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The Super Powers of DiGiCo’s SD7T Propel Batman Live Production

A superhero and cultural icon operating out of the fictional American Gotham City, Batman is assisted by various characters including his crime-fighting partner, Robin in his continuous war on crime. Armed with a keen intellect, detective skills, technology and physical prowess coupled with an indomitable will to fight an assortment of villains from Catwoman to the Riddler, Batman is proof you don’t need superpowers to be a superhero. Adopted for the stage, Batman LIVE is a spectacular live action adventure filled with stunts, acrobatic acts and illusions. The show’s North American circuit started in the fall of 2012, following a popular and acclaimed arena tour throughout the United Kingdom, Europe, and Latin America.

A DiGiCo SD7T at FOH was chosen by the show’s sound designer Simon Baker in conjunction with Clair Global, with a D5 local rack and DiGiCo stage racks connected via 500-feet of fiber optic cable. Two Apple Mac Pro’s with internal RME MADI cards run as hot, swappable redundant show playback machines, running QLab theatre control software enabling 48 channels of playback and flexible MIDI and Timecode programming.

The FOH system handles around 140 inputs overall: 24 channels of Sennheiser RF receivers, 2 x 48 channels of MADI playback, and 16 channels of external effects, as well as 22 zoned outputs to the FOH PA comprised of eight hangs of Clair Global i3 loudspeakers (56 boxes), 12 zones of Clair FF-2 boxes for front-fills built into the stage (26 boxes), two end-fire sub-arrays of Clair BT 218′s (12 boxes) and another 30 outputs for onstage and backstage monitoring in-ear monitors and press feeds. All effects are obtained within the console with the exception of an external Mac Mini running Apple’s MainStage 2 with a RME fireface interface for all vocal effects, and a TLA Audio valve compressor sitting across the vocal subgroups. [Pictured at right: Clair systems engineer Tim Peeling, FOH engineer James Meadwell, PA's Dane Barber and Kevin Leas.]

“The QLab machines send and receive MIDI signals back to the SD7 with pre-recorded Timecode to trigger all video cues, and some of the automation sequences,” says Clair systems engineer Tim Peeling. “We also pass MIDI triggers through the console exiting the stage rack to fire a hundred or so lighting cues. The comprehensive programming options available on the SD7T for this very snapshot-hungry theatre show are extensive. The powerful matrix, including the ability to delay matrix inputs, allows me to time-align the live mics separately to the track and sound FXs within the console. Sonically, the console is great as well, but where the SD7 really wins in this situation is the flexibility of the snapshot programming.”

“The SD7 is being used in a ‘control via MIDI’ mode with each of the snapshots assigned a MIDI value,” adds FOH engineer James Meadwell, who brings extensive experience mixing shows on London’s West End theatre district. “We then configured the desk’s NEXT and PREV buttons via the SD7 Macro page to send out MIDI commands to control the QLab’s Next and Previous functions. This created a loop with the desk triggering QLab, which in turn sent a trigger back to the SD7 recalling the snapshot needed. The music for the show has all been pre-recorded and we were able to get the SD7 snapshots to be recalled at exact musical points within the show. We programmed the QLab so the SD7 ‘reacted’ to the show’s sound cues, which makes mixing the show a very intuitive and enjoyable experience!

“We also used the SD7′s macro buttons extensively,” Meadwell continues. “We created a full set of transport controls for QLab, which meant that we could control both our main and backup machines simultaneously from the surface of the SD7. This was invaluable as it effectively did away with two computer keyboards and helped when cueing up to start from different points within the show. We assigned a whole page of macro buttons to trigger spot sound effects within the show. These were for moments that varied and therefore couldn’t be programmed into a set cue list structure. We assigned a MIDI note value to each macro button, which in turn, triggered a separate cue list of sound effects within QLab. An example of this in the show is where the Scarecrow walks around the stage on giant stilts. We follow his walk playing a sound effect with every step. Every performance is different, which gives the actor the freedom to do whatever he likes. Having the macro button as a sound effect button gives me total flexibility without having to jump around the show’s main cue list. We use the Alias feature heavily as a lot of the characters double up on inputs, so the ability to switch EQ settings between snapshots was great! Overall, I’d say the SD7T is by far the best digital desk for theatre I have ever used.”

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