Indiana University’s outstanding Opera department teamed up with the Indianapolis Opera to produce Philip Glass’ masterpiece “Akhnaten”, a first in many ways for opera in the midwest. It was the first time the collegiate program has staged a Glass opera, it was the first time a Glass opera has been seen in Indianapolis, and it was the first time I got to lay my hands on the venerable Barco FLM 22+. There’s an excellent article over at NUVO- worth a read…but I’ll focus mainly on the projection. I’m a huge Philip Glass fan (occasionally OD’ing on the Qatsi trilogy is a fave pastime) so I was stoked when I learned I would be the tip-of-the-spear for an actual production in the 30th anniversary year of the seminal work. For the last week I’ve been hunkered down at PFHQ breathing 98 degree air- sitting behind two of these behemoth DLP projectors. The rig was originally designed to have both projectors doing different things, but with the shot from our venue slightly (!) different than the original presenting venue, we decided to converge and let ‘em rip.
I know, you’ll all want to see gorgeous panoramic displays of the actual imagery, but all I had time for was the down-and-dirty tech porn. Sorry- you’ll just have to find it on Youtube. Playback was achieved with HogPC software on a laptop feeding Artnet to the PJ’s and to another machine (a beefy Dell Precision) running Arkaos MediaMaster Pro. Mike Schwandt was kind enough to cue the show with a Hog Playback wing, so the run was super easy and quite accurate. We shot about 120′ onto a tight-weave white scrim for an image roughly 50′w x 32′h. There were a few unique shapes…one was the scrim flown out to a trim of about 8′h x full width for a scrolling Book of the Dead. Another was an open, unfocused nebula during a Firefly effect that was quite pretty. All in all it was a piece of cake and the IU Opera was great to work with. Hope to do it again someday!
Stay tuned in May when the IO presents The Flying Dutchman, heavy on the projection!
Nina Dunn is back in the Projectionfreak spotlight again, this time with a design for the Welsh National Opera’s production of La Boheme. Nina recently had a hand in the English National Opera’s ‘Flying Dutchman’ as well as ‘Aida’ at the Royal Albert Hall. From their press release:
Creative agency Knifedge hands WNO a “digital paintbrush” with consultancy, design & training
Welsh National Opera (WNO) raised the curtain on a new touring production of La bohème on the 1st of June, featuring projection design by Knifedge with a state of the art projection rig the creative agency has helped specify for the opera company.
Knifedge projection designer, Nina Dunn, and visual engineer, Sam Hunt, have spent the past year consulting with WNO to devise and commission the new projection system. The brief made it clear that the new system would need to be purchased on a finite investment budget, be suitable for touring shows and be, as far as possible, future-proofed. Whilst advising on the new rig, Dunn has also been working with La bohème director, Annabel Arden, and designer, Stephen Brimson-Lewis to design projections for Puccini’s spectacular opera, which will be the first production to showcase the system.
Billed as “the greatest love story ever sung” and set in Edwardian Paris, this production of La bohème demands sensitive projection designs that support the narrative and embellish the elegant simplicity of the set. Dunn worked closely with lighting designer, Tim Mitchell, during technical rehearsals to ensure that the projections work with the performance to enhance the audience experience.
From a technical perspective the new rig consists of 3 Panasonic PT-DW730 7,000 Lumen projectors with a range of lenses and a Catalyst rack with built-in backup system. Knifedge has also provided training, alongside chosen suppliers SSS and SNP, to ensure that the lighting crew will be able to use the system with confidence both at their home at Wales Millennium Centre as well as on an 8 week tour.
“This puts WNO at the forefront of a new flourishing era of digitally aided production design. As an agency, our focus is always to enhance a production, not to fragment it with projections that create a barrier between narratives, lighting and set design,” says Dunn. The new versatile projection system means that WNO can work with video projections in mind from the outset of a project without adding equipment costs to the touring production budget. This alongside the training makes it feel like we’re handing the company a digital paintbrush, which can be used to add a whole new dimension to the already well-conceived and highly acclaimed productions.”
Richard Norton, WNO Production Manager, says, “Working with Nina Dunn to source equipment and execute their design has been a smooth and hassle free process. Adding another layer of technology to our new production of La bohème could have made the Stage Rehearsals very stressful however Nina and Sam were self contained and worked around all the other Technical Departments. I think that we are all proud of what has been achieved. Collaboration has been the key. The results are outstanding.”
