• Type: Whitepaper
  • Topics: Live Events; Video; Display; Lighting And Staging; Lighting; Digital Signage; Av Industry;
  • Date: May 2014

Scott Williams and CJ Davis

Quince Imaging co-owner and CFO/COO Scott Williams and Projection Designer CJ Davis

 

The leadership at Quince Imaging never envisioned themselves as a standard audiovisual (AV) firm — at least not in the classic sense. They’ve devoted themselves to image analysis, determining the best tools to meet the requirements of demanding applications and going beyond what the typical AV contractor supplies. Continually experimenting with techniques and technology in specialty event displays, Quince has most recently focused their resources on a particular niche: projection image mapping.

Cavs PreGameA prime example of today’s converged AV service provider and innovator, Quince Imaging, wowed us with a dynamic 3D court projection for the Cleveland Cavaliers during the pregame retirement ceremony for Zydrunas “Z” Ilgauskas at the Quicken Loans Arena in March. Quince Imaging also is a longtime member of AVIXA and uses AVIXA’s training as part of their professional development program. We simply had to meet them. Co-owner and CFO/COO Scott Williams and Projection Designer CJ Davis graciously accepted our request to visit their office in Herndon, VA.

As we begin to get to know Quince Imaging, Scott tells us their main focus has been taking standard products and designing them into specialty display applications with custom-built network infrastructure. This approach, coupled with video engineering, projection design, integration and content creation, produces events such as the Cavs’ “Z” retirement ceremony.

How It All Began

To ensure they’re on the leading edge, Quince Imaging stays on top of their skills and technology research.

“We’re certainly not clairvoyant, but we did our research. We believed this was a frontier that was never really approached before,” Scott says. “We believed our skills and tech know-how would be successful in the marketplace and we made it our target. We made it our absolute goal and we’ve done a fine job of delivering on those goals.”

Scott’s career began after college, when he was immediately thrown into high-end display analysis for defense contractor SAIC. He honed his industry knowledge building displays and visual systems for top-secret underground command centers. He studied image size, contrast ratio, brightness and color requirements so that field generals could easily visualize troop movements. Scott traveled all over the world designing and installing such systems. During that time, SAIC became the distributor of the brightest projector in the world, the Eidophor, which was used for such high-profile events as the Academy Awards and American Music Awards.

“Half the time I worked on command center analytics, design and integration. The other half of my time, I was sending these projectors all over the world and operating them at special events, and ironically, in sports arenas,” Scott says. After 16 years at SAIC, Scott and his business partner Ron Currier of Currier Imaging, a long-time friend, founded Quince Imaging.

“We felt we could do more and be more innovative as an outside firm and so we negotiated and bought the business from SAIC and then slowly started building,” says Scott. They garnered a little notoriety with the 1996 Olympics, but struggled with marketing until they struck out on their own.

“It was hard to promote ourselves as part of SAIC, but it was a great firm and I learned a lot,” he says.

Train Them up in the Way

Scott Williams’ technical knowledge has been invaluable as Quince pushes the boundaries in terms of innovation.

“With Quince, it’s a concerted effort to be the best. There was never a goal ‘we’re going to grow 8 percent a year or 15 percent a year...we wanted to be the best, and that’s how we’ve grown our business,” he says.

CJ was the creative drive behind the Cavs project and many similar projects. We wanted to know how he acquired the skillset needed to prepare and execute such projects.

CJ graduated from the Art Institute of Washington with a degree in digital video production. While in school, he got a job with a lighting company and worked on events around D.C. He went on tour with Tyler Perry for a while. Then, he met Scott and his team.

“It was definitely the team that sold me on this,” CJ continues. “When I started, I asked Scott, ‘What do you want me to do?’ And he said, ‘I want to do this,’ and he points at the video projection mapping. And we just figured out how to do it and got out in front of the whole wave of projection mapping, and it’s been fun and interesting.”

“CJ has been a big lever in enabling us to really go into this frontier,” adds Scott. “Why? He came to us from an engineering and display engineering background, but he really has the skills as a creative visionary. An understanding of both worlds is a very rare thing. You know you have good creative types, you have good engineering types, but to have somebody with a foot in both camps is very difficult to find.”

CJ adds that they’re trying to retain personnel who have the right balance between the creative and the technical because what they do is unique.

“You can’t go into it with just a great idea — it needs to be based in reality…you need to have that center-brain mentality,” he says.

Quince has an internal orientation process, part of which is an AVIXA training regimen used to instruct new staff from the ground up if they have no experience. They use Essentials of AV Technology Online, which is free to all members, and Event Setup for AV Techs Online

“We count on that kind of baseline training to give some of the creative guys an understanding of [the] technical side and give the younger technical people a broader, more consumptive approach to what they really need to know. And we just make sure everyone understands both camps and it’s really been a powerful place to put them,” says Scott.

Expect to see their staff at InfoComm 2014, where you can meet them for networking. We asked them myriad questions about the magic they’ve been making since inception. Here’s what they had to say.

What was the first project that blew everyone’s mind?

Scott: What really got me juiced was the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. At that time, people had a very compartmentalized thought of how video projection could work. I had a lot of confidence in our little 9000-lumen video projector. Probably more than I should have. But we went to The L.A. Coliseum, and I went up in the sky box, and I pointed that down to the ground for all the directors planning the opening and closing ceremonies, to try to impress them with how it could be used. They decided to deploy it. We had a bunch of people holding up white cards that we projected on, and it worked really well. It was pushing the technology at that point but I learned a lot about where I wanted to go with it. Now we’ve evolved into things that are harder to do.

