Translight Magic Helps Add an Element of Surprise
Photo provided by Hansen Productions
The concept for the premier of the all-new 2019 Subaru Ascent at the 2017 Los Angeles International Auto Show was spectacular – and so was Hansen Productions’ execution of this highly imaginative, skillfully orchestrated event.
According to Mike Hansen, owner of Hansen Productions and executive producer of the Ascent reveal, Subaru has been preparing the media for this BIG launch for more than a year: first by showing an exterior concept in the fall of 2016 and then an interior concept in the spring of 2017. So, for the launch of the Ascent, the biggest Subaru SUV vehicle ever, they wanted a big reveal event to match.
“A key message was that this is an eight-person vehicle,” Hansen says. “It was also important to create an event that only Subaru could do. For example, Subaru wanted to have dogs drive a car onto the stage. Subaru has featured a family of dogs called The Barkleys in its ads for several years. We started thinking of ways to leverage this.”
Hansen and his team wanted to keep the presence of the dogs in the car a secret to add an element of surprise and delight to the moment when the Ascent was officially announced. They considered using flats that represented houses or a garage door that opened to reveal The Barkleys.
“We also wanted to make sure the car was the star,” Hansen says. “My production designer, Duke Durfee, suggested using a specialty fabric for the main back drop. This drop would have one set of art printed on the front and a different set on the back. I was intrigued.”
Photo provided by Hansen Productions
Durfee suggested contacting Big Image Systems and some other companies.
“As soon as I spoke with John Bloom at Big Image, I felt comfortable,” Hansen says. “I provided some preliminary specifications and he prepared an early cost estimate that was reasonable, so we moved forward from there.”
Big Image Systems was selected to produce all of the printed drops for the mainstage of the show. This included not only the 20’X60’ seamless mainstage Translight Magic drop, but also prints for three freestanding flats used to mask the area where the Ascent was parked offstage and an LED platform masking wall.
Due to the location of this event, Big Image Systems contracted Hot Rod Shop, Inc., an Alameda California-based scenic and event shop and long-time client of Big Image, to fabricate the metal frames for the fabric-covered flats and the LED platform masking wall. Hot Rod also provided on-site installation assistance.
“Hot Rod was the perfect choice,” Bloom says. “The location of the Auto Show was near enough to Hot Rod to get them involved. Hot Rod has a history of working with our fabric prints to skin flats and frames for corporate events, so they had the skill set to knock it out of the park. They also solved the challenge of erecting free-standing walls by incorporating vertical truss legs onto which the frames were strapped.”
Bloom had recommended using Translight Magic for the mainstage drop “because the idea was to transform a typical home with a white picket fence into the Barkleys’ doghouse.” He knew this could be accomplished smoothly by front lighting the art for the first scene and then backlighting the same drop when the doghouse image and related art needed to appear. In addition to the transformation of the house, red fire hydrants materialized on the lawn and a plane and skywritten word “Ascent” appeared above where the actual car would be parked on stage.
The complexity of this event led to Big Image acting as one of the principal trades on site. “One of the great things about working with Hansen Productions,” Bloom notes, “is that they let Big Image Systems get more involved in the overall production. Having access to the designers and lighting company from the start helped to smoothly guide the project.”
As soon as Big Image Systems received the artwork, staff created a quick Photoshop overlay of the two images that were to be printed on the front and back of the Translight Magic drop. “This allowed us to digitally view the transition,” Bloom explains. “Our staff in Berlin also insisted on producing a full-sized test section of the drop so we could test the changes in real life and identify where the trouble spots would be.”
This interim step proved to be very valuable. The results from lighting the test section of fabric made clear what worked and what didn’t.
“The skywriting and the transition from house to doghouse worked as planned,” Bloom says. “ The hydrants appeared and disappeared.”
However, the tests also revealed some design challenges that needed to be addressed.
“The trees on the downstage side of the print never fully disappeared to let the hydrants shine through,” Bloom says. “There was some obvious ‘ghosting’ of the trees through the tops of the hydrants. Another challenge was the sign that magically appeared over the doorway. The original design included grey-scale window panes. When we backlit the test print, we could not get these windows to disappear completely.”
Fortunately, the art was digitally composed.
“This made it easier for the artist to make quick, precise changes,” Bloom says. “She dropped the hydrants below the tree line in the grass and replaced the windows with shutters above the door. We decided not to alter the doorway of the white house because this could have been a major change. It could have led to a need for a new round of client approvals and shortened the time needed for final production.”
Thus, the doorway required more attention after the main drop was printed. The human house doorway had to disappear and transform into a dark doghouse opening.
“Who knew that you can’t shine a light on something and make it dark?” Bloom jokes. “We initially tried creating a blackout liner that would mimic the doorway opening. Hot Rod built a beautiful curved metal frame, so we could attach the liner to this and push it up against the back of the print to block light coming through that portion of the drop. Once we were on site, though, we realized there was not enough space to use this frame.”
The truss cantilevered out and the drop hung perfectly, just behind the upstage edge of the platform. However, there was less than 12 inches of space between the drop and the tables behind it that held the ground lighting. This space was already packed with cables, making ground support impossible.
The final solution was to blackout the back of the drop in this area with black Gaffers tape and commando cloth applied directly to the drop. Bloom laughs remembering this improvised solution, “In the end, it was just easier to pull out the Pro Gaff and the commando cloth and stick it right onto the drop.” While it didn’t eliminate the doorway from showing through entirely, it substantially dimmed this area.”
“The audience had been in the tent in front of the stage for a full hour with plenty of time to look at the backdrop,” Hansen says. “They didn’t see the skywriting, the fire hydrants or any of the art on the back of the drop.”
“As the person responsible for the look of the effect on site, you become keenly aware of every little thing,” Bloom comments, “You need to keep in mind that there are a thousand other things happening at the same time. In the end, a beautiful car rolled on stage and the Barkleys hopped out. They were the stars and everything else supported this focus.”
“The ability to achieve this transformation simply by using lighting was amazing,” Hansen says. “Using a Translight Magic fabric back drop enabled us to authentically accomplish what we set out to do. It provided a cost effective, visually effective way to achieve different looks from a single backdrop. It also allowed us to evolve the set design in ways that kept the focus on the car and the dogs.”