Sound & Stage sits down with Lighthouse production house and Avolites, whoi are this month are celebrating another successful collaboration on the government organised musical Watan Al Ahlam.
Having just claimed a ‘Best Special Event’ accolade at the recent Middle East Event Awards for their stellar work on the Grewal - Sachdev wedding reception held at Armani Pavilion, local production company Lighthouse became the first production company to win honours in every event vertical, from government projects to fashion shows, to corporate events and finally, weddings.
And an invaluable part of this litany of success has been a number of important, pioneering technological developments in their production make up, arguably the most integral stemming from the Avolites Immersive (AI) software created by Avolites Media Ltd, sister company to Avolites Media.
In a nutshell, these systems are tailored for show designers, content producers and artists, enabling them to sculpt elaborate composition multi-media inputs, outputs and triggers. The aim being seamless delivery of multi-media video projects at all scales and venues.
The latest event to showcase this new technology was Watan Al Ahlam (Dreams of a Nation) – a musical performance held at the Dubai World Trade Centre involving 350 children, organised by the ministry of education and performed for His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
Cieran Abrams was Avolites’ man on the ground throughout, helping out the Lighthouse team with the smooth running of the Dreams of a Nation production, and was on hand to tell us a little about Avolites Immersive’s role in its execution
“The complete stage was covered by 11 projectors. There were ten 20k projectors double stacked and one 30k projector used as a single stack. We had six individual outputs from our servers to the projectors, and each of them was full HD, so we were using two servers and with a control screen for each server that gave us four HD outputs on each machine.”
A tall order for most production and engineering teams perhaps, but given the end product, it was one that the Lighthouse and Avolites Media crew handled with aplomb.
“In order to split the project across the two machines I made two separate show files that each had to scale 3D models of the real stage,” continues Abrams: “the first server had the main curved screen and three projectors in it. So three projectors looking at one big stage, where the content was rendered out to a resolution of 4328 x 1200.”
It is features like this that Abrams believes are the biggest strengths of the AI servers, “We have our own dedicated codec called AiM, which is 24-bit and which decompresses the video on the GPU. This is unique in the media servers world and what it allows is for us to load in high-resolution video in real time.”
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As the pictures suggest, the final projection was something pretty special, with one large image mapped to the curved screen using AI’s 3D mapping tool, the end product being a completely curved surface with no joins or edges.
“With this new software, creating the curved surface only took me about 45 minutes – not too long for something of its size and complexity,” adds Abrams.
A further highlight of the AI server of huge significance to production companies like Lighthouse is its ability to be controlled live – a facet of production that is invaluable to light, sound and visual engineers everywhere.
“There are multitudes of things that you can do, from simple stuff like changing the colour or adding effects, to automated movement, or real time mapping,” explains Abrams.
“So each of these fixtures then had a relationship with a projector in our software and from that we were able to map the last three pieces of the set in very little time.”
While an increasingly important attribute, such a process doesn’t always come easy –as Abrams is quick to attest.
“To control two servers live, with a total of four parts of the set is kind of tricky for a single operator, so we’ve done a lot of work with the new version getting it to be controlled via a lighting desk.
So what we were able to do was to map all four fixtures to different universes in the lighting desk. So once we have each fixture addressed, we are then able to add in triggers to change all of the media at once, or the media on a single piece of the set, or any combination of the four. Which is a really nice way to just collaborate the two servers into one control method.”
A substantial part of this was made achievable by Avolites’ latest brainchild, the Titan Mobile (pictured, right). A compact, lightweight unit that connects directly to a laptop to produce a fully featured moving light control system. Live playbacks, Solo and Flash buttons, user programmable buttons and attribute controllers enable fast and accurate show programming in a flight friendly package.
“This controller was made to be tourable,” adds Kieran, motioning to the slick looking bit of kit. “We managed to set up all our triggers for the different scenes in about an hour, so it worked brilliantly.”
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But for those slightly less versed in the latest AI software, how difficult has it been adopting this new technology?
“It can be tricky because there’s lots of way to use it,” concedes Lighthouse operations manager Karun Bali. “We’re learning alongside AI and still developing it. Luckily we had Ciaran on hand for that, giving us a deeper understanding of how to pair AI with everything else.”
For Karun and Lighthouse however, any teething problems are well worth the risk. “When compared to things like ‘Watch Out’ - which is pretty basic - AI can be tricky. But in turn the software also allows you to use so much more. Visual 3D images in front of us, giving you a visual of the actual set we’ve designed – the others don’t allow you to do that. Which is what won us over to buy AI in the first place”
The Watan Al Ahlam event represents Lighthouse’s fifth and largest production so far using Avolites, having relied upon it for about six months previously, from events such as the aforementioned wedding, to government functions, conferences and the UAE’s first ever Children’s Olympics in April.
“The Children’s Olympics was a special one,” says Kuran excitedly. “The set was 55 metres wide, and we used sliding 140g screens, two side screens and using Avolites Immersive mapped on the icons of the Olympic logo.”
While Avolites and AI software is being widely used elsewhere in the world, currently Lighthouse is the only company in the Middle East using this system. “We initially bought Avolites Immersive last December, we were the first here to purchase it, and as of now we’re the only people I’m aware of using it” confirms Karun.
“I believe we’re thinking outside of the box well ahead of everyone else in the region. For example, everyone usually associates projection mapping with buildings outdoors. From being the first company to project on to the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, now with the help of Ai we’ve now taken it another step further indoors on an even larger scale.”
Going forward, what does Lighthouse envisage for its future productions and equally, for Avolites’ ongoing contributions to them?
“To do something different and keep pushing creative boundaries,” smiles Karun. “One thing we’re looking at is motion projection on to moving objects– using AI in a different way. At Lighthouse we’re very much on the forefront of the latest technology, which puts us in a unique position within the industry.”
With Avolites leading the way, the future looks bright for Lighthouse.