3D History: AV installation at the Historic Philadelphia Center, Part 2

In this edition of the SVC Podcast, SVC Contributing Editor Bennett Liles completes his interview with Stephan Villet of show control firm Smart Monkeys about their installation for Liberty 360.
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3D History: AV installation at the Historic Philadelphia Center, Part 2

Feb 22, 2011 10:27 AM, with Bennett Liles

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Part 1


Part 2

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.

Liberty 360, a 3D video tour, in the Historic Philadelphia Center is the site of a unique 360-degree video experience installed and programmed by the show control firm Smart Monkeys and Stephan Villet is going to give us more technical details on the project next up on the SVC podcast. Stephan thanks for being back with me on the SVC podcast from Smart Monkeys, the outfit that installed show control for Liberty 360 at the Historic Philadelphia Center. In that show you’re totally wrapped up in a 360-degree 3D video experience and you set up a Medialon Showmaster Pro to run all of this. And so how does that system work?
Well the Showmaster Pro really is an embedded show controller that basically provides all the feature of the well-known Medialon Editor Pro software. In the fully dedicated back box there is no screen, no access to the operating system and its rock solid so that’s really what drives us to use this product. Medialon is really well known for this software-based products—I guess they are the leader in the market right now. They have the preeminence hold on the Ethernet world which is really important now and also the products are really good at timeline stuff and everything so a very good choice in here. In this system particularly all of the manual operations are entered through the graphical interface residing in the touch panels but the entire control process and show elements are inside the Showmaster Pro and all the control is centrally located in that box and distributed for most of it through the network. Only the lighting system is controlled over DMX and the background music player over serial communication. [Timestamp: 2:16]

And I think you said in Part One that there are three Niles Creative Group. David Niles is a big name in exhibits like this and he called on Smart Monkeys to come in and take all the various elements of a show that he created and put them all together and make it all work.
Well we have a very interesting relation with David. The real thing is when we started the company we were used to work with integrator because show control programming is usually seen as something that should be provided by the integrator and when we started working with David Niles which is not a integrator, he’s a designer, so his designing the system and then he asked for an integrator to actually do the cabling and put the equipment and everything. Well the interesting thing is that in his mind show control is something that should be taken care of right from the start and that’s what we think about. Meaning that acting in the very beginning of the design we know exactly what the entire system will be able to perform and we’re not just getting here when everything has been chosen and then we have to deal with it. We know exactly what to choose before and we can work a long time before. And I guess that’s what makes the experience on the creation but also on the user level working that well. [Timestamp: 5:44]

You mentioned the backup capability of the touch panels for control, is there any sort of backup power capability for this system?
Well there is a second Showmaster Pro unit fully loaded and ready to go as a spare. It is not a hot-swap system but the reliability of the system gave us enough confidence to choose this solution and in case of a controller failure the show has to stop but…and the theater has to be cleared and then we just disregard the main controller to turn to the spare for the next show. [Timestamp: 6:14]

And you got all of the software going for the show control. What other features does the control system programming provide for the operator?
Well on top of the show itself you have multiple pages and feature to actually be able to control every single pieces of the system. So in the event where the owner of the place wants to actually do something else like a special event or whatever he wants he has the ability to actually take control of every single pieces there. So he can set up the lighting as he wish to, he can actually drop new content there and everything can be controllable. Honestly you don’t have the automation parts prepared for that but still if they want to operate the place differently that they usually do they are able to control everything from a single point. [Timestamp: 7:07]

Was there any sort of timeline pressure on the installation? How long did it take you to get it all in and get tested and ready to go?
Well that’s the good part with being involved with the design and everything, again being involved at the very beginning allow us to actually prepare everything and to preprogram off site and we had access to a lot of equipment because everything was chosen and so when the place was ready for us to go we had maybe like 90 percent of the job done already. And when I say done, it was written in terms of code but also tested in terms of communication and equipment behavior. So once on site, it was really more of adjustment and realization that this part would be better doing another way but on site it was really fast, quick, and efficient. [Timestamp: 8:05]

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3D History: AV installation at the Historic Philadelphia Center, Part 2

Feb 22, 2011 10:27 AM, with Bennett Liles

And it’s not all just inside the theater, I believe there’s a Niles strip LED display around the outside of the theater as well that you can control.
Yes, yeah the Niles strip is actually an LED wall that is custom made for the Niles Creative Group company and there are some other content that are displayed on the exterior ring of the theater and it’s controlled also from the same controller. It’s not part of the show itself but you can easily go onto any touch panel and actually have an access of all the shows that are residing on a WATCHOUT system and you can simply pick one and play it continuously. What’s interesting is that, again, if the owner wants to put new content on that ring it’s just a matter of updating the content onto the WATCHOUT system and then automatically it will populate the list of new shows that are accessible from the control system. So again, there are no need to reprogramming it being on the control system. [Timestamp: 9:11]

