Total Production


August 2008

Louise Stickland reports on the unusually large-scale UK opening that was designed for the latest Narnia movie

London’s O2 Arena became the setting for the UK’s biggest and most public film première to date, with an audience of 10,000 and a technical infrastructure that included a giant 29m wide by 11.6m high cinema projection screen (the largest indoor screen in the UK), a fully insulated custom-constructed projection booth and an integrated 5.1 arena-wide surround sound system.
    Saul Mahoney, executive technical director of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures UK came up with the idea of using the O2 to launch The Chronicles of Narnia, Prince Caspian, and asked Andy Peat Associates onboard to technically and logistically co-ordinate this massive high-profile and hugely challenging undertaking, where film première met live event.
    “We were looking for something special after the première of The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe at the Royal Albert Hall, and the brief from the Studio in Burbank was that it had to be bigger than that!”
    Andy Peat turned to some of his regular suppliers, designers and technicians to ensure that everything ran like clockwork to transform the O2 into a movie theatre in a very tight timeframe, and that it was a memorable occasion all round.
    These included Summit Steel (rigging), Britannia Row (audio), Neg Earth (lighting), Harness Hall (screen), Blackfriars Scenery (projection booth construction), Acre Jean (draping), Eat To The Beat (catering), KB Event (trucking), Kevin Peacock (production management) and his regular production co-ordinator, Bryony Wells.
    Wells and Peat are veterans of previous mega film premières including the James Bond movie Die Another Day, the first Narnia film at the Royal Albert Hall and Shark Tale in St Mark’s Square, Venice.
    Christie Digital supplied the three 2kW digital cinema projectors used for the screening, and Dolby Laboratories Inc. supplied the Dolby DC servers and digital 5.1 audio processing.
    Other key individuals on the event team were Gill Siebert, Disney’s overall project manager, Amanda Davis and her team from AD Events who produced all the exterior and ‘red carpet’ activities, the O2’s technical manager Q Willis and event managers Dan Bell and Nicci Halifax.
    “It’s always exciting to break new and untested ground on a high profile project… and the whole team really pulled together to make it work!” said Peat, who has worked with the Walt Disney Studios team on several previous projects.
    Once the venue had been confirmed, the production team carried out a series of site tests to determine throw distances, screen size, sightlines and how many ‘comfortable’ seats could be make available in the building.
    The positioning of the projectors was also dependent on the available space to locate the 6m wide sound-proofed and air-conditioned booth needed to house the machines and control.
    This was built by Blackfriars Scenery, and had to be millimetre accurate in all dimensions, allowing the lenses to protrude in the correct places. It also included an isolated, totally stable platform for the projectors to eliminate vibration from the other plant installed and the people working in there during the show.

Summit Steel is also the house rigging provider at the O2, which helped enormously in terms of being intimately acquainted with the space and its layout, and well aware of exactly the best positions from where to fly, etc. The project was managed for Summit by Chris Walker, working alongside five house and four production riggers.
    They built the screen surround out of 30cm Thomas Supertruss from their hire stock. As it was lifted into place, the team from Harkness Screens attached the screen to the frame — top and sides first, followed by the bottom — to ensure the tensioning was spot on and eliminate any wrinkles. It was flown on four one-tonne Lodestar hoists.
    Behind that were left, right and centre hangs of PA, each on a pair of two-tonne Lodestars, and the three delay speaker hangs in the house were suspended on three single one-tonne points.
    Summit also rigged two drapes trusses flanking the screen sides, and another behind the speakers to catch the audio slapback off the screen. Two 9m lighting trusses were hung in front of the screen, each containing 12 ETC Source Four profiles.
    Lighting was provided by Neg Earth and designed by Max Conwell. Its role was to illuminate a stage below the screen on which the director and stars of the movie made pre-show appearances.

