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Installation Profile: Shedding Light on Franklin

Sophisticated networked systems illuminate museum's rotunda. 3/01/2009 7:00 AM Eastern

Installation Profile: Shedding Light on Franklin

Mar 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Trevor Boyer

Sophisticated networked systems illuminate museum's rotunda.




The classical and ornate look of the marble rotunda in the Franklin Institute Science Museum can be deceiving. After undergoing a complete AV overhaul, the rotunda now boasts its own networked AV systems for lighting, audio, and video that are almost completely invisible. With the new function married to its classic form, the rotunda is now a popular place for private events such as weddings and parties.

The classical and ornate look of the marble rotunda in the Franklin Institute Science Museum can be deceiving. After undergoing a complete AV overhaul, the rotunda now boasts its own networked AV systems for lighting, audio, and video that are almost completely invisible. With the new function married to its classic form, the rotunda is now a popular place for private events such as weddings and parties.

Michael Mountjoy is the computer specialist for the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia, and he's also an amateur climber. His skills with carabiners have come in handy in his professional life when he's serviced lights while perched high up in the Franklin Institute's rotunda — a marble-and-stone temple with a 20ft. statue of Benjamin Franklin that sits below the 82ft. domed ceiling. Founded in 1938 in honor of the famed scientist, inventor, and Founding Father, the Franklin Institute is a private science museum that hosts attractions such as an IMAX theater and artifacts from the Wright brothers' workshop. The rotunda serves as both the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial and the visitors' welcome area to the museum.

Before late last year, Mountjoy was on his own with regard to safety. While tiptoeing around the 40ft.-high marble ledge that rings the room above its Corinthian columns, he used a self-supplied safety rig. Recently, however, the rotunda was completely renovated; there's now a steel cable that rings the room, providing an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)-certified anchor for a safety harness.

A 32-input/32-output Medialon system serves as the control backbone for the AV devices installed in the rotunda. During scheduled intervals, the Dataton Watchout software triggers the system to start a video about the museum’s exhibits. LED lights awaken, shades are drawn, and the software stops cycling static Ben Franklin quotes and starts the video.

A 32-input/32-output Medialon system serves as the control backbone for the AV devices installed in the rotunda. During scheduled intervals, the Dataton Watchout software triggers the system to start a video about the museum’s exhibits. LED lights awaken, shades are drawn, and the software stops cycling static Ben Franklin quotes and starts the video.

Increased safety is only one new aspect, and it's perhaps the one that museum-goers notice least. Much more obvious is that every surface has undergone a thorough cleaning, and the room has receieved a complete overhaul of its audio, video, and lighting systems. David Rome of RomeAntics Productions (New York) served as the project's AV system designer. He brought in McCann Systems of Edison, N.J., to integrate the rotunda's video and control systems.

The room's old lighting was horrible, according to Mountjoy. “It was six point-source lights bolted to a homemade support system,” he says. For every special event in the rotunda, Mountjoy had to spend several hours on the process of renting lights because the existing lights did not illuminate the room properly. Video in the rotunda in those days was nonexistent.

Now, when visitors enter the rotunda, they're greeted with an integrated video and light show about Benjamin Franklin that previews some of the museum's exhibitions. When a bolt of lightning strikes the key that's attached to the inventor's famous kite, for instance, lights with gobos flash to emulate the natural phenomenon. GToo Media in Bethesda, Md., produced the approximately 3-minute show. The company also came up with the idea to project Benjamin Franklin quotes at times when the show isn't running.


Installation Profile: Shedding Light on Franklin

Mar 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Trevor Boyer

Sophisticated networked systems illuminate museum's rotunda.




Shedding Light on Franklin

Around the rotunda's ledge, the four installed projectors beam content across the rotunda to acoustical panels on the opposite side. The institute is protective of aesthetics, so all technology had to be hidden as much as possible. That's one reason why the acoustical panels, which are the same color as the marble, double as projection screens. The ledge provided a way to mount AV gear inconspicuously, but at only 30in. deep, it required a proper safety harness system — which consumed about 12in. That left 18in. to fit a projector that needed to throw light about 80ft. across and 10ft. down.

A compact projector would not do the job, and a larger projector would hang past the edge of the ledge. So McCann Systems designed an assembly that puts a three-chip DLP projector on its side — its smallest surface — and in portrait mode. The projector beams light at a mirror that's angled at 45 degrees, so the image turns 90 degrees and reaches the opposite side of the rotunda in portrait mode. (rp Visual Solutions supplied four custom mirror mounts.) Nicholas Fazio, project manager for McCann Systems, estimates that the mirrors absorb approximately 8 percent of the projectors' light.

Shedding Light on Franklin

When it came time to choose a projector, brightness was the primary consideration. After demos, it became clear that 8000 lumens would be enough projector, but not overkill. The projector also had to fit the space and accept the mirroring assembly. Eventually, McCann's team and the museum staff decided on the Christie Digital Systems HD8K.

The projectors weigh 80lbs. each without their 4.1-6.9:1 lenses, so McCann had to study the ledge to ensure it would support two service people, the projectors, the loudspeakers (from audio-integration firm Visual Sound of Philadelphia), and the lights. An equipment elevator was installed within an intricate scaffolding system that allowed cleaners to access every surface of the dome.

After contractors removed the tapered portion of the scaffolding, contractors had a little more than a week to install the AV equipment on the ledge. While the scaffolding reached the ledge, they could not calibrate the projectors until the scaffolding was lowered even farther.

TWO MODES

Like all projectors in its class, the HD8K is addressable via an IP network. McCann Systems ran two Cat-5e cables to each of the four projectors, one for video and one for control. Pulling cable wasn't as difficult as it could have been.

