When rap star Tupac Shakur performed at the Coachella music festival in April, the “look and feel” of the event was immediately transformed. Silence fell across the Californian desert, not because festival-goers didn’t enjoy his unannounced “live” duet with Snoop Dogg and Dr Dre. Rather, it was because the rapper had been murdered in 1996.
The appearance of a bare-chested Tupac at Coachella was a digitally re-created hologram projected onto the stage by San Diego-based AV Concepts. It showed that creative thought allied with advanced technology can transcend boundaries for multimedia content – and event companies across Asia-Pacific are now looking to enhance staging and theming so as to meet client objectives in new and exciting ways.
“Clients continue to demand innovation, creativity and value for money,” says Oliver Matthews, director of sales for cievents. ?“There is an ever growing expectation that the levels of production, imagery and theming for an event must be as strong as they would have for their overall brand and advertising strategy.”
The approach and technology must add value. “We never assume we know the answers to begin with. We ask questions of the client and of ourselves to make sure we build a detailed picture about the event without any misleading assumptions,” Matthews adds.
Bring in the specialists
For larger productions, where the brief asks for a “wow” moment, technology can be utilised to underpin the storytelling component of the communication piece. “Sometimes this is a mixture of screen choice, talent, holographic, 3D, performance and staging. The advent of LED screens and lighting gives more options that are affordable,” says Matthews.
Utilising outsourced input can enhance the overall production. “We do use specialists. You can’t achieve the quality of results that are expected by not using experts,” says Matthews. “However, we do have our own in-house experiential production agency and creative agency. They have their own clients as well as working with cievents’ clients.” The benefits are multiple. “We offer one company that clients can liaise with for aspects of the event, plus access to industry leaders in their own fields who are immersed in the market and can bring the latest techniques and technologies to the event,” says Matthews.
“For any event, especially one with big production values, there has to be a direct correlation between the objectives of the event, the core messaging and the budget,” says Greg Eaton, event director of EPM (Events, Production, Marketing), which has offices in Australia and Singapore and a network of agents across Asia-Pacific. “The linking of audio-visual with client branding is so much more targeted now than before.”
The starting point is to address, and fully understand, the key marketing messages. “You have to ask not just ‘How do you want this event to look?’, but also ‘What are you seeking to achieve?’,” Eaton says. “It’s very important to sit down at the outset with the client’s in-house marketing specialists and any retained advertising and PR companies, as this gives a rounded picture of the client’s branding and promotional strategy. Not involving all stakeholders at this stage is a mistake.” Once the brief is confirmed, Eaton says being able to manage the technical production in-house makes controlling both the creative content and cost much easier.
EPM recently pitched for an event for a motorcycle company in India. “The client wanted a big production, so we proposed showing a specially created video on a large screen of a motorbike speeding through the streets of Chennai at dawn,” says Eaton. “While this was playing, a 3D hologram would appear in front of the audience, and we’d also have a guy sat on a motorcycle beneath the stage, who would be elevated onto the stage.”
Putting on a show
“High-value production is increasingly important,” says Jonathan Seevaratnam, founder of Kuala Lumpur-based Jiggee Events, which has produced events in Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand. A renowned showman, Seevaratnam, aka Jiggee Jon, trained as a performance clown and is also an MC and a DJ. In addition to conceptualising and staging brand launches, gala events and conferences, he is often asked to perform at them.
“Our objective is to be a ‘Houz of Eventainment’, so we are constantly searching for new ideas and concepts to engage clients,” says Seevaratnam. “We try to ensure that every production we conceptualise utilises the ?best and latest technology available at each desired location.” Among Jiggee’s in-house capabilities is a video and multimedia team, enabling it to create 3D and motion graphics for events, and also shoot high-definition videos and sequences.
Jiggee’s recent productions included a Burlesque-themed gala dinner evening, and a 2,000-guest event featuring a “Cirque de Soleil-type act flown in from Macau”. “The infrastructure in KL is world class, we can find pretty much any equipment or technology that we want to enhance an event, and we have also ramped up our own in-house technical and production capabilities,” says Seevaratnam. “If we have an event with a large budget where extra entertainment is needed, we can bring it in from around Asia.”
