A throng of giddy children bounces around a fairytale dance floor as happy music plays. Arms outstretched, they grasp at the colorful characters and shapes floating all around them. Fireworks pop overhead and their jaws drop in wonder.
“DreamWorks Trolls the Experience” in New York City is a young child’s fantasyland replete with adventure, creative activities, and of course, audiovisual technology. Produced by live-event specialists Feld Entertainment, the experience is based on the 2016 movie and features a number of technology-driven interactive elements, most notably an immersive dance party driven by 3D Live’s three-dimensional LED technology.
According to James Shea, show director and creative development at Feld Entertainment, the experience was born out of the merging of his company’s live entertainment pedigree with the increasingly popular concept of the “Instagrammable” attraction.
“We were originally approached with the concept of doing another one of those ‘Instagrammable-moment’ museums, and we then decided, ‘What can we do to make ourselves different? What can we do to elevate this beyond just things to take photos with?” Shea said. The answer was the partnership with 3D Live. “We had gone out to LA to visit their studios and see their technology, and we knew we were working on this product and though that this could be the perfect first start for our partnership, and it really was.”
As the climatic conclusion to the experience, the 3D production “Poppy’s Dance Party” does not disappoint. Constructed of a wall of 3.9mm pixel-pitch NEC LED displays, the video runs at 1920x768 resolution—but at a stereo contrast of 1,000:1, the depth of the 3D is so great that the company calls it “holographic.” With glasses on, the animated figures appear to float out from the screen and over the crowd; even as an adult, it takes restraint to not reach out and try to touch it.
“It’s really been one of the highlights of the guest experience, being able to experience the 3D,” Shea said. “Because you can see 3D in the movie theaters, but you don’t get it to this level of quality and brightness that you’re getting here. And with kids being so close to it, you see their reactions and that’s what’s really cool about it.”
According to Ryan Pardeiro, co-founder and COO of 3D Live, the video for the dance party was created mostly with off-the-shelf software, primarily Autodesk Maya. “We used After Effects for comping; we used Houdini for some of the particle effects and water effects, and things like that,” he said. “So we had a team of about 10 people for the whole thing, between character animators, compositors, effects, render pipeline management, and technical directors.
“I directed it and produced it, and we had a choreographer that came in and did all the dance moves. We did motion capture for him and then translated that all into animation data—that’s the way the whole thing was built.”
For playback, Pardeiro said the 7thSense media server the production uses made things easy for him. “The great thing about [7thSense] is they have a whole pipeline built specifically for stereoscopic,” he said. “So they have the ability to do 3D out of the box, where a lot of other servers would have to have custom design work done.”
Feld Entertainment worked with other firms throughout the rest of the experience, including BeCore, which Shea said was instrumental in coordinating a great deal of the technology. Earlier on in the experience, there is a game that visitors can play that involves interactive projection: using Hitachi projectors and a Kinect-based motion capture setup, kids tap on creatures on a projection screen to “invite” them to the dance party. After that, there is an interactive music station. Created in partnership with Red Paper Heart, visitors are prompted to help create beats by touching whimsical flora.
According to Pardeiro, all of the facility’s AV is run by a show control system located on a different floor, and there are two technology managers onsite to oversee and troubleshoot the equipment. “It’s controlling everything over UDP—everything from lights to trigger points for basically everything including our [3D Live] LED,” he said. “We have a matrix switcher in there with two backup servers and all of that’s being controlled from the show control. And there are touchscreen interfaces in the different rooms that are super easy to operate for just an average person; even brand ambassadors can be like ‘Play. Stop. Play.’”
Still, staging this experience wasn’t without its challenges—and the space was one of them. “Building into a pre-existing building is always a challenge, especially one that is a historical landmarked building,” Shea said. “So we installed all of our own trussing, because you can’t actually build up into the ceiling, so we had to make our own false ceiling.” In addition, this was the first non-touring show Feld had done. “We’re so used to modular entertainment: things that can just be picked up, packed up, and moved out in quick periods of time. And we did take some of that approach here as well, with the goal that we could utilize this and make it into other spaces if we needed to, if we’re going to transform this into something that might move in the future.”
But for now, the production isn’t going anywhere. Opened to the general public in mid-November 2018, it’s scheduled to operate until May of 2019. “We’ve seen great success so far, and the guest response has been amazing, so we really hope that this is the start of a whole new enterprise for us at Feld, and the experience-based entertainment world is blowing up right now,” Shea said.
And unlike the many of those other entertainment experiences, “DreamWorks Trolls the Experience” has an element that you just can’t capture in an Instagram story. “What’s cool about [3D Live’s technology] is it means you have to be here,” Pardeiro said. “You have to come to see it; you’ll never be able to fully experience it unless you’re here in person.”