“Because it's a historic space, they didn't want to cut into the marble,” Fazio says. Luckily, however, there was excess electrical infrastructure within the rotunda. Using existing conduit, McCann installers substituted Cat-5e and other cables for the old electrical cable.


Installation Profile: Shedding Light on Franklin

Mar 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Trevor Boyer

Sophisticated networked systems illuminate museum's rotunda.




Shedding Light on Franklin

A 32-input/32-output Medialon system serves as the control backbone — sending commands over Cat-5e to not only the audio, video, and lighting devices, but also (via relay contact closures) to the motorized shade system that covers the rotunda's domed skylight and the windows near the ceiling. During normal hours, the Medialon system runs in Show mode. Every half hour on the weekends and on every hour during the week, the timeline in the Dataton Watchout software triggers the Medialon to send commands over Cat-5 for the program to begin. LED lights awaken, shades are drawn, and the Watchout system stops cycling the quotes and starts the video program. The projectors never shut down completely during museum hours because powering up and down puts a strain on lamp life.

The lamp life of the HD8K is Mountjoy's one complaint so far. After 1500 hours, the lamps need to be changed. This works out to four times a year for each projector at $2,000 to $2,500 per lamp. Medialon polls the projectors throughout the day to determine if lamps or filters need to be changed. If they do, the system notifies the staff.

Shedding Light on Franklin

Presentation mode gives museum staff and clients who rent the rotunda almost complete control over AV and lighting. A video-switching system allows the four screens, which display identical content during the show, to show content from any one of four computers. Each computer is installed with a Datapath Limited VisionRGB-Pro1 capture card, which allows the computers to pass a live video input through to the projectors. Users can input video via wall boxes installed around the rotunda. These accept component and composite video and a VGA input from a laptop. This makes it easy to hook up videocameras, DVD players, and laptops. In Watchout, users drop media into a Stage area. This can be a file or from the wall box's video input. Four microphone inputs around the room allow clients to station presenters at various locations.

“The main show is set-and-forget,” Fazio says. “We have that saved so that it can't be edited. And we have another show that they can load and modify. If for any reason that got corrupted, they can copy the saved file and just edit it again.”

There are five preset positions for the captured-video windows — horizontal VGA signals (1024×768) — within the projector screens, which display full-resolution HD (1080×1920) oriented in portrait mode. The first three presets place the 4:3 VGA image horizontally at the top, middle, or bottom of the 9:16 window. The fourth preset allows clients to use the full resolution of the window by turning an image 90 degrees and stretching it to fill the 9:16 aspect ratio. The fifth option shuts the video off.

Via wireless networking and a custom-designed computer application, a TabletKiosk Sahara Slate PC i440T Touch-iT touchpanel tablet addresses the Medialon system of a Dell Dimension 9200 located in the equipment room that's just off the rotunda. This tablet PC enables full control over the system while it's in Presentation mode, letting users select among video inputs, control microphone levels, and address lighting presets. Available Light of New York designed the lighting system, which includes a lighting processor that's integrated into Watchout and Medialon so that the system can fire lighting cues during the show. Users can also customize the color of the LED light that falls on the dome, floor, columns, and statue of Franklin. The custom gobos can be set to shine shapes, such as stars, on the floor or the ceiling.


Installation Profile: Shedding Light on Franklin

Mar 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Trevor Boyer

Sophisticated networked systems illuminate museum's rotunda.




Shedding Light on Franklin

The scaling switcher is one of the few elements of the AVL system that is not networked via Cat-5. McCann Systems chose an Extron IN1508 8×8 scaling switcher owing to its sturdiness. Because the switcher is addressable only via RS-232, McCann also installed a Moxa Nport 5610-8 eight-input server that converts IP commands to RS-232 so that the scaling switcher can be controlled via Medialon.

NEW SYSTEM, NEW REVENUE

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The rotunda can hold a few hundred guests for a sit-down dinner or more than 1,000 for dancing and cocktails. Since opening, the rotunda has been booked for about five private events per week — a surge over previous booking levels and a significant increase in the museum's revenue stream.

Mountjoy has been pleased with the system and the attention that McCann Systems has paid to the Franklin Institute since the installation. For instance, one of the HD8K projectors had a manufacturer's defect; McCann replaced the unit the same day. McCann also trained the museum's AV staff and has supplied new programming. When the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series, the institute wanted to bathe the room in red light to match the team's color. That wasn't a preset, so McCann Systems emailed Mountjoy a text file so that preset could be added to the lighting server.

Since the overhaul to the AV systems, the rotunda has become a popular spot for weddings. Mountjoy cites the room's easy IMAG capabilities and the level of control that clients have over still-image display and lighting choices — letting wedding parties change their minds (about images and light, that is) up to the beginning of the ceremony.

For corporate clients, the fact that the room is ready to go is a huge selling point. “Previously, if someone wanted to do a presentation, they had to bring in some sort of PA system,” Mountjoy says. Now, they can plug a mic into one of the audio ports, switch it on, and adjust the volume via the wireless touchscreen PC. Before, as noted, if a client wanted special lighting, Mountjoy would have to spend hours sourcing, securing, and installing a rental system.

Some clients that have rented out the updated rotunda include a New Jersey paper company, the World Affairs Council, and the Association of Science-Technology Centers — for which Mountjoy drove a Martin Mac 2000 to light different areas of the party with different colors.

Mountjoy has been doing theater-lighting design since he was a teenager, but he says he's happy to now put his trust in the new system's presets.

“We can change the colors in 3 seconds,” he says. “Clients feel more comfortable because of the flexibility the system gives them. This is a professional environment. It's ready. We don't have to talk about what we could do.”

For more on GToo media check out their Reel-Exchange profile.


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