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A Major Leap Forward

Kevin M. Mitchell • Houses of WorshipSeptember 2018 • September 14, 2018

Saint City Conference at Grace Church, Maryland Heights, MO.

Like most houses of worship, Grace Church in Maryland Heights, MO, near St. Louis, has been working to elevate the worship experience for their congregants as a series of steps. Rare is the church that can upgrade everything at once, and Grace Church, which has staged performances from Christian artists including Hillsong and Kari Jobe, has been considering improvements to their video systems since 2010.

With 2018 marking 40 years since the church was established in 1978, senior pastor and founder Ron Tucker, along with technical director Ron Krause, opted to finally make a big leap forward. And by the time the church held its big 40th Anniversary celebrations earlier this year, the services were enhanced by visuals displayed on a new Triton Visual Technology xWave 2.9mm LED system.

Grace Church TD Ron Krause

Senior Pastor Tucker and Krause worked with Joe Lapchick of Triton VT (formerly Oracle LED Systems) on the project. Lapchick credits both as tech-savvy clients, lauding their commitment to a new video system that makes use of 432 panels stretching across more than 100 meters of the church’s main stage. “One of the key aspects was the ability to place the LED panels in different configurations, which allows them to keep it fresh for their congregation,” Lapchick says.

Along with image quality and reliability, Krause cites price as a key factor behind the purchase decision, because it allowed for a bigger, sharper visual impact through the sheer quantity of the high-resolution panels that Grace Church could afford. “That was a big deal — we were able to get more panels with TritonVT,” Krause says. The final setup is impressive indeed — it includes a center wall measuring close to 38-by-15 feet configured as 22-by-9 panels (WxH), flanked by side walls in a 22-by-15 foot, 13-by-9-panel (WxH) configuration.

Grace Church uses LED screens to get their message across.

‡‡         A Church Built on Music

Senior Pastor Tucker began his career in the 1970s as a youth pastor at another church before founding Grace Church in 1978, and as Krause notes, “to him, the music during the service is hugely important.” Krause, a native of Belleville, IL, about an hour away on the other side of the Mississippi River, went to Millikin University in Decatur, IL, where he acquired a fine arts degree in percussion. The school had a studio, and he got acquainted with the technical side of audio.

On summer break, Krause got a job at Wakefield Systems in Freeburg, IL, where they did production regionally at state fairs and theaters. At one point he was the house audio engineer for the American Theatre and Westport Playhouse in St. Louis along with the Maryland Heights, MO-based shed venue, Riverport Amphitheatre (now known as the Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre). The company’s LD at the time was Dave Butzler, who was training Krause on lights.

The Thanksgiving service at Grace. It was important that the video screen be able to accommodate different configurations

Then, an up-and-coming artist named Garth Brooks “stole” Butzler, leaving Krause to cover that position. After graduating, Krause then toured with acts for Wakefield, and after five years on the road, “felt it was time for a shift.” A coworker he had worked with along the way brought him into Grace in 1994, and by 1997, he was the church’s technical director. Today Grace’s membership is around 4,500, and the main sanctuary seats 3,200.

In the early 2000s, Grace Church was getting “pretty theatrical,” Krause says. The setup included two 20-foot screens for I-Mag and graphics, one camera, and a lighting system with static lights and scrollers. To meet the growing technical needs of the church’s popular Drummer Boy Christmas shows, Grace Church would bolster the house system with additional gear rented from VER in Nashville, Upstaging in Chicago and, locally, Logic Systems Sound & Lighting.

Eventually, the church sought to upgrade the capabilities of their own house system. “We got our five Panasonic HD broadcast cameras and went to a six Barco 20K lumens FLMHD20 projection setup,” Krause says. “Then we got a Christie 1608 Spyder X20, and that was the hub of our presentational system. For the holiday shows we would rent more moving lights, get into pixel mapping LED fixtures and created set pieces out of foam core that we could project onto, getting into environmental projection. In 2009, we worked with 44 Design in Nashville, and with [founder] Jeff Lava and Darien Koop, the LD, we really kicked up our productions. Jeff was a great connection.”

Their upgrade was incremental and steady over the years. Today, they have 18 Vari-Lite VL3000s and six VL3500s. For modern fixtures, they turned to Chauvet. “In the truss, we have Chauvet Maverick MK2 Wash fixtures — those are a great wash light. We also have Chauvet 412s, Tours and Quad 18s. The house lighting is all Philips [Selecon] PL1s — we are able to colorize the house and main floor.” Grace Church was also an early adopter of High End Systems Hog consoles, and the church continues to rely on HES technologies as its mainstay for control.

‡‡         The Video Decision

The church’s technical team has a lot of space to work with. For the Church to build their campus, the bank insisted on a “Plan B,” Krause says. “They wanted the building to be able to be sold as a warehouse if the church folded,” he says, with a laugh. “That’s why it’s two stories and laid out the way it is, so we’re always looking for ways to brighten it all up with color and video. We’ll project a lot of nature scenes, abstract loops and space visuals and keep it lively. Basically, any surface we can project on, we have. We’ve even
projected up on the balcony face for Christmas services.”

When Krause arrived, there were two small projectors. But how fortunate is this: Among their congregants is Bruce Allers, who has been working for Barco since 1987. “He is super helpful in figuring out what we need,” Krause says. “He helped me upgrade the projectors and maintain them.” Allers also helped Grace get six projectors instead of four.

The creative team incorporates a lot of nature images.

