When Led Zeppelin played their now legendary Tribute Concert to Ahmet Ertegun at London’s O2 Arena last December, while the general public marvelled at the scale of the extraordinary 280 sq. metre, LED screen, insiders were curious as to how all the image trickery — the distorts, picture-in-picture (PIP) keys and fills, could be produced from a single control platform.
For AV services company Creative Technology, who supplied the screen and control, the answer was the Vista Systems Spyder video processor.
The design for a structure measuring 10 metres high by 28 metres wide, and using 1700 panels, was conceived by a collaborative think tank headed by Harvey Goldsmith Productions’ Jim Baggott, and including set designer Peter Bingemann, projection/animation specialist, Mark Norton of Thinkfarm, video coordinator Mike Walker from Live & Direct and Led Zeppelin representative Steve Iredale. This was integrated with a lighting design from Dave Hill, with video direction from Dick Carruthers at Cheese Film & Video.
With two 6 x 6 side screens flanking the main canvas, the artistic element of a live show was taken to a new level — thanks to the complex processing.
The screen was controlled so that the show didn’t just become about the displayed content, but how it was treated, and programming for this was no simple task. In the hands of Spyder operator, Richard Turner, it became as much a creative as a number crunching process.
The show content was a combination of Thinkfarm’s animated footage, integrated with Dick Carruther’s live camera feeds.
The 10 input 6 output Spyder allowed the mixes from Carruthers’ desk to be combined with the other sources onto a single pixelspace, then spilt and fed to the two screen processors used to drive the LED wall.
“The key was having all 16 channels available — with ten inputs and six outs, and through the digital matrices packaged with Spyder, all the sources available to all the Spyder layers,” said CT’s Business Development Manager, Adrian Offord. “We were able to connect the Spyder system at FOH with the engineering racks backstage, because the use of a fibre Ethernet link allowed a network run over an extended distance.”
Inputs to the Spyder included three mixes from a Snell & Wilcox Kahuna HD/SD production switcher, including the main key and picture-in-picture, all in high definition; other inputs included four channels of EVS playback and Final Cut Pro, which with PowerPoint provided masks for the key and fill presets. These key and fill facilities provided the ability to shape sources around digital content, and even the physical truss when it moved on a number of songs. Spyder also used its internal Still store to overlay semi-transparent masks across the whole pixel-space with different opacities, allowing CT to dim and brighten the LED wall on a preset-by-preset basis for the more intimate songs.
Outputs included two for the LED wall, one compositing the main screen pixelspace onto a single high definition output for preview purposes, and one for the operator’s monitor.
“This was a complex show,” said Adrian Offord. “The programming involved using different timed presets, utilising the comprehensive scripting capabilities of the Spyder.”
Spyder engineer Sid Lobb reports an unqualified success at the business end of the content delivery. “It was a good use of the technology and Spyder and Kahuna complemented each other superbly.
“Spyder’s main achievement was to provide the ability to key and fill multiple resolution and refresh rate sources. The ability to handle the entire pixel-space, and pixel-map with that size of LED wall, and so much picture-in-picture was also an integral part of the decision to use Spyder. The processor simply took the outputs from the Kahuna and EVS’s and put them on the screen in any way and in any shape the director required.” This included everything from live camera shots, to DVE distorted images.
“There would be one, two or even three layers of playback material,” took up Dick Carruthers. “In a song like Kashmir, Richard [Turner] would be taking that directly from the two six-channel hi-def LSM processors — at other times I would be mixing this in with live shots upstream.” The end result was a combination of abstract images and soft edged blend, creating a mood and tempo appropriate for each song.
“I think we got the overall balance right,” he continued. “The screen was never intrusive, it always felt like a backdrop and had a good combination of animation and live content and a variation of shapes and mixes.”
The critical role played by the Vista Spyder on a spectacular which sucked in the collective input required by a major worldwide stadium sized tour, comes as no surprise to Creative Technology. There are now no fewer than 11 Vista Systems Spyders residing in the Avesco Group plc hire fleet — seven Spyder systems of various sizes within CT’s various depots, with a further four assigned to sister companies, MCL and JVR.
The company could see multiple usage for an advanced vision processor — varying from television to corporate use — when Tim Volker, CT Media Systems technical manager, was dispatched to the NAB Show in July 2005 to evaluate the options.
“The key element in purchase the requirement to take in several different types of feed,” qualified Media Systems director, Gary Holford. “And Spyder was the forerunner of that.
“Of the systems we looked at we favoured the Vista Spyder because it had the advantage of using second generation technology in its upgrade from the Vista Montage.
“We also considered its usability. From an operator’s point of view, with its intuitive interface it was more elegant and you could achieve the results much more easily.”
In short, Spyder’s compact modular design provides all the necessary versatility and processing power to provide an easily-evolved solution in almost every application. Spyder provides the flexibility to enable a huge number of sources to be mixed in multiple windows, define all manner of PIP’s and shape and blend borders with ease.
Away from the rock arena, Spyder is also used extensively by CT in the corporate world — typically for its soft-edge blend and picture in picture capabilities.
One other notable high-profile use of the Vista Spyder was on the most recent series of Big Brother, where its PIP facility with different camera effects was exactly what director Tony Gregory needed. “He came to the office and said ‘We need to achieve such-and-such type of effect’,” remembers Adrian Offord. “We instantly said ‘You need Spyder’ — and that’s why it has become such a useful tool for us.”
LED ZEPPELIN TRIBUTE CONCERT TO AHMET ERTEGUN VIDEO CREDITS
Adrian Offord – Business Development Manager, CT
Alex Leinster – Production Manager, CT
Richard Turner – Spyder Programmer
Sid Lobb – Spyder Engineer
Mark Norton, Thinkfarm – Playback material and Set Designer
Dave Hill – Lighting Designer
Dick Carruthers - Cheese Film & Video – Director
Mary Jefferson – Video Production Manager
Grant Coulsen – LSM / EVS Operator
Phil Allen – P.A.
Tom Woodcraft: Assistant director and additional playback material
Jim Parsons – Shoot Producer
Mike Walker - Live & Direct – Video Coordinator