Multimedia Network at the National World War II Museum, Part 2

The National World War II Museum in New Orleans features the high-tech Solomon Victory Theater where the audience witnesses jungle combat, sea battles, and an atomic bomb in the multimedia show calle 7/26/2010 8:00 AM Eastern

Multimedia Network at the National World War II Museum, Part 2

Jul 26, 2010 12:00 PM

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Multimedia Network at the National World War II Museum, Part 1
It's a total century emersion in World War II combat. The sights, sounds and even the feeling of the fighting comes alive at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans...

The National World War II Museum in New Orleans features the high-tech Solomon Victory Theater where the audience witnesses jungle combat, sea battles, and an atomic bomb in the multimedia show called Beyond All Boundaries. Museum Tech Director Paul Parrie takes us behind the scenes for a look at the museum's next-generation AV system.

Paul, thanks for being back for part two. In part one, we were talking about the Solomon Victory Theater and the National World War II Museum, where you're in charge of all the technical elements. What I wanted to get into on this part is how you get the audio going and some of the lighting. What sort of audio system do you have there? Describe it for me a little.
Paul Parrie:
Sure. The main audio for the main show plays off of an Alesis hard drive—that's a 24-track. That was actually mixed; the show came to us on the media unmixed, so we got the audio flat. We brought [an Avid] ProTools rig in; we had a drop specifically built into the theater, in the middle of the theater, where the audio sweet spot is. And we actually mixed the show in the theater, so it's mixed specifically for this venue. There's 27 speakers in the theater: 11 in the front of the theater, four surround-sound speakers on the side walls—on each of the side walls, there are four surround-sound speakers on the back wall, there's some overhead speakers and some subwoofers that are mounted up in the catwalk. So there's a lot of sound in the theater. That's all distributed via a Peavey MediaMatrix; which also does some signal processing for us as well. [Timestamp: 1:58]

OK, and you've got QSC amplifiers, I believe, and some Renkus-Heinz PNX series speakers.
Yes we do, yeah. We use QSC 1102s and 702s, depending upon which area we're actually feeding sound into. [Timestamp: 2:12]

You know, the PNX is a great little two-way speaker system.
It's an awesome system. One of the most consistent compliments we get, from a technical perspective, is the amazing quality of the sound ... it sounds good. We spent a lot of extra time and thought in designing the theater. There's 8in. of sound insulation on every surface in that particular room. There's also, you'll notice—if you come into the theater, you notice a lot of wood, slatted woodwork, and that woodwork was designed and placed in such a way to be audio traps so we can cut down on any kind of audio reflections that may result from some of the flat surfaces in the space. [Timestamp: 2:48]

All right, and as we talked about before, you've got this whole World War II half-hour or 40-minute epic that you witness in the show. You've got set pieces that move up and down, you've got all sorts of gears and motors and servos on this stuff. That must be a relatively high-maintenance operation.
It is a lot of work. Again, I have to tip my hat to Electrosonic as well as LA ProPoint—they worked with us. LA ProPoint did the engineering and manufacturing of the actual set pieces and the mechanical parts of it, and Electrosonic did the design and implementation for the actual actions to occur—sending the signals to these different pieces. And we have a really good staff. When I was looking to hire staff, I knew I needed some multitalented people that had experience with sets, that had experience with show action, that had experience with rigging, hydraulics, pneumatics. So we have a little bit of everything in this theater, and it really functions well as long as we keep up with our maintenance and we keep a good eye on it. There's a lot of moving parts in this theater, a lot of heavy pieces. The main curtain itself weighs 1000lbs., so that's a big curtain that we have to move back and forth—twice, three times a show. [Timestamp: 4:02]

Right and you're doing, what, something like seven or eight shows a day?
We do eight shows a day. We also do special showings at night for groups and people who want private showings and whatnot. So I have a staff of a minimum of two technicians for each show. One person works up in the booth, and one person is actually in the theater to ensure that ... the experiences is running as it should as well for personal safety for our visitors. [Timestamp: 4:26]

And it's not just, as I mentioned before, a visual and aural experience. When you get to the, I believe it's the Battle of the Bulge, you've got snow, you've got tanks going by, and the seats actually vibrate.
The seats vibrate, and the seats vibrate at different speeds and different intensities depending upon where you are in the show. When the tank comes over, you feel a little bit of vibration. As it's approaching, it gets a stronger as you see the tank move across the screen. During the atomic bomb blast, the seats move really violently—not so violent that you're going to knock anybody off, but it's definite that they're moving. And there's big wind blowing as well—that's supposed to be from the blast wave of the bomb. [Timestamp: 5:06]

Multimedia Network at the National World War II Museum, Part 2

Jul 26, 2010 12:00 PM

Now, you've got a huge strobe that you use for that on the site, and it's kind of sneaky the way you do that because I've read where you gradually bring the light levels down to get everybody's pupils dilated and then, bang, you hit them with the A-bomb affect.
That's correct. At that particular point in the movie, you will see the screen is almost completely dark. There's the one map of Japan up there—it's very small and you can't see; lots of people's pupils are being dilated. And there's actually two strobes that go off to create this effect. There's one strobe that's much, much smaller—it's only a 5kW strobe, and it has a Gobo on it in the shape of a mushroom cloud. That strobe shoots for an eighth of a second, and as soon as it's finished, the big strobe comes, which is the big blast. That's a 70kW strobe, and we shoot it directly at the scrim and use the scrim as a reflector to reflect the light back into the audience. [Timestamp: 6:01]