The projectors were Christie CP2000XBs, reportedly the brightest digital cinema projectors currently on the market.
    Installed and aligned manually, pixel-for-pixel, by Christie’s Francis Zee, to produce a triple-overlaid image, the projectors sat on a ‘Fred Frame’, a custom-made platform developed by Christie’s rental staging division to ensure accurate and stable adjustment.
    At this type of event, this is a major challenge for the projection department. Zee also had input into the booth design and worked closely with Kevin Peacock from Peat’s team on this.
    “We wanted to have the same quality and presentation for our guests as any top cinema in the world,” explained Kevin Rosenberger, chief projection engineer for Walt Disney Pictures.
    The projectors were fed by two Dolby Show Store servers — one active and one running as a hot back-up — and into video HD SDI distribution amplifiers which fed a dual signal into each projector. Using this server/projector combination, they were fully DC1 compliant.
    A key digital message (KDM) security system encrypted the files on both servers so they could be run for specific time periods, and the movies were also forensically watermarked.
    Julian Pinn and Matt Desborough of Dolby Production Services looked after the cinema end of the sound which came out of the Dolby servers into a CP650 cinema sound processor before being passed to audio designer Derrick Zieba to feed into the arena system.

Arena Sound
Peat asked Derrick Zieba to wrestle with the galvanising task of designing the arena sound system so 10,000 people could hear the soundtrack at the same time as they saw people’s lips move on screen — no mean feat over such a vast area — when the top balcony area alone of the O2 is the same size as the whole of the Odeon in Leicester Square!
    Zieba received a 5.1-plus-subs feed of every channel from both Dolby servers into his Yamaha PM5D FOH console, which he distributed around the auditorium, to the LCR main arrays, the LCR delay arrays, plus L/R surrounds in the top gallery and on the balcony, the latter of which were focused on the side bleachers and ground. The surround speakers covering the top balconies and corners were flown off the Arena’s RSJs.
    “I love difficult projects like this,” admitted Zieba, adding that they were “under the cosh”, time-wise, with only a two-hour slot the evening before the show to complete sound tests and get the EQ and time alignment sorted to ensure that all seating areas were covered.
    The screen trim was 17.5m high, so they flew the PA up at a top trim height of 16m behind this — the key being to get the signal path differential as equal as possible between the ‘first’ and ‘last’ members of the audience. The front row of seats was also moved back from the front of the screen to aid this.
    The left and right main arrays consisted of 16 hangs each of Outline Butterfly. The centre hang needed wider dispersion, so Zieba went for 16 L-Acoustics dV-DOSC elements, and centrally located under the screen were 12 2 x 18" Outline subs.
    As the surround delays were considerably separated by distance, they minimised the amount of speakers used to four per side per level, making a total of 16. The lower level speakers were L-Acoustics 108s, hung over the O2’s advertising panels and directed at the arena floor and side bleachers on bespoke brackets, while those on the top level (hung on the RSJs)were Turbosound 440s. Much time was spent aligning these for the movie’s big sequences.
    All the EQ matching between the different types of speakers was done by ear, and a Smaart system was used only for delay time alignment. “The audience were going to hear it with their own ears, so it made complete sense to do the same,” said Zieba, who worked with Dolby’s sound engineering team. All the equipment was supplied by Britannia Row Productions.
    The PM5D was used to add delay times and in addition to the movie, Zieba also received a feed from the CTV OB truck stationed outside, which was filming pre-show interviews and green carpet (the Narnia equivalent of red!) action, as well as on the stage inside the arena.
    The sound from this element of the show was output through the house JBL VerTec system, with the main rig being used just for the film sound.

The camera feeds from the CTV OB were fed into a Folsom ScreenPro 2 switcher and output as a picture-in-picture montage on the main screen to get the atmosphere buzzing as the audience filtered in to take their seats. This element was looked after by Simon Cox from Media Power House. Sponsors logos were also shown on the screen, output via a Mac running Keynote Slides.
    More sponsor messages and the movie logos were also running around the O2’s ‘Arenamation’ LED system.
    Andy Peat Associates’ events are known for their relaxed and efficient backstage ambience, no matter what stress levels and demands are occurring in other stratospheres, and this was no exception.
    Said Peat: “The reason this all happened so smoothly was due to tight, meticulous and highly detailed planning. It took a lot of work by a lot of people, but without it we could never have achieved such a spectacular result in such a short time.
    “The other element, naturally, is having the right people onboard, all of whom are comfortable working together under pressure.”
    The screening of the latest Narnia creation caused a sensation in movie circles. Aside from the scale and profile, the site-specific location scored greatly in making a special occasion yet more accessible to the public, rather than a remote, elitist gathering of the chosen. It could well usher in a new style and format for future movie premières.
Photography by Louise Stickland


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