For the first time in the Indianapolis Opera’s history, projectionmapping is playing center stage. The past few seasons have seen projection playing a larger role in the repertoire, but this is the first time mapping has had a role. Gounod’s Faust, directed and designed by Joachim Schamberger, tells the tale of an aging scholar who trades his time in hell for earthly pleasures he’s missed out on. Schamberger, who’s previous projection designs were Tosca and Das Rheingold, has stepped up the projection role to a much higher level. I can’t tell you much about the actual opera itself, but I can tell you about the technical end:
For Faust, Joachim had 7 panels built (McGuire Scenic), various widths at 24′ high, that move on traveller tracks thus dividing the space into multiple planes. The panels are skinned in bright white and make absolutely pristine projection surfaces. In order to get the right perspective for sizing, he first used a camera view from the projection booth in Vectorworks to create the various scenes with line drawings. This gave a pretty good approximation of the angles, height, and space to be projected on. He then set about compiling the projection playback materiel using Photoshop and Final Cut. The resulting footage was then rendered in Final Cut at HDV 1920×1080 MPEG2. This presented a slight codec/bandwidth problem because the plan was to use VDMX and Syphon through Madmapper in order to size the scenes accurately. HDV and Mpeg2 are not the most friendly codec for playback through any software based system and the Radeon 2600HD cards in the trusty OctoMacPro were a bit under the task. Instead, I re-rendered the content, pared down the length of most of the clips, and packaged them all in PJPEG Quicktime movies. We ultimately decided on using Modul8 because of it’s extreme ease of clip organization, playback capabilities, and tight integration with Madmapper. All the content is played back via a FW800 1TB RAID 0. Viola- nary a burp in speed or smoothness. Because of the overall linearity of the set pieces, Madmapper proved to be invaluable. Joachim came up with a few templates of primitives that could be applied to many scenes and using presets, we were able to match the pieces exactly as seen in perspective. I used a Macbook Pro 17″ (quad i7, 16gb RAM), fed into an ImagePro, which fed a DVI DA and finally two DPI Lightning 35hd’s. The resultant image quality and brightness was astounding from 135′. Lensing provided by the good folks at Nationwide (thanks James!).
Running at The Coliseum until 23 May 2012, ENO’s new production of Wagner’s early opera is directed by Jonathan Kent and designed by Paul Brown.
Knifedge’s video projections play an important narrative role throughout the production, revealing the tale of the The Dutchman to be a recurring figment of the main character’s imagination.
In a dramatic overture, the audience sees a child in bed at the heart of a dark and wild storm, surrounded by the crashing waves of the storybook she clutches. This sets up the director’s concept of the progression from a child’s reality through a woman’s fantasy to a final obsession.
In creating her projections, Dunn worked closely with lighting designer Mark Henderson to achieve the right balance of intensity, colour and mood.
From a technical perspective, the kit consisted of 6 Panasonic projectors, 12 on-stage video monitors, 3 Catalyst Media servers and a Hog lighting desk.
Nina Dunn, Video & Projection Designer at Knifedge, comments: “One of the challenges I faced was keeping pace with the Orchestra. With the complicated content sequences, it’s all about hitting certain cue points so that music and imagery are symbiotic. But such was the energy that Conductor Ed Gardner invested into the music for this production, I had to rework several of my original sequences to keep pace.”
Knifedge is one of the UK’s leading projection design companies, serving corporate, broadcast, sports, music and charity markets as well as the arts. Other recent theatrical productions have included The Phantom of the Opera Tour, Pippin, AIDA, Backbeat, Emperor & Galilean and Cleopatra.
While not quite the same scale as Aida at the RAH, the Indianapolis Opera is in full swing this week and the program is entitled “Opera Goes to the Movies”. The idea is to have a massive movie screen and play clips of various movies that have music from operas….combine that with live singers, a live orchestra, and IMAG and you get the idea. For my part I get to set up, align, and generally babysit two Christie HD 12k’s. All the clips and editing by Derek Tow of South 40 Productions.
The general size of the screen when combined with the physical depth of our stage dictated .73:1.0 lenses which, if you’ve ever had to use them on a big gun Christie, are not the most cooperative of glass. The PJ’s had to be center of screen, which in this case was 18′ so scaffolding had to be done as you can see in the following pics (No, there’s no Pandora’s box on this gig, I just use their totally useful grids). These HD12k’s don’t have Twist or warp, or even enhanced keystone correction, so all the convergence is manual. Big tip for anyone using a rental like these- shoot some lithium grease into the rigging feet and screws before stacking them and sending them in the air! You’ll save a ton of hassle and have less blisters. Trust me. All playback is coming from 2 iMacs (primary and backup) using Playback Pro + running into a Panasonic AV-HS400 and sent down the line HD-SDI. We’re using a 24′ jib, a 33x Canon on sticks, and my Vaddio HD19 cameras for IMAG. Surprisingly- the little PTZ cams look pretty good!
Indianapolis Opera’s executive director John Pickett says that during the planning of this year’s season they wanted to present four entries yet include something that was on a lesser scale financially, while attracting newer audiences at the same time. That’s how Opera Goes to the Movies came about.
“It will be a great situation for people who like film and understand the role that music and opera have played in it. However, they may have never tried or have had limited experience with live opera singing with an orchestra. I think people who are new to opera will love it because it is a lot of the greatest hits of opera that they know or have heard. It will give them some context about it,” says Pickett, who also thinks that the singing “will be of high enough caliber that the ‘foamers’ (those who foam at the mouth or get excited about opera) and aficionados of opera will enjoy it too.”