Major French musical show by Dove Attia, “The Legend of King Arthur: when love changes the course of history” was a hit right from its première on September 17, 2015 at the Palais des Congrès in Paris, before going on tour in France, Belgium, and Switzerland.The director, Giuliano Peparini, uses digital technology to create magical effects and 3D virtual scenery. To respond to this challenge he called on D/Labs, a specialist in digital scenery and innovative video systems, such as advanced 3D video mapping and complex LED installations.
“The Legend of King Arthur drew on three areas of our business: content creation (design studio), technical design and realization. Several challenges had to be overcome to achieve the desired effect for the ambitious production – the medium, the project’s scale, and also our SMODE software (http://smode.fr ), developed using AMD FirePro W9100 cards, installed in Dell Poweredge servers and Dell Precision workstations,” explains Thomas Besson, D/Labs’ co-founder.
A considerable challenge…
Technology and artistry are closely linked in this kind of show. This is why D/Labs’ choice of technologies was perfect for the show’s success. Thomas Besson, D/Labs’ co-founder, enthusiastically embraced the challenge: “We are responsible for the virtual scenery. They can be seen throughout the show on two types of medium – a giant curved LED screen at the back of the stage measuring around 200 m², in addition to the projection mapping onto the scenery (at the wings and sometimes center stage).”
Not only must the accuracy and realism of the virtual scenery be perfect, it must also overcome an additional hurdle: movement. “All the sets move in five different sections. Furthermore, the stage left and right sections rotate (motorized) adding to the challenge for the projection to reach all these parts of the set,” the specialist explains. “The image has to remain perfectly positioned on the scenery as the parts move. This was one of the most complex technical aspects of the project.”
– Stage background layers
… and even more complicated constraints
For the video to follow the moving scenery, D/Labs uses a combination of four projectors (26,000 lumens) to achieve dynamic 3D mapping. This is delicate automation work which directly impacts the show’s storyline. Eight panels (8 meters high by three meters) close the scene downstage. They are directly connected to the video controls so that they constantly display an image,” Thomas Besson confides. “Sometimes they become a door, sometimes a wall… A mechanism which makes a piece of scenery appear depending on the action.”
New 3D horizons for production
Real time and the ability to adapt on-the-fly elevates the visual effects engineer to a starring role where production is concerned, as Thomas Besson explains: “We actually bring our design studio into the venue. We discuss real-time production with the director. He positions his actors in the scene, he creates a tableau. Then you introduce the lighting and scenery. The same applies to the image. The director takes his laser pointer and asks us to position the elements. Our software diffuses the most natural image as quickly as possible. We design a real-time workflow in order to be highly responsive at that point. This ‘real-time compositing’ is really our specialty and the main reason why D/Labs relies on AMD technologies and its cards’ computing ability. This type of real-time production comes from the school of Juliano, who was associate director to Franco Dragone (Cirque du Soleil’s former artistic director). We have been greatly inspired by this production philosophy, which leaves the producer almost total freedom and is modeled on the haute couture houses’ bespoke approach.”
At the heart of the magic: AMD FirePro W9100 Graphics Cards
The scenery movement seems very simple and fluid to the viewer. And this is just what the show’s director and producer want. Most contemporary shows use video effects, but generally the projected content has already been created in a studio before the event. Thanks to 3D real-time technology, the innovative software developed by D/Labs can follow moving objects or parts of the set. “Real-time 3D has proved indispensable. In fact it is not possible to calculate the images in advance, because you never know when the panels will move,” stresses the co-founder Thomas Besson. “Real-time 3D is generated by AMD cards built into Dell Precision computers and workstations. D/Labs uses AMD’s highest specification product, the FirePro W9100 card.”
The cutting edge AMD FirePro W9100 graphics card is the only one to currently offer 16 Gb of ultra-fast GDDR5 memory, a 512-bit interface, 320 Gb/s bandwidth and six simultaneous video outputs. It is a highly efficient way of editing and managing the 4K (or ultra high definition) video combining multiple real-time effects, while keeping textures and colors faithful.
“We have been using GPUs (cards and graphic processors) for many years,” reports Thomas Besson. “We started using this platform almost fifteen years ago. Then we tried several competitor solutions, but after all that we came back to AMD. They now embody a major advantage for our business, both financially and for our work associated with the theatrical world (multi-outputs, size of memory, etc.). The capacity of these cards is of interest to us, but AMD provides us with great performance and price solutions. Finally, we value the expert attention and support that AMD has provided to us as a valued customer. Their expertise in graphics technology has helped us be successful to get the most out of the AMD FirePro products.”
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Photos by ©AnthonyGhnassia