Dragon's Treasure Part II
Experience Imagination | Episode 12
About the Show:
Experience Imagination is a themed entertainment podcast presented by Falcon’s Creative Group. Every episode covers a new topic discussion with a panel of creative professionals.
Show Hosts: Cecil Magpuri - President/Chief Creative Officer and Abhinav Narain – Creative Content Specialist
Studio Guests: Klaus Badelt - Composer, Norm Schwab - Partner and Principal of Lightswitch, Rick Morris - Director of Sound, and David Schaefer - Vice President
In the second part of this case study, we explore what it took to execute the ambitious vision behind Dragon’s Treasure™, a 360-degree multi-sensory media experience at the renowned City of Dreams Casino in Macau. This groundbreaking show combines 360-degree 3D CG media and audio, theatrical lighting, state of the art show action elements, and special effects to create a fantastical guest experience. Find out more about Dragon’s Treasure™ on our selected works page.
Dragon's Treasure Video: https://youtu.be/BcTFDK4AuNg
Case Study | Dragon's Treasure Part II Transcript:
Cecil Magpuri: You're listening to Experience Imagination, a themed entertainment designed podcast presented by Falcon’s Creative Group. Every episode we discuss a new topic with a panel of creative professionals.
Cecil Magpuri: Hi, I'm Cecil Magpuri, President and Chief Creative Officer of Falcon’s.
Abhinav Narain: Hi everyone, this is Abhinav Narain the moderator for the episode and this is part two of our Dragons Treasure™ podcast case study. Later on in this conversation, we will be joined by the music composer for Dragons Treasure™: Klaus Badelt, as well as the lighting designer for this project: Norm Schwab, from Lightswitch.
Abhinav Narain: First, however, let's go ahead and start with the introductions of our main panel again... Cecil;
Cecil Magpuri: Cecil Magpuri, Chief Creative Officer, I was Creative Director on Dragons Treasure™.
Abhinav Narain: David;
David Schaefer: Hi there my names David Schaefer I'm Vice President at Falcon’s Creative Group... At the time of Dragons Treasure™, I was the technical integration manager for this project.
Abhinav Narain: And now Rick;
Rick Morris: I'm Rick Morris the Director of Sound with Falcon’s, at the time of Dragons Treasure™ I was the Sound Designer and the Sound Mixer.
Abhinav Narain: Cool, so last episode we talked about what the process was like creating the vision. This episode we are discussing implementation; the execution of that vision.
Abhinav Narain: Cecil, how does a process like this even begin?
Cecil Magpuri: One of the things we do here at Falcon’s is create an emotional arc. It's part of our process, a methodology when it comes to design is to kind of come up with this arc and what was interesting, we were really from a story standpoint very technical on our framework. Very methodical about chaptering the experience and creating this emotional swell.
Cecil Magpuri: And so, we're talking about audio levels, musical swells, visual spectacle, intensity of lighting, every aspect that we had as a tool we used to help enhance and recreate arcs within the arcs, if you will.
Cecil Magpuri: And so, if you think about the volume of the space it's seven stories tall a hundred twenty foot in diameter dome, it's significant in scale. And then of course, what the guests would see we just assumed that they were going to look across from each other, rather than straight at the screen and fortunately that was the case. But ultimately, how does your story arc be absorbed in different positions of the theater. So these are a lot of things that were question marks for us.
David Schaefer: Yeah I remember those discussions early on you know because guests are positioned in a standing fashion, and in theory they have freedom to move around during the show, but I was wondering how will the guest respond, how they actually react. And we found once the show began, guests typically remain stationary and will look around the venue. But I think the amazing thing that validated our job was that the show would end, and people would exit the theater and go back around to experience it again from a different position. We would see that occur often-
Cecil Magpuri: You would see them running around-
David Schaefer: Because it truly was a different experience depending on where you stood. There was such an epic nature to all the elements kind of coming together that you would pick up different specific details depending on where you were-
Cecil Magpuri: But the whole arch and story was still communicated no matter where you were.