And it doesn’t sound like the system is that complex to operate. Did it require any training for the local operators? How did that go?
Well we had actually two different level of training—first one was for the very few people that are involved in technical stuff like this so we went through a lot of stuff and we mostly trained them on defining what was causing any problem because the big part of the training is not that much about explaining to the people how to deal with a problem, it’s first of all how to really find it to be sure that the problem is coming from this part and not from another part. And again, because the control system is the first layer, if you don’t really understand what the control system is doing it’s really hard to actually know where the problem is. [Timestamp: 10:05]

OK so it’s a diagnostics training situation for the operators.
Yes, yes so even though they’re not going to do too much more on the control system itself they have to understand exactly how the control system is working and what kind of information it sends to the equipment at any time during the show and outside of the show. [Timestamp: 10:26]

So when was the big debut for the system and how did everything go?
Well it went pretty well actually. The real issue was that…we had no issue at the beginning so everything was just theory, “What would happen if this would fail?” and “What would happen if this was not going to work properly?” Which was kind of frustrating, I would say because usually when they are with our assistant there are some glitches here and here and when you find them it’s the best way to show to the people on site what to do in case this happened. On that project we had absolutely no problem at all so it was hard to show them what would happen if there were some problems. [Timestamp: 11:13]

Well it sounds like you haven’t had to make a whole lot of tweaks to the control system since then.
Not from the initial scope of work but then the owner and the operators getting more involved in the operation, they started to understand what they could do and some real part of this where content the mind at the beginning and so new ideas came up and in the next few weeks and couple of months we then made some modifications. Not really modification because it didn’t work but modification because people realized that they could do a little bit more than what they envisioned at the beginning. [Timestamp: 11:55]

A few more bells and whistles they wanted on it.

OK well of course convincing production is a big part of this thing and all of that was produced by the Niles Creative Group?
Everything came from the Niles Creative Company. They had their own recording and shooting studios and primarily they are a video producer so they know everything about acting, musing, recording—all that kind of stuff. It’s really their job. [Timestamp: 12:23]

Were there any issues to work out as far at the architecture on the set up of the exhibit?
I wasn’t really involved in the architectural but I know that they had some issue there. The facility is a big hall in a building but the theater its self is a complete new building inside it and as you mentioned there are all those projector and beside the fact that they are noisy and they are producing a lot of heat, the other thing is they are weighing a lot so all the structure for the ceiling and everything has been kind of a nightmare at some point. [Timestamp: 13:03]

Right that would certainly be a big factor with the weight of all those big projectors up there.
And the ceiling for a projector is actually hanging with cables which was another issue because due to vibration then the projector would be moving a little bit and so of course the edge blending between the eight of them was not good enough and we had to fight this by finding some other solution. [Timestamp: 13:3]

So what’s coming up next for Smart Monkeys? That’s a really intriguing name, how did you come up with the name Smart Monkeys?
It’s just because when you do show control actually if you want to do it well you need to know a little bit about everything that you’re controlling and in order to be efficient you need to be able to help people in their task so you’re understand more about what they do and you’re more efficient about what you do in terms of controlling their work. So usually on a project we’re just like monkeys going back and forth here and there putting a hand on this stuff and everything and when we were looking for a name we definitely didn’t want to have a very conventional AV company name so we just came up with Smart Monkeys which is fine because people remember it. The only thing is we must not screw up because of the name, we would be devastated. [Timestamp: 14:26]

Well you can certainly remember the name and it’s interesting enough that I’m sure when people hear it they want to know a little more about what you do. So have you got some projects coming up or anything else you’ve been working on?
Well we have lots and lots of projects. Because of the evolution of both show control and our company we are more and more involved in designs and engineering—a lot more than just programming at the end of a show which is a very good thing. The down side is we are under a non-disclosure agreement for most of them. We just finished the Cosmopolitan lobby video wall which is really interesting and we’re going to work on some theme park projects here and abroad. [Timestamp: 15:11]

Well it’s been fun having you here Stephan Villet from show control company Smart Monkeys in Miami Beach. It’s a very interesting show at the Liberty 360 in Philadelphia and thanks very much for taking time out to tell us about it.
Well thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to discuss about this project and show control in general. Thank you very much.

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