A new city near the heart of Europe with a rapidly expanding demographic added up to a gold plated leisure opportunity for a regional developer. With bowls, dining and drinks in the mix, the trick for integrators Candela and Ampco Belgium was to make sure that control remains in the right hands on the night.
15 years ago most of those who made the one-hour trip Southeast of Brussels to the newly founded university city of Louvain-la-Neuve were students. Today that demographic is rapidly changing, and the city has grown in its own right over the past decade, becoming a Brussels commuter hub and developing a true city centre complete with restaurants and its own direct rail link to the capital.
Streets that used to be deserted after students had gone to bed, or home for the weekend, now bustle with day- and night-life. The latest addition is the Royal Bowl complex, located deep in the bowels of the modern city centre, which has brought a high-technology blend of bowling, drinking and dining to the list of local attractions.
Royal Bowl’s owner, Phillippe Baeijens, began his leisure industry career as a mechanic in a local fitness centre, a business he subsequently bought. Success followed, and with it came a desire to diversify, and plans for Royal Bowl were laid, finally coming to fruition last autumn with the public opening.
A bidding process saw Baeijens and Architects 4A appoint lead integration contractors Candela and Ampco Belgium, respectively the Belgian lighting and audio integration, sales and distribution arms of the multinational Ampco/Flashlight Group. Candela in turn brought in one of the country’s leading lighting design consultancies, Luc Peumans’ Painting With Light, as visual designer.
Candela project manager Geert Custers explains: “The concept was for a bowling venue of a type never seen before in Belgium – a bowling alley that combined a restaurant, a dance area and of course the bowling alley itself: a place where people could enjoy a complete night out.”
Baeijens needed no persuading about the merits of contemporary AV technology, seeing the concept of integrated audio, video and lighting as intrinsic to his vision of a captivating, fun, family-friendly night out. But he was also well aware of the need for technical operation to be staff-friendly too, and he looked to the Candela-Ampco Belgium team to fulfil both objectives.
Custers says that the technical fun really began once Peumans’ designs had been agreed with Phillippe Baeijens. “Once the design was in place and the supplier contracts agreed, we placed our fixtures and our controls and programmed the whole complex.
“We put a great deal of thought into designing a single user interface which was intentionally foolproof, because the complete set-up needed to be controllable by the people who work behind the bar, and we're talking about some 200 LED fixtures and 20 moving lights, plus three audio zones, big video screens, video projectors and media servers.
“In the end, that user interface – based around an E:cue system with ELO touch screens – made all the difference, because the whole control system is effectively on one platform; it's very easy to use. If I give you an explanation, after about three minutes you can control the whole system and do what you want with it, within the pre-defined limits of what we’ll allow you to do.”
A row of five large Multivision video projection screens drops down from the ceiling over the 18 bowling lanes, front-projected using Sanyo projectors and showing either MTV or its French equivalent, or other animated video run from the integrated media server.
Audio is similarly controlled from the servers and the equipment list is headed by two Martin Audio AQ 10 cabinets and an AQ 212 subwoofer for the dancefloor zone, with Martin 14 AQ 5 speakers and one AQ 112 sub for the bowling lanes, while a pair of Vieta Do-2 architectural loudspeakers covers the dining area.
All are powered by three Crest CC 2800 amplifiers and a single CC 4000 for the subs, with control provided by a Peavey Digitool MX 1 8 in / 8 out processor, commanded via RS232 from a custom touch screen designed by Candela’s Geert Custers.
Audio is set up in three different zones, of which the bowling alleys is usually the loudest, the dance area which includes the DJ’s booth, and a separate zone for the bar and restaurant. And in words that may strike fear into DJs across Europe, Custers points out: “Because it’s all under the control of the two linked computers and the touch screens, if the bar staff think the DJ is playing too loud, they can adjust the level from there, no problem.”
The control system is hosted on two E:cue Media Engine II units, each equipped with ELO touch screens. Both stations run identical show files, programmed in the powerful E:cue Programmer. Via Ethernet, both stations run in a peer-to-peer network with bi-directional communication: one station can handle cue lists on the other station, or execute commands on the other station, while feedback on the status of the cue lists is available on both stations.
The programmed cue lists can contain three types of content, appropriate to the different device types. Some contain lighting information, outputting DMX512 to dimmers, moving lights and LEDs. Others contain audio information, sending RS232 to the Peavey MediaMatrix which commands localised volume changes or input source switching. Others control video sources and routing to screens, plasmas and video projectors – mostly via RS232 commands, with some projectors directly controlled over Ethernet.
“All the programming runs in the background,” explains Custers, “and one of the very strong points with the E:cue software is the incredible user interface, which can be completely customised. In this case the screen background is a ground plan of the bowling alley.
“First, by clicking a button, you decide whether you want to control audio, lighting or video. Then you choose the zone in which you would like to change something and then finally you simply press the button that belongs to the function that you want to activate.
“This way, the bowling alley staff, who have no AV background at all, can control this complex technical network by simple button presses, all of which are named with functions they recognise.”
Switching the alley into ‘Disco Mode’ illustrates the point: a single button press generates a string of commands. A relay is switched to power up the moving lights; an Ethernet command starts up the video projectors that in turn trigger the projector screens’ descent; while black lights above the lanes are activated. Once the projector and moving light lamps reach operating temperature, the white fluorescent house lighting is switched off, all moving light chase speeds are set to 60BPM and commence randomised dimmer, colour, gobo and move chases. Simultaneously, the projectors’ video input is switched to a French version of MTV, the audio input is switched to TV source – and the bowling alley comes alive.
“It was quite complex to programme,” adds Custers, “but for the user this only means one simple button press. E:cue software also allows you to add images to the buttons or faders you create in the Action Pad user interface – the simplest example being to change colour when functions are active or deactivated.”
Another touch is much appreciated during the club’s regular hosting of up to three birthday parties a day for local youngsters – named, unsurprisingly, the ‘happy birthday function’. “At the owner’s request,” says Custers, “we created six buttons representing different songs for birthday occasions. After selecting the relevant zone of lanes they simply choose a song as the candles are lit. Lighting changes accent the chosen zone for the entry of the cake, while the audio brings up the Happy Birthday song. Once it’s finished everything is automatically reset back to the ‘normal’ state again.”
Also totally integrated with the audio and video is the lighting, from the bowling lanes’ support columns that are encased in custom designed, translucent colour-changing LED lighting cylinders and LED floor fixtures, to animated ‘strike lights’.
Finally, Candela arranged for even uninvited guests to appreciate the versatility of the AV control system. “The analogue interface is connected to the alarm system,” says Custers, “and the place is full of security cameras. If they have a burglary the alarm sends a signal to the E:cue system which will bring up the lights very nicely – allowing the cameras to effectively register every movement.”