Director is Frank Van Laecke, technical producer Bart Caels and Gert Verhulst co-founder / co-CEO of the Studio 100 Group together with Hans Bourlon, signed for the artistic supervision.
WICREATIONS has designed, developed and installed a unique wireless laser-guided system to move 8 enormous seating stands holding audiences while they are watching the musical 360° around the performance space.
Each gallery is 8 metres (26 ft) high at the back 19 metres (62 ft) long, 8 metres wide, empty weight 28 tons and holds 209 people. One platform contains around 14,000 parts the bulk of which customized.
The WIMOTION automation concept that moves the audience into multiple positions around the substantial area throughout the two-hour show is right at the heart of this imaginative theatrical tour de force, staged in a purpose-built venue: the Studio 100 Pop-Up Theatre in Puurs, Belgium.
The WI team had already previously worked on other Studio 100 projects including their prequel to this show, the acclaimed “14-18” staged in 2014.
For this project a laser guided control system was used to move a single seating stand up and down the venue in Mechelen.
This time requirements were far more complex. Stands had to move together or individually throughout the venue in every direction and on every axis, sometimes with as little as 20 cm between them.
SMOOTLY GLIDING PLATFORMS
WI project managers on site Maarten Smits and Tim Lerat explain: ‘We accomplished this mission by using 4 custom built 11-tons electric motor drive units per stand. Each stand’s movement is based on a 43-tons weight loading to cope with the extensive metalwork involved in the stands themselves plus 75kg per person when fully loaded with audience’.
How to ensure that the 11 tons drive units - and not only the drive unit but the whole tribune - were silent whilst moving? This major challenge was achieved by WI following some deep dive R&D. Result is that these large and imposing objects glide effortlessly across the floor, choreographed to fit in with the show narrative thus adding an immersive physical element for anyone experiencing the performance.
Each stand has 48 x industrial grade wheels with hydraulic suspension on the wheelbases to equalize and balance the weight on each wheel and keep the movement super-smooth as the tribune is rolling over the floor.
Large battery units are located on the underside of each stand to power the drive units with the potential to run for up to 3 shows without needing a re-charge, allowing this to be planned during the longer breaks between shows.
A third battery pack in each stand provides the power for lighting, the RF headsets through which the audience receive the soundtrack and singing – including dubbed translations to French and English – and the essential WIFI routers which enable both the laser positioning system (LPS) and the RF headsets to function totally wirelessly.
The lasers on the stands provide information on positioning which is sent to a control cabinet located on the stand. A control desks talks to the control cabinet for each move via WIFI and these devices adjust their positions / angles relative to 26 main reflectors installed – mainly in the roof for the best sightlines around the venue. This allows the stands to navigate their way around.
LED Screens on WIWAGONS
In addition to the 8 seating stands, the same WI technology is being applied to move 8 LED screen trucks and 2 scenery wagons.
The LED video screens of 7 metres high and 4.5 metres wide are rigged – complete with all the processing units - on special carts constructed by WI with customized hanging structures. Carts weigh about 4 tons each and are moved using the same wireless laser guidance system as the seating stands, with video content also sent to the screens via WIFI.
The screen trucks are physically moved by 2 battery powered drive units from WI’s stock products which have been in operation for several years and were also used on 14-18. For this production they were fitted with new wheel frames.
The 2 scenery wagons also have 2 of these standard drive units and receive their positional information from a set of reflectors installed at ground level around the space.
Controllers & Consoles
At the core of the movement control system are customized controllers which have been hot-rodded by WI.
Controllers were programmed, tested and run by Jasper Cosemans, one of the 4 automation crew looking after everything at the Pop-Up Theatre. One brand new motion console deals with the 32 drive units moving the stands while a second is controlling those on the video screens and scenery wagons. The 2 systems are linked through newly developed software giving the operators an onscreen map of the whole space and the dynamic locations of all the moving pieces.
The desks send data signals to a dedicated server containing a database with all the relevant co-ordinates - and E-Stop – information accessed via the WIFI. The positioning of the drive units is measured both in relation to the individual object they are moving as well as in correlation / proximity to one another. Data are beamed from a receiver next to the main server to a receiver on each of the tribunes. The entire control system has been set up with full redundancy.
Nano second precision
by Jasper Cosemans
The specific challenges here have been programming the exact moves that director Frank Van Laecke had in mind together with assistant director Tijl Dauwe. Plus finding good positions for moving and turning the stands from one cue to the next.
It is essential to be extremely precise when programming the co-ordinates into the consoles.
Moving in sync
Sightlines were a primary consideration, both for the audience’s sake and alignment to the laser reflectors. All the moves had to be carefully thought out and plotted with the upcoming cues and timings in mind together with current and future positioning.
The galleries are moved at 0.70 mps, the screens a little faster at .75 mps and the prop wagons a speedy 1 mps, all of which has been deemed safe for the application. However, all of them are capable of far greater speeds than this. As the automation control room is not in the theatre itself, each stand has a human spotter deployed to keep an eye on the moves.
By the time press night arrived, there were 76 movement cues in the desk plus preset cues with 15 scenes in total and up to 5 moves per scene, all of which had to be in perfect harmony with all the stage action and music.
TALENT, VISION & TECH UNITED
Hans Willems concludes: ‘It’s been a fantastic experience working on this production and designing moving stands, video and deco wagons. Programming all of them together safely was the biggest challenge… a mission which I believe is a world first!
Apart from dynamizing the WI collective skills it has also been an interesting collab with Studio 100 and all these very talented individuals – both creative and technical – each playing their expertise roles in sync to ultimately deliver this amazing performance.’