The Finnish National Theatre has used PixelConduit + Stage Tools for several years.
In fact, the first version of Stage Tools was developed specifically to address the video needs of a play called The Unknown Soldier, "Tuntematon Sotilas", by renowned director Kristian Smeds. This play became a true national phenomenon in Finland due to its poignant themes and unique ambience.
The Unknown Soldier did not have traditional sets. Instead, the stage was dominated by an enormous video screen, and two more projection surfaces would appear as needed.
To make matters more difficult, much of the video material came from live cameras. There was even a large "underground" set constructed under the stage, where actors would be followed by video cameras, then emerge on stage. This kind of blending between the limits of "video presence" and "real presence" was an essential part of the play's narrative technique.
No existing video tool could handle this complexity. Because the show was projected to run for a long time, there was also a need to make this complex video setup as easy as possible to control. PixelConduit + Stage Tools was conceived to solve these problems.
With PixelConduit, live video streams could be mixed and processed as much as was needed to make them fit into the play's visual atmosphere. Color corrections, masks and stylization were applied to all live images. Smooth transitions between live and pre-recorded video were also essential.
The cue list in Stage Tools was designed to accomodate all the needs of the setup. Everything was programmed into cues, even complex transitions and effect build-ups. The operator did not need to manipulate keyboard controls or sliders except to advance to the next cue and to modify some effect controls such as correcting for under-exposed live images.
The Unknown Soldier became a huge critical and audience success. The show ran for over 130 evenings and was seen by over 50,000 people — a big number, considering Finland has only 5 million inhabitants.
PixelConduit + Stage Tools software handled its role reliably, evening after evening. The system was a Mac Pro computer with affordable BlackMagic video capture hardware and multiple video cards.
In newer productions, the Finnish National Theatre has continued to push the limits of PixelConduit + Stage Tools.
A play called Life of Galilei demanded an immersive projection environment that would make the audience feel surrounded by imagery of the wonders of space. Using a Mac Pro and two Matrox GXM multi-head output modules, PixelConduit was configured to output independent images on six projectors. Perspective corrections and blurred masks were also created in the software to make separate projections appear as joined images when needed.
In another deployment, the video needed to be synchronized with the light controller. Using the DMX512 input feature in Stage Tools, a single MacBook was able to handle the show. Once the cues were programmed, the computer did not require any interaction during the