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Edutainment Show Control, Part 2

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

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Now there’s a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes here to be wired up and maintained. Who keeps all of this running and what happens if say there’s a power outage? How does it all get back up and running?

Well, on the plus side, everything that we bought hardware wise auto restarts. Everything immediately boots itself back up and goes. We tested that out with Perkins and Sons in Savannah, Ga., in that installation up there. The V4 is able to immediately restart and start running it’s opening sequences, which in both cases is a diagnostic self-start and then allows for the cues to start back immediately—the actor triggered and the other cues as well. To be honest, there is a facilities manager in each individual city of HTA who takes care of the day-to-day operations and at such a point that there is an actual programming issue or a show control issue they contact me in New York and I am able to remote into our devices and look at it from that end. To use a high-end low brow approach, we’ve also been using Tango video software for the iPhone to videoconference between New York and St. Augustine, and it’s a very quick, very dirty efficient way to look at what the actual cue is triggering inside of the warehouse so I can see something coming down from the ceiling or I can see the washing machines operating from 1,200 miles away. [Timestamp: 8:21]

OK, shaking washing machines, blowing bubbles, things coming down from the ceiling and an audio animatronic butcher?

I think when we asked life LifeFormations to build it, I think there was a question of, “Why do you want that exactly?” But part of the collection was the butcher shop of this oldest store and again, it’s a lot people a lot of this younger generation don’t realize that if you ordered meat, it was a man standing in the store would cut to your specifications, wrap it up, and have delivered on ice before it got over heated and so the butcher was an enormous component of these turn-of-the-century general stores—we wanted to honor that. But because it’s a very small room that is simply a passthrough from one larger narrative room to the other, we didn’t want to have an actor who’s only job is to stand with his back to the audience and pound away at a piece of meat on a cutting board—that just didn’t seem like a fair thing to ask someone to do so we had an audio animatronics figure built. The face is not visible by the audience. It is a finished face, but the mouth does not move because it’s not visible from the audiences prospective, so the monolog that he’s reciting is coming out of a speaker which has built in and embedded into his chest. Sounds very naturalistic inside of the room and the rotors on his arm are built to basically bring his arm up and down on a cutting board, which is built with a receiving track so that he doesn’t ever cut through anything or, heaven forbid, cut through the table itself. [Timestamp: 9:46]

And the visitors go from that to the video kiosks. So what do they see at the video kiosks?

The video kiosks, we were wanting to show off the actual look of the store from its time period and we couldn’t figure out how to make a mural of those work inside of the Oldest Store because we were trying to promote the step back in time featurette of it so we knew that if we showed you pictures early in the museum of what it had looked like you would realize that you were simply in a recreation and we wanted people to have the experience that they were transported. So the last room you see, which you are allowed to spend as much time in it as you want, is made up as a produce room with fake fruit and vegetables of all varieties hanging from the ceiling, spilling out as a cornucopia and on three synchronized monitors in that room—high def, I think they’re 42in. monitors—we’re showing different slide shows of the pictures from the era—actual people shopping in Hamlin’s, the railway being designed—and they are all synchronized to and led by a voice-over narration, who, again, rather than hiring a live actor to narrate that room, we have it as a triggered cue which is on a loop throughout the day. [Timestamp: 10:53]

A lot to getting all of that in and working right. You were talking earlier about the testing. What does the initial testing of a show control project like this involve? Do you have to go through and make a lot of tweaks on the timing of it when you walk through and have the events sequenced?

When you add the actor component absolutely. To be honest, that was the longest period of time that we spent on any facet of this installation was going back in and fixing down to the frame—to be very honest. The talking portrait we had people coming in on a regular basis coming in on a regular basis who had not experienced it before and we’re asking them to walk into the room and wait for something to happen, and we then would trigger the amounts of time between each talking portrait speech as well as his motions. We were building them very specifically around people’s independent interpretation of them as well as making sure the actors were able to use the technology without feeling overwhelmed by the technology. So absolutely. I would say there were at least 500-600 minute changes—a frame here, a frame there—inside of the code language to make sure that it’s absolutely perfect. [Timestamp: 11:59]

OK and there’s no substitute for bringing a lot of experience to a job like this, so what’s coming up for Historic Tours of America? What have you got in the works?

Well, there is an extraordinarily exciting project going on right now, which actually just wrapped up show control design down in Key West for the Yankee Freedom Interpretive Center as you get onboard or right before you get on board a ship to head out and see old Fort Jefferson. We’ve had a commissioned model made of beautiful Fort Jefferson and there’s a small show that happens in a kiosk there that teaches you about the Fort and about some of the wildlife and sea life before you go to the Fort. Again that’s an Alcorn McBride system, which is again meant to evoke an older period of time using high technology for the oldest tradition possible, which of course is storytelling. Then opening this summer in Boston on the HTA, one of their flagships up there, is an extraordinary museum the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum, which not only features completely hand-built tall ships that are completely tourable and are recreations of tall ships from that era, but it also has a very, very high-end technological museum component again with a live actor who is your narrator and takes you through but it involves not only holographic projections in a style of Musion Eyeliner technology but it also has a film in a sit down theater which is a first for the HTA operations and also it takes our talking portrait concept another step forward and has talking portraits from the era that argue with each other from across a crowded room, argue with each other, argue with the audience, argue with a live actor. That’s going to be incredible and that’s opening in the middle of this summer 2012. [Timestamp: 13:42]

All right. Ryan McCurdy from Historic Tours of America in charge of show control and that sounds like a really fun job. You freelance with this at your website Next time you have one of these show control projects we’ll get together again on it.

Absolutely, I tell you what, we have a blast bringing history to life and I couldn’t take vote on a more fun way to spend time. [Timestamp: 14:02]

All right. Great having you here.> Thank you, sir.

Thanks for joining us for the SVC Podcast with Ryan McCurdy of Historic Tours of America. Show notes can be found on the website of Sound & Video Contractor Magazine at Join us again next time on the SVC Podcast.

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