Projection Designer Jeff Sugg Gets Support of WorldStage for his Chocolate Factory Design

by Kathy Eddy

Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory opened on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre with a new take on the classic children’s tale for theater audiences of all ages. Projection Designer Jeff Sugg calls the show “a really successful marriage of scenery, automation technology, and video technology. Projection fills a very powerful role in serving the story – it’s not an added layer of window dressing.” WorldStage is providing extensive video support for the new musical with a custom-fabricated Unilumin LED wall, a wide variety of Panasonic projectors, d3 Technologies’ media servers, and a BlackTrax real time movement tracking system.

Video displays supplied by WorldStage are key elements throughout the show. An LED wall in Act 1 helps tell the story of the Golden Ticket Winners, while extensive projection mapping onto moving set pieces is a fixture of Acts 1 and 2. In addition, the BlackTrax movement tracking system is the behind-the-curtain star during a very whimsical oompa loompa scene.

The LED wall in Act 1 helps narrate the story of the children who win the coveted Golden Tickets to tour the Chocolate Factory. Illustrative graphics displayed on the LED show the global locations the winners call home and serve as backgrounds for each child’s showcase song.

“The original design called for a circular LED wall, but we were surprised to learn that a circular wall had to be custom made and that was not an option,” Sugg explains. “WorldStage demo’ed LED products for us to find the most appropriate resolution and helped us determine which technology would be the most effective for constructing a circular array from square LED tiles.” Scenic design company Proof Productions built a custom framing structure to house the  LED tiles. “The wall is roughly 14.5 feet in diameter and is made up of 18-inch square modular tiles, each slightly rotated in a fragmented array to create what looks like a deconstructed flat circle,” says Lars Pedersen.

To handle the show’s projection mapping WorldStage furnished Panasonic projectors, including PT-DZ21Ks lamp units, and PT-RZ970, and PT-RZ12K laser-phosphor units.

BlackTrax movement tracking is deployed for the segment in Act 2 featuring the television-obsessed Golden Ticket winner, Mike Teavee. Initially, the production envisioned Mike and the puppeted oompa loompas manipulating a stage full of physical TV screens. “For the screens to be big enough to be seen in the back of the house they had to be at least 42-inches,” says Sugg.  “But when you get a bunch of 42-inch flat screens each with cables or battery packs plus the puppets the technology quickly became a burden.”

Sugg devised the idea of substituting seven monitor-size foam-core placards with BlackTrax sensors for the bank of TVs. A d3 2x4pro media server in conjunction with the BlackTrax system would handle the tracking and position-awareness as the oompa loompas manipulated the placards. An edge-blended pair of Panasonic projectors projected imagery onto the surfaces of the mock screens as the actors moved them about.

“We put together a fully-staged and choreographed number for the director, writer, and composer to get their approval,” says Sugg. “This was a great example of technology serving the art and not vice versa. Once I knew we were going to use BlackTrax then using d3, with its tight integration of BlackTrax, was a foregone conclusion.” As a bonus, BlackTrax also serves as a tool to quickly align and calibrate the projectors for all of the show’s video mapping.

In Act 2, the Chocolate Factory set – three walls and a ceiling with a quirky forced perspective – are projection mapped using the inherent feature set of the d3 2x4pro; a second 2x4pro is on hand to facilitate redundancy. “d3 takes all the data from more than 50 pieces of automated scenery and accurately and precisely tracks imagery onto the scenery,” Sugg explains. "Each of the side walls is made up of five rotating smaller panels that we use as entrances and exits. With d3 we can effectively track the scenery individually or as a group.  Everything works very smoothly. It’s a real triumph of all the components playing nicely together.”

Sugg credits WorldStage and Production Video Engineer, Asher Robinson, with the foresight to set up a 10-gig network for optimal systems operation. “Having a 10 gig network for a show is not a given by any stretch of the imagination,” he notes. “But it’s manna from heaven for projection people. All the information from the animators to the servers and all the server communications are done over the 10-gig network not a standard network. That’s the kind of thing WorldStage is on top of."

Sugg has a 20-year history with WorldStage. “I’ve known [WorldStage Account Executive] Lars Pedersen for most of that time,” he says. “When I go to WorldStage I know I won’t have to worry about the equipment, and the architecture of the system will be robust and reliable. If anything should fail WorldStage will be there for me. This assurance is what I rely on.” At WorldStage Tom Whipple was the Project Manager.

Sugg’s team includes Production Video Engineer Asher Robinson, Programmer Matt Houstle, and Associate Projection Designer Simon Harding. The animators who created the video content are Daniel Vatsky, Katie Kirschner, Gabriel Aronson, Michael Bell-Smith and Ian McClane.

WorldStage Inc., the company created by the merger of Scharff Weisberg Inc and Video Applications Inc, continues a thirty-year legacy of providing clients the widest variety of entertainment technology coupled with conscientious and imaginative engineering services. WorldStage provides audio, video and lighting equipment and services to the event, theatrical, broadcast and brand experience markets nationally and internationally.  Further information from WorldStage:

About Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: For more than 50 years, Roald Dahl's story of  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has captured imaginations around the world, and now for the first time Broadway audiences are invited to experience Willy Wonka’s delightful and semi-dark chocolate world first-hand at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre (205 W 46th St, New York, NY 10036).  Willy Wonka, world famous inventor of the Everlasting Gobstopper, has just made an astonishing announcement. His marvelous—and mysterious—factory is opening its gates…to a lucky few. That includes young Charlie Bucket, whose life definitely needs sweetening. He and four other golden ticket winners will embark on a mesmerizing, life-changing journey through Wonka’s world of pure imagination. Get ready for exquisitely nutty squirrels and the great glass elevator, all to be revealed by Wonka's army of curious Oompa-Loompas.  Further  information on Charlie and the Chocolate