with safety as the most important consideration.”
Setting the Stage
Peter England’s scenic design for KING KONG includes scenes in New York, Skull Island and on board a ship in the ocean. The first NYC scenes evoke the feel of the iconic black and white photos of NYC in the 1930s and England had PRG construct three scenic walls with I-beam platforms, known as the Times Square walls that concertina to the work platform. There is also a 19 ½’ long I-beam that flies in recalling images of men hovering on the I-beams in the air as they built the city to great heights. In the second act return to NYC England wanted to convey the idea that some of the electrical energy from Skull Island was brought back with Kong so he had the 1,500 rivet heads on the I-beam set electrified with LEDs in them. “It is our version of the Great White Way,” describes England. “We are creating this world of light; bringing the cold hard steel to life.”
For the penultimate scene of Kong climbing up the Empire State Building, England is especially pleased with the vertical rolling scenic device that gives the effect of Kong climbing up. “That is a beautiful piece of machinery built by PRG. It is three rollers on a single axle, a continuous roll, like a treadmill. It is the façade; a snapshot of the windows on the building that goes around and around; an opaque cloth with cut translucent windows in it that is backlit, to create the illusion of rising. People think it is projection—there is some projection on it—but we would never get the depth of visual effect if it was just projection.”
England wanted to infer the boat rather than build a boat for the scenes during the ocean journey. “I wanted to do something that was suggestive,” states England, “something new but quite simple in its form. We have a boat shape that comes out of the floor but it is the movement that sells the boat and also gives it some musicality. The simplicity to it totally belies the technology that PRG put in behind it.” Martin agrees, “It is very complicated technology that makes me smile every time I see it. PRG excelled themselves on this; it’s a wonderful bit of engineering. It seems quite straightforward, but it is really not. It is a very heavy piece that travels up, down, and gimbals at a good speed. It rocks ‘n’ rolls around absolutely dead silent, then it drops within a millimeter of where it starts each night; dead accurate.”
The boat is a motion platform lift, which is cut as a 30’ equilateral triangle that raises out of the stage floor. Using three large hydraulic cylinders that are programmed on the Commander console, the platform moves in all three axes at the same time, mimicking the look of a boat’s bow being lifted and dropped as the ocean buffets it. There are two hydraulic power units 9.2’ below that power the boatlift for a combined 140hp and it moves at 2’ per second. The boatlift weighs 17,000lbs but with people and scenery the weight is 25,000 lbs. The PRG system also provides encoder feedbacks to the video operator so they can sync their video waves on the LED screen with the boat’s movement.
How though do you work with an automation and scenic shop half a world away? “Today’s technology with e-mail, Skype, etc. it wasn’t that hard,” points out Martin. “PRG were so organized and on top of all the details. As soon as their team had drawings they would send them for review, if we made changes it was immediately passed to all the different PRG departments to make sure that conflicts in systems were handled long before we got into the theater. I can’t say enough about working with PRG. The distance made no difference to the attention and quality of work, it was top of the line.”
Light the Lights
Space in the automation heavy production of KING KONG meant the lighting designer Peter Mumford had to be creative and economical in his selection of fixtures and hanging positions. “Poor Mr. Mumford and his lights; he couldn’t put in any overhead lighting bars; all of his lights had to be fit around the keyway,” comments Martin. “They had to be out of the way so Kong wouldn’t hit them. Still Peter did a wonderful job, most people don’t realize how complicated it was for him to light this show.”
Mumford’s found that working with the challenges was actually the solution. He explains, “It was not really a question of working around the gantry it was a about working with it. We didn’t have the conventional overhead anything, because all that space was taking up by the Kong machinery. Having designed the rig into the gantry it was a structure, which could contain a very large number of moving lights. I was also able to build some bars into the false proscenium at the front so that was a more conventional position. I also add things like the lightlocks with VL3500; they were at the back of the gantry so we could fly movers right into the floor up against the LED screen. Then big banks of Sharpys left and right. You look for positions, it is like a set with a ceiling, you work with the reality of the way it is. That becomes your canvas and you find how you are going to light it and how you are going to approach it.”
Along with the VL3500s, his design includes Clay Paky 700s, Sharpys and over eighty ETC Source Four LED Lustr+ profiles. His rig could not include any tungsten sources. “I am using a totally non-tungsten rig, I had to because any tungsten sources would interfere with the infrared projection work,” notes Mumford. “I am a big supported of maintaining tungsten as an available theatrical source but this isn’t the show that reflects that.” Programmer and Associate Lighting Designer Victoria Brennan used an ETC EOS control console, which is linked to the show control backbone for triggering some cues and positions.
