Every year for the past 36 years, the NSW Department of Education has presented The Schools Spectacular, and every year for the past nine years, TDC – the Technical Direction Company – has provided the video technology and broadcast record support to deliver a spectacular entertainment event that lives in the memory of those who take part.
“Our role is to design, install, program and operate all video production for the project, such as LED screens, floor- and stage mapped projection, broadcast cameras, media servers and playback, real-time tracking and Notch generative content, in-room cast and crew monitoring systems, in-room IMAG cameras, CCTV systems, and OB facilities,” explains Matt Teale, technical project manager at TDC.
Based on the belief that every child has a talent that should be celebrated, The Schools Spectacular holds the Guinness World Record for ‘Largest Amateur Variety Act’ with over 5,500 performers including singers, dancers, drama performers, poets, aerialists and circus acts.
The 2019 event took place at the Qudos Bank Arena. Originally built for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, it is ranked in the top ten arenas in the world and is the largest indoor entertainment and sporting arena in Australia. Capable of accommodating up to 21,000 visitors.
“The scale of the performance and the venue meant that the layout of equipment was spread across a large distance,the main control was at front of house – while the server racks, IMAG control and LED systems were behind the main stage 150 metres away,” recalls Steve Cain, head engineer and media server specialist at TDC, “the OB truck was another 150 metres away. Then, there were more system racks 35 metres up in the air on the roof catwalks, and screens and cameras distributed throughout the venue.”
In response, TDC used its extensive fibre optic transport solutions, ranging from products such as Riedel MediorNet and MicroN frames, Arista Systems 4K solutions, Lightware point-to-point optical links, and a mesh array of Ubiquiti and Luminex nodes to deal with the 11 VPN networks needed to run the complex system.
“Each year we’ve supported The Schools Spectacular, we strive to make it even better than the previous year,” continues Steve, “and we managed it again. TDC provided BlackTrax real-time motion tracking and automation technology for the first time, which enabled us to use Notch generative content to track performers and set pieces. In addition, we deployed disguise media servers to run everything, which meant TDC were really able to have total control of all elements; all content was pixel accurate, which resulted in better image quality.”
“At TDC, we try to learn and grow from every show we do,” he adds, “refining process, gaining more experience in using the gear in new ways, trying new things, and always trying to create efficienes while delivering a superior result for our clients year on year along with offering our clients more options both from a creative point of view and in terms of the technical systems.”
He notes that TDC is able to take advantage of its purpose-built disguise previsualisation studio where the entire show can be pre-programmed ahead of time, on this occasion allowing the NSW Department of Education Arts Unit executive producers to see a complete, detailed run-through and gain an understanding of how everything would work – even using 3D VR headsets to walk around the venue, and looking at sightlines from any seat in the arena. This allowed any changes to be made before going on-site – another first for TDC with The Schools Spectacular!
“Our client was absolutely over the moon with the improvements that we made with the systems, and especially in the preproduction side of the project, thanks to the disguise previsualisation capability that TDC delivered,” smiles Matt.
Moment to shine
For the show itself, TDC rigged 19 LED screens were in a variety of positions – ground support, flown off-truss or attached to Kinesys moving motors that moved and changed location throughout the event.
Using an array of carefully positioned Barco UDX projectors, the entire arena floor, main stage and ramps was seamlessly blended and mapped or projected content. TDC supplied a standalone Sony HD camera and Grass Valley Kayak switcher for in-room IMAG, with keying in around 200 name titles as performers had their moment to shine.
In addition, an extensive CCTV system of monitors and PTZ cameras was put in place for conductors, choir masters, performers, producers and technical operators, all scattered around the venue.
Control of the show was provided by two d3 4x4pro and two gx2 servers from disguise, creating an enormously powerful total of 24 main server outputs and 24 backup server outputs. Also in use were BlackTrax real time tracking servers, cameras and beacons; Notch real time generative content; disguise OmniCal cameras; NAS drives; capture of HD-SDI broadcast feed capture: audio in and out – all run from GrandMA 2 lighting consoles.
Each of the four shows of The Schools Spectacular was broadcast on prime time TV to an estimated one million viewers in Australia. This saw TDC provide its extensively-equipped HD01 OB truck, into which video packages and graphics were fed by the disguise servers.
The theme for this year’s The Schools Spectacular was ‘Stars’, and this was reflected throughout the show’s design, with the lighting truss in the shape shape of a giant star, use of mirror balls, stars in the content of the screens, tracking shooting stars under performers’ feet and so on.
“Most importantly,” concludes Steve, “it was our responsibility to understand the producers’ dream to make the kids feel like superstars, giving them massive hero moments in the show. We think we helped them turn that dream into a reality.”
Technical solutions provider TDC – Technical Direction Company on design, install, program and operate all LED Screens, Floor and Stage Mapped Projection, Media Servers and playback, Realtime Tracking Technology, Content & Real Time Generative Content, Cast & Crew Monitoring systems & In room IMAG Cameras. TDC also provided Full Out Side Broadcast facilities (OB) and Web Streaming solutions to Gravity Media.
Key TDC personnel:
Matthew Teale – Technical Project Manager
Steve Cain – Design, Media servers, Tracking, Content & Projection.
Isaac McKenzie – Lead Systems & In room IMAG Cameras & Monitoring
Pier Galetti & Adam Fiddler – LED Screen Systems
Hannah Anderson-Reid – OB Coordinator & Broadcast Production Manager
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