Adlib Takes On Terracotta Warriors

A world class exhibit, needed world class AV to match

Adlib, an installation and production specialist, is extremely proud to be supplying video and audio for a unique exhibition featuring China’s Terracotta Warriors being staged at the company’s home city of Liverpool in the World Museum. China’s First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors exhibition is now open and running until 28 October 2018.

Featuring ten life-sized figures, the exhibition includes a terracotta cavalry horse from the burial site of China’s First Emperor Qin Shi Huang (221-206 BC) and over 25 smaller warriors from the Han Empire, China’s second imperial dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD). The exhibition opened in February and has already received worldwide acclaim and is exceptionally popular, attracting people from all over the UK and Europe.

Adlib’s head of video, Tom Edwards, is project managing and oversaw the tender process for which the company partnered with immersive technology experts and digital studio Draw & Code as content creators and presented to National Museums Liverpool (NML).

Also in the National Museums Liverpool collection are the Walker Arts Gallery, Merseyside Maritime Museum, International Slavery Museum, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Museum of Liverpool and other sites. Adlib has undertaken some smaller projects for the site previously, but nothing on this scale where striking video visuals and integrated audio effects bring the visitor experience alive.

The brief was to make it immersive, experiential and fun and to add to the educational and information aspects, with the additional aim of engaging a wide audience range including those who might not necessarily consider visiting exhibitions.

“There wasn’t a specific existing technical brief in place” explains Tom, “So we listened carefully to what they envisioned, and came up with some lively and flexible solutions for how to achieve the atmosphere,  sonically and visually in the five separate areas, all distinctly different.”

In the beginning

At the start, guests (around 40 at a time) enter the ‘Introduction to China’ area and immediately encounter a geo-wall, a 15-metre wide by three-metre tall wall shaped like a stylised mountain range, custom built to fit the space.

The lights dim and there is a presentation onto the wall about the global superpower that China is today, complete with the scent of cherry blossom.

The images are created with two Panasonic PT-RZ970 10,000 lumen laser projectors mapped across the wall. The technically challenging brief was to keep viewing space to a maximum, whilst achieving high brightness and resolution. A WATCHPAX 4 media server is serving up the content to the duo of mapped and blended projectors and also controlling the Crown amplifiers plus the Osborne Technologies scent generator.

The audio installation comprises three Adlib AA61 speakers and AA12HL subs, run as a 3.1 surround system to give a rich 3D tone. Adlib’s proprietary speakers are designed to be compact and highly reliable.

When the presentation finishes, the doors open at the end of the room (also controlled via the media server and Visual Productions IOCore Artnet relay system) giving visitors their first glimpse of a terracotta horse and warrior before they pass into the second space, where they confront the ‘Warring States’.

This features two more Panasonic PT-RZ970 projectors and two five and a half metre by two metre screens running down the length of the space above head height, driven by a WATCHPAX 2 and incorporating the same iPower IP-4 power control system found throughout the exhibition.

The information relates to the atmosphere of turmoil and battling kingdoms in China before the land was unified by the first Imperial Dynasty led by Qin Shi Huang who became Zheng, King of Qin aged 13 and then the first Emperor of China aged 38.

In here visitors learn the story of his rise to power and influence.

The audio-scape is delivered via Adlib AA81 speakers built-in to the screen, and using quadraphonic audio the sounds of arrows whizzing overhead accompanied by drum beats and the sounds of battle, can all be directional and ramp up the atmosphere.

The next area details the Qin Dynasty, with terracotta warriors from this period, including a kneeling stable boy in a case, and seven warriors side-by-side in a row with an eight by three metre projection screen immediately behind, which is fed content via another three Panasonic RZ970s.

Lead video technician for the project, Andrew Watts, comments, “This area was particularly challenging for us. The idea of having a large rear projection seemed a simple one, however less than two-metres of projection throw distance could be allocated in a space that – at first look – shouldn’t allow enough distance for it to work at all.”

The trio of projectors are portrait mounted using Rigtec adapters, modified to attach directly to an upright truss base. Panasonic’s ET-DLE030 lenses were then fitted giving a 0.36:1 throw ratio.

“Lining the projectors up and achieving a seamless blend was a meticulous task,” explains Andrew laughing. “We are incredibly pleased with the outcome of this centrepiece of the exhibition.”

The content includes stunning close ups of the warriors faces which have been digitally painted for the onscreen presentation in what would have been original colours.

“There are some beautiful moments with the warriors in front of the rolling green hills from the burial site in China” says Andy Cooper, director of Draw & Code. “Adlib’s installation experts did a perfect job with the screen material and really brought our concepts to life.”

Tom explains that it took a lot of brain-teasing to come up with an optimum solution for this area, and everyone is delighted with the results. “You can do all the pre-visualisation in the world, but it’s not until you actually get to site and see the content and the artefacts together for real that you know if it’s all going to work!”

Evolving journey

 

Next, visitors move into the Han Dynasty area where the focus is on showing the detail of the smaller warriors crafted during this era.

There is an HD screen fed by another Panasonic PT-RZ970 projector fed from the same WATCHPAX 4 media server which is running the projections in the Qin presentation.

Area 5 is the First Emperor’s Mausoleum; which to this day at the real site, has never been opened. The tomb appears to be a hermetically sealed space roughly the size of a football pitch.

This required completely different treatment which is theatrically driven and, being the final space of the exhibition, it was vital to make a lasting impact.

The space includes a projection mapped, false vanishing point room. A Holo-gauze scrim creates a pepper’s ghost effect to the front.

Five Panasonic PT-RZ670 projectors are utilised, four to beam the projections onto the floor, sides and roof of the mausoleum for the dramatic, high-drama show and one taking care of the scrim. Smoke effects appear on the front of the gauze, rivers of mercury are projected into the floor, climaxing with a booby trap, triggered by a bird flying through the space.

“This type of presentation is unusual for a museum” comments Tom, “just as the massive responsibility for creatively representing such an incredibly important world heritage site.”

Tom explains that the work on the project back in August 2017 and the Adlib / Draw & Code installation team spent three months on site to make sure everything was tuned to perfection.

All the show scheduling is tied into a Dataton WATCHNET server, which provides advanced show control of the WATCHPAX media servers and is the command centre for all the IP-controlled devices in the system. Some of the network infrastructure is built around a fibre backbone to accommodate the distances between areas.

A hardware-based VPN router is installed for fully remote network access, control and diagnostics of the entire system.

A secondary software-based VPN allows redundant access to the network via a dedicated monitoring server, which runs a Linux-based instance of Zabbix for advanced logging, monitoring and diagnostics of the network.

“This project has been a highlight of my career so far,” says Tom. “The teams from National Museums Liverpool, Draw & Code and all the other contractors have shared the same passion and determination to deliver something memorable that Liverpool and the rest of the UK can be proud of.

“The incredible public reaction has confirmed the amazing depth of expertise and artistry that is available locally, well done to all!”