In May, the grand banquet room at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre hosted a spectacular evening of dinner and entertainment for 400 clients and stakeholders. The objective was to showcase the venue’s in-house AV capabilities, dining options and adaptability for different themed and high-production events.
“We began planning about eight weeks out, and engaged EMG Events to take a lead in the overall theming,” says Michael Walsh, director of technology operations, Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. Guests entered the banquet room via a specially created “entrance corridor” dressed with black drapes and chandeliers. “We wanted to create an element of mystique,” says Walsh. “Several guests already knew the venue, and the aim was to raise the sense of anticipation as they arrived.”
Inside the banquet hall, 46 moving lights plus a feature ceiling with chandeliers and moonlight features bathed diners in opulent-coloured lighting. “To create this effect, our own in-house lighting specialists worked closely with EMG Events’ own lighting expert. It was a collaborative approach,” says Walsh.
The tables were set around a stage where singer Katie Noonan performed with a 12-piece orchestra, followed by classical rock opera group The Ten Tenors. The live performances were projected onto two large screens placed either side of the stage. During the evening, the screens also showed a two-and-a-half-minute time-lapse video that sequenced the entire fit-out of a uniquely themed celebration event held at the MCEC, including the set theming, decoration and lighting installations.
“The key challenge was managing a large number of constructors for the different technical, rigging and design elements over the 48 hours we had to fit out the room,” says Walsh.
Inevitably, the larger the event, the more difficult it is to integrate everything – but when the result is showstopping, it’s worth it.
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BIG PRODUCTION THEMING: A VENUE'S VIEW
“We have fostered an in-house partnership with event staging services provider Staging Connections, to offer event organisers a knowledgeable and convenient audio-visual supplier with ?24-hour on-call assistance,” says Violeta Herrero, director of sales at Jupiters Hotel & Casino on Australia’s Gold Coast. “Our event coordinators ensure all stakeholders are briefed thoroughly regarding an event’s overall look and feel, and they can approach theming companies for a client to request a ?formal proposal.”
Managing schedules and coordinating bump-ins/bump-outs is a key challenge. “This often impacts on the front-of-house operations which include a hotel, restaurants, bars and the casino,” says Herrero. Ensuring all contractors submit a current Safe Work Method Statement and complete the property’s induction process is essential. “Production companies can be more focused on the product side of their job as opposed to operational requirements,” says Herrero. “This can prove difficult for the client if they have to invest time in chasing the production company for answers and documents.”
Interactivity is making a mark on staging and design theming. “A lot of people now expect LCD screens to be interactive,” says Kevin Andreassend, managing director of Auckland-based ICE AV Technology. “We’ve been demonstrating a six-point multi-touch screen where you can manipulate images, pictures and multimedia content. This type of vision-interactive screen is moving us toward a touch-centric world.” ICE AV is also able to make holographic images touch sensitive, allowing those nearby to interact with the displayed media by motion and presence.
Advanced screen materials are also changing the way we connect with content. “We created a glass screen shaped like a life-sized human being for an airline,” says Andreassend. It was put in the departure lounge and broadcast pre-boarding instructions to improve the speed of embarkation. “The airline told us this could save them one million dollars a year through improved flight departures. People are drawn to it and watch and absorb the messages it is broadcasting.”
The possible applications of shaped screens are limited only to the realms of creativity and budget. “We were contacted on behalf of a high-profile performer who wanted to walk on stage with the body contour covered in a digital screen to project different images,” says Andreassend.
The next step could be digital fabric. ICE AV already produces “holodesk” technology, a multi-touch sensitive, dual-sided, 360-degree viewable digital surface that allows DJs to create live music by gesture touches, which spectators can see from underneath. “We are looking at the DJ’s clothing becoming part of the holodesk surface, so a real-time volume meter, for example, could be displayed on the body. The whole concept of creating digital woven fabric is very cool.”