Abhinav Narain: I imagine a big factor in helping to guide where the guest looks is audio cues. Rick do you want to talk a little bit about, what the process is like choreographing?
Rick Morris: Yeah there were definitely moments where we wanted to point the guests to a certain direction. Like you've got to look here at this moment. So we would focus that, the cool thing about our audio mix set up and the way we ultimately came up with the final solution to mix this was a combination of myself using the traditional pro tools, which cannot handle the whole thing like this, it's not designed for that, mixed with the Meyer sound system that LCS system which is designed for taking as big a sound as you want and making it as broad as you want, or putting it into a tiny pinpoint of a place. Everything can come from a speaker down into one speaker, with their systems.
Rick Morris: We had another guy that was the Meyer expert, that was helping me working on that part. I would be able to hand him over sounds and say here, I want this to start from here, I want it to go over to this section and pinpoint over here, we've got to get people to look this direction. So sound is a huge part of making sure people are seeing what we need them to see to get as much out of the story.
Abhinav Narain: The sound is already such a 360-degree element to the senses, but now that you actually have a canvas that embraces that fully-
David Schaefer: And have that control. And just to give the scope, for our listeners that are familiar with theater and that kind of thing, in a theatre you're used to 5.1 which means your five main speakers and the point one is a subwoofer. Or 7.1 is a big format as well. This ended up being a 57.17.
Abhinav Narain: So break that down. That's fifty-seven different-
Rick Morris: Discreet speakers and then seventeen subwoofers.
Abhinav Narain: Not your normal movie theater.
Cecil Magpuri: And what to choose for point source audio, as far as trickling sounds or actually having each character have its own aura of music in the same key-
Abhinav Narain: That followed it, yeah.
Cecil Magpuri: That followed the actual dragon. They had the freedom to do that. They had the freedom to actually pan real time the music score of that dragon throughout the space.
Abhinav Narain: Rick, I'm very curious to know what your thought process was when you first heard about the vision and your mind had to start figuring out how to solve that problem.
Rick Morris: I think when I first heard about the vision, I didn't really conceive of how big it was. So in my mind it was like, well yeah, this is gonna be really fun, this is gonna be great. Well then Cecil had me come on site while it was still in construction, and when I walked in the place and saw how massive this place was, it was like, I was so confident but a little freaked out.
Cecil Magpuri: It was scary. It was really scary.
Rick Morris: It really was, and the number of speakers that are used as discrete zones, not just to fill the place. It was like this is where every sound can go through any one of those speakers that you want at any time, and that got the thought process started like okay now how do we actually pull this one off? One thing we hadn't actually mentioned is this whole venue is basically underwater in content. So it's not like dragons are flying through the air where you hear the whooshes and that kind of thing. We sink in, we hear the bubbles of submersive sounds and then every dragon that would basically just swim around the room and everything, it had a bubble trail to it. And the bubble trail would blend in beautifully with the music, and it was just like you had this flow that just moved around the room. It just became part of the score.
Abhinav Narain: Speaking of the score, we are very excited to have Klaus Badelt now join us in this conversation. Klaus is best known for his music on the Pirates of the Caribbean feature film. He was also the composure on Dragon's Treasure™. Welcome, Klaus, thank you so much for being here. Can you hear us okay?
Klaus Badelt: Hey, yes.
Cecil Magpuri: Is this Klaus Badelt, the infamous Klaus Badelt?
Klaus Badelt: You guys, where were you hiding?
Cecil Magpuri: I know, long time no hear. Long time no see.
Klaus Badelt: You guys doing the big stuff and the crazy stuff, I love this.
Abhinav Narain: Everyone's been really looking forward to catching up with you, Klaus. To kind of start us off, my first question is because of its scale and creative ambition behind this project, we keep talking about Dragon's Treasure™. This project keeps coming back up, it's really proven to be such a pivotal milestone for Falcon’s. I'm curious to know what it was like for you to come onto a project like this, especially as someone who has been primarily most well known for your work on feature films.
