A prominent feature within a design built to dazzle guests and serve as a multimedia expression of creativity, marketing agency Momentum's video ball is part of an installation imbued with all the speed and capabilities of a live staged production.
CHALLENGE: Bring all the excitement, flexibility, and quick-turn production values of live staging to a permanently installed AV system.
SOLUTION: Implement a blend of custom and catalog components capable of managing multi-source program material, all controlled remotely by in-house IT staff using their existing network of standard computers.
AS PART OF an AV integration project at its new Richmond Heights, Mo., offices, marketing agency Momentum Worldwide has far exceeded the kitschy-classic mirror ball with its own "video ball." A prominent feature within a design built to dazzle guests and serve as a multimedia expression of creativity, Momentum's video ball is part of an installation imbued with all the speed and capabilities of a live staged production.
St. Louis-based system integrator Cignal Systems was handed an existing design last year that lacked a creative element, such as the video ball, or anything even remotely resembling one. "The needs expressed to us in the beginning were essentially twofold," recalls Gary Haselhorst, president of Cignal Systems. "Familiar AV functions were required, of course -- like those you'd expect to find in most boardrooms and corporate environments -- and then there was the firm's desire to utilize AV on a much wider scale to really make a standout statement in front of visiting clients."
Momentum's clients include heavyweights Anheuser-Busch, American Airlines, Buick, and Coca-Cola. Within its own AV vision, the marketing company wanted to build a system that would impress visually, using the entire Richmond Heights office as display space and a showcase for its work. The agency also wanted to be able to customize programming on-the-fly for clients visiting the office on short notice -- or no notice at all.
"Within the big picture at Momentum, what they really wanted was the ability to produce a different multimedia show every day, using a variety of different source materials," Cignal Systems' director of visual media Peter Wille says, distilling the criteria expressed by the client during the project's nascent stages down to its most basic elements.
"Along with all of this, they wanted a big whiz-bang-wow component that would instantly grab and hold the eye's attention. Unfortunately, the design they gave us wasn't consistent with these objectives. We told them it wouldn't give them what they were asking for, and that we would like to build it differently."
Cignal's designers were given considerable creative freedom in developing a new blueprint for Momentum's new AV system. Added to the team in 2005, Wille and his staff bring extensive experience in live production to Cignal that the company regularly capitalizes upon for its work in both fixed installs and staged productions. Certainly up to the task of guiding the rewrite of Momentum's proposed AV story line, Wille set about building a house system that draws program material from internal narrowcast and satellite sources.
Assembled with all of the capabilities expected in live production to facilitate the quick-change objectives at hand, the system relies upon a total of 12 46-inch RevolutionHD S46LTD flat-panel LCD screens hung throughout the offices on a variety of low-profile Chief mounts. These screens are part of a carefully-crafted path plan that begins with projected imagery behind the receptionist and leads to the system's stellar feature, the video ball.
At 6 1/2 feet, the video ball hangs prominently in Momentum's main stairwell. "The ball is a sphere with video mapped on it," Wille says, downplaying both its complexity and stunning presence. "It does indeed standout as an unusual entity, but in the larger scheme of things, it's part of a whole: Wherever you go in the building, you are in the presence of a display of some sort that is individually addressable from any of the sources."
A totally custom, one-off piece, the acrylic video ball was built on the West Coast and shipped to the site in two halves. A crew from a local auto body shop in St. Louis sanded the two pieces and seamed them together on site -- not far from where they now hang as one -- using a bonding agent commonly used in automotive applications.
AV is seen and heard at the turn of every corner in the offices of Momentum Worldwide. Controlled using an existing network of computers, the system was given the flexibility and functionality of a live staged production.
Painted, according to Cignal Systems' Haselhorst, with "lots of white screen paint," the ball receives its AV imagery from three Eiki EIP-4500 DLP projectors. Chief RPA107 mounts attached to the ceiling were used to suspend the Eiki units within the front projection design. The projectors required processing on a number of levels to insure that the images shown on the ball were properly warped and blended. A pair of dual-channel, multi-format C2-7100 video processors from TV One were used to edge-blend the images from all three projectors across the round surface, while a trio of Silicon Optix Image AnyPlace video scalers with image geometry correction bent the projected light accordingly.
Audio supporting the video ball's imagery comes from recorded soundtracks created for each video presentation, which often includes collections of ad spots or AV messaging done for a Momentum client. Sound-for-picture is reinforced via a Rolls RA170 power amp sending audio signals to a half-dozen EVID 4.2tw loudspeakers from Electro-Voice.
"Blending and warping the images around the ball was no small feat," Wille admits. "The C2-7100 processors from TV One actually house a pair of independent processing engines in each box, so we only needed two of them for our three-projector purposes. Both scaling and blending is taking place inside these units. External to all this, the Silicon Optix devices warp each image after the blend to the shape of the ball. When you project something onto a curved surface without this kind of processing, it's impossible to keep straight lines, and you can't get the projectors to blend properly, as each will hit the surface and distort differently. Using this combination, we've corrected all that."
The original AV server design supporting both the video ball and the LCD screens spread throughout the structure was based upon a rendering video system, or one that relied upon computer programming to provide certain aspects of geometry, viewpoint, texture, lighting, shading, and effects.
This plan was dropped, however, because it didn't allow for the quick, spontaneous programming Momentum demanded. Instead, Wille opted almost exclusively for Mac-based functionality using ProVideoPlayer from Renewed Vision. ProVideoPlayer is a dynamic video playback and mixing system that offers control of visuals across one or more screens with complete playback and color control, among other things.
"Now we can playback anything from anywhere, do dissolves in real-time, and rescale instantly," Wille notes. "The speed and flexibility we need is right at everyone's fingertips, too. Thanks to the use of Apple Remote Desktop, the entire system can be controlled by individuals sitting at their desks elsewhere in the building -- or even off the premises wherever an Internet connection exists, for that matter."
Indeed, providing remote control for the Momentum system was a major factor that needed to be addressed in the system build (see sidebar), as was the need to run the system without the aid of a proprietary system requiring custom programming.
"Momentum is an agency already filled with many technologically-savvy individuals, as well as an extremely competent internal IT department of its own," Wille says. "With both the equipment and talent for system control already in place, it just made better sense to use it. Plus, we gained the advantage of remote control from anywhere, and that was a crucial component that allowed the IT staff to easily make AV events jump through the hoop at their command while still going about their normal routines right at their own desks."
Gregory A. DeTogne is a freelance writer who lives and works in Libertyville, Ill. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.