3D History: AV installation at the Historic Philadelphia Center, Part 1

In this edition of the SVC Podcast, SVC Contributing Editor Bennett Liles talks with Stephan Villet of show control firm Smart Monkeys about their installation for Liberty 360, a 360-degree 3D video 2/07/2011 5:46 AM Eastern

3D History: AV installation at the Historic Philadelphia Center, Part 1

Feb 7, 2011 10:46 AM, With Bennett Liles

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Editor’s note: For your convenience, this transcription of the podcast includes timestamps. If you are listening to the podcast and reading its accompanying transcription, you can use the timestamps to jump to any part of the audio podcast by simply dragging the slider on the podcast to the time indicated in the transcription.

What could be a better history lesson than being given a guided tour by Ben Franklin? At Liberty 360, a wrap around 3D video experience in the Historic Philadelphia Center, you get exactly that. Setup by show control firm Smart Monkeys and Stephan Villet is here to tell us all about it coming up next on the SVC podcast.

Stephan thanks so much for being here with me for the SVC podcast coming to us from Miami Beach and the company is Smart Monkeys. That’s a very intriguing name and we’re going to be talking about the Liberty 360 Show at the Historic Philadelphia Center where you set up the control system for that. But first of all tell me a little bit about Smart Monkeys and what does that company do?
All right, well Smart Monkeys has been founded three years ago in 2008 and we specialize in show control consulting, engineering and programming and the creation of the company is based on the realization that show control was to become very important and sometime crucial, I would say, to many audio visual project. It’s been here for decades but the new technology’s network-based and software-driven and the needs for interactivity and automation at the same time makes show control a central piece of the puzzle. In the meantime, its ceiling is a lot smaller than video or audio in terms of equipment, labor and budget in most case and on the other end it’s highly qualified and very specific technology fields so general AV designs firms, integrators and owners cannot easily keep up with it. They can’t afford to have internal resources fully and solely dedicated to show controls so that’s where Smart Monkeys comes in. [Timestamp: 2:16]

And of course you have a lot specialized gear involved in show control now it’s not just a bunch of buttons and relays anymore. This Liberty 360 Show at the Historic Philadelphia Center sounds like something that hasn’t been done before as far as the technical system on it. What exactly is Liberty 360? I know you were working with David Niles and the Niles Creative Group on that. But how did you initially get involved in that show?
Well Liberty 360 is a 3D video production. It’s performed in a 360 production theater in Philadelphia. It plays multiple times daily at the new PECO Theater. That’s his name. It’s just across the street from Independence Hall. It has been designed and produced by the Niles Creative Group from New York City. David Niles is also the creator of the Comcast Experience. It’s a huge and very high definition video wall and ceiling. We have partnered with David on several projects and we feel like part of the family when we work for him. It comes with the initial design and we work together through a technical specification. Our role is to bring the pieces together, take control of all of the equipment and deliver a front hand solution that allows the final user to act on the system as if it was just only one machine and Liberty 360 was no different. [Timestamp: 3:39]

And when people walk into this theater they’re just surrounded by images and sound with 360° 3D projection and they’re taken on this historical tour by an actor portraying Ben Franklin. Now I noticed in some of the pictures I saw of this they’re wearing 3D glasses. How does the 3D projection work, how many projectors do you have and how are they arranged to get this?
Well there are eight Barco Galaxy NW-12 projectors all around you in a circle. The projection screen is a 360° ribbon. It’s not a dome, it’s like a conventional cinema screen but all around you. There is no left and right hand. Projection is active stereoscopic 3D which means each projector takes care of both the left and right image so you need to wear those specific glasses. And this is all in full HD so the whole image is about 15,000 pixels wide. [Timestamp: 4:34]

That’s a very high resolution video projection inside of this thing and you’re just totally immersed in the story and the experience. Of course a good part of that effect is the sound system. So how does the sound system work and what kind of program elements do you have? Like narration, music—what else?
The story told is very historically oriented and the sound system is just there to support it so surround sound fills in the space but there is no real attempt to diverge the viewer attention from the video so the program its self is just a mix of music and narration. [Timestamp: 5:05]

