Grande Experiences’ blockbuster Van Gogh experience opened at THE LUME Melbourne, a purpose- built space in Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC), in November 2021. Grande have built an enviable international reputation for exhibition tech, but THE LUME Melbourne takes their immersive projection model and ramps up the scale from ‘impressive’ to ‘breathtaking.’
And I mean breathtaking. When I first set foot in the vast, projection-mapped space, I was so overwhelmed I gasped. Accompanied by Grande’s Head of Production & Technology, Craig Smith, I eventually managed a tiny, squeaked “oh my!” Craig grinned the grin of a man who knows he and his team have kicked major goals. The Van Gogh experience runs 90 to 120 minutes, depending on the visitor, and completely envelops the visitor in the story of the troubled genius’s life and art, somehow managing to be simultaneously tasteful and utterly monumental.
Craig’s career started in audio after a skills- based apprenticeship in 2000 through the TAFE system. After 10 years in audio working through what was then Staging Connections (now Encore Event Technologies), Crown, and tech director and project management roles, Craig joined Grande nine years ago as production manager.
“Grande Experiences started out doing artefact-based exhibitions,” outlines Craig. “They still tour and include exhibitions based on the work of Leonardo da Vinci, and another called Planet Shark. About 10 years ago, Grande started producing projection environments. I came onboard as that side of the business expanded, and I honed the touring process for the technology-based shows. I spent five or so years as a touring production manager, taking care of what still are multi-channel projections with audio and lighting systems. That’s the standard touring footprint.”
“Our touring paradigm is to approach design from a modular, scalable standpoint,” continues Craig. “Technology is chosen on its ability to scale up and down. They are turnkey systems transportable in two shipping containers with basic venue requirements of footprint and roof height. We install, commission, train, and then hand it over to the local team to run the exhibition day-to-day. We support our tech remotely and eventually come back to pack up and move on. We need high quality, robust gear that runs with minimal intervention.”
Grande has dubbed its immersive projection, lighting, sound, control, and delivery platform ‘Sensory4TM’, which is a mixture of custom and off-the-shelf technologies. The point of difference is Grande’s approach to planning and implementation. While Grande employs standard industry workhorses such as laser projection and robust media servers; in reality, they are a content creation company with an integrated production department that exists to serve and deliver the all-important cultural message. Grande’s founder Bruce Peterson’s stated aim is to get more people engaged in art and culture, which is why Grande tours projection shows featuring the art of Da Vinci and Van Gogh.
Under The Hood
With two Grande ‘THE LUMES’ in the world (the other is Indianapolis, Indiana), and more to roll out in 2022, the projection specs are impressive. The immersive exhibition projection maps every custom-built wall and screen in the vast MCEC space, as well as the floor, and is covered by an astonishing 150 Barco G60-W10 DLP laser phosphor projectors kicking out 10,000 lumens each. “THE LUME was in development for a long time, during which we went out to key suppliers and did our due diligence. THE LUME projection spec was particular in terms of resolution and brightness. We wanted to run at lower brightness to get sustained, long-term brightness and colour consistency. We chose the Barco G Series because we love their colour, reproduction, and footprint.”
The all-important media server and control is Dataton Watchout, with servers supplied by Interactive Controls. The timeline-based workflow runs all video and audio, with a Barco IOSONO spatial audio engine running 96 channels synced via timecode, as is a grandMA lighting console.
The massive immersive sound system powered by the IOSONO runs off a Dante backbone, with 66 JBL SRX812W loudspeakers augmented by 20 JBL SRX818SP subwoofers. Four Tascam ML-32D analogue to/from Dante converters can take a whopping 128 channels and put them on or take them off of the network. 24 Tascam ML-4D/OUT-X converters each output four channels of analogue from the Dante network via XLR and are used as drop-boxes throughout to get signal to the JBL’s amps. Two Tascam MM-2D-X two analogue in, two out, with DSP, are on hand to get into or out of Dante as required, with processing. According to Tascam and JBL’s Australian distributor, CMI Music & Audio, this is the largest implementation of Tascam’s M Series Dante utility converters and processors in Australia.
“We chose JBL SRX because it met all of our key performance requirements plus weight, functionality, and price,” states Craig. “We love that we’re not worrying about amps and speaker cabling, which means our cabling is mostly Cat6 and power. We convert back
to analogue through the Tascams, and the on-board processing means we don’t have to add another device in-line. While JBL was new for us for THE LUME, we’ve started rolling out JBL into our newer touring kits as well. Its quality, footprint, and weight ticks the boxes for touring.”
In a self-contained area of THE LUME known as The 360, interpretive content showing the real-world inspiration for Van Gogh’s works are shown in-the-round, complementary to the main content in the rest of the room. This space utilises a small Fohhn Airea networked speaker system, also supplied by CMI Music & Audio. “It’s hard to find high quality, high SPL, small footprint loudspeakers,” contends Craig. “Airea’s single cable PoE and signal is great in environments like The 360, where the tech is close to the visitor and cabling and weight is problematic. We also have other Airea systems out in the field in similar bespoke spaces.”
THE LUME’s lighting rig features many models from Show Technology’s ShowPRO range, including LED Fusion Wash Q XLVIII, LED Fusion Wash Q XXVII, LED Profile FC, LED Profile VW, LED Profile HP/FC/VW, and LED PixPAR 2 IP RGBW Zoom. Martin MAC Encore Performance WRM fixtures provide a flexible stage wash that can be changed and controlled without disturbing the all-important projector alignment.
“We started working with Show Technology back on our Alice – A Wonderland Adventure exhibition,” relates Craig. “That was a lighting-heavy exhibition with a lot of movers and custom gobos. Their product range and offering fit our requirements well, especially considering we generally install for 12 months before anything changes. We pick a fixture based on performance, and while our touring kits have a core inventory, lighting can be very venue dependent when it comes to ceiling Sunflowers height and rigging. The breadth of Show Technology’s range mean we can always source a fixture that will work for the venue.”
“One of the challenges of touring the globe is that it can be fickle with its power,” Craig diplomatically understates. “Having a standard touring kit that can be in any region and do any install is tricky when it comes to power.” Grande has addressed this thorny and fundamental issue by powering its exhibits with LSC Control Systems APS intelligent power supplies and REDBACK dimmers. “We made the move to exclusively LSC power supplies and dimmers six years ago,” attests Craig. “One of the things that drew us to LSC was the fact we can use their products anywhere on Earth. The monitoring, under and over-voltage protection, to balance loads and have a degree of protection is very welcome.
LSC APS system powers everything at THE LUME, with 12 APS wall-mounted 12 channel units patched to 204 channels of LSC REDBACK dimmers, providing the installation with patchable power from ceiling to wall.
If you’re feeling like blowing away your customers or team with one of the largest projection and sound environments on the planet, you can rent out THE LUME Melbourne and run your own content on it! “We factored corporate takeovers into the design,” Craig divulges. “Obviously there’s a lot of complexity in the system, but the way we’ve approached it is with the ability to simply patch in over the top. You can switch presets without causing any issue to the experience. We’ve leveraged NDI live feeds for overlays, and they’re run through secondary channels on the projectors. You can run IMAG or PowerPoint, and that gives you a solid foundation for most events. There’s a library of holding states available from our own design team. For 90% of corporate events, it’s accessible, quick, and easy.”
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