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WorldStage & WATCHOUT are What’s Going On at Broadway’s “Motown: The Musical”

It’s Motown meets Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre where “Motown: The Musical” charts the amazing journey of Berry Gordy from featherweight boxer to heavyweight music mogul responsible for launching the careers of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and more. Accompanying the iconic musical numbers in the show are bold video and graphic effects, which required a unique automation-tracking solution by WorldStage.

The new brand for Scharff Weisberg and Video Applications Inc., WorldStage provided “Motown: The Musical” with two Christie Roadster HD18K projectors, two Dataton WATCHOUT quad-output Display computers, two Dataton Watchout Production computers, and two control computers each running an instance of Coolux Widget Designer PRO. The hybrid system enables extremely accurate positioning of the video imagery on a variety of moving stage elements and set pieces.

“We were tasked with supplying a cost-effective technology that could accurately track up to 26 axes of automation system movement. That’s a considerable number, which included simultaneous x, y, and z axis tracking on multiple surfaces on multiple planes,” notes WorldStage account executive Lars Pedersen. “We’ve successfully done similar jobs using other systems in the past, but nothing to the extent of what we had to manage for this job.”

Since the designer, Daniel Brodie is very familiar with the Watchout graphics platform, WorldStage decided to move forward with a Watchout-based system, even though it hasn’t been used for automation tracking on a Broadway production. “Although we’re quite versed in the inherent capabilities and feature set of Watchout, this would be the first time we’ve used it to facilitate automation tracking,” Pedersen explains. “Regardless, we knew we had the expertise and we were confident we could make it work.”

Working closely with the team from Hudson Scenic, the decision was made to implement a “software” solution to facilitate direct communications between the automation and the video systems. The star component in the system was the Coolux Widget Designer PRO software, which enabled the Watchout computers to interpolate and manage the position information being output from the automation computers.

Dual-converged Christie Roadster HD18K projectors were selected for brightness and redundancy purposes. In fact, Projection Designer Daniel Brodie of brodiegraphics explains that the projectors are primarily used as a lighting source, which track the movement of the set pieces. “We can track more accurately with the projectors than we can with lighting instruments. We worked with lighting designer Natasha Katz to project color to match the lighting design, whether naturalistic or abstract.”

Brodie also maps animation and video to the set pieces. “Some content is purely evocative: flashing colors and video – psychedelic or kaleidoscopic – to support a musical number. Sometimes we play back a scene from ‘Lady Sings The Blues’ that we reshot with our actors; we also display documentary footage of 1968 events to accompany the song ‘Ball of Confusion.’ And sometimes we use just standard projection design for dates, names and titles.”

The show scored another first in taking advantage of WATCHOUT’s built-in stereoscopic 3D capabilities to align the projectors on multiple planes. “We discovered that we could do 3D effects during shop prep at WorldStage, and they’ve worked perfectly,” Brodie reports.

Daniel Brodie concludes, “I continue to be amazed, but not surprised at the level of ingenuity that WorldStage brings to the table.”

The WATCHOUT programmer for the show is Patrick Southern and the animators are Gabriel Aronson and Allison Pottasch. At WorldStage TJ Donoghue is the Project Manager, while Michael Kohler, Technology Specialist at WorldStage, was the Widget Designer PRO programmer. Sean Kelly was the projectionist.

WorldStage Inc., the company created by the merger of Scharff Weisberg Inc and Video Applications Inc, continues a thirty-year legacy of providing clients the widest variety of entertainment technology coupled with conscientious and imaginative engineering services. WorldStage provides audio, video and lighting equipment and services to the event, theatrical, broadcast and brand experience markets nationally and internationally.

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