I think one of the hallmarks of this is that it’s a very complex system but it has to be extremely reliable and simple to operate. I think it lasts…the show lasts something like 13-15 minutes and it runs something like every 20 minutes. So where exactly is the control point in relation to where the viewing space is?
Well there are actually three control points in the system. First, at the beginning of the queue line the guests are asked to show their ticket and then they pass through a sensor that triggers an image capture system. There is a face detection algorithm that will extract people’s heads from the shot and store them for display at the end of the show. So there is a touch panel there that allows the cast to activate the capturing that will trigger the lighting specifically for this capturing and that will transmit the information about the capturing to the centralized control system. Then inside the theater there is another touch panel that operates the show its self. Control is very basic—you have one touch to prepare the space for a guest entrance then one other to start the show when everybody is inside. Everything else is automated. And finally there is a third touch panel in the equipment room defaultly for monitoring but you can actually use it to access and control every single sub-systems. Actually the system is designed in such a way that you can access and control any locations from any touch panel. This is very useful in case of panel feature. If the control point in the theater breaks down, for example, just unplug the panel from the equipment room, plug it in again in the theater and you’re good to go. There is no installation, no complex settings required. [Timestamp: 6:53]

3D History: AV installation at the Historic Philadelphia Center, Part 1

Feb 7, 2011 10:46 AM, With Bennett Liles

OK so you don’t have to call in a bunch of technical Einsteins to figure out what kind of problem you’re having and fix it. It sounds like everything’s fairly redundant and pretty quick to just plug in something else and keep going since you don’t have a lot of time between shows on this.
Yeah, yeah and there is no real technical person on site all the time. [Timestamp: 7:12]

And you were using 7th Sense Delta Media Servers. Those are pretty beefy systems, very high capacity and I think each one can handle up to something like half a dozen video channels.
Yeah, I guess so, yes. [Timestamp: 7:23]

And so why were they chosen to do this?
They were essentially selected for their superior video quality in the sense that there are many products on the market that you can control the right way, the video content its self is just leaner so there are no real interactivity in between. The video play back is very simple so it was a really video quality choice. [Timestamp: 7:47]

These things are used for planetariums and all sorts of big shows with big crowds and fairly high stakes stuff as well so it’s got to be dependable as well.
Yes, yes and then they have redundant of power supply, that kind of stuff so… [Timestamp: 8]

And they’re controlled to a significant degree by sensors automatically detecting the presence of the audience. How are the Barco NW-12 projectors all connected to the control system? Are those serial or does it run networked on Ethernet?
They’re controlled through Ethernet and as they were quite new product at this time we worked closely with Barco to make sure the protocol will allow us to access all the features that we needed but yes they were controlled through Ethernet as most of the equipment in this installation. [Timestamp: 8:3]

Barco is known for their big powerful projectors and these are powerful machines and they must have a pretty strong cooling system going on. How loud is the fan noise there from all of these projectors?
There is actually a second a ceiling in the theater so it actually kept the noise far away and you have a constant background music as well so you don’t really hear them and the air conditioning is actually getting into the theater from this ceiling so it goes through the projector first which is cool for the heat. [Timestamp: 9:05]

Yeah I would think that heat would be a big factor since you have all these big projectors running in a group enclosed in a pretty small space.
Yeah, it’s a very small space but it’s a very intimate one as well so it’s really nice. [Timestamp: 9:17]

Well Smart Monkeys does a lot of this type of show control project, what would you say is the…say the typically biggest challenge in building a complex show control system like this and making it work?
All in all the control part is somehow simple I would say on the projects. The real challenge was that this show is the first 3D 360 show of its kind and it has to work from day one without a hitch so in that specific case we focused on simplicity and reliability before anything else. We performed a lot more tests off site than we usually do and we had a chance to actually work with David we'd make sure to have all the equipment in his studio in New York City so we could mock up the entire system. It’s not really a complex system apart from the capturing, the image capturing system itself. But it was relief to have it easy to operate and it’s very reliable and that’s…that was the real challenge here. [Timestamp: 10:22]

Well it seems as though the shows been a big hit and I want to thank you for taking time to tell us about it. Stephan Villet from Smart Monkey’s in Miami Beach, thanks for being here for Part One and in Part Two we’ll get into the Medialon Show Master Pro and how that works and we’ll see ya then.

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