It’s impossible not to use superlatives to describe “Marvel Universe LIVE!” the new arena spectacular (and first-ever live Marvel tour) produced by Feld Entertainment, which just made its 85-city debut with previews in Tampa, FL. The live-action, movie-style production features amazing stunt performers, motorcycle chases, pyrotechnics, moving stages, and astonishing projection mapping that features a three-story wall purported to be the largest projection surface ever built.
d3 Technologies media servers control a sizable array of projectors and LED for the immersive projection mapping, allowing characters to seamlessly travel between The Avengers’ tower and Loki’s fortress; they showcase Tony Stark’s lab, a landslide in the Himalayas and the top of the Statue of Liberty.
d3 Technologies media servers control a sizable array of projectors and LED for the immersive projection mapping, which has been praised in press reviews for enhancing the audience experience. Projections allow characters to seamlessly travel between The Avengers’ tower and Loki’s fortress; they showcase Tony Stark’s lab, a landslide in the Himalayas, and the top of the Statue of Liberty.
Ash Nehru of d3 Technologies, says the size and complexity of “Marvel Universe LIVE!” represents an “unparalleled” usage of d3 media servers for projection mapping where scenic locations and effects map the set, props and arena itself. “There hasn’t been a show of quite this dramatic scale before with this kind of high-quality content,” said Nehru. The production is believed to feature the largest, most sophisticated video projection rig ever taken on tour. It utilizes 27 Barco HDF-W26 DLP projectors, each with 26,000-lumen output.
“Marvel Universe LIVE!” pits 25 Marvel characters in an epic battle over the Cosmic Cube, the source of ultimate power in the Marvel Universe, which has been shattered by Thor to prevent it falling into enemy hands. When his villainous brother Loki schemes to clone the Cube’s powers and threaten world domination Marvel’s biggest Super Heroes – including Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Spider-Man and Wolverine – must work together to retrieve the fragments from such adversaries as Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, Red Skull, Madame Hydra, Aldrich Killian and Electro and reunite them.
In development and engineering for two years, the innovative production not only utilizes the entire arena floor but also a multilevel aerial space that puts audiences right in the middle of the action. “Marvel Universe LIVE!” has its world premiere in New York City’s Barclays Center, August 13. The first leg of its North American tour calls for stops in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Nashville, Miami, and Atlanta.
Unprecedented Size and Scope
“Live representation of the Marvel Universe hasn’t existed successfully until this point,” said Bob Bonniol, video system and content designer for the production. His company, MODE Studios, provides turnkey video solutions for complex installations and consulted on the video system design for “Marvel Universe LIVE!” and supplied the projectors, d3 media servers and signal path equipment along with the expert content management, creation and design staff.
“When Disney bought Marvel it was very natural for live manifestations to be explored. It was equally natural for that exploration to ultimately be done by Feld Entertainment, a family-owned company that produces family entertainment,” he said. “They have enjoyed decades of successful collaboration with Disney producing live entertainment, they own and produce the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and their motorsports division produces supercross, ‘Monster Jam’ and the enormously successful ‘Nuclear Cowboys’ stunt shows. This represents a ‘perfect storm’ of expertise that adds up to a tremendous show for Marvel.”
Bonniol says that from the outset director Shanda Sawyer and Kenneth Feld and Juliette Feld “were clear that we needed to completely immerse the audience in the show – that it needed to happen in front of them, around them, above them. We were going to have to convincingly endow real humans with super powers and place them in environments where cataclysmic battles would take place with flying, stunts, combat. It kept me awake at night wondering if we could really do this. And I’m sure I wasn’t alone!”
Bonniol had used d3 servers on a world tour for Mexican singer Paulina Rubio and a Vancouver Opera production of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” and his experience convinced him that, with d3 Technologies’ support, he could meet the unique demands of the show.
“We knew we had to track moving scenery, props and performers with mapped content. We were going to be the main 'engine' for imparting locations, combat effects and environmental effects and also for taking the audience on astonishing transitional journeys to get us from scene to scene. We needed a serving system that would do all of this, as well as move from city to city and efficiently be re-aligned.”
BlackTrax Integration and Previs
Bonniol worked closely with his associate Pablo Molina to conceive new ways to use localized content. Ash Nehru partnered with Bonniol, Molina and Cast BlackTrax development team to use the tracking data “across enormous resolutions with extraordinary accuracy and limited latency,” Bonniol says. BlackTrax is a comprehensive tracking technology solution that delivers precise 3D and 6D positioning in realtime from BTBeacons (attached to performers, vehicles and moving scenery) to controllers for automated/robotic technologies.
“We’ve been working with BlackTrax for some time. For our needs, it is the most advanced system that we know of.” Nehru reports. “On prior shows we had tracked 10-12 BTBeacons, but ‘Marvel Universe LIVE!’ requires 60. It was a learning experience to scale up and develop a system that could be easily managed by the user. But that has set us up well to provide solutions for other large-scale projects. Cutting-edge projects like Marvel Universe LIVE! really brought this feature we were already developing in d3 to a mature level so this will be something everyone will be able to benefit from soon.”
A d3 media server was also deployed during the previz process. “Since the show required an extended development period for content we were going to have to demonstrate easily and accurately what it would look like for Marvel, Disney and the Felds,” explains Bonniol. “I engaged The Antfarm to create most of my content, and we placed a d3 there at the beginning of the process. There were so many challenges in the content development process: understanding spatial relationships, making perspective work for multiple locations in the arena, sorting out how effects would transition among surfaces. D3 proved invaluable not just for client approvals but also for the content team to visualize all of these challenges and efficiently find solutions.”
“Viewing the content in 3D as they created it meant they were always working in a 3D environment and able to make critical decisions long before show time,” said Nehru. “When you use d3 in previs the savings in sweat, stress and money can be astronomical.”
Dynamic Soft Edge Launches
d3 Technologies also developed a new projector blending tool for the media server, which makes its debut with “Marvel Universe LIVE!” and will be standard in the system moving forward. “Typically, when you have multiple overlapping projectors there are bright areas where they overlap,” Nehru explained. “So you have to use a mask to blend them. It’s a manual and static process; you can’t have surfaces that move through the projector beam. With 27 projectors on ‘Marvel Universe LIVE!’ this would have been impossible.”
d3 Technologies had already been developing a solution to this problem. Marvel Universe LIVE! is the first large-scale implementation of this feature, called Dynamic Soft Edge. “With Dynamic Soft Edge we can generate masks automatically and dynamically so we’re able to move projection surfaces through multiple projector beams and come out with a flat color,” says Nehru. “This has huge implications for productions with moving scenery where there were always restrictions before.”
Bonniol says that “tracking scenery and performers through three dimensional space, having the server system understand how this was happening and be able to adjust on the fly how the projectors were blending and projecting the content is a deceptively simple thing to ask for but devilishly complicated to achieve. We asked for a very difficult thing to be achieved, and in the end it was.”
d3 Technologies also offers quick projector calibration – a huge advantage for a touring production with 27 projectors. “Each venue requires recalibrating, which takes five to ten minutes per projector,” Nehru says. “With 27 projectors, some of them moving-head projectors, more than 50 different calibrations have to happen in a few hours. The d3 media server is the only system that can handle this quickly and effiiciently by allowing multiple people to work in parallel on separate laptops.”
Bonniol calls d3 his “media server of choice when faced with sets that need projection mapping. I find d3’s programming interface to be intuitive and powerful and, right now, I think it’s absolutely the best choice for a media server that provides robust tools and process for mapping video onto non-traditional shapes and structures.”