Mumford was pleased with the support from PRG, even from across the globe. “PRG were great, they are always great,” he says. “I work with them a lot in England. I also had an absolutely brilliant crew in Australia.” He also worked closely on this production with the scenic team from PRG, as there was a large amount of set electrification. He put ETC Selador Desire D60 Vivid Luminaires within the Empire State building solely for the effect when Kong falls off said building. They also created pop-up footlights that come out of a floor grill at the front of the stage where Mumford placed Clay Paky Sharpys into the floor that shoot into a white reflective on the footlights. He can then also turn the Sharpys around to be shafts of light into the space. There is LED tape used throughout the set to and glow and resonance to some of the scenic elements as well.
The Sound of Kong
Sound Designer Peter Hylenski and Associate Sound Designer/Production Engineer Simon Matthews worked with Shelly Lee the Australian Associate Sound Designer to give a voice to King Kong. Matthews explains, “The biggest challenge was the voice of King Kong. Nobody knew what that would be at first. It ended up being performed live. A guy named Harley Durst, every night, vocally performs him. He’s got a microphone; the microphone feeds into proprietary software. King Kong is alive.”
‘Kong’s entrance is one of the coolest theatrical moments that I’ve seen, or certainly have been a part of,” continues Matthews. “It takes all the departments and when he lands for the first time it’s magnificently loud. He roars and you still don’t see him. You start to see his eyes and his teeth. He’s landed behind this web of lights and a fog curtain. You just see his teeth and just his eyes; then he roars and it’s amazingly loud. People around me in the house gasped. It was a guttural reaction gasp. It was incredible. Then there’s another moment in the show, where King Kong is holding Ann in that iconic, loving gesture. King Kong turns and roars; it’s palpably different. That moment, making the roar live makes it work; you couldn’t replicate that moment with a recording. You do truly forget, as a watcher, as a listener, that he’s not alive. That’s the highest testament to the guys who perform him. In the end, what the technical side has given is the tools.”
Mostly a Meyer rig with a d&b surround system of M’elodie arrays. “One of the notable things about the system is that we have arrays of subwoofers that are 20’ tall on proscenium left and right,” describes Matthews. “We have 700HPs. We have four of the new 1100LS across the floor in front. There’s a total of 14 dual 18s or 28 subwoofer drivers. When King Kong puts his fist on the ground, you feel it. We have a sound effects operator to take visual cues—‘boom, boom’ that’s 50% of the sound. Without that you’re watching Kong and you think that while he’s really amazing; but he’s not alive unless he makes some sort of sounds. Those sounds need to interact with his environment and with his voice.”
Matthews feels it is a fairly straightforward sound system. “It is mixed on a Studer Vista 5. It goes through the D-Mitri system. The heart of the system is this mix engine I/O. The Studer goes through that. We also have the sound effects operator that’s using a QLab setup. It’s actually being triggered over Show Control by D-Mitri. The D-Mitri is the master cue list. We run five separate cue lists during the show. The Studer has a range of channels on its own cue list that it exists inside of. Sound Effects has its own cue trigger list; we’ve got the King Kong turbocharge list; and then we have the voice modulation key list. D-Mitri sends the MIDI Show Control out to the lighting and video departments. There’s really nothing else that’s still suited to be that level of show control unless you go to a dedicated show control platform. Even then the flexibility is already in the D-Mitri; you don’t have to build modules or timelines. You just operate it. There are two outputs that come from our audio matrix that go to the video system so they can use whatever sound effect or Kong’s voice to modulate the video that’s being played. That’s another realtime experience.”
The audio package was provided by PRG out of the United States and shipped to Australia. The system was put together as a normal Broadway show would and then put into sea containers for a high seas journey of about 45 days. “PRG was very supportive. If somebody says ‘hey we want you to go do a show in Australia and the shop is in New York,’ which by the way is 10,400 miles away, I would choose PRG.’ We went in anticipating that there would be problems but we really didn’t have any.”
The award-winning design work has thrilled audiences and the entire creative team feels that they have achieved a good balance of technology and narrative. England concludes, “I think at the very heart of what this production is, is a true marriage of traditional and ambitious technology; it reflects the story in a way. It is certainly something that no one has seen before. The goal in everyone’s heart has been to create something that has heart, emotion and humanity. It is not spectacle but it is spectacular.”
Designing KING KONG: The Creature, The Sets and the Costumes
Fit for a King – Stage Directions
King Kong Live On Stage – Video
When English pop sensation Robbie Williams took over Europe’s stadiums for his Take The Crown tour, Creative Director Willie Williams wanted to make sure that the lighting not only illuminated but also reflected the artist’s energetic performance style. Williams collaborated on the stunning production design with Scene Designer/Architect Mark Fisher and Ric Lipson of Stufish, creating an unforgettable visual kaleidoscope of lighting, scenic automation and video.