How did you come up with the idea for the Cavs project and how did you make it work?

CJ: That was one of the more challenging ones because of a pretty compressed timeline. It all starts with the science of light. When we determine where the projectors are going to go, we survey the arena, we get a CAD/vector drawing of the court, and translate that into a map of where we’ll put our graphics and video. There was a lot of collaboration with the Cavs and with their video partner, Think Media.

Scott: That wasn’t our first time in a basketball arena. We also designed a 3D video presentation for the 2013 Miami Championship Ring Ceremony Pregame Show and most recently we worked with Think Media again for the opening of the Jordan Brand Classic at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Did you have any challenge as far as spec’ing out the floor?

Miami Heat Ring CeremonyScott: That’s sort of the big secret in a sense — how do you deal with the fact that lines are painted there and they don’t go away? That definitely plays into how you develop the graphics and how things work. The concept is forced perspective, sort of like sidewalk chalk — you can’t make things pop up at you. But, you can certainly make things fall away from you in depth. And that’s the trick.

CJ: We have a setup in our studio projecting onto a print-out of the court and we can test how things are going to look. That’s how we do the proof of concept, get through the process and make sure everything’s going to look the way it should look.

Scott: We’ve seen people over the last few years pull a white scrim out on the court and that’s not what this is about – this is about architectural projection, projecting on a surface that exists and you don’t modify it in any way. To achieve that, to make the surface mostly disappear, there are a few parameters. There is specialty to that. Look at the Winter Olympics opening in Russia. Well done! It shows what you can do with 120 high-powered projectors where budget is not a concern. Anybody can bring too many. A lot of people bring not enough. The trick is to bring just enough so that budget and application are considered together. And that’s why we’re different than a lot of other organizations. It’s all about transforming the space only with visual imagery, not with anything else.

You also have video interfaces that respond to human interaction. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Scott: Running coincidentally with our development of the technology required to do this high-level projection image mapping, CJ and his team have been investigating gesture-based, interactive tracking technologies.

CJ: We’ve done a lot of proof-of-concepts for tracking and interactivity. We’ve got a system that will track players as they walk around the court so you can identify players and make them look as if they’re in a video game. We recently projected on the outside of the National Geographic headquarters that has these empty columns. We set up a device that, as you walked by, played the columns like strings so it would project the vibrations of the columns. As people walk by, they created nice harmonic chimes.

Scott: The tracking industry is catching up. Non-discrete tracking is deployable today fairly easily, even in the sports arena. We can deploy non-discrete tracking that ties right in with the media servers and have that ready for you tomorrow. Discrete tracking is a little more challenging, but we’re still actively working on it.

Are there any other markets besides sports that are interested in these kinds of technologies?

Scott: The special event industry — we’re now implementing mapping technology on sets and scenic elements on a regular basis for conferences and events. On a three- or four-day conference they get a different look every day. Their set can transform from trees to rainforest to grasslands to ocean without any cost really, other than the content, without changing the décor. Once a customer uses it, they can’t go back — it gives them an opportunity to grow. Including traditional widescreen or visual screens in with mapped elements is where we’re going within the corporate market. That takes a lot of media servers, a lot of pixel processing and good high-end projectors.

How do you actually use media servers? Do you use physical or cloud servers?

Scott: We use physical servers — high-power broadcast servers. These are the heart of the system. These are the devices that allow us to store and play back multiple streams of HD to multiple projection arrays. They have the capability to bend visual imagery in ways that we never thought existed before. The servers can also bring in information from the motors that are tracking objects across the stage. There’s a lot of innovation in that realm.

Tell us a little bit about some technologies that you’re considering for use in the next couple of years.

Scott: You can imagine an urban landscape of illuminated buildings at night. We really are going to own the night. That’s what we want to do.

CJ: I see a lot of potential in taking other surfaces, not just hard surfaces but soft surfaces like smoke and clouds and water and things like that where we can control some of the properties of these soft materials and find a way to come up with the content that makes it look like you’re doing more than just projecting on it. I think there’s a lot of visual opportunity there.

Scott: We’re constantly brainstorming what to do next.

How do you use data in mapping to transform a place?

CJ: It’s all about the data. It all starts with the science and knowing first how bright it’s going to be, how high the resolution is going to be, how far away the people need to be to see it, are they going to be able to see close or far, and what angle they’re going to be.

How do you process object data? Do you use programming?

CJ: We have some tools that give us some of the initial data. One of the big factors is ambient light. We take that into account and make sure that nobody’s putting spotlights on the floor while we’re projecting because then people won’t see anything. Then we actually visualize it in 3D programs, and map out in 3D space where our projectors are going to be. That helps us get a better idea visually and artistically how things are going to fall.

What tools do you use for that?

CJ: Mostly CINEMA 4D for a lot of the projective visualization. Not only is it mathematically accurate, but we can also put the client’s content on a surface and say this is what it’s going to look like.

For Quince’s latest project, CJ teamed up with Think Media Inc. to merge their 3D animations with traditional 2D video content and transform the Barclays Center’s basketball court in Brooklyn, N.Y. We’ll be curious to see what they do next with their extraordinary blend of AV brains and brawn.