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Staging A Moment In History

Gerald Eisterhold, president of exhibit installation developer Eisterhold Associates Inc. in Kansas City, KS, faced an interesting challenge: recreating a historic moment in time at the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, AL. The museum is based on such a moment, which took place on Dec. 1, 1955, when Parks, an African-American, refused to give up her seat on a city bus for a white person.

CHALLENGE: Use multiple projection technologies in a museum exhibit to recreate a historic moment that has few physical artifacts to rely on.

SOLUTION: Install projection technologies that involve visitors and bring them into the exhibit, including the synthesis of physical artifacts, multi-projector media, and interactive database projections.

A vintage municipal bus acts as the theaterfor an exhibit in the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, AL. The "vertical blinds" ambient projection field is visible above and behind the bus.

A vintage municipal bus acts as the theaterfor an exhibit in the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, AL. The "vertical blinds" ambient projection field is visible above and behind the bus.

GERALD EISTERHOLD, president of exhibit installation developer Eisterhold Associates Inc. in Kansas City, KS, faced an interesting challenge: recreating a historic moment in time at the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, AL. The museum is based on such a moment, which took place on Dec. 1, 1955, when Parks, an African-American, refused to give up her seat on a city bus for a white person. The museum wanted to convey both the importance and the minutiae of that moment, which sparked the modern civil rights movement in the United States.

“The museum had little in the way of artifacts that people could look at in a static display,” Eisterhold says. “What is really celebrated is a moment in time. That's what we had to recreate.”

Eisterhold and his team did just that, taking a vintage city bus and making it the focus of the main exhibit. “By not relinquishing her seat, she helped launch the civil rights movement right then and there,” says Eisterhold, referring to the ensuing boycott — first of the city's mass transit system, and later of its businesses. “The challenge was, how do you create a compelling exhibit based on what's essentially a non-action — the refusal to give up your seat?”

The team's solution was a 10-minute specially produced film, directed by Peter Vogt, which reenacts the moment that used the vintage bus itself as a screen for a four-projector display. “The idea was to have visitors see the reenactment of the event as though they were watching from outside the bus as it happened,” Eisterhold says. “We tried several types of screens, and in the end, found that simple tissue paper pressed up on the inside of the glass bus windows gave us the best results,” a grainy verité in which the reflections off the glass windows help create a sense of looking back in time.

Eisterhold Associates also enlisted the help of independent AV consultant Charlie Brown. “We looked at the AV as a whole system, starting with a 15- by 10-foot room where visitors see an introductory orientation film,” he says.

The resulting solution consists of three NEC GT5000 projectors that beam onto three Da-Lite projection screens. The projectors are fed by three Pioneer industrial-grade LD7400 DVD players, which provide a condensed version of the context of the civil rights movement in America, and introduce visitors to the people they'll see in the main video. At the end of the introduction video, accordion doors fabricated to represent bus doors open using a Stanley electric garage door opener to reveal the bus. Two Sanyo PLC-XF35 projectors beaming a vintage Montgomery street scene are aimed at opaque pieces of PVC projection screen material cut into 2-inch strips (resembling vertical blinds) that hang behind the bus. The slight movement of the strips from the building's air circulation conveys the illusion of forward movement.

In the bus

For visitors, the resulting filmed action appears to take place within the bus. Creating this illusion was one of the design team's major challenges. “You're projecting a scene that takes place along the length of a very narrow space,” Brown says.

The row of bus seats farthest away from spectators was removed and replaced with a bench. Atop that, four additional NEC GT 5000 projectors are positioned, synchronized, and abutted against each other to project individual horizontal segments of the entire bus-long tableau (filmed using four synchronized cameras). As the program begins, a series of overhead baby pinspots illuminates in sequence to indicate that Parks is approaching the bus. As she enters, headlights shine and a turn indicator conveys the bus' departure. From there, the film, which is rear-projected on the interior windows, takes over (see sidebar.)

To control the system, Brown used a Macromedia Director on a PC running Windows XP to program and run all of the show control. Located in a separate control room in 19-inch racks, the computer sequences the videos seen in the orientation room and on the bus, as well as a countdown monitor on a ViewSonic VP-171 17-inch LCD screen in the outer lobby, which indicates the times of the performances.

Brown programmed all of the start/stop moves for the AV equipment, in addition to the bus' motion control and the accordion doors between the rooms. Servo motor commands run on twisted-pair copper wire from RS232 computer serial ports to Electronic Energy Controls (EEC) relay controllers. Other commands use Ethernet with a TCP/IP program that Brown wrote for audio and lighting. “The whole system is a series of computers that act as relays so that each system has its own computer,” he says. “Within that, the EEC boxes are additional relays that act as buffers for voltage. We smoked the first power supply and didn't want that to happen again.”

For an additional layer of protection, Brown also added optically isolated relays. Several of the circuit paths use an LED/LED detector pairing. The LED detector “sees” that the adjacent LED is on, and either closes or opens the circuit it guards, according to how it's programmed. “We used that on the bus headlights as a kind of optical fuse,” he says.

Audio

Sound effects and music help visitors make the transition between the intro foyer and the main exhibit (bus) areas. Two Rane MA 6 amplifiers distribute the audio signal to Peavey PV Series speakers mounted on the walls along the way. While there's no specific sound panning used, the monaural effects are placed in one channel of the other, so as the programs progress on the Pioneer LD7400 DVD players, the effects —such as car horns — seem randomly placed, as they would on a real street.

The finished bus exhibit recreates a realistic experience for visitors, and after Park's death in October, represents an innovative legacy for a unique human being.

PROJECTION CHALLENGES

The narrow confines of the interior of the bus used in the exhibit at the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, AL, posed a challenge for Kansas City, KS-based AV installation developer Eisterhold Associates Inc. and independent AV consultant Charlie Brown. Even using wide-angle lenses, the four NEC GT 5000 projectors would have had a very short throw of about 8 feet — approximately the width of the bus — to the windows, which would have resulted in a distorted image with standard lenses.

To address this issue, Brown ordered custom 0.6X lenses from Buhl Optical. In addition, he positioned the projectors facing left, toward the back of the bus at 90-degree angles aimed at four mirrors, set at opposing 45-degree angles off the plane of the windows, which then reflect the projected image onto the tissue-paper window screens.

Staying within a very limited stage was also critical. During the shooting of the film, which took place at a theater across the street, lines were run back to the museum, and the bus itself was used as a huge preview monitor. “That way we could move people around on the stage during the filming to keep them perfectly framed,” Brown says.

It also enabled technicians to place calibration marks simultaneously on the bus, on the stage, and eventually on the calibration DVD for the system. The projectors also had to be precisely calibrated, so characters walking from one end of the bus to the other remained in proportional scale.

Because a reversed image hit the screen, the projectors' image output was flipped. The position of each projector and mirror was carefully marked in the bus' interior. In the event a component needs to be replaced, the unit can be precisely recalibrated using a grid frame that Brown burned onto the DVDs. “All we need to do is project the calibration disc and get the lines on that to match up to the calibration markings on the inside of the bus,” he says.

Because the four projectors generate 800 W each, heat dissipation is accomplished using three conventional residential-type fans placed in the open windows on the other side of the bus. “The wall absorbs most of the noise from the fans, and the projectors also have cooling fans,” Brown says.

Dan Daley is a veteran freelance journalist and author, specializing in media and entertainment technology and business sectors. He can be reached at danwriter@aol.com

 


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