Madonna''s Confessions Tour Uses a Flexible, Fast HP Workstation
At first glance, the use of a powerful Adobe OpenHD configured system onsite during the current Madonna Confessions Tour for video content manipulation might appear unnecessary, because, at the end of the day, tour engineers decided to display the imagery in standard-definition during concerts. Jason Harvey, the tour''s assistant director and lead video engineer, however, explains the opposite conclusion is actually the correct one.
“The OpenHD system actually saved us big time on this project,” Harvey says.
At the heart of the system currently touring Europe with Madonna is a powerful HP xw8200 workstation outfitted with an AJA Xena-HS HD-SDI card, dual CPU 64-bit Intel Xeon 3.4Ghz processors, 3GB RAM, 7200 RPM 80GB SATA 150 system drives, 1.6TB of RAID storage, and running Adobe Production Studio (with Premiere Pro 2) software.
The basic application of the backstage system on site during the tour, according to Harvey, is to produce additional content periodically to go along with six hours of pre-produced content for the tour, as well as to frequently pre-visualize potential changes, and to add graphics and other changes immediately before and after live performances.
According to Harvey, the selection of the OpenHD configuration was necessitated by the original plan to display content in HD resolution during concerts. Even after that plan changed, however, he adds the technology provided him with extremely powerful firepower for pre-visualizing changes to existing content, and implementing those changes rapidlysometimes, in a matter of a few hours.
“We started the Madonna project in HD using the OpenHD system, because this was the way the director and I had [originally] designed playback for the show,” he says. “It was going to allow us to use pixel-to-pixel mapping on our HD playback screens. But due to multiple editorial changes, 3D rendering time, and for seven studios [supplying original video content] to finish on time for opening night [earlier this year], that was something that was not going to happen at that stage, and we had to scale down to SD. We hoped to then up-scale the project, but [with such a large volume of video content], this proved too big a project to do that in the time available to the production.”
By this time, though, the overall HD plan was well underway.
“Due to the fact that the project was [initiated] in HD, and three studios had already mastered their footage in this format and were bringing test footage to us in rehearsals on hard drives, we [figured out a method to] load the images into our video templates and output them to our LED [Smartvision V9] screens, now switched to SD mode. We did this by using Premiere Pro and the AJA HS card on the HP workstationsjust taking HD into the timeline and outputting SD to the screens in realtime. This turned out to be a very easy thing to do, and saved us a lot of time rendering from one to the other.”
Harvey adds that his team “pushed this approach right to the limit” and, at times, they were playing up to eight layers of HD master footage into their templates and then shot out to the SD screens. “If we were pushed for time, I could even run this without rendering,” he adds. “The quality came down, but worked 100 percent for testing purposes, to see what worked and what didn''t.”
At press time, Harvey said the OpenHD system and the HP xw8200 workstations were humming “100 percent for us on this tour” as it hopped across Europe. Indeed, reporting from Europe earlier this week, he emphasizes the entire system has been “flight-cased on ships, trucks, and planes around the world, and so far, has been twice across the USA and in two 747 cargo planes without incident.”
Chuckling, he adds that, even as the Madonna tour rolls onward, he is next planning to capture additional imagery using an HDV camera and use the OpenHD system to incorporate that material into the video presentation, even as the tour''s torrid pace continues unabated.
“And I can''t wait to use this system on my next project, which will be 100 percent HD [displayed],” he promises.
For a detailed examination of how content was created and controlled for concerts during the Madonna tour, see the July issue of Digital Content Producer, or go to digitalcontentproducer.com/videoedsys/revfeat/video_remix.