One of the undisputed highlights of Mediatech 2019 was the second iteration of the Black Box 360, an innovative, self-contained demonstration space designed by Christopher Bolton and Joshua Cutts of Collective Works and brought to life by the Gearhouse Group. The Black Box provided visitors to Mediatech Africa with a spellbinding first-hand experience of what the country’s leading professionals can do with cutting-edge technology.
WHAT’S IN THE BOX
Joshua Cutts and Christopher Bolton of Collective Works once again served as the masterminds behind the Mediatech Black Box, working in collaboration with Mediatech Africa show director Simon Robinson and the Gearhouse Group. The dedicated presentation space offered visitors to Mediatech an entertainment spectacle designed by the most creative minds in the industry – showcasing the most groundbreaking technology available – in the most inspired and inventive way. The technology used on the show represented some of the most cutting-edge available on the market, including Green Hippotizer media servers; MA lighting consoles; L-Acoustics Kara / KS28; as well as VPUs for Pixel Mapping.
This year, the core team behind the Black Box 380 was expanded to include more industry professionals; a decision taken by Creative Works to ensure that Black Box is a tradition that lives on at Mediatech. “While just as awe-inspiring – it was radically different to Black Box 2017 and we were pleased to see everyone who came to and experience it, and took up the opportunity to engage with the presenters and the technology,” says Bolton.
A PLACE OF LEARNING
Speaking to ETECH in a recent interview, operations manager at Gearhouse Group, Stuart Andrews stated: “When we decided to get involved in Mediatech’s Black Box, we wanted to take full advantage of the training opportunity that it presents. We wanted to use the platform to foster an imparting of knowledge from skilled and experienced people to those that are starting their professional journeys in the industry– and it developed organically from this initial concept.”
Bolton says that the best way to describe Mediatech’s Black Box 360 is as a fully immersive, experience-based, interactive AV education centre. “We managed to design something distinctive, which was captivating and entertaining while being highly informative. Black Box 360 gave visitors a taste of what it’s like to be immersed in an enthralling performance – put on by leading professionals in our industry, especially for people who don’t get to experience the ‘wow factor’ of big shows.”
Bolton goes on to explain that Black Box 360 serves as more than a demonstration space, but aims to inform, enrich, and inspire both professionals and trainees in the professional AV industry in Africa. “The Black Box is more than just a spectacular show, it’s a learning environment that details what went into creating the seamless synchronicity and pinpoint accuracy of the show, including the technology and design elements, and details how to create decent workflows in design.”
The structure of each hour-long experience was broken into two performances – each followed by a presentation by some of the most qualified and experienced professionals in the industry.
Presentations at the Black Box included an insightful exploration, led by Bolton and Cutts, detailing their recent working experience as lighting programmers on the internationally-renowned Eurovision Song Contest. Leading sound engineers, Adriaan van der Walt and Christo Hattingh presented an astute exploration of communication protocols and cross-system integration in the modern production environment. Andrew Bosman and Jonathan Bandil from the Cape Town-based creative technical production company, Bad Weather, expanded on how to develop creative workflows for real-time and interactive experiences. Bolton took to the podium to work through the fundamentals of production design. Finally, Gearhouse Johannesburg operations manager, Stuart Andrews, Nickolas Chapman of Showcom, rigging operations manager Johann Moolman, and senior lighting designer and programmer Robert Grobler from the Gearhouse Group expanded upon the importance of unified work processes and interdepartmental collaboration in the events industry.
The informative and interactive presentations were interspersed with performances by the emerging alternative-pop duo, Emerger. Since the release of their debut mini-album Bloom in May 2018, Emerger has been making waves both nationally and overseas. Cutts and Bolton developed a stunning light show to accompany the band’s performances, with dynamic, custom-designed content on multiple displays adding to the show. “With a mix of backtracks and performances by Emerger – who play all original South African songs – when it comes to the music, there was something for everyone,” Bolton reflects.
A COLLABORATIVE EFFORT
In preparation for Black Box 360, well over 2,000 man-hours went into controlling more than 8,900 different parameters and 16 odd universes. As the technical sponsor – Gearhouse spent four full days managing the complexities of the Black Box build and supplied 3kms of tech cabling, a huge amount of LED video panels, around 150 static LED lights, and 200 moving lights.
Over a ton of rigging was used, with a total of 34 motorised rigging points necessary to get the trussing design up and within spec. Multiple rigging bridles had to be used to ensure a safe weight distribution throughout the roofing system of the venue. Gearhouse experts – Reinier Robertson, Johann Moolman and Tanya Brown worked closely with Robert Grobler to ensure all weight and design parameters were taken into account when working out bridle lengths, positioning on the stand and point custom-designed to ensure a safe methodology to the installation.
“We worked closely with Joshua Cutts and Christopher Bolton from Collective works and senior lighting designer and programmer at Gearhouse, Robert Grobler, to ensure that we presented something unique and awe-inspiring for the Black Box,” says Johann Moolman, rigging operations manager at Gearhouse. He goes on to explain that: “The roof of the Black Box was built in increments from the top down, with part of the structure landed to distribute the weight. We decided to leave the roof open and drape the sides in black to increase ventilation in the space. This approach highlighted the roof of the structure, which was the focal point of the design, while the draping around the sides ensured the closed environment that enables maximum effect for the lighting and LED panels.”
Reflecting on the challenges that the Gearhouse team overcame in delivering the Black Box, Grobler points out: “One of the only challenges that we had to overcome was the fact that we were solely responsible for building the Black Box, which was a technically demanding job, as well as providing rigging and services for the tradeshow as a whole. As a result, we needed to employ our considerable project management skills to make sure that we spread enough manpower around to aim to deliver on time. Generally, however, the Black Box went up quite smoothly.”