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Edutainment Show Control, Part 2

Mar 29, 2012 2:11 PM, With Bennett Liles

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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.

Visitors at the Oldest Store Museum Experience in St. Augustine, Fla., are greeted by a sound, video, real actors, and animatronic figures as they slip back into a turn-of-the-century store environment. The man behind the curtain with all the knobs and levers is show control expert Ryan McCurdy and he’s back to tell us about how it all works, next up on the SVC Podcast.

SVC: Ryan McCurdy, thanks for being back with us for part 2 on the SVC Podcast from Historic Tours of America and the Oldest Store Museum Experience down in St. Augustine. You put together a lot of technical elements on this with live actors and mechanically triggered video and sound events. You used all this modern show control technology to create just the opposite sort of old world atmosphere. Describe for me the general show setup for anybody who may not have been with us on part 1.

Ryan McCurdy: Absolutely, well, the show itself is a series of sequences some of which are motion censored some of which are actor controlled and some of which are on intrinsic loops. WinScript, which is Alcorn McBride’s show design software, is versatile as far as the number of ways that you can have things triggered. It also to use as a really detailed logic language to do if-then’s, which is also really good for safety that there are over-rides built in; there are buttons in the facility that will override the cues the reason being is that we do have safety issues. We have at one point washing machines that are starting to rattle and shake and blow bubbles, and they are at a distance from the audience, but there is an override should someone need to go turn them off immediately. We have things dropping from the ceiling in the midst of the guests to be seen; we have a large bike that comes down so building all that into Alcorn McBride’s software was definitely part of the show. The show itself is 12 major sequences, all of which are independently being triggered or cued by the software. [Timestamp: 2:16]

And the actors have a degree of control over this. You’ve got a real actor or two involved in this and they actually trigger events by stepping in various places.

The snake oil salesman is the character that the audience really gets to spend a lot of time with in the main part of the museum, and they have a stage from which they’re pitching their wares and concealed into the stage are several buttons, which bring objects up and down from the ceiling, trigger audio animatronics as well who are in the ceiling, and it gives the actor great versatility to react specifically to the type of people that are in each group and how they are responding to the experience. [Timestamp: 2:52]

And of course it’s not just live actors it’s got video playback in the presentation, too so how does the video system work? How do they trigger the video to play?

Well, video playback, actually we went with the old-school approach of having a motion sensor. The guests are on a self-guided portion when they get to the video playback section, and so we have built in a delayed motion sensor, which starts what we are considering a talking portrait set up. We decided to honor the original owner of the store, C.F. Hamlin, and found an actor and were able to completely to redo his office from paintings of the time and built that into a talking portrait that is done up like an oil portrait on the wall. When the guests trigger it, there is a delay at which point he starts to do very subtle things; he moves his arm up a little bit, fixes his glasses, he looks in a different direction. Things that the guests may notice, but not necessarily think that they saw or may convince themselves they didn’t see, and then out of nowhere he starts to speak to the guests. So in that last room, which is the self-guided portion of the museum, we decided that although there was no actor, we would have a storytelling presence, which is this painting on the wall that tells you the story of Hamlin from the horse’s mouth literally. [Timestamp: 4:07]

Now, where do you get all of the sound and video inserts produced? Does it all come from the same place for all these different shows that you do?
Well, on the design end, as far as set dressing, set design, properties, and so forth, there is a team that is HTA employed. We use different video and audio studios for each individual experience and for the St. Augustine build we did choose local video and audio studios to obtain the talking portrait as well as several voice-over narrations that have been elsewhere in the museum. [Timestamp: 4:36]

OK, now that you’ve got the video beginning to play triggered by the presence of the audience, what sort of video monitoring do you use there and is it a high-def video format that’s used for the monitor feed?

It is, well, Alcorn McBride; it was as if they were planning it for us, which I thought was great. They released an HD version of their very popular video player just in the middle of last year, actually, right when we needed it. I think now that we’re in 2012, it was the middle of 2010 that they came out with the product and we needed it in fairly early 2011. The product uses an HDMI out, which was definitely exactly what we needed. We had experimented with using even a more specific higher end output than that, but realized that for the distance we were traveling HDMI was sending a very clean, very sharp signal. It is HDMI on both ends, which travels through the walls on twisted pair. On one end we have the high-def player, which is being triggered by the Alcorn McBride show controller, the V4 Pro, and on the other end, we are using a very high end 40in. Panasonic monitor, which is embedded into the wall with its own venting capabilities and then is framed out both with a faux artistic frame and a veneer, which was designed by our artistic director. If you were to go up and “touch the monitor,” you would feel what feels like an oil painting, but directly behind it of course is the glass. [Timestamp: 5:56]

That’s what I really love about this particular project because you’ve got all of these modern flatscreen monitors in there and everything is done to make them look old.

Yes, in fact one of the nicest things in the entire museum, I think in part 1 we discussed the Whirlitzer in the front, and another thing in the last room that you’re in, it was so simple and yet a really brilliant idea is we have party line telephones, which is something that I think most generations that are coming up in the last 30, 40 years don’t even necessarily know what a party line was, let alone have ever experienced one. They are phones that have had the wires gutted from the inside and now are attached to small audio playback devices inside of the phone box, and when you pick up the handle, you are listening to a six-minute prerecorded conversation of a party line with various members of the St. Augustine community arguing, trying to get everyone else off the line so they can have their own private communications. A doctor is yelling at a potential patient who’s been drinking too much. It’s a really fun thing and there are no signs; there’s no obvious directing to the audience to go over and pick this up, but when they do you see people really light up. It’s a great surprise and almost like a technological Easter egg. [Timestamp: 7:06]

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