On the hour every hour Media Projects runs a four minutes and twenty second show in the new Las Vegas-collides-with-High-Tech Trocadero atrium off London’s Piccadilly Circus. You have to get your timing spot-on to see it. And even when you do you might wonder how different it is from the rest of the advertising and pop video stuff which you can hear and catch glimpses of up amid the artful metalwork and naff neon.
It’s not Media Projects’ fault that the architecture and decorations, courtesy of US leisure architectural practice RTKL, get severely in the way – or that it requires an athletic effort of will to actually see the show unless you’ve hit the right time – and happen to be a paying customer to Segaworld. Segaworld is up at the top end of the main vertigo-inducing escalator slanting back above your head across the atrium space.
Although it’s obfuscated by all the escalator diagonals and the cod High-Tech decorative elements, the Trocadero atrium is actually a big orthogonal space with an oval platform a third of the way up serving as the landing for the two-leg escalator enclosed in an open tube-like framework. This latter looks like a cheapo rip-off of those wonderful snaking glass escalator tubes up the front of the Pompidou Centre in Paris. And that’s what it probably is. This platform/landing is backed by a 108-screen video wall (the biggest static video wall in Europe) flanked by a pair of rotagraphic displays whose parked position produces a curved mirror wall. In the ceiling over the platform/landing is an iris from which, during the show, emerges a beautifully conceived animatronic monster named Trocadilla. The goodies in the little playlet which is enacted before your eyes, the little Trocs, descend from holes in the metal bases of the rotagraphic wings to blink and make meaningful movements. Meantime, rather good graphic images supporting the story appear on the curved video wall.
Above on the opposite side an animated 3D image of Trocadilla appears for 60 seconds midway through the show and does her strangely beautiful snarling stuff on a four storey-high curved screen above the entrance to Segaworld. Beautiful and enigmatic it is, but you have to know when and where it’s on and unless you’re just coming out of Segaworld and know to turn around and look up you have to scamper around on the mezzanine floor and peer up through the architecture.
This projected animated image of Trocadilla is the creation of a small team working under Aureillo Campo of post-production house Rushes using Soft Image on Silicon Graphics Indigo2s and a Challenge rendering engine. Like all team efforts, everybody makes creative contributions and it can be difficult to sort out who did what, but Campo remembers that Atlas Models made the running in the final detail of Media Projects’ concept design for Trocadilla – if only because they had to make the animatronic version by hand which was far more difficult to alter.
The original Troc shape came from the architect RTKL and Media Projects worked out a series of character variants on the basic theme: T-Roc, Ad-Troc, DeTroc and Albertroc. The moving figures (animatronic is surely a tad pretentious for the simple motions available) were by Atlas Models and Effects, but the animatronic version of Trocadilla is their great achievement, with a mechanical system by Scena Works. It’s difficult to get scale right on paper and this figure, intended as a powerful and frightening thing (as it is close up as well as on paper) is actually quite easy to miss among the architecture because it’s so relatively small.
I’m not going to detail the storyline beyond noting that it’s about the little goodies overcoming an evil monster and that none of this is yet particularly apparent to the casual observer, possibly because the sound system and the atrium’s acoustics were in serious disharmony and because the lighting was not exactly doing anything to excite bystanders.
Chief honcho at Media Projects is Malcolm Lewis. He explains that the company was given the project on the strength of its multimedia show for the British pavilion at the 1992 Expo in Seville. No pitching. The whole budget for the Trocadero refit was 45m and of that 750 000 was spent on software and 1.4m on hardware. His design team was augmented by freelances with whom the company had worked comfortably and creatively before who pitched for their sub-contracts on the basis of price. Lewis was a bit grumpy about the way he had been brought in right at the end of the main design programme, when he was quite unable to influence the overall design of the multimedia space.
If all this sounds a bit negative, it’s partly because what was visible immediately after the opening was work in progress rather than a well honed production number, partly because it took so short a time for the forces of evil to be overcome and to a larger extent because of the difficulty of working out that this was what you were supposed to be experiencing.
You had the feeling too that what was on show was far too intricate and detailed and that a broader brushstroke was what the space and the time-slot called for. And, despite the fact that, taken element by element there were some great examples of creative design, there was that nagging feeling that this was probably also potentially true of any of the pop videos and ads either side of the show. Mind you, Media Projects spent a couple of million for something which will last for some time. Some of the videos will have cost that much and have a life of a month.
Although there are some great pinball games in the rooms around, don’t visit for a while yet because Media Projects was given less than a week to set up when what was really needed was four weeks. The smoke effects set off two sprinklings from the fire system during installation and testing and at the time of opening mechanical movements had still to be smoothed – and others instigated. The sound system needed heavy tweaking and the smoke/laser thing hadn’t been sorted out.
A mate said that kids who hadn’t been to Las Vegas would probably love it all. But she was talking about the architecture. The show had rumbled and flashed past without her particularly noticing.