This week on the XLIVE Interview Series, we sat down with Richard Steinau, Senior Vice President of WorldStage. WorldStage is one of the most senior AV and event staging companies, with an impressive 35 years of consistent ownership and management. Richard answered many of our questions from what sets WorldStage apart from other technology providers to what we can expect in the future from this event staging and AV pioneer.
At the Game of Thrones season premiere, images from the show were projection-mapped onto the Frank Geary designed Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles
What role does WorldStage play in live events and how do you differentiate yourself from other technology providers?
WorldStage is the A/V technology partner behind many of the most epic sports and corporate events. Recent projects include the massive Hall D of Blizzcon, the highly complex EA Play experience and the CES 2018 opening keynote. In all cases we’re elevating those experiences by not simply providing gear, but using technology in new and better ways to deliver something never seen before. In several cases, we’re actually inventing the technology needed to make these experiences possible.
As technology continues to offer more capabilities and options, what does WorldStage do to stay out in front of what’s new and make sure that technical solutions are tested and proven for live events? What client segment have you found willing to take the most risks with technology today?
There are a lot of AV companies in the industry; we are fortunate to have some great competitors and that drives us to continually focus on innovation and improvement. But the difference between us is that WorldStage is the leader in innovation. We’re consistently asked by manufactures to help them design the best products in the industry. We enable them to develop new products so our clients have the ability to deliver truly unique experiences that align with their brand, message and budget.
WorldStage clients span a very large set; we service leaders and innovators in a wide scope of industries. You might be surprised to know that the pioneer in live event technology is actually Broadway and the arts. In general, that sector will take more risks with new technology than anyone else. Many new products and services we’ve developed have debuted in the arts, because we have the luxury of time for the R&D necessary to deliver something not just amazing, but also amazingly reliable.
That same innovative technology has been successfully adapted to esports events to keep the experiences fresh, dynamic and engaging. Those things that have worked so well on Broadway to keep ticket-paying audiences enthralled have also been successful in keeping live event attendees engaged and impressed.
Projection mapping is becoming more dynamic and interesting. What advances have been made in this area, and what types of things can one do now?
We’ve all seen projection mapping, it’s been done for many shows and events. Now kinetic projection mapping, which maps projected content onto a moving surface, is making inroads. Recently a Broadway show needed 24 individuals to walk onstage with monitors displaying content, but real monitors don’t travel well and were not an option. So we gave those individuals two-dimensional foam-core panels to carry, mapped only their front surfaces with High Definition projected content and tracked them perfectly as they moved randomly across the stage in 3 dimensions. We were thrilled at how well the technology actually worked in a live experience, but it took weeks of R&D to nail the effect to meet Broadway’s very high standards.
So how does this apply to the live events business? When Intel’s production partner asked us to map 9 different moving surfaces in real time, one of those a 195’ wide screen, as a key feature of their CES Keynote we knew exactly what that required. Combining the latest technologies on the market today with WorldStage’s proprietary expertise and technical designs, we tracked, in real-time, numerous moving fabric surfaces as they fell through the air with the content never missing that surface perfectly. We’re now driving to the next level of application that will allow projection mapping to be used in live event settings in a way that will absolutely blow people’s minds.
How does laser projection take projection technology to a new level?
Laser phosphor projection is a lot richer and brighter so it expands the horizons for projection applications. For HBO’s gala season seven premiere of ‘Game of Thrones,’ our client wanted to projection map the entire surface of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles with video images from the show. The building was beautifully designed by Frank Gehry with numerous curves and angles that can make mapping challenging. But the greatest challenge was actually the stainless steel-clad surface, which reflects more light than it captures. Bart Kresa, a very progressive projection designer whom we’ve partnered with on many complex arts projects, knew we could make this work. With new Panasonic laser phosphor projectors, we mapped the concert hall with far fewer projectors than ever before and did it in deep, rich colors. Although we still can’t project during the day, the power in these new projectors allowed us to deliver vibrant imagery at dusk. On the tech side, successfully using projection outdoors when there’s still some sunlight is revolutionary.
