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Adlib Terracotta Warriors With Dataton

Dataton system brings ancient China to life at World Museum

Meet 2,200 year old terracotta warriors in a blockbuster exhibition in Liverpool, UK, this summer. The unique exhibition at the World Museum is titled "China's First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors" and brings history alive with striking video visuals – courtesy of Dataton WATCHOUT – and integrated audio effects. Adlib specified, supplied, and installed all of the audio visual equipment including complex projection systems and surround-sound audio installations alongside partners Draw & Code.

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 2018 and has already received worldwide acclaim and is exceptionally popular, attracting people from all over the UK and Europe.

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.

Tom Edwards, Adlib's head of video: “We listened carefully to what the museum 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.” 

Area 1: WATCHOUT maps geo-wall

At the start of the exhibition, visitors (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.

Dataton's WATCHOUT multi-display software is used to map the wall working on two Panasonic PT-RZ970 10,000 lumen laser projectors. The technically challenging brief was to keep viewing space to a maximum, while achieving high brightness and resolution. A WATCHPAX 4 media server provides the mapped, edge-blended content to the two projectors and also controls 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. 

Area 2: WATCHPAX reveals warring states

When the presentation finishes, the doors open at the end of the room – also controlled via the WATCHPAX 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’ about the rise to power by the first Emperor of China.

This features another WATCHOUT show, running on two Panasonic PT-RZ970 projectors and two 5.5 m x 2 m screens along the length of the space above head height. Adlib installed a compact Dataton WATCHPAX 2 media server to drive the show and incorporated the same iPower IP-4 power control system found throughout the exhibition.

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

Area 3: Rear-projected show centrepiece

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 8 m x 3 m projection screen immediately behind. This WATCHOUT show runs on 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 Edwards 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!”

Area 4: HD detail with WATCHPAX

Area 4: 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 running from the same WATCHPAX 4 media server as the projections in the Qin presentation.

Area 5: WATCHOUT, mapping and ghost

Area 5 revolves around the First Emperor’s Mausoleum, a hermetically sealed tomb roughly the size of a football pitch which has never been opened. This required a completely different more theatrical treatment and, being the final space of the exhibition, it was vital to make a lasting impact. The space includes a projection-mapped WATCHOUT show with a holo-gauze scrim creating 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 to take care of the scrim. Smoke effects appear on the front of the gauze, rivers of mercury are projected into the floor, culminating in a booby trap, triggered by a bird flying through the space.

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

The team at Adlib and Draw & Code began work on the project back in August 2017 with the installation team spending three months on-site to make sure everything was tuned to perfection.

Control solution with WATCHNET

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!”

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