SFX, the live entertainment sound playback software from Stage Research, Inc., controlled the AV aspects of Annie Warbucks, the sequel to the popular musical Annie and the most recent Mainstage production of the Children’s Musical Theater San Jose (California).
Hooked to an ETC Obsession II light board, SFX enabled sound effects playback, cued a traditional slide projector for text displays, and triggered Troika Tronix’s Isadora software for digital scenery changes.
“SFX is an awesome product,” says Chris Larson who did the sound design and automation design for Annie Warbucks. “I’ve used SFX in many applications over the last few years, and it’s always been extremely helpful.”
Larson crafted the set up, which facilitated SFX control of the show’s AV elements. An ETC Obsession II light board output a MIDI Show Control signal which was received by the main SFX computer, a custom-built PC running Windows XP SP2, via the Audiophile 192 PCI audio card. The computer triggered audio cues through the Audiophile MIDI In to the main sound board. It also triggered a slide projector which displayed dates and place names in text format. And it triggered Isadora via MIDI Command Control changes. Each scene had a separate incremental MIDI Control change number (1 for scene 1, 2 for scene 2, etc.) so if the light board triggered a cue twice by mistake it wouldn't advance the scene prematurely.
The most complex of the operations was triggering Isadora v1.2 realtime video manipulation software which supplied video footage that acted as scenic backdrops.
An Apple G5 Dual Core Desktop computer running Isadora drove three video projectors, which displayed video footage of a moving train and the New York City skyline passing by the deck of a ferry boat on three large screens built into the set.
“To 90 percent of the audience the three screens looked like an almost seamless single screen displaying background scenery the set designer devised,” notes Larson. “Instead of having to fly set backgrounds in and out, sets for the train and ferry scenes and for various interiors were displayed digitally.” Although the screens gave the illusion that there was no more than three or four inches separating them, an actor crossover behind the stage left and stage right screens and in front of the center screen allowed actors to enter from upstage center.
Footage for two rear-screen projectors, which were turned on their sides in portrait-mode, was bounced off mylar mirrors and displayed on screens about 10' x 7.5' in size at stage left and stage right. A front projector configured in normal landscape mode, displayed footage on an approximately 10' x 14' screen in the center of the stage.
The train and ferry scenes featured several different layers of elements. The foreground ferry deck, for example, was a still photo. A layer of water effects and the shoreline scrolled by slowly behind the deck. And behind the water and shoreline was an airborne blimp. The train scene had several layers of buildings which scrolled progressively faster as the train gathered speed and the buildings receded in the distance. “By rendering these elements with their own scroll speed, a more convincing dynamic movie file could be projected,” Larson explains.
In addition, smooth transitions of video footage depicting interiors gave the illusion of moving down a hall, for example, while the living-room windows scrolled to stage right and bookcases scrolled in from stage left.
Once again Larson was pleased with the performance of SFX on Annie Warbucks. “I’m very happy with the program,” he states. “I really love using it.”