WorldStage is also a leader in LED technologies. Why is this important and how do you differentiate yourself in this market?
LED technology continues to advance and it has been getting cheaper and cheaper in the marketplace as more manufacturers enter into the business. That’s both good and bad as there’s a tremendous variance in quality levels and processing – and wide-screen LED is a massive surface that quickly shows flaws. We spend a lot of time with manufacturers directly because how you design and build your LED tiles has an incredible impact on how effectively it can be used on show site. We partnered with the top LED manufacturer to design brand new tile formats that not only give the most beautiful imagery on the market, they’re also lighter and far quicker to install. This helps us achieve the Holy Grail of live event technology: delivering better quality in less time and at a lower overall cost.
We’ve also recently launched the industry’s most advanced LED floor product, i5FLOOR, which has some unique interactive capabilities. i5FLOOR was used on the recent CES Opening Keynote backed by a massive LED wall. This technical design allowed the dynamic content to move freely between both surfaces, creating a very immersive 3D-like environment for the stage presentations. We’ve also developed a game changing new LED tile design that arrives later this month that will deliver a proprietary high resolution display solution for everything from massive live events to VIP activations in small, intimate environments.
What is real-time generative content and why is it a new tool for clients to consider?
Okay, excuse me while I geek out for a minute. People enjoy interacting with real-time generative content on their monitors at home when they play with Kinect, Wii and Xbox. We have been working to do that on a massive scale, but until recently it took too much processing power to put real-time generative content on a 200-foot screen and have it be a truly impressive experience without lag or distortion. Now, with new server technology we’ve helped pioneer, we have the ability to make real-time generative content more interactive and display it on a huge scale. But that’s only the beginning. We’re now pushing that to the next level by combining our interactive LED floor with hi-res LED walls and ceilings for a fully immersive, interactive experience for individuals and large groups. Our clients are ecstatic about the new possibilities and experiences we’ve opened up to them.
You’ve even made it possible for clients to hide content in plain sight. How do WhiteSpace and WhiteSpace Pro work?
We invented WhiteSpace in response to a client’s challenge to hide content in a very public space. Our solution was to slide a piece of plexiglass with polarization in front of a WhiteSpace monitor where the polarization had been removed. That created dimensionality: You could see the content clearly through the translucent piece of plexiglass while the monitor itself remained white. You can also look through hand-held polarized devices to discover content “hidden” on the WhiteSpace monitor. One of the largest corporate events in the world used WhiteSpace recently to create a very successful “Easter Egg” experience where content was hidden for their attendees to find in numerous locations throughout the exceptionally large trade show floor.
Then a video game company asked us to up the ante. They wanted to projection map an 8’ x 20’ object in their booth on a tradeshow floor. But they wanted the mapped content hidden so that no one except VIPs could see it with special glasses. Could we deliver the WhiteSpace effect with projection instead of monitors? Technically, monitors and projection are completely different and so this wasn’t a simple thing to do. It actually took us quite a bit of time to work through the complications, but we have now introduced our proprietary WhiteSpace Pro technology. This allows us to project “hidden” hi-res video content in plain sight that can only be viewed through a polarized lens or surface.
What other new technologies are on the drawing board at WorldStage? Can you give us a peek at the future and share some of WorldStage’s 2018 initiatives?
We’ll continue to seek the Holy Grail of elevating the quality of the live event experience while delivering those solutions in less time to install and at a lower overall cost. We’re developing new LED, server and display technologies that will continue to keep us in a leadership position for live events and experiences. These new technologies will be the foundation of the next generation of live events in 2019 and beyond. And on the R&D front we’re also playing around with even more complex kinetic projection mapping concepts and applications that are beyond anything ever seen in a live event. WorldStage will continue to lead, invent and inspire in every aspect of live events. It’s in our DNA, it’s what drives us and it’s why the best and brightest seek out WorldStage.