Klaus Badelt: Just like maybe you saying that this was a pivotal point in Falcon's Treehouse being and direction, to me also this was an eye-opening and life-changing event, a pivotal point in my musical career. I so far at that time was may not just bound to the screen, which you know a project like this, or projects like these make the big screen a limitation you can't even believe, it feels so literally two dimensional after doing something like that. I also did the Beijing Olympics and big events but this was like a new true multi-dimensional thing where that is so inspiring as me as an artist, to be able to create something new not only in terms of music language but everything around it and what it's for and how it's being perceived and consumed. So it's actually a composer's dream come true.
Cecil Magpuri: When you said you mean this isn't 7 plus one, this is actually 57 plus 17? And you were excited about it. Your enthusiasm and you lit up in our conversation, it got me excited that you were excited about our wheelhouse, about pushing the envelope of immersive storytelling.
Klaus Badelt: There's several things to this why; I mean A: You're talking to someone who started out with a tech start-up at age eighteen, which I sold at twenty-five. Then I pivoted my life to just focus on music, and Hollywood taught me quite a bit about appreciation of music and how it's been handled. But what you guys are doing at another, I don't want to say layer, dimension to music appreciation is being an integral part of the perception of the audience. Some directors here say it's 50/50%, which makes me very proud, but I'd say this is like 100% because you guys are 200.
David Schaefer: I like that analogy.
Abhinav Narain: How did you go about approaching the process of composing the music for Dragon's Treasure™? How did you go about finding that emotion?
Klaus Badelt: I would almost call this RND. This was like lots of research and development in addition to writing. So first of course, I was very happy to open the vocabulary I was allowed to use, beyond the usual orchestra. The last four hundred years, orchestras have been sitting the same - there's actually two ways of them sitting, slightly different where the violins sit on either side of the stage if you want, or on one side, but that's about it. They all have the same setup and we completely changed this around to have them sit around the conductor, around the microphones, have the microphones be in a circle. That's now simplifying it, we did a lot of research how we actually, you lose the performance if you don't make the highest priority that they actually hear themselves and can interact and so the room has a dynamic in itself, and you just capture that with your microphone setup and we had top engineers coming from the upper floors, looking at what we'd been doing because they'd heard about this. Nobody usually touches that, and so this innovation made them like little boys in the toy store again, like me.
Abhinav Narain: I can only imagine the response from musicians as they entered the room and didn't know where their chair had gone.
Klaus Badelt: Exactly, they didn't know where their chair is. We had to label them.
Cecil Magpuri: I mean there was literally gasps.
David Schaefer: Been sitting in the same seat for four hundred years-
Cecil Magpuri: What are you doing to me? There was three tiers of microphones. We created the zones as a tier from the top vertically as well. And having the microphones all set up in that way, it wasn't circular microphones, but it was actually three tiers of it as well. It was an incredible setup.
Klaus Badelt: Yeah, we created zones, even if you want subs now, because no longer did you have one subwoofer or LF each channel which you pumped nondirectional stuff in, we had directional subwoofers. Just one example, we had directions with that.
Cecil Magpuri: We had seventeen of them.
Klaus Badelt: Exactly. I remember on the stage I said put more sub in, they said which one? Plus you had all these spot events, like little things flying, and we wanted to break the sound and make this a spot event even in the audio. Almost treating music like sound effects.
Cecil Magpuri: Rick got excited about that dialogue. I remember you guys getting excited about how you're treating music as coherent panning, via storytelling medium, and how the effects had to work around that. Maybe Rick you can talk a little bit about that.
Rick Morris: Well yeah, when I first got on site and started putting your music in Klaus', we gave you a few days for me to get going before you showed up, which it was really cool for you to actually be there too. When I started putting the music through and started placing instruments around the hall, it was just - it blew me away. I was like I had never heard anything like it before, and then just after the music, then starting to sprinkle in the sound effects and trying to make that work with the music and flowing-
Cecil Magpuri: And that was without content in the screen.
Rick Morris: That's correct, yeah. We started out just pure sound, first.