The successful 26-date summer tour included a 41’ sculptural head coming out of a massive back video wall along with seven additional three-dimensional heads that moved around the stage. With so much automation, video, and larger than life scenery the lighting needed to be carefully positioned to allow maximum impact with minimal presence. Williams’ had much of the lighting rig built into the set, cleverly masking what was actually a considerable amount of gear.
The Lighting Plot
Production Resource Group (PRG) provided the lighting system and crew. The plot included 130 PRG Bad Boy spots, 138 Martin MAC Auras, 69 Martin Atomic Strobes with Atomic Color scrollers, 12 Zap Big Lites and 12 Novalight Nova-Flowers, PRG Best Boy4000 Spots and additional lighting fixtures. The Bad Boys were selected by Williams to be the primary source because of their output. Noted Williams, “In a stadium—never mind in daylight—it’s all about intensity. None of the subtle features of a fixture count for anything at all if you can’t see them so in many ways the brightest fixture wins. The Bad Boy is still the brightest fixture in its price range. Even though we have a lot of fixtures, due to the scale, we have very few different types; it was a very simple rig, really.” Lighting Associate Alex Murphy agreed with Williams’ assessment of the Bad Boy luminaires. “Once again we were spoiled with the Bad Boys. The light output and zoom range is just great.”
“The biggest issue was knowing that we would be playing in Northern Europe during mid-summer,” explained Williams. “This is death for lighting and the worst thing a designer can do is carry on in denial of the fact that it’s not going to get dark until 2/3 of the way into the show. In the spirit of turning a weakness into strength, I set about conceiving a show that would actually benefit from opening in daylight. I thought about outdoor entertainments that are invariably day lit—carnivals, parades, etc. From this I took the cue as to what kind of show we needed to design.”
He approached the overall production by breaking it down into acts. “Act I is in daylight so we’ve created a sort of Rio Carnival environment. As dusk falls, we move into a focused, centralized acoustic Act II before the video-based home run of Act III. Finally the more contemplative encore section uses the darkness to close out the show with pyro and other effects.”
Production Manager Wob Roberts worked closely with PRG to develop solutions to streamline the load-in/load-out of the lighting. This was an important factor in a production travelling with so much automation and video scenery. The pre-rigging of the lighting in some portions of the plot proved to be very efficient. This was particularly true for the band area roofette. PRG’s team worked with Brilliant Stages so that 65 of the MAC Auras could be permanently mounted onto U-beam. They made sure that all the cabling was hidden inside the U-beam, which was then attached to the main structural beams of the roofette. It took the crew only 30 minutes at load-in to attach the U-beams and plug it all together.
The selection of PRG BAT Truss for much of the rig also proved extremely efficient. Roberts liked BAT Truss for both the space and labor savings it brought to the production. “The time it saved me was really impressive. My lighting crew moved so fast they ended up having to wait for the next staging, scenic, or video sections to be built so they could move on. The lighting pieces were so well pre-rigged that they went in extremely quickly. Everything just rolls into place on the BAT Truss. It was a very slick operation.”
A key use of the BAT Truss was the inverted sections used on the floor rigs. Two 8’ sections with three Bad Boys sitting upright in each were joined with custom brackets, then a seventh Bad Boy unit sat on top of the bracket. The BAT Truss pieces with the lights were easily wheeled into place and bolted together. A Four-light PAR36 fixture and an Atomic with a color changer on one pipe were then clamped onto it. The solution was compact, easily setup, and something that wouldn’t get kicked or moved. This was done on both sides of the stage below the IMAG screens, mimicking in reverse the lighting above the screens.
“I knew that PRG could provide the gear,” stated Roberts. “They have supported Robbie’s shows for a long time and are great to work with. I knew PRG could deliver a tour of this size. They also really came through with a great crewing solution for us.” Roberts continued by noting, “There was no question that I had a top flight crew. 90% of the success of any production is the people and I had the best team out there.”
List of the production team
Show Producer – Lee Lodge
Creative Director – Willie Williams
Stage Architect – Mark Fisher and Ric Lipson, Stufish
Video Director – Stefaan “Smasher” Desmedt
Production Manager – Wob Roberts
Lighting Director – Mark “Sparky” Risk
Lighting Associate – Alex Murphy
Lighting Crew Chief – Nick Barton
Systems Chief/FOH Technician – Craig Hancock
Lead Dimmer Technician – Gareth Morgan
Header/Moving Light Technician – Blaine Dracup
Pods/Big Lite Technician – Andrew Beller
Moving Light Technician/Pods – Jason Dixon
High Platforms/FOH/Followspots – Mark Pritchard
Moving Light Technician/Dimmers – Urko Arruza Urrutia
Header/Roofette Moving Light Technician – Chris Sabelleck
High Platforms/FOH/Moving Light Technician – Matthew Bright
Scottie Sanderson – PRG Account Executive
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
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
XL Video is supplying Pixled F11, Mitrix, VersaTUBEs and Catalyst control for the Deadmau5 world tour, which kicked off in the US headlining Coachella and is currently in Europe, WOW'ing audiences with its stunning multi-layered video design and dimensionally mind-boggling visuals, designed by Martin Phillips and John McGuire of Bionic Head.
The tour originated from XL Video UK project managed by Des Fallon and Chris Ferrante with support from Phil Mercer and his XL Video LA team. Once again XL's international operation has been able to provide transatlantic continuity and great service for its clients.
The Deadmau5 set takes the current trend for leading DJ's to boost the production value of their live performances to new levels of fluidity, emotion and humour. Characterised by nanosecond-perfect timing, some clever concepts and a seamless fusion of video and lighting elements, Des Fallon says, "This show creates a new benchmark for dance act visuals - we're very proud to be involved".
Phillips is well known for his work with Daft Punk. His design for Deadmau5 started with the DJ booth, a 3 sided cube that looks like it's tipped forward at 45 degrees. This is clad with 75 tiles of PIXLED F11 screen.
Behind that, on the mid-stage truss, is a barrage of 72 VersaTUBES, mounted in 6 custom touring frames that were fabricated by B and R Scenery in Camarillo, California. Upstage of this are 6 vertical hangs of Barco MiTrix semi transparent screen, each column measuring 2 tiles wide by 36 deep, in 7 touring frames, each 7 metres high.
The MiTrix columns are hooked on to rolling headers on a dolly track attached to the truss above, allowing them to be moved - manually - into 3 different screen configurations throughout the show - 6 slim columns, 3 fat strips and one complete surface with all 6 strips pushed together. On screen shifting duties are XL's Joe Makein and lighting supplier PRG's Ben Wingrove.
Behind this, at the back of the stage is a 65 mm pitch pixel curtain.
The 4 different resolution surfaces work together and individually with the carefully considered content. The whole 3D perspective of the performance space is constantly changing and in motion, with bits appearing and disappearing and moving forwards, backwards and sideways often giving the optical illusion of the objects e.g. the DJ booth, physically moving right out into the audience! A primary visual design objective was to radiate the giga-tonnes of energy coming off the stage throughout the audience - spreading the vibe and excitement with highly effective results.
Deadmau5 (Joel Thomas Zimmerman) wears his trademark giant mouse mask throughout the performance with a spherical head and a huge grin. Half way through, this gets swapped for a custom version that contains 964 SMD pixels (LEDs) around the front of the head, allowing special effects like quirky facial expressions and other video content to be run through it. This was a big technical challenge to set up, but has become a real show stopper!
XL Video's Richard Stembridge is managing all the control aspects.
They are running 3 of XL's full spec Catalyst media servers, one of which is playing back content via both outputs to all the main LED surfaces. The second machine is used to run the LED Mouse Head, and the third is a spare. They also have a Mini Mac running Quartz Composer software, loaded up with some bespoke modules of software specially written for the tour, to allow functions like video content to be created on the fly and individual pixel control of the VersaTUBES. This is an experimental Bionic Head project that is currently 'under development'. The output of the Quartz is fed into the Catalyst as a video input.
Considerable effort has gone into integrating the LED Head into the show and this became one of Stembridge's missions during just 8 days of production rehearsals at Van Nuys in California! It is pixel-mapped in the Catalyst, which sends 12 universes of DMX via an ArtNet DataLynx OP box into the Head, and from there, protocol converters transform the DMX into visual information for the pixels.
All the Catalysts are triggered by the FOH lighting desk, a Road Hog Full Boar, currently being operated by John McGuire, and to be taken over later in the tour by Ben Wingrove. Some of the content cues are MIDI triggered, some are audio triggered via the Quartz and others executed live from the desk. The spot-on timing is an essential part of emphasising the emotion of the music through its rhythm and matching visual cues.
The content was produced from different sources commissioned by Bionic Head, including London based Onedotzero, with Phillips and McGuire also creating some using both Catalyst library material and totally new compilations.
Phillips comments that he's "Extremely happy" with the service he's receiving from XL Video, who are always his first choice of video company (he's based in LA). He also has plenty of good things to say about Stembridge and Makein, who have been working long hours and a gruelling schedule to make it all run like clockwork - and always with a smile. The tour's production director is Mark Ward and production manager is Alex Keyser. Dates are scheduled through February 2011.