in PLSN Interview
Shania Twain’s new show, Still the One, began its two-year, 110-show residency at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on Dec. 1, 2012. During the 100-minute, 18-song show, the venue’s 34-by-109-foot-wide 11mm HD LED screen is used to display a variety of images — from kaleidoscopic abstractions to clips featuring Twain, a Wild West saloon, leopards and a campfire scene in a forest.
Bob Bonniol, video designer and principal creative designer for Mode Studios, played a key role delivering imagery that would mesh with the creative vision of others on the design team, including director Raj Kapoor, LD Peter Morse and scenic designer Michael Cotten.
Providing an important assist, along with video programmer Benjamin Keightley, lighting director Benny Kirkham and content creator Mark D Allen of Allucinari, was a d3 media server, with software written by Ash Nehru.
PLSN: How is the d3 integrated into the show?
Bob Bonniol: We use four d3 units plus a spare to run the show. The four units send signal to 14 projectors and two LED surfaces [including the giant LED wall]. The show makes extensive use of projection mapping on scenic/architectural surfaces. One of d3’s enormous strengths is this kind of mapping, combined with an ability to adjust those maps.
Michael Cotten built a production design that ranged from whimsical creations of western town facades to amorphous bandstand objects that move, as well as sheer kabuki drops and atmospheric prop objects. The video design maps all of that, as well as the side walls of the house and the stage floor.
Raj Kapoor, the director, and Michael had an idea that many productions go into this venue with the predisposition that the huge size of the wall marginalizes the talent in front of it, and they work to reduce that. Their idea was to go in the opposite direction. Make the media more environmental, and the audience reacts to it not as a facet of the design, but as a whole... In blending the show with the venue and making it totally environmental, it allows Shania to be a center of it all, as opposed to “her vs. the screen.” It works. It’s brilliant.
How is it triggered?
The video show is entirely triggered via timecode. Raj likes to be extremely specific in weaving his video with music. It was the only way.
Who is the content provider/creator?
Raj directs and produces all of the content, which ranged from live shot elements to animation and motion graphics. As the Video Designer, I worked to coordinate Raj’s direction with the team creating the content, which was headed up by Mark D Allen of Allucinari. I can’t speak highly enough of Mark and his team. They are consummate, and they pulled off feature film quality stuff on an incredible timeline and economy. I created bits and pieces of content in various places to help with transitions and to facilitate the success of the mapping. Raj really drives the process though, which I think sets him apart from many other directors. He’s very specific, and his instincts are extremely good. He understands how to make something narrative and scenic without using a heavy hand.
What were some of the pros for using the D3 on this project?
It was absolutely a joy to do the mapping with. Actually, literally fun. It’s kind of like playing an electronic game to get the projection mapping targeted correctly, and it works very fast. The team from d3 are so responsive with updates. The way d3 works, where you are literally painting a model with texture as opposed to working in a layer-based window, is very different and refreshing. I think there are a lot of answers for a lot of questions in terms of design tools. For this particular show, d3 was the right answer to the question. There are a lot of other servers I use regularly as well, and each has its strengths.
Are there any unique video effects used in this show that the D3 enabled you to achieve?
Well, by far, as I’ve mentioned, the scenic mapping. d3 really made warping and blending super intuitive, almost invisible. It helped that the programmer I worked with, Ben Keightley, is an absolute genius, and has real aesthetic and technical skills. I have been wanting for quite some time to work with moving projection heads, but have been consistently stymied by a lack of output level among many choices on the market. In this case, I was able to get ahold of Barco 18K fixtures in Zap yokes, and they worked out very well. They had the punch to get me through Peter Morse’s “muscular” lighting levels, and being able to move the raster around and “pack pixels” where I needed them was a godsend. Ash Nehru from d3 wrote amazing software that allowed the moving heads to “super sample” the combined projection space that was the whole stage and to stay aligned very well to moving objects. We were originally going to use tracking systems and automation feedback to help that, but due to time and budget constraints we ended up having to wing it (although the functionality is there in d3). Ben worked out absolutely genius programming to help with that, and the result left many people thinking we were locked to other data sources.
What was the resolution of most of the content used in the show?
It ranged from fairly standard resolutions, such as the slight variation on High Def for the in house LED (1920 x 586) to extraordinary (7680 x 2048) for the full venue sidewall and front raster span.
Did you do the blend with the d3s ?internally, or was blending done by the projectionist? How difficult was it to go from on screen to real world?
All blending, warping, and stitching was handled by the d3 system. The warps took some time and care, but blending was almost automatic. The beauty of d3 in terms of interface translating to reality is it really is “what you see is what you get.” Once you have projectors and display devices in the show interface mathematically correct (which is just a function of importing accurate drafting), then what it is, is what it is.
Did you pre-program the show, or was the show created on site?
We did a lot of previsualization of looks, but it was mainly a compositional study. That enabled us to come to the tech table with content that was ready in terms of size, resolution and the aesthetic direction. Then programming happened in situ. Peter Morse and Benny Kirkham did a fair amount of pre-viz in ESP prior to getting in the room. The show was such an intrinsic weaving of video and lighting for a scenic whole. That was Raj Kapoor and Michael Cotten’s vision. It demanded that Peter and I work hand in hand to balance the light levels and aesthetic for lighting and video. Fortunately, we work together often, and we have a really effective short hand for staying in step with each other.
Still the One with Shania Twain
Show Director: Raj Kapoor
Lighting Designer: Peter Morse
Costume Designer: Marc Bouwer
Video Designer: Bob Bonniol
Mark D Allen/Allucinari
Lighting Director: Benny Kirkham
5 d3 4U v2.5 media servers (4 active, 1 backup)
1 Mitsubishi LED video wall (34’ x 109,’ 11mm)
1 DVI router (36 x 36)
4 Christie 35K projectors
7 Christie 20K projectors
4 Barco HDX-W18 (18K) projectors