Cecil Magpuri: And you should have seen all the steel guys. We had steelworkers putting the screen up, and there was one iron worker literally tearing from the music. He got emotionally connected to the testing of the music.
Abhinav Narain: Without any visual context.
Cecil Magpuri: Without any visuals. Pure music in a construction site, and they were emotionally connected.
Klaus Badelt: Of course, that's the biggest compliment I can get is after with all this innovation and experimenting and research, ultimately it's all about evoking emotions, and making full use of the given tools. These are exceptional moments, steady ground is being pulled away from you, underneath you, so you don't even know. There's nothing to rely on anymore, really.
Cecil Magpuri: I remember you committing time to travel around China and actually get local instrumentation and what have you. Can you talk a little bit about your journey there?
Klaus Badelt: That was a major part of my, if you want, composer life in China. So when I first went there, it was important to me, extremely important to me, not to show this cultural exploitation, us super-imposing the western world, using their little bit of flavors and then making it sound like the cliched Chinese version of an American show. That doesn't fly in China.
Klaus Badelt: Well, clearly this is some guy who likes to steal a little bit of our heritage, but doesn't do it justice. What I did on my first project there, I traveled for weeks and months. I swam in cold lakes with the governor of Yunnan. I had shows and dances performed for me, I went to old ancient museums, looked at instruments and songs. I learned their notation systems. I learned about all these instruments, some of them they don't even know how to play them today, but they found them. I was the westerner who was allowed to do these projects about the first emperor, of the Beijing Olympics, which is a truly national showcase, needing a lot of insights and sensitivity to the background.
Klaus Badelt: There's a certain trueness, if that's a word, to what we've been doing there, I think, altogether. Individually in the story and in the music, hopefully. That reflects that this authenticity that shines through, when the audience walks through that venue they don't feel exploited, but they feel emotionally charged.
Cecil Magpuri: I just remember when the northern dragon came into play, and the red color pallette of the LED lights would be under your feet, and all of a sudden your drum entry to that northern dragon that came into play, the percussions-
Rick Morris: That was my favorite part of the whole thing.
David Schaefer: That dragon was so powerful.
Cecil Magpuri: So powerful. You felt it, you know?
Klaus Badelt: When you have a venue like this you need to try to keep up with the size, and the scale of it. It's insane. I think there's nothing like the visceral power of drums, there's something about this sound which resembles something you just feel, and it gives you the impression of the scale but also the sheer fear.
Cecil Magpuri: You scared Geoff Benham's two daughters, I know.
Klaus Badelt: Well, if you can make them laugh and make them cry, that's the goal.
Cecil Magpuri: That's true, that's true.
Cecil Magpuri: Well thank you, Klaus. This was an amazing conversation. Maybe collaborate again, we gotta find a way to play together again.
Klaus Badelt: Yeah, I'd love to do something again like this. There's only a few events in your life you keep talking about, I can really say this is definitely one of them.
Cecil Magpuri: Same here, we feel the same way. It was definitely a magical moment for us.
Klaus Badelt: Brilliant, brilliant.
Cecil Magpuri: Thank you so much, Klaus.
Abhinav Narain: Just as the music was important to the immersion of Dragon's Treasure™, so to was the lighting. Now we have the great joy to speak with the lighting designer on Dragon's Treasure™: Norm Schwab, the principal at Lightswitch.
Abhinav Narain: Hey Norm, thank you so much for being here.
Norm Schwab: Hi! Great to be here.
Abhinav Narain: So we are working into part two now of our Dragon's Treasure™ discussion. In part one we were talking all about kind of creating the vision, and now we're talking about how to implement what the process was like to execute this vast, ambitious vision. I think first, my initial question is: could you tell us a little bit about how you got involved with the project?
