Professional Lighting & Production - Winter 2021 - Page 21

basement for lighting . Roy offers an overview of the video control room , a small , purpose-built pseudo-closet that ’ s packed to the brim with rack gear and a small computer desk .
“ So , we have the 7thSense media players , one for the main wall and the generators , and one for the floor ,” the technical director explains . “ All of the output from there is going into a 4K output within the [ Datavideo ] FX4s , and then those are split into 23 lines of HDMI that go through Lightware optical extenders to all 23 projectors .
“ Then we have a remote camera for monitoring the show when we ’ re not here , and we have the autocalibration server for pulling back the blending and making sure everything is coherent ,” Roy continues . “ We also have our different isolated networks , so one for control , one for the lighting , and one for the Dante audio ; everything is segregated . The [ architecture ] is also working off an LTC generator and an [ Alcorn ] McBride show control matched with a Crestron [ tablet ] to control everything .”
Martin Kyncl , Solotech technical advisor for special projects , explains the lighting rig :“ To program we used a grandMA2 , and once it was done , we just left it ; everything ’ s on a grandMA rackmount computer and we only bring in the console if we need to change the show . Otherwise , you can just use the on-PC version .” 10 Claypaky Midi-B moving fixtures are deployed , along with a myriad of LED strip fixtures by Moss LED .
With the show being programmed and mapped to incomprehensibly molecular specifics , the nice thing about it is that it ’ s much less complicated to actually run , according to Kyncl , who oversaw much of the integration . “ It ’ s basically all remotely operated . [ Niagara Parks staff ] turn it on in the morning , and they turn it off at night . It calibrates itself and it also has its own system to throw up flags if anything is off track or going wrong … It ’ s pretty autonomous , but it ’ s all being monitored non-stop .”
The stopping and starting of the show is handled by the Crestron control tablets , and barring a major problem , it ’ s little more than pressing play , which means neither Thinkwell nor Solotech need to keep somebody permanently in the building , especially since most aspects of the system can be dealt with from a distance . “ Niagara Parks hired a showrunner that ’ s there to make sure everything is on track , but any kind of maintenance or resolution of issues is done remotely by either Thinkwell or Solotech ,” Kyncl continues . “ We both have access to the system , but if there ’ s a hardware problem Solotech will go out on a physical call .”
However , that hasn ’ t happened yet . In fact , the system has already begun to evolve , as Thinkwell visited the site in early November to further optimize the tracking and calibration systems based on data acquired over the first few months of the attraction being open .
THE PREPARATION
Before merely installing and putting on the show , creating it was a gargantuan undertaking across multiple teams , creative , technical , and beyond . It ’ s important to keep in mind that not only was this an installation within the old plant , but a full restoration .
“ It didn ’ t look doable in the beginning ,” Kyncl comments . “ The place was just ripped apart when I first saw the building . Like , the whole area where the gift shop is wasn ’ t there ; that ’ s brand new … They actually built a dam to stop the water from coming up to the building so they could repair the whole underpinning of the [ structure ], then they let the water back in once the work was done .”
He explains that Niagara Parks not only had contractual baselines to meet in order to actually support the technical infrastructure , but the facility also needed to be able to safely and cleanly house millions of dollars ’ worth of equipment , which Roy-Larouche elaborates on , especially in regards to the control rooms . “ When we were talking with Niagara Parks , they were like , ‘ Well , this is a 100-year-old building , it ’ s never going to be that clean ,’ but it needs to be cleaned to a certain level for computers to run .” As such , the purpose-built control rooms were fashioned to ensure the back-end gear is protected and properly maintained .
These factors played a part in why Kyncl , primarily a touring man , ended up advising the integration after initially only being tasked with handling the LED systems . “ If you look at it from a nuts-and-bolts perspective , it ’ s more like a live event that would be of a touring style . As far as the rigging , the kind of gear that ’ s being used , and the environment that it needs to hold up in , it ’ s all the super rugged stuff that we use for touring , because with that building , you have the moisture and the low-frequency vibration and so on .”
On the creative side , the building ’ s inimitable architecture played a huge part in informing the show ’ s elements , including the mapping of moving projections on the generators , windows in the animation blending flawlessly with and around the real windows of the plant , and so on . While the implementation is already fascinating , the means of getting there are also extremely compelling .
“ You draw the building in 3D ,” Grenier begins . “ And you work on a maquette and you know exactly which surfaces you ’ re projecting on , and you ’ re drawing onto the space . Nothing is left unknown ; every line is on purpose . Technology and creative are really working hand-in-hand here to provide this new type of canvas to work on . It ’ s still a blank canvas , but it has different shapes , and it has contours . So , perhaps it ’ s not so blank , but it ’ s a pale grey .
“ And it ’ s not only animation , but also a collaboration with the existing elements ,” she continues . “ So , the generators becoming our main characters , sometimes being canvasses to draw on , sometimes being lit from within , and there ’ s an array of speakers within [ the generators ] as well . So , I think that ’ s an extra challenge and opportunity ; this is really a 3D show . It ’ s not pure projection mapping , there are elements that come from within , and the layer of architectural lighting also gives dimension and depth to the experience .”
Grenier explains as well that the show ’ s creative elements came together with animation , David Drury ’ s musical score , ATOMIC3 ’ s lighting design , and the interactive designers all working on the same timeline . “ The images were being drawn , there was an initial script that was written , and we started working on the animation and motion graphics at the same time as the musical score was being developed . So , in the end , we have a picture lock , and we wrap up the composition , but the very early sound maquettes were created at the same time as the images were being drawn . It was very much a parallel effort .”
NIAGARA ’ S POWER TRANSFORMED
Not even three months removed from its opening , Currents has already begun collecting accolades on a global scale , winning the 2021 Blooloop Innovation Award in the Places category . In a tourist district built on attractions , this is easily the one you need to make time for , as it ’ s something you simply haven ’ t experienced in your life . Period .
The scope of the building itself is enough to make your jaw fall off , even without considering the mystique of the history attached to it . Add a breathtaking and unique entertainment experience that viscerally engages the audience in something so massive , yet nuanced such as it is , and you end up with an attraction that dares to be more compelling than the famous waterfall itself . There ’ s certainly something to be said for a production that so delicately balances a reverence for history and the stories written in a distant past by the very spaces we occupy , with a style of presentation that reminds us that we ’ re already living in some kind of fantastical future .
Andrew Leyenhorst is the Assistant Editor of Professional Lighting & Production .
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