New York City Ballet's 50th Anniversary Celebration

The New York City Ballet commissioned District Bureau along with design firm Two Twelve to create large-screen video installation artwork celebrating their half-century mark.

Ballet on the Big Screen

Jonathan Posnett of Two Twelve conceived of three massive, mounted screens within the promenade of the David H. Koch theater at Lincoln Center. He turned to Grant Janes and District Bureau to create the video content and manage the assembly, erection and projection of the large-screen videos.

50 Years of Photographs

For content, District Bureau was given an enormous number of photographs from the Ballet's archives dating back to the theater's inauguration in 1964. The brief was deceptively simple: fill the screens from edge-to-edge with lustrous ballet photography. But as the screen sizes were non-standard, we had to make numerous calculations in After Effects while working with lower-rez proxy compositions for eventual projection on screen sizes that ranged from 14'6" x 16'4" up to 12'8" x 18'8".

The final screens, mounted in the promenade of the David H. Koch theater

Photo by Jonathan Posnett

It's All About the Lumens

The larger the screen, the more lumens output required from the pro-grade projectors to create a luminous and vibrant image. Numerous calculations - including throw angle, distance from the screen, lens size and lumen output - were factored into our decision-making. Additionally, we were dealing with a fair amount of back-light flowing in from Lincoln Center plaza that further reduced the intensity of the video during daylight hours. The calculations were crucial: professional-grade projectors are very expensive. Each step-up in luminosity output could translate to several more thousands of dollars per week in rental costs. In the end we went with two Panasonic PT-DZ8700U's and one Christie HD14K-M. The brand-new Panasonics had an effective output of approx. 10K lumens, while the Christie - a more robust yet older model - output at just under 14K.

We Were Framed!

We settled on a vibrant, reflective fabric (Front White 160) from Rosebrand to best show off the video. Peter Monahan at Rosebrand handled the procurement and custom-fitting in Germany, while Rick Mone at Hudson Scenic oversaw the assembly of the frames. The hard-working stagehands at Lincoln Center - Local 1 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees - then hoisted the delivered frames atop the south wall of the promenade, canting them at approximately 10-degrees (for better viewing from the ground floor), and securing them against any hazards. It took the better part of half a day just to get the heavy frames in place.

Software (and Hardware)

Numerous software options exist for projecting video content. We weren't projecting video at a Beyonce concert, but we still needed something robust and reliable that could manage multiple streams of video and which didn't come with a lot of overhead. After much testing, we settled for Renewed Vision's ProVideoPlayer 2 - and it did the job flawlessly. We used a brand-new Mac Pro 12-core to run the three concurrent video streams via DVI adapters into a trio of Folsom IP-2003 ImagePro HD's for HD/SDI out to our three projectors. We taxed the new Mac Pro to the max. If the project was even slightly more demanding of our multi-core CPUs and the dual onboard AMD FirePro D700 video cards, we would have had to bring in an external video switcher. We had a few preliminary hiccups due to some legacy software drivers that needed to be flushed out of our system, but in the end the new Mac came through for us and ran flawlessly, 24 hours a day, for the entire month!

The Road Not Taken

We went through an extensive design process before settling on the stripped-down video style that NYCB and Two Twelve thought best showed off the Ballet's 50 glorious years in Philip Johnson's New York State Theater. As with any creative process, a lot of great work was left on the drawing board, including these comps by animator/designer David Acampora.