When Madame Tussauds in New York City opened “The Ultimate Broadway Experience” in June 2019, they gave theater lovers the chance put themselves in the middle of Broadway’s most enduring musicals.
Visitors can take a trip through themed environments that bring Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, and Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat to life through real actors, life-size wax figures, and perception-bending AV technology.
The backstage cast—including the Phantom himself—whisks visitors through sets where an augmented reality-programmed dressing room mirror remakes visitors into stage-ready Cats cast members, and Joseph’s famed coat comes alive with splashes of projected colors.
“There's theatrics to it,” said Bryan Meszaros, founder and CEO of OpenEye Global. “There's lighting, there's the sound, there's the set itself, making you feel for a brief amount of time that you're really part the world that they try to create through the play.”
This fantasy world is an AV dream come true, but pulling it off took more than technical chops. It required loads of vision and creativity, and especially the cooperation of content creators and AV integrators.
“We very much in the beginning had the conversation of who's taking on the responsibilities of the experience,” said Meszaros about his firm’s relationship with integrator Electrosonic.
The teams split the tasks, with Electrosonic taking on the hardware configuration and installation. Since Open Eye Global had the specs and hardware documentation in-hand early in the project, its IT team and designers could easily understand the requirements and hand off a complete package to Electrosonic for placement.
“The scope was taken care of early on,” he noted. “The client also did a good job understanding what role I would play and what role Electrosonic would play in the experience. That's a really good relationship, when you have a client that is supportive of both parties and also understands what roles each of them are going to do.”
Ben Cating, senior consultant and VP at Idibri, concurs. "The CMS designers are doing a lot of the heavy lifting, so we're working with them to ensure that all the systems are talking together, helping them understand how it's all laid out, here's what connections are there, how it is physically connected."
The benefits of establishing clear lines of communications and setting expectations up front are key. But there are additional opportunities for integrators who get on the same page with content creators and creatives early in the process.
“We've had AV integrators come to us that are working with a client that wants to bring in a content partner before all the decisions are made, to talk about what's possible, and to come up with some initial design presentations for the client so they can better visualize what they're investing in,” said David Title, chief engagement officer and partner at Bravo Media. “So, some of our partners will help on the pitch phase and putting together materials to help gain client buy-in. I think the nature of each relationship is always a little unique.”
With any project, it can be easy to fall into a system of simply checking items off a list instead of considering the possibilities of each situation. Those early, collaborative conversations can help creatives and integrators wring the most value and “wow” factor from a project.
“If they're a very open integrator, you can have that conversation about how far you can push the technology,” said Meszaros. “Meaning, what are the limitations from a visual perspective, or if we're designing something that has a programming aspect to it, how far can we push that programming? And also, what more can we do that we're not thinking of, in terms of what the technology can do?”
Pushing the envelope can lead teams to innovate beyond what’s in the initial scope, and having another set of eyes on the job with a different perspective can help clients see what they may otherwise miss.
While working on a project for T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Bravo Media identified areas of unused space hiding in plain sight and converted them to messaging platforms using a mix of displays and projection. The largest was the underside of a two-story escalator, a massive canvas but both structurally and cost prohibitive for high-resolution LED screens.
“Nobody was thinking about putting a display there, and for the integrator that ended up being three 15,000-lumen projectors and all the associated hardware and maintenance,” says Title. “We ended up creating a 700-square-foot piece of digital inventory for them that's going to quite quickly recoup the cost of both the content and the installation on what they're charging to place ads on that space. Now, we're likely to do the other three escalator banks in that arena.”
The tacked-on job that started with three displays and six or seven projectors could end up totaling two-dozen displays and upwards of 30 projectors by the end of the year, he added.
There is a ceiling, of course, where the budget can’t support the proposed investment. As Title pointed out, while hardware eats up the bulk the budget, the cost of creating content is significant.
“We've so many times gone in and seen displays with bad content on it, or improper content on it,” Title said, “and [the client is] upset about the display. And it's not the display, it's the content.”
“We've certainly seen situations where the client says, ‘I really want to do this thing,’ and it's quite text heavy and they've got 5-mil LED arrays, [but] their letters need to be three feet tall to be legible from the distance the viewer is at,” he added. “And had everyone known it was going to be text-heavy content, you're going to need to find a higher-resolution solution to that display.”
All of this communication and collaboration, when done well, should help integrators, consultants, and creatives avoid potential conflicts. Cating noted that having integrators be a checkmark on their work keeps mistakes to a minimum, and maintaining clarity of scope and equipment is essential.
When those lines blur, said Meszaros, trouble is often close behind. “I think it's a little hard, where if you're an IT professional or an AV professional working with a creative agency, you understand a bit about the creative, but then you're naturally drawn to take on certain aspects of it. I try to take a position that we're in it to help, and try not to take on a position to where we're trying to take on their tasks or their jobs. Respect the scope.”
Title added, “We're still learning, as well, the best ways for us to work as beneficial partners to all the other players in the space and what we can bring to the table. And, obviously, at the same time understanding where everybody else's roles and responsibilities come into play and how everybody makes money is important. Making sure that we can fit into that mix—that's been the evolution for us.”
To learn more about integrators and content creators working together, join us at the AV/IT Summit on Aug. 1. Visit www.avitsummit.com to register.