Now, how was all this powered? You've got, I guess, the sound system on its own power. Have you got failure backups or resets? Have you ever had a power out on this thing?
As a matter of fact, we had a power outage yesterday. The theater is independent of everything else in the building. We have our own power, we have our own backup generator, we have our own UPSs, so if there are any power issues, the theater can survive on its own. The technicians can go through a routine that we've designed to shut the theater down, to power down the projectors to get them cooled off so we don't do any damage to the equipment. Also, with that said, if we do lose power catastrophically during a show our emergency power lights up, the doors pop open and we have backup power that ensures we can make an announcement to the audience to let them know that we've lost power and we need to exit the theater. [Timestamp: 6:56]

And for all this to be right and to have the right experience, it all has to be carefully synchronized, and that had to be worked out in the run up to the debut of this thing. How is it all controlled? You mentioned the Medialon system before. Is it programmed with a timeline, you can just drop in these events and it fires all the cues in order?
From a very basic standpoint, yes, that's correct. There's a timeline that works off of a timecode, and it sends—you drop a cue in and you tell it, "I want to send a cue to the lighting, to the Ion, and I want to light off cue number 35." And at the appropriate time the signal is sent to the Ion, the Ion shoots off the lighting cue 35, and lighting cue 35 operates. And so there are cues for every element of the show when they're supposed to happen, and there are over 1,500 cues in this 40-minute show. [Timestamp: 7:46]

OK, so that must have been a feat in itself just coming up with the show control routine and the software for this.
It was quite a project. It took a couple of months to get it completely programmed because you would set your lighting cues and then you start running with show action equipment, and you realize, "OK, that lighting cue needs to happen a little bit earlier or a little bit later," depending on if something was moving at a different speed than we thought it would move. So it was a big coordination between the engineers, the producers, the designers. Everybody had to be involved, and it was a lot of give and take, and everybody was there during programming to ensure that their piece operated as it should operate. And of course, everything is—we call it "chasing timecode," everything is chasing timecode. We have a timecode generator, and that's what drives everything as far as timing. [Timestamp: 8:29]

And the content for all this was a masterful creation in itself. What was involved in the original creation of the music and sound effects?
The music was composed by a gentleman named Bruce Broughton who works out of the Los Angeles area and has experience producing and composing music for many of the feature films that we see today. And that was the basis of the sound for the movie. We didn't want the sound effects to drive the movie; we wanted the music to drive the emotion and to really be the backbone of the audio track, and Bruce did a masterful job at accomplishing that. Sound effects were created through Foley, actually shooting that particular type of gun. If you're looking at somebody and there's an M1 Garand on screen and it's being shot, then they took an M1 Garand and they shot it to get the sound so that we could get the sound as close as possible to the real object. [Timestamp: 9:19]

Right, I can imagine if—I mean, a lot of veterans, World War II veterans, come in and see this thing, and they would probably be the first ones to let you know if it wasn't accurate.
You know, that's amazing because the first weekend we were open, our first two showings were veterans only. It was very tense standing outside of the theater, waiting for them to exit the theater when the experience ended, wondering what their reaction was going to be. And they walked out, they had tears in their eyes, they were hugging us, just telling us what a great job it was. They weren't caught up in whether or not we showed something proper or not; they were so moved by the story, and it was amazing, their response. And that was very gratifying for those of us who worked on the movie because that's who we made the movie for. If we couldn't satisfy them, then we knew we had gotten it completely wrong. [Timestamp: 10:07]

And of course this all took a while to get set up. How long did the whole AV installation take for the theater?
Installation of the AV in the Solomon Victory Theater was about a six-month project. The theater was still actually under construction while we went in and started installing equipment. But it was—total, it was about a six-month project of coordinating with the general contractor as well as with Electrosonic and our other subcontractors and installing equipment. [Timestamp: 10:32]

Right and I've read where Electrosonic had to use—they were using 3D computer models of the theater for the design on this thing.
They were. We wanted to make sure that the sight lines, because of all the moving set pieces and the different aspects of the show, we wanted to make sure that no matter where you sat in the theater, you would get a good experience and it really wouldn't matter where you sat. You're not going to get a better looking experience because you were on Row 1 as opposed to Row 20. [Timestamp: 10:57]

OK, and obviously you were talking before about a lot of maintenance on this thing. What's involved in routine maintenance on all this stuff?
Well, one of the things we do is, when we run the show everyday we have a log. Every show is numbered and any discrepancies that occur during a show—for instance, if maybe one of the tank traps doesn't move on time or it moves late or doesn't move at all—that's noted in the log. We write down the timecode, so we keep good track of what's going on in the show, when it occurred, so we can look for anomalies or we can look for patterns so that we can make sure our maintenance plan is tracking with the theater and doing the things that it needs. We have lamp changes once every three months. We change lamps in all nine projectors at the same time. We do normal mechanical maintenancee—like greasing and making sure that the tension on all the cabling and the rigging is proper. That's done on a daily basis—not the greasing, but the checking—we want to make sure that this is safe. The set pieces are very heavy; there's a lot of moving parts. We need to make sure that nothing is going to be of any danger to either the crew or the visitors. The equipment itself, we power things down at the end of the day, we power things up at the beginning of the day, and we do a practice show every morning before we let the public in. We run the entire experience from beginning to end to ensure that everything is operating properly. [Timestamp: 12:15]

All right. Well, it sounds like a fantastic show, and the next time I'm down there I've got to see it. That's a must-do for me. For all the design and creation that went into it, this has got to be something that just really knocks you over. So I congratulate you on the whole operation. That's Paul Perrie with the National World War II Museum, and everybody should stop in there when you're in New Orleans and have a look at it.
Absolutely. Well, thank you Bennett, and if they come in just tell them to stop by and see the show. It's definitely an experience that everybody should see at least once.

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