The Radio City Christmas Spectacular delivers impact with immersive architectural mapping
“This project takes architectural projection, the newest application combination of high power projection and warp and blend media servers, and applies it to the live stage and theater environment, directly adding to the excitement of this 79 year holiday production.”
- Blair Parkin, managing director, Visual Acuity
– Immersive architectural mapping took top billing at this year’s Radio City Christmas Spectacular in New York City. Seen by more than 1 million spectators each year, the Christmas Spectacular is an anxiously anticipated yearly dedication to the sights and sounds of the holiday season. Tasked with continually surpassing the previous year’s production, MSG Entertainment brought together a select group of precision audio/video manufacturers and service providers to help deliver on that goal. Central to this year’s production were 11 Digital Projection International (DPI) LIGHTNING 45-WUXGA, 3-chip DLP projectors, each delivering 30,000 lumens, enlisted to illuminate the historic theater’s ceiling and proscenium arch with awe-inspiring imagery.
Incorporating custom 3D imagery, a video-game style action narrative and animated scenic imagery that envelopes the stage, the 2011 Christmas Spectacular surpassed all existing standards for this annual event. Larry Sedwick, senior vice president production, MSG Entertainment, explained, “As one of the leading companies in live entertainment, we are focused on delivering our Christmas Spectacular to audiences with content that has never been presented before in a theatrical setting and utilizing advanced technology features available in today’s market, while still honoring those traditions steeped in our show.” Sedwick continued, “So, in our recent production, we used large scale digital projection and gave audiences the feeling of being immersed in an array of image, sound, lighting, theatrical, and pyrotechnic effects as each scene transforms to the next.”
New York-based batwin + robin productions created the projected animations that playfully enveloped audiences in more than 180 feet of bright, colorful visuals. At times, such as when a train traveled around and above the stage, animation traversed the arches as a visual feature. In other instances, DPI’s LIGHTNING projectors displayed accent imagery, supplying a visual wallpaper of sorts in order to complement the on-stage theme. Due to the varying depths within the existing proscenium arch, overcoming any shaded areas within the arch with incredibly bright imagery was critical. The digital content displayed on the arch, as well as the image blending, was managed by 7thSense Design Delta media servers. Visual Acuity, an independent media and design consultancy, advised on the key technological aspects of the application by supplying expertise in the overall projection, custom content and edge blending implementation.
In order to uniformly project across the entire 180 foot plain, placement and alignment of the projectors was a key venue consideration. The bulk of the projected imagery emanated from two sets of four LIGHTNING 45-WUXGA projectors, with each set mounted onto choral risers flanking the main seating. Two LIGHTNING projectors, both using a custom mirror-bounce system to create portrait images, were installed in the projection booth. A final LIGHTNING projector was installed in the booth in order to project straight landscape format images across the top of the arch. Each LIGHTNING was installed with mounting frames, courtesy of RP Visual Solutions.
Filling such a massive, curved surface area with impressive imagery was no easy feat, and the projector requirements were significant. “The ability to rotate the DPI projectors 360 degrees, pointing straight up, straight down and anywhere in between was a key consideration in the final projector selection,” noted Sedwick. As most of the proscenium imagery was custom- mapped to a massive arch, the ability to tilt and rotate the LIGHTNING projectors was critical when creating the illusion of the arch being one cohesive image. Other important projector considerations include the lower noise level produced by the LIGHTNING displays, as the projectors were installed close to the audience. Proximity to the audience provided the LIGHTNING an additional opportunity to impress by consuming less power, and as such expelling less heat, than other projector alternatives.
Uptime is critical for live events such as the Christmas Spectacular, and the ease of the LIGHTNING projector’s lamp replacement in comparison to competing options was also a major consideration. Lamp replacement takes a technician less than five minutes, can be carried out live during the performance, and does not need the isolation and time-consuming cooling processes required by other projector options. Blair Parkin, managing director with Visual Acuity, remarked, "DPI’s LIGHTNING projectors were selected for a combination of brightness, capability and image quality.” Parkin continued, “The projector, being single bodied with integrated lamp and change module meant that it was the best suited product for this application to mount inside the historical venue." A final vital detail was the extensive support provided by DPI, which included numerous visits pre-and post installation by factory technicians, additional visits by DPI’s northeast regional manager and a specialized training program at DPI’s Atlanta headquarters designed for the venue’s in-house technicians.
When asked whether the very visible role that DPI’s projectors played in this year’s Christmas Spectacular was a personal highlight, Mike Levi, president of Digital Projection Inc., commented, “Everyone at DPI is honored that our products contributed to the success of the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall. Our LIGHTNING projectors represent the absolute pinnacle of large screen display technology, so it is thrilling to see these products employed in a venue which likewise, is world renown as the pinnacle of all performance theaters.”
DPI would like to thank everyone involved with this marvel of live entertainment, including Blair Parkin, Larry Sedwick, Linda Haberman, the in-house MSG technical team, and the many creative service and product suppliers that made this year’s Christmas Spectacular truly special. Also, many thanks to Karl Mehrer at K2imaging for taking the beautiful photos.