Cunard sets sail with Christie

AUTHOR: Inavate

When the Queen Mary 2 was built at Sainte-Nazaire in France back in 2003, Cunard Line wanted to incorporate a broad and luxurious standard of leisure facilities.

From the Royal Court Theatre to the Illuminations Planetarium and Queens Room Ballroom, projection was handled by a combination of Christie’s 3-chip DLP Roadie S12, Roadie X10 and Roadster X6 — operating both internally and outside.

Five years later, Cunard decided to incorporate the technically challenging Belinda King-produced Crazy In Love production show into the Queen Mary 2 entertainment repertoire. At the end of March, they turned to Andy Pygott, who runs Yorkshire-based Innovation Productions, who specified a pair of Christie HD18K projectors with AutoStack set-up for use in the 1100-capacity balconied Royal Court Theatre.

Martin Lilly, director of entertainment at Cunard Line, siad: “We knew we wanted to incorporate animated projection onto moving scenic elements and tasked Andy with achieving this.

“The projection needed to be very bright and not get lost in the intensity of the stage lighting. Equally, as the projection plays an important role in the show we needed to have a back-up in case of equipment failure.” With the vessel being at sea for six days at a time during a transatlantic crossing, postponing a show was not an option.

“Innovation Productions determined that the Christie projectors were by far the best choice for the project, with simple operation for the on board production staff being another key issue,” continued Martin Lilly. He also knew that by installing two projectors and overlaying the images, Cunard would not only obtain the brightness they required but in the event of failure they could still run the show on one projector.

Because of the complexity of the theatrical backdrop, and the layering of different drop-in surfaces from the motorised flybar, the projectors also had to be kept automatically focused and aligned — counteracting the motion and vibration out on the open seas, with no manual skill required. Andy Pygott also sensed that by custom-bracketing the projectors high into the gantry above the main lighting control booth, their diagonal throw would cast minimal shadowing off the matt routed-texture projection flats, which merge jigsaw style to fill the 10m x 5m proscenium opening.

Pygott said: “We had tried to incorporate blending and stacking on other ships which always proved difficult and took hours to set up manually. But Christie’s AutoStack provides the only system with camera-controlled alignment tied in, while we could handle the soft-edge blend within the projectors. There was no other out-of-the box solution and I knew we would pretty much be pioneering this system. Now, when we calibrate the projectors the camera automatically recognises the grid system and aligns them — in minutes, where it would previously have taken hours.”

The software-driven camera-based system utilises screen points for quick geometric calibration, while the HD18K’s have also been fitted with the Christie Twist modules which allow images to be blended and morphed to fit virtually any dimension or shape display. This is due to the user-definable warping and blending grids which are set for the two projectors.

“In this instance AutoStack processes the camera image, works out the warping grid and feeds the data required to align the images to the Christie Twist cards in the two stacked projectors,” says Pygott. “We then feed two identical sources to the different projectors from PC’s running Dataton Watchout; when projecting at the aligned position this alone works fine, but to cope with other set pieces being flown in further upstage, with clever use of an offset to the images on one projector, Watchout brings the physical projection back into alignment.”

Pygott adds that the calibrated starting point given by the AutoStack system makes the mathematics possible. “And with the use of up to 30 video layers per projector, Watchout has allowed us to present multiple images and video in both upstage and downstage locations simultaneously.”

The mixture of HD content created by Innovation Productions is time-coded, and feeds the stacked HD18K’s from three PC’s, running the Watchout software. The show also includes some subtle animations created in Apple Motion and custom footage shot by Innovation Productions.

“We can resize, fade in and fade out in real time off the Dataton while we also take advantage of the Christie network protocol, which means we can use our own communication. This lets us tie up the command strings and send shutter cues to the projector so there is no light leakage when we go to blackout state — though this is rarely used due to the exceptionally good black output of the projectors.”

Working with Innovation Productions, the equipment was installed by specialist electrical contractor Fagan Electrical (who also fabricated the custom bracketry for the projectors) during part of the Queen Mary 2 World Cruise. They boarded the vessel in Los Angeles in January and by the time the ship arrived in Honolulu five days later the equipment was installed, tested and ready for programming of the show content.

To accomplish this, a new power cabling infrastructure has also been created; a fibre optic link has been chosen in view of the distances involved, and this converts to DVI at the control booth.