Norm Schwab: Geoff and I had done some work in the 20th century, in Melbourne, Australia and we had done kind of a crazy experiential atrium before media technology and a lot of things and it was really just kind of audio, lighting, and fountains, but we had a lot of fun doing it. So when he got the opportunity at Telco at City of Dreams, he gave me a call and it was kind of like "Hey, what're you doing? Wanna come play?" And I think we all weren't sure it was gonna happen, and we threw a lot of things at it and the timeline was very quick. We kind of quickly put it together and I think in a part of our mind we were like nah, or they're gonna cut this way back.
Cecil Magpuri: They can't execute this craziness that we've promoted.
Norm Schwab: I know, and then they just went ahead and let it go. That's kind of one of the things I think is so amazing about that project. It was kind of a dream project for me in that the amount of opportunity we were given to just move forward in a way that was the biggest thing I always say is they didn't say it verbatim, but they pretty much were saying "just don't do anything that's unlucky". Don't do anything that drives people away, and other than that go for it. Like anything, there isn't a typical project this is almost like a great college thing, it's like okay you're given this thing, you have to deal with an elliptical shape and parabolic shaped dome, you have to put a show in, you have-
Norm Schwab: What did we have? It was under two years, wasn't it?
Cecil Magpuri: I think when it came down to putting closure to the execution side, it was under two years.
Rick Morris: We spoke a lot about how for many of us it was a dream project, but at the same time it's a typical project. We had the same challenges that you always have. Schedule wasn't aggressive, we even though the budget was substantial, we still had to make tough budget decisions, we still were under pressure. Like you said, we had facility constraints. Man, we squeezed every inch out of that back of house space, behind the dome. It was literally shimmying between beams to install equipment and stuff, so it's amazing how it came together.
Cecil Magpuri: For me, one of the things that I learned a lot from you, Norm, was we all wanted to identify things that were risk and pushing hard for mockups was a big deal. I think the biggest thing was you continued to push the creative envelope through the process, you suggesting the introduction of LEDs on a projected surface? Profound.
Norm Schwab: Which in a lot of ways, I almost think that I would love to do more with that in a way, but I haven't seen a lot of other people still would have done it to this day like we did it.
Cecil Magpuri: Ten thousand LEDs. The actual due diligence that Norm and his team did to look at the surface of the LED itself and how literally there was no indication on contract. It actually looked like the screen surface.
Norm Schwab: Our vendors were phenomenal. LED effects, at the time, it morphed into several companies. The amount of time and effort they put into that? It was just stunning. Just the layout. The first time we tried to lay that out, do you know how complex it was to lay it out on that dome shape-
Cecil Magpuri: Forget it. The math involved on an elliptical dome that converges. The screen construction alone was a challenge.
Norm Schwab: Yeah, every vendor. I remember Amy from Roscoe who showed up, she was down crawling around under there to try to get her things to work, but you could tell she was, they were, into it. People were playing, it was fun, it was-
Cecil Magpuri: The pearl. The pearl that dropped down. Again, it was stunning, because Norm lights it and here we are, this ball's dropping down with the fisher technology and Norm is literally lighting it perfectly, tracking the movement lit on both sides of the pearl.
Norm Schwab: Old school, too. No sensors.
Cecil Magpuri: Old school, not over-projecting because it would project clips on the dome. I mean, this is profound stuff.
Norm Schwab: And Kelly and his group with the lasers. I think they did another amazing job.
Cecil Magpuri: It scared me, the power of those lasers.
Norm Schwab: That's my favorite part, I call it the jiffy pop yarmulke on top of the pearl. The thing that was just like a crinkled piece of aluminum foil that when you looked at it you're like nah-
Cecil Magpuri: Nah, that's not gonna give off weird-
Norm Schwab: Then they turn the laser on, and the laser you're like oh my god that's the coolest Aurora Borealis.
Cecil Magpuri: It looked like a jiffy pop, distorted, crumpled aluminum thing, but perfectly done to distribute the laser.
Abhinav Narain: The effect is on point. It sounds like everyone who was involved was just so ecstatic to be pushing forward something so new that the passion just continued the whole way through.
