Activision and Nintendo always draw crowds at the E3 Expo 2011 (formerly the Electronic Entertainment Expo), so when it came time to previsualize high-energy lighting and video elements for the software developers’ booths lighting designers Butch Allen and Chris Medvitz decided to partner with Prelite Studios, LLC to maximize their time and creativity.
The premier tradeshow for computer and video games and related products, E3 Expo 2011 was held at the Los Angeles Convention Center where it attracted almost 47,000 attendees. Heavy-hitters Activision and Nintendo were among the major participants. Activision showcased Modern Warfare 3, the new Call of Duty Elite online platform, Skylanders Spyro’s Adventure, Prototype 2 and more. At Nintendo the focus was on its DS, Wii, 3DS and new Wii U platforms along with a roster of games.
“The idea of using Prelite is to get more out of the booth – to see if ideas will work, elements will go together smoothly and any changes that need to be made can be implemented before you get on site,” says Prelite partner and cofounder Tom Thompson. “We’re a cost-saver and a frustration-saver.”
Creating In-the-Game Experience for Activision
It was Activision’s goal to “re-invent the show booth experience” by “creating an immersive atmosphere that was more like being in the game than just playing the game,” reports lighting designer Butch Allen. The innovative booth featured five LED surfaces around two of its walls; the other two aisle-facing walls boasted 110- and 80-foot long projection screens. Video was also mapped onto ceiling-mounted Martin Stagebars, five-color, six-pixel fixtures that married the video and lighting.
“When it was time to run the shows spotlighting their new products, the aisle walls lowered down and closed off the box,” Allen explains. “You could get about 800 people in the booth for each of these user experiences.” With guests immersed in game trailers and Dolby 5.1 surround sound, the Activision booth was “one of the most ambitious video presentations I’ve ever been involved in,” he says.
With time on site limited before the convention opened, Allen reached out to Tom Thompson for assistance.
“Prelite has come up with a way to visualize in advance not only the lighting design, which is fairly standard today, but all of the video surfaces,” Allen notes. “The content provider can get a rough feel of how the video will look in the previsualization process with Prelite. For E3 Expo, we were able to put Activision’s whole show together before we got there.”
Tom Thompson set up the Prelite system running Vision software, with a complement of 52-inch monitors standing in for each screen or screen surface, in the SIR rehearsal studios in Hollywood, a space “as immense as Activision’s booth,” says Allen. “We walked in and it was incredible; I still don’t know how Tom got all that stuff to work.”
“It was a pretty big undertaking, but as soon as Activision saw the concept at SIR, they were sold on it,” Thompson recalls. “They saw how awesome the booth could be.”
A new feature of the Vision software came in handy for previsualizing the Stagebar fixtures. By employing the Vision mode that turns off fixture geometry without turning off the rig’s light-emissive capabilities a big, complex show can run a lot faster on the computer.
Allen’s lighting design for the Activision booth played a supporting role to the game videos. “The amount of video previs we could do was the stand-out thing,” Allen remembers. “Our feel for what the video would look like was spot on. We processed the video in realtime and played back the lighting and video cues in realtime; we had the chance to work out all the timecode. You can’t put a value on time spent like that.”
He notes that the annual E3 Expo is a “very visible event internationally, and the Activision line is undoubtedly one of the biggest in the world. For this year’s show they were trying to do stuff way outside the box. There was no way we would have gotten it done without the time we spent with Prelite.”
Allen collaborated with producer Ray Woodbury on the Activision booth. Adam Dunaway was the video programmer.
Lighting Nintendo Inside and Outside
Nintendo’s entire booth at E3 Expo was surrounded by 30-foot high walls closing off the environment from the rest of the show floor and “creating a lot of anticipation about what was inside,” says lighting designer Chris Medvitz of Lightswitch. Inside the booth, several product experience areas were situated on different levels, all of which opened into a large, central space.
Medvitz, a frequent Prelite client, was tasked with integrating lighting onto the walls on both the interior and exterior of the booth. Lighting elements were also built into the game stations and other scenic elements, and a grid of lighting truss spanned the entire exhibit to illuminate the interior.
“Several games had specific media that played in the exhibit,” says Medvitz. “We would change the look and feel in the exhibit interior to enhance the media presentation. One game, for example, had a couple of large props hanging over the space that required special lighting. We also had to consider specific lighting needs for certain game hardware.”
He partnered with Prelite’s Mike Robertson to previsualize the booth in a hotel suite near the convention center. The Prelite system ran Vision software and made use of the fixture geometry turn-off mode, described earlier, to gain computing speed.
“On-site in a booth like Nintendo’s you can’t see every element to program at the same time,” notes Thompson. “You may only be able to see one-third of the booth. But previsualization gives you the opportunity to see everything.”
“We had very little time onsite to program the lighting,” Medvitz adds. “With Prelite we could program much of the lighting for the booth before it was constructed. We would never have been able to provide the level of design and the amount of elaborate looks without the programming time that Prelite afforded us. Prelite makes it possible for us to get about 85 percent of the way there without having the actual lighting system online.”
Joe Allegro was the programmer for the Nintendo booth.
Prelite was founded in San Francisco February 2000 by Tom Thompson and Norm Schwab as a place for lighting designers and programmers to use technologies to previsualize lighting projects. Its success led to the launch of Prelite NY in June 2001 by Kim Grethen and Rodd McLaughlin. The bicoastal company provides studios where previsualization and creativity take center stage away from the distractions and interruptions of a chaotic work environment and where clients save time and money and minimize stress. Prelite also offers on-site previsualization services for those who prefer the convenience of working at the venue. For more information, visit
or contact Thomas Thompson at 415-883-7727.