Colossal Sight and Sound
May 1, 2003 12:00 PM,
By Will Lewis
“A New Day” dawned in Las Vegas along with a brand-new venue, incorporating the most current production technology available. On March 25, 2003, Céline Dion and Franco Dragone produced an extravaganza of song and dance, which opened with much fanfare at Caesars Palace. The journey began two years earlier when ground was broken for the new Colosseum, after being delayed by post-9/11 economic concerns. The great round showroom rose front and center in the huge casino complex. A project that would normally have a five-year timeline would come alive in a little over two. With construction of new showrooms having slowed during the past few years, this quickly became a high-profile installation in Las Vegas.
The Colosseum is Dion’s home for the next three years. She is performing one show a night with her band and a large cast of dancers. Renowned producer Franco Dragone of Cirque Du Soleil fame adds a new dimension to Dion’s live concert appreciated worldwide. Each night more than 4,000 people experience an “intimate” display of music, dance, and magic, using the latest in technology and design. The circular room was designed so that even the farthest seat is no more than 125 feet from the stage. Every aspect of the audio, lighting, video, and show control test the limits of today’s technology and challenged those supplying and installing the various systems. The group assembled to bring this dream to life was from all points of North America and beyond.
IN THE BEGINNING
The story must begin with Park Place Entertainment, one of the world’s premier gaming companies. Park Place’s brand portfolio includes Caesars, Paris, Bally’s, Flamingo, Hilton, and Grand Casinos. When Park Place Entertainment launched its project to revamp Caesars Palace, it approached Montreal-based Scéno Plus to develop an architectural concept and theater design of what was to become the Colosseum. The building is loosely inspired by Roman aesthetics, with contemporary overtones. Patrick Bergé, president of Scéno Plus and project coordinator and theater designer of the Colosseum, says, “The design of the theater was guided by Céline’s desire to be as close as possible to her audience and Franco’s wish that the show have as vast a visual impact as possible in order to totally immerse spectators in the action onstage.”
The audio and visual systems were conceived by René Angelil (Dion’s longtime manager and husband) and Scéno Plus and were designed to execute the artistic vision of Dion and Dragone. The audio subsystems were designed with significant input from Denis Savage and Francois Desjardins, Dion’s longtime engineer and system designer, respectively. Solotech of Montreal won the contract, along with American partner Denver-based Audio Analysts, to supply and install the sound system. As one of Canada’s largest commercial contractors, Solotech’s design engineer, Bob Barbagallo, had the task of engineering a sound system that would challenge every aspect of the technology. While the primary audio chain is digital from the SSL preamps to the BSS Audio Soundwebs, a redundant analog system was also designed in for backup and visiting artists filling in during Dion’s breaks. Advance work was done in both Montreal and Colorado Springs, with the install ramping up in Las Vegas the beginning of September 2002.
The ultimate system design included a total of 153 loudspeakers, providing 5.1 surround to all three levels of the enormous room. The main front of house (FOH) system for the show comprises left, center, and right arrays of Meyer Sound M3D line array and M2D compact curvilinear array loudspeakers. Eight M3D cabinets are hung to the left and right of the proscenium, with the center channel routed to dual M2D arrays of eight cabinets each. Three MSL-4 horn-loaded long-throw loudspeakers are flown outside the main arrays to assure even coverage throughout the wide upper balconies. Eight 2-ton and four 1-ton chain motors are used to hang the system, which will be eventually dead hung from cable.
Subbass is provided by a dozen M3D-sub directional subwoofers split in two arrays, supplemented by eight ground-stacked USW-1P compact subwoofers.
For the surround channels, a total of 53 Meyer UPA-1Ps, UPA-2Ps, UPM-1Ps, and UPM-2Ps are mounted into the theater walls. CQ-1 full-range loudspeakers fill the far corners of the main floor, and two of Meyer Sound’s newest and most innovative products are assigned to the problematic first few rows: the SB-2 parabolic Sound Beams and the MM-4 miniature loudspeaker systems. Because no speakers can be flown anywhere inside the massive proscenium arch, the first few rows fall outside the patterns of the main arrays. “The Sound Beams gave us very good coverage in the center section, just back from the stage,” says Savage, “and they also gave us very good control in order to keep sound from spilling back onto the stage.” The SB-2s are aimed precisely to cut off coverage between the first and second row, with the front-row seats covered by eight tiny MM-4 units concealed in the lip of the 40-inch-high stage.
All of the speakers (except the tiny MM-4s) are self-powered and controlled by Meyer’s RMS remote monitoring system. Input/output levels, muting, and temperature can be monitored from all three equipment locations. This requires power, signal, and control be pulled to each location.
There are five audio equipment locations in the Colosseum: FOH position, under sound board (USB) located directly under the FOH position, Monitor World (located one level up stage left), two racks on the grid, and the recording studio tucked away on the fifth level. Power at each location is isolated to the same ground to minimize noise problems.
The 16-by-9-foot FOH position is a little tight with the SSL MT production console and outboard gear and is located on the first level approximately 40 feet from the stage. Four 6-inch pipes link FOH with USB directly underneath. That makes it easy for visiting production companies to tie into the house system. Everything in FOH is on wheels so it can be easily moved to storage.
USB is home to two racks, housing the SSL’s digital signal-processing (DSP) engines and BSS Soundwebs. The 16-by-10-foot room is also the audio production office/workshop and storage for the SSL when not being used. The Soundwebs at this location provide the system processing for the delays and surround. All of the racks were preloaded and internally wired at Audio Analysts’ shop in Colorado Springs. Each rack has a Liebert UPS for protection and conditioning.
Monitor World is where everything comes together. It took six people three weeks to terminate everything in the room. This location is the monitor position with a Yamaha PM1D and a DM2000 for backup. There are ten full height racks, which house processing, Sennheiser wireless microphone and in-ear monitor transmitters, PM1D DSP engines/microphone preamps, SSL microphones preamps, and many patch bays. There is also a complete rack of CCTV so the monitor engineer can see the musicians who are located under the huge raked stage. Sitting 97 feet off center stage on the grid is a rack housing the eight BSS Soundwebs for the main system and a power distribution rack for the powered speakers. Custom snakes manufactured by Solotech drop signal, power, and control down to the speaker clusters.
Just below the grid on level five (production level), a small recording studio was specified and provides the home for the Digidesign Pro Tools that Savage uses to record every show and support any broadcast audio needs. The studio is wired for digital and analog audio along with house communications and CCTV. This room also had independent air conditioning for climate control. During the construction phase, it was also the site offices for Audio Analysts and Solotech.
Ethernet, communications, audio, CCTV, and TV video are accessible throughout the venue. These custom wall panels were designed and manufactured by Solotech and installed by Bombard Electric of Las Vegas. This also includes a large panel at the loading dock for remote audio and video production.
THE INSTALLATION BEGINS …
The schedule allowed approximately three months to complete the install, from start to finish. On December 1, rehearsals were to begin. As site manager for Audio Analysts, I began overseeing the installation on September 4. Simultaneously, manufacturing of custom product began in Montreal and gear began arriving in Colorado Springs.
The install began with the testing and certification of the Meyer UPM/UPA loudspeakers. Prior to this, Bombard Electric’s low-voltage division had been pulling the massive amount of wire specified. All UPMs and UPAs were assigned a number based on location so they could be monitored by the RMS system. Most of the speakers were recessed in the ceiling of the two balconies and covered with grilles. Visible speakers were painted to match the wall they were mounted on. The RMS monitoring did its job by identifying a thermal problem with the enclosed UPMs; improving ventilation around the speaker provided a simple solution to the problem.
… AND CHALLENGES ARISE
The first major challenge surfaced right away. Dion’s band was going to rehearse in Montreal and needed to use a large portion of the gear that was to be installed. The logistics of getting new equipment across the border and back were a challenge. The gear was spread out among Nevada, Colorado, Belgium, and Canada, and some gear was on manufacturing back order. Cooperation, planning, 24-hour driving by equipment movers, and a little luck got everything back to Las Vegas in time to meet the deadlines.
Prewired racks, minus rehearsal gear, arrived from Colorado Springs mid-October. Bombard Electric began the massive termination job when the racks were in place.
A semi full of Meyer equipment (44,000 pounds) arrived at the site on October 25. Then the “flood” began — a lot of equipment (lighting, staging, and so on) was arriving at the Colosseum, and floor space was scarce. Keeping track of the speakers and their locations in the building became a major challenge. Equipment was constantly shuttled from the dance studio to the green room to wardrobe before being tested and finally hung.
A few days before the start of scheduled hang dates, we discovered the chain motors were back ordered. Being a touring company as well as a systems contractor, Audio Analysts pulled the motors from inventory and put them on a truck the same day. Miraculously, this delayed the hang by only one day. The mains were playing music on November 8.
Barbagallo arrived on the 15th to head up the final push to completion. Solotech, Audio Analysts, and Bombard had crews terminating in Monitor World and other locations. The rehearsal equipment arrived at the scheduled time, on November 18. Factory personnel arrived from Meyer, SSL, and Sennheiser to assist with the installation of their products. Terminating, testing, and troubleshooting was the mantra of the final weeks. The sound system was ready on December 3, but final system tuning and adjustments were ongoing, right up to opening night.
As anyone who has ever been involved with large-scale, complex system installations knows, despite the best planning, there always seems to be the inevitable challenges, setbacks, and potential disasters. But when the team is composed of seasoned pros and experienced technicians, you know the ultimate outcome will be positive, as it certainly was in this case. “A New Day” opened on March 25 with much international publicity. The technology is invisible to the audience, buried behind a show that is both innovative and dazzling, as it should be.
Will Lewis has been a live-sound engineer and marketing consultant in the professional audio industry for 25 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 480-607-0405.
Talk About a Wide Screen …
A key feature of the visual presentation of Céline Dion’s “A New Day” production is the huge video display screen that shares the stage with Dion and the performers. The Mitsubishi Diamond Vision display is a high-resolution LED display that measures 34 feet high and 109 feet wide, making it the largest interior video display in North America. It is also the only LED display in the world with an entrance door for the performer to enter the stage. The display is constructed as part of the stage set and is curved (concave) to match the stage.
A separate 600 KVA power supply is installed on site specifically to provide power for the 24-ton Diamond Vision display. The display uses 16 mm surface mount diodes and is controlled by six digital screen controllers (DSCs). Each DSC has the ability to accept three separate feeds, which allows multiple content to display on the screen simultaneously and gives the show producers almost unlimited flexibility. A Diamond Vision large-scale video display can be compared to a typical home television CRT in that they both use a series of red, green, and blue dots to create full-color images. Each display uses these colored dots, illuminated at various levels of intensity to produce color images. The flat matrix CRTs used in Diamond Vision screens allow exceptional brightness (5,000 nits; cd/m2) and more than 1 billion possible colors. The display has an 8 mm dot pitch, or 16 mm pixel pitch, which gives the visual resolution of 11mm and allows 1,024 levels of gray.
The display used during Dion’s “A New Day” production uses the Mitsubishi display as an electronically configurable scenery backdrop, as well as presents a combination of live video camera input and prerecorded images that correspond to the show’s different songs and scenes.
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