Norm Schwab: And some people, I mean, we had the people for instance, programming. Corey Fitzgerald, the gentleman that programmed all the media, since we ended up not doing the media to the sphere or to the ellipse, it was done to a circle and then distorted. We then had to do the same with all the media content. Corey, who you know how famous Corey has gotten now. Corey is like Beyonce, Jay-z, and Bruno Mars' LD.
Abhinav Narain: No way, he's their LD?
Norm Schwab: Yes, he's like one of the top LD's now, and we had him when he was really young.
Abhinav Narain: But he was already a genius.
Norm Schwab: He was already ridiculously-
Abhinav Narain: He was already ridiculously pushing the envelope constantly.
Rick Morris: That's awesome.
David Schaefer: Norm one of the cool things I remember seeing you doing, was early in the stages, bringing your virtual lighting setup. I don't remember what you call it. I was fascinated just seeing you building so much of it before ever being on site.
Norm Schwab: Well I think it was also, that project opened up our eyes, because we had used it a lot with concerts, and one off shows. We had not really used it so much on such a big installation, and again it kind of forced everyone to up their game. Including putting media in it. We were able to put the video and the media in it. We were able to put a lot of the dots in it. I remember that was another thing, over ten thousand dots. That's what I also love, when projects, you have the freedom, you have the people that are willing to let you take these risks because then you start to try out, you're given the freedom to try new technologies. New ways to use that technology, because we always know that endless budgets are not always the best way to the coolest creatives. Hopefully the creative wags the other way on the grid.
Cecil Magpuri: Exactly. And you were able to reveal so many very variable opportunities creatively.
Norm Schwab: It saved us from heading down dead-end streets.
Cecil Magpuri: Exactly. So when we hit the ground, I felt more confident. I wasn't going on site nervous. I was excited to see some of the predevelopment in context.
Norm Schwab: It allowed our programmer to see it, so again he wasn't showing up in Macau the first day on site, not knowing what he's programming. He was able to hit the ground running.
Abhinav Narain: There's a confidence.
Norm Schwab: Our duo of crazy programmers. I think everyone changed a little bit during their time there. Between Seth and Brian and Sara, it was a brilliant team.
Cecil Magpuri: Brilliant, brilliant team.
Abhinav Narain: Hearing about all the different ins and outs of actually executing a project like this, it's clear there are so many moving parts. Sometimes literally, in the case of the show action. My question for you Norm, what would you say the biggest challenge from a lighting standpoint. Is it the scale, is it the geometry, is it the elements?
Norm Schwab: No, I think it was maybe we were mostly successful, but lessons learned and all that, was the fact that everyone really wanted this pristine surface to project on, so that all the lighting had to blend in or be behind or under glass or something. Some of them weren't trapped behind the bigger lights, behind the perf, there were lots of things. But I think for the most part we were successful because that dome could look pristine but there were hundreds and hundreds of lights, so it was very exciting. I still see to this day how many things I've learned that I enact in projects going forward that I do, that was just a great education on. I really enjoyed my experience both with the entire team, just again, let's continue finding projects just like that to have fun on.
Abhinav Narain: Awesome. Thank you so much Norm, we really appreciate it.
Norm Schwab: Alrighty, anytime, anytime. Talk to you later.
Abhinav Narain: See you later.
Abhinav Narain: And that about wraps it up for our case study on Dragon's Treasure™. Thank you so much to our special guests, Klaus and Norm. Also thank you to our panelists, Cecil, David, and Rick.
Abhinav Narain: I just want to say that these two episodes have been particularly fascinating for me, as Dragon's Treasure™ in Macau is what lead me to first learn about Falcon’s, so it really was a pivotal milestone for me, as well. Now if you want to learn more or see more about Dragon's Treasure™, check out the video link we have in the description. Beyond that, don't forget you can email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org, again that is email@example.com. We look forward to hearing from you.
Abhinav Narain: See you all on the next episode.
Cecil Magpuri: This has been: Experience Imagination. For more information about this episode's discussion, be sure to visit our blog at falconscreativegroup.com, and don't forget to follow Falcon’s Creative Group on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram.