Behind the Magic at Caesars Palace: Projection Mapping Precision

by Mike Wharton
in Cover Story
DWP Live and Barco produced the spectacle during CinemaCon 2016
DWP Live and Barco produced the spectacle during CinemaCon 2016

Projection mapping specialists DWP Live marked their fifth consecutive year partnering with Barco at the CinemaCon industry party at Caesars Palace known as The Barco Belgian Beer Bar party, which references the projector manufacturer’s HQ location.

Alligning the Barco HDF W30 projectors

CinemaCon, the official convention of the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), has been held annually at Caesars Palace since 2011, when it emerged from its previous incarnation as ShoWest.

The convention is now the biggest annual gathering of movie theater owners and studio executives, drawing attendees form more than 80 countries around the world, and the Barco-sponsored party staged in the Caesars pool area known as The Garden of the Gods Oasis has become a CinemaCon tradition.

As the Barco event’s projection mapping partner, DWP Live needs to impress an audience that has already spent multiple days in a media-saturated environment — and top what the company achieved the year before.

FiveStone Studios created animated content for Barco's Belgian Beer Bar party at the Caesars Palace pool area known as the Garden of the Gods Oasis.

Projection-Mapping Focus

Danny Whetstone, owner and President of DWP Live, cites the company’s projection-mapping focus as a key advantage, offering a musical analogy. “The company excels because we focus on a specific genre,” he notes. “There are a lot of great musicians able to play a variety of instruments, but then there are extraordinary guitarists who are masters on the guitar.”

With a big part of CinemaCon devoted to cutting-edge projection technologies, Barco was making a big push toward digital laser projection. These promise to move the industry away from arc-sourced lamps’ high cost and maintenance. The new projectors are huge, requiring coolers and chillers. That footprint has made them impractical, at present, for one-offs or touring — making them more promising, for now, for permanent installation applications.

The countdown to start the show

“They are starting to trickle down to one-offs, and eventually we’ll see them in our market, but not just yet,” says Whetstone. So for the Barco Belgian Beer Bar party, “all projectors used on this project were lamp based,” he notes — DWP Live used 14 of Barco’s HDF-W30 projectors.

DWP Live general manager Greg Foster served as project manager on the Caesar’s Palace event. “Our strong relationship with Barco made it an easy decision to be on show site to assist the team with this project,” says Foster. “Because we are still a small company, we can easily wear multiple hats. This allows us to be involved in every aspect of an event and ensure the customer gets the best experience.”

This year’s projections served as a dynamic tie-in with the event itself, which featured food, beautiful hosts in futuristic garb, and an entrance area with red carpet and gold rope and stanchions to provide a movie premiere vibe.

Content from Fivestone Studios elicited laughter and smiles as the theme ranged from a jungle explorer chased by dinosaurs to a space explorer clinging to an asteroid and a “Club Barco” EDM sound-and-light party. (For Barco’s YouTube video of the event, go to plsn.me/PLSN-BarcoParty.)

Caesers transformed into a prehistoric jungle

The Precision

Due to the bigger scope of this year’s event, DWP Live started preliminary planning a bit earlier than usual. “A big turning point in developing the projection mapping came with the 3D laser scan we did of the building this year,” says Whetstone. “It elevated the entire project to a whole new level.”

Ryan Darling, formerly of Darling Geomatics in Tucson, AZ, came on board in 2015 to open DWP Lives’ 3D laser scanning division. Darling used a Leica P30 laser scanner to build an accurate 3D model of Caesar’s Palace down to the millimeter.

“The Leica P30 is highly versatile and includes a High Dynamic Range (HDR) imaging function,” Darling says. “HDR imaging reproduces the difference between the lightest light and darkest dark far better than is possible with standard digital imaging techniques.”

Space age animations mapped on  Caesers Palace

Clay Tipton, lead programmer at DWP Live, then uploaded the 3D model Darling created to a d3 Technologies 4x4Pro media server. Video Format Cards (VFC) upgraded the four outputs on the single server to 16.

“We took delivery of our first wave of d3 machines in the first quarter of 2015; it was immediately evident that this box was very powerful. We now have available one of the largest fleets of the d3 4x4Pro with VFC cards in our rental inventory,” notes Foster.

The laser scan and d3 server delivered a new level of accuracy for the final projection. The scan model creates a “point cloud,” as Tipton calls it. These all connect to create a very accurate (to the millimeter) 3D model of the building’s architectural features inside the d3 virtual environment. Projectors and their lens configurations are placed in the 3D model as well.

To calibrate, or “warp,” the building, the programmer picks out five points on the virtual model and, through a “drag and drop” process, matches the same points on the “real” building. The virtual projectors then triangulate this information, sample, and output that information to the real projectors.

“Five years ago, this calibration process took all of eight hours,” says Tipton. This year, aided by the d3 server’s ability to both program in 3D space and play back in real space, the calibration took Tipton only 45 minutes.

Club Barco sets the atmosphere

As chief technical officer at DWP Live, Ben Ryle stays up-to-date with emerging technologies while developing proprietary technology for the company’s core projection and media server focus.

As system designer for the CinemaCon project, Ryle worked on the front end to develop the 3D model, and also worked directly with Fivestone on the UV Map content delivery. For the live event, he designed the system architecture to include d3, projection, lighting and LED to work as one seamless element.

Building upon the new level of accuracy provided by the technologies mentioned above, DWP Live put its exclusive Barco .8-1.16 lenses to work in providing the
finishing touch. But the company still faced a fundamental challenge in terms of projector positioning.

“The projector position really needed to be in the middle of the pool,” says Whetstone. “In the past, we have overcome that hurdle in the media server. The triple stacks of Barco HDF W30 projectors crossover covered four zones of the building, providing 180 degrees of coverage.

“The new lenses turned a digital problem into a simple analog one and did a lot to change how the bottom half lined up,” adds Whetstone, “bringing it all together like it is supposed to be to create a 3D illusion.”

The project needed to impress a crowd on visual overload.

The Art

Lighting to enhance the projection also served an architectural, entertainment function, rather than merely illumination around the pool area.

Whetstone hired lighting director Mark “Junior” Jacobson to design and program. “Junior is an amazingly talented guy that I toured with for 10 years, and a good friend also,” he says.

Jacobson used a program called Inq-Scribe, which, among many other capabilities, allows a programmer to grab an event along the timecode line and create a bookmark.

He was able to view a finished copy of the content, which had a SMPTE timecode track. “I scrubbed through the video creating my bookmarks after importing Inq-Scribe,” Jacobson says.

“When it came time to create lighting looks on the grandMA Light, I was able to see what time events occurred, then program my looks at a certain time and frame.” Programming occurred onsite the night before the event opened,” Jacobson adds.

Projection came from multiple angles

“There were no pre-conceived ideas on this project, so I was given free rein that may not exist on most corporate events,” Jacobson continues. “The only restriction I got was, ‘No Smoke.’”

High End ShapeShifter C1s and Showguns sat on upright truss towers around the pool area. High End MMS 100s were positioned near the HDF W30 projector stacks to create effects and fly the Barco logo around the pool area.

High End developed its Moving Mirror System (MMS) range to deliver sharp, bright, detailed High Definition images when combined with any of Barco’s high brightness large venue projectors.

Barco's moving mirror system was utilzed as well for focus

“The time code from d3 to grandMA synced up perfectly,” says Jacobson. “Ultimately, everyone seemed pleased with the end product.”

Not only did the laser scan 3D model enable precise positioning and projector coverage, it parlayed Fivestone Studios’ virtual modeling to a level of accuracy previously unseen.

Fivestone founder and executive creative director Traylor Woodall “is a good friend,” says Whetstone. “We feed each other projects. It is not a formal partnership, but his company does great work and we try to work together as much as possible.”

Whetstone brought in Fivestone Studios to create and deliver media content for the projection mapping immediately after Barco’s call.

The crew and designers stared down a daunting time crunch to get the project done.

“During the concept phase, Barco loved the idea of riffing on engineer stereotypes,” says Woodall. “They wanted smaller animations to lead up to the main feature, so our main characters were born — part geeky engineer, part mad scientist.”

Throughout the course of the party, little vignettes played out, leading up to the main feature. First, engineers peek through doors, then they are seen tweaking stuff with their screwdrivers and rappelling down the building just before the big countdown.

Fivestone, a creative production agency based in Nashville, TN, specializes in animation and motion graphics. The company also handled sound design for the event and created a custom audio track for the projection finale.

“Eight weeks is a very compressed time period to create something this big from literally nothing,” notes Woodall, “though not unusual in our line of work.”

Techs triple satcked Barcos for firepower.

This year required a huge amount of animation. In order to pull that off, Woodall decided to use “motion capture.” Digital sensors track body movement of actors in a performance area. The recorded data are uploaded to the 3D character.

“This allowed our animation team to focus on creating the environment,” says Woodall. A core team built the 3D world scenes, while another team storyboarded all the different movements, and then integrated the motion capture characters.

Fivestone also used Octane Render, a real-time 3D application, which exclusively uses graphics processing units (GPU). Woodall says that, “Octane is a massively fast program that accelerates artist output and speeds up the final output.”

DWP Live owner Danny Whetstone techs his gear

The People Behind the Curtain

“A talented team of 3D modelers and motion designers are essential,” continues Woodall. Motion designers are not necessarily modelers. “They are the creative team designing the environment. Their expertise in color and lighting help them create abstract images to provide a pleasing environment to the eye. Knowing how light is supposed to look on a particular object or space lends reality to the viewer’s mind. A Motion Designer knows how to transition an image well from one area to another. An entire discipline exists on that aspect alone.”

Explaining a bit more about the philosophy behind his company, Woodall says, “The finished product is not all about the technology. We look for the right DNA. We have a joke that goes, ‘We’re always looking for bad math.’ That means one and one equals three and three plus three equals nine. That happens when people come together and all of a sudden they create something bigger. That only comes out of a strong healthy culture. The bonus is we have a super talented team, and we are good at technology incorporated into our storytelling.”

Dancers, food and lighting by Junior Jacobson added to the event

As for the impressive success that DWP Live has achieved in nine short years, Whetstone says, “I think it extends from relationships. We are good at what we do because we focus on the core business of projection mapping and being good at that. We do some full production stuff but it is not our core focus. We do what we say what we are going to do; we do it with excellence. Those are not just buzzwords for us. We are dedicated to the quality of this specific art.”

DWP Live’s Greg Foster adds, “Anyone can go purchase the equipment to do mapping projects, but it is the team of people that really make the difference. Seeing the DWP Live teamwork is the essence of that difference.”

All that magic, with no smoke and only two mirrors.

 

DWP Live and Barco

Since 2007, DWP Live and Barco have built a solid vendor and rental staging company relationship. DWP Live owns a large inventory of Barco products and the two companies have worked on many trade shows and projects together.

“I’m good friends with several of the guys over there too,” says Danny Whetstone, owner and President of DWP Live. “We built DWP Live on media servers and projectors. It is what we do, and [Barco] is the source of 90 percent of our inventory.”

For more information on DWP Live, go to www.dwplive.com

For more information on Barco, go to www.barco.com.

CinemaCon Video-Mapped Projectio: Credits and Crew

DWP Live:

  • Producer: Danny Whetstone
  • Project Manager: Greg Foster
  • System Designer: Benjamin Ryle
  • Lead Programmer: Clay Tipton
  • Lead Projectionist: Justin Carlson
  • Lighting Designer/Programmer: Mark “Junior” Jacobson
  • Audio Engineer: Manny Perez
  • Laser Scanning/Model Creator: Ryan Darling
  • Talent Producer: Lori Brennan

Fivestone Studios:

  • Executive Creative Director: Traylor Woodall
  • Director of Production: Brian Altman
  • Producer: Taylor Schomp
  • Technical Director: Kevin Harkness
  • 3D Modeler: Dustin McCulloch
  • Designers: Caresse Haaser, Christian Haberkern, Gary Ingle, Kevin Harkness, Kyle Jones
  • Animators: Caresse Haaser, Carson Carr, Eric Stars, Gary Ingle, Kaitlyn Kolesaire, Kyle Jones, Matt Roberts, Zach Gunter
  • Character Animation: Steven Alley, James Coakley Jr., Abdel Pisarro, Julian Herrera, Don Culwell, James Ramsden, Randy Saba
  • Music: Carson Carr, Zach Gunter
  • Sound Design: Carson Carr

Barco:

  • Producer: Lanine Bradley
  • Content Director: Bart Stevens
  • Project Coordinator: Randy Townsend

Gear

  • 2                grandMA 2 Light consoles
  • 14             Barco HDF W30 projectors
  • 2                d3 4x4Pro VFC media servers
  • 1                Gefen Pro DVI matrix
  • 1                DVI over Fiber cable system
  • 2                Barco MMS 100s
  • 12             High End ShapeShifter C1s
  • 10             High End Showguns

The projection transformed the look of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas during Barco’s Belgian Beer Bar Party. DWP Live also provided a d&b audio system (using V line array for main PA and Y line array for delays as well as B-subs) and the laser scan setup (created with their Leica P30 Scan Station).