The church doesn’t have its own media server (yet), but are still able to make the visuals all work with ArKaos software and two older Mac towers. Each of the Mac towers has a Matrox TripleHead output, allowing for a total of six outputs to feed the Christie Spyder X20 1608 video processor. “That’s how we map visuals out to our walls, but getting a media server is something we’re looking into. We’ve rented Catalysts, Green Hippo and Pandoras Box for different holiday services — we’ll end up getting whatever is most flexible, and what we can get the best deal on,” Krause laughs. He adds that the church is considering offerings from disguise, Picturall, AV Stumpfl and 7thSense Design as well.

In 2009, Senior Pastor Tucker expressed an interest in moving from video projection to LED panels, but the costs were still too high. “We would then rent LED for holidays from Arch City AV, and after a few years of that, Ron told me it was time to look again,” Krause says. “Then I went into research mode.” After initially casting a wide net and considering offerings from 14 different companies, Krause narrowed the list down to five serious contenders. “TritonVT was one of them,” he notes. Krause did in-house demos with all of them before TritonVT came out on top.

The Grace Production Team assembling the video wall, which they accomplished in two days with no training.

“It was not necessarily the best-looking of what we looked at, but when you considered price, it was very good,” Krause says. “Another big factor was that the senior pastor wanted a full curved Cyc wall with no break, and their panels offer a lot of flexibility.” Krause also wanted the ability to fly the panels or use them with ground rigging. (After upgrading the audio system last year, the technical team got a greater appreciation of the building’s structural weight limits.) “Finally,” Krause adds, the TritonVT “look great on camera. That’s why the in-house demos were so important, because we’ve seen some LED not look good and we really needed it to as we started live-streaming some of our services.”

The final choice was between TritonVT’s 3.9mm and 2.9mm panels, and the 2.9mm panels ended up getting the nod. Part of TritonVT’s xWave flexible display system, the panels feature an easy locking mechanism adjusting -20°, -10°, 0°, +10°, +20° per panel. It can reach a complete circle with a diameter of just over nine feet in diameter (9’ 5”), or 18’ 9” diameter (hanging or ground supported). The panels also feature integrated 3-in-1 SMD’s and replaceable modules.

Tamy Strehl driving the LED setup. Photo by Gino Santa Maria

“We delivered it, and they installed it themselves,” Lapchick adds. “They did such an amazing job, it was really impressive.” Grace’s production team spent one day unpacking and another full day (about eight hours) setting it up. “We’re not LED techs, having only worked with LED once or twice a year during the holidays, so I was a little concerned about setting up a 38-foot-by-15-foot ground stacked wall,” Krause admits. “But after laying it all out, and realizing that they at first weren’t meticulous enough in leveling it all, Steve Hayden got out the laser level and they locked it in,” Krause adds, crediting Grace Church’s production manager. TritonVT’s “sister” company, Global Trend Productions, was another lifeline for the project, Krause continues. “Because they actually used the gear, Franck Van de Cayzeele and Ben Carson offered great support.”

Grace Church’s 40th Anniversary celebratory service took place in May, 2018, and when the new video setup was unveiled, the focus wasn’t just on the past, it was also on the future. The screens featured loops, graphics and B-roll content, coordinated by staff visualist Tamy Strehl. “There’s a lot of freedom, Krause says, “but our main purpose is to reinforce the message of the sermon and the music.” He adds that Sharon Reilly, the lighting designer, has a great deal of creative input. “Being musical is a big focus with our visuals/lighting,” Krause says, and not just to present impressive looks but to “track with what’s going on in worship. All our looks are a combo of visuals and lighting. Tamy and Sharon come up with color combinations, deciding what parts of the song will be lighting focus versus visual focus, and which will be used to build intensity as the music builds, etc.”

Now, more than ever, Grace can fulfill its mission of creating moments of worship/reflection and inspiration. “Grace has always aimed high in production value,” Krause says. And now with the xWave they’ve taken a big leap forward.

 

Grace Church Technical Crew and Gear

Crew

  • Technical Director: Ron Krause
  • Production Manager: Steve Hayden
  • Lighting Designer: Sharon Reilly
  • Video Crew: Landon Monoc, Tamy Strehl
  • Audio Crew: David Banks, Trenton Bylo, Danny Cressey
  • Recording: Ed Balsat

 

Gear

Video and I-Mag:

  • 2       Mac Pro Towers*
  • 1       iMac
  • 1       Christie 1608 Spyder X20 video processor
  • 5       Panasonic AK-HC3500 HD cameras
  • 1       Grass Valley K2 4 channel HD media server
  • 1       ProPresenter 6 CG Key/Fill
  • 1       Ross Vision 4ME switcher
  • 8       SDI Aux sends from Ross to Spyder X20
  • 432  Triton Visual Technology XWave 2.9mm panels (168x168p each)
  • 3       Video walls (Center: 22×9, Side Walls: 13×9 each)

*Notes: Each of the two Mac Pro Towers runs ArKaos MediaMaster Pro with USB fader controllers and Matrox TripleHead for three 1080p outputs each. All six Mac DVI outputs drive HD inputs on the Spyder X20. The iMac runs ProVideoPlayer3 with two HD outputs into the Spyder X20.

Lighting:

  • 1       HES Hog 4PC+
  • 2       Fader wings
  • 1       Programming wing
  • 18     Vari-Lite VL3000
  • 6       Vari-Lite VL3500
  • 10     Chauvet 412 fixtures
  • 15     Chauvet Maverick MK2 Washes
  • 10     Chauvet COLORdash Quad18s
  • 10     Chauvet COLORado 1-Tour fixtures
  • ETC Source Four Pars/ellipsoidals
  • ETC Sensor dimmers
  • Philips Selecon PL1 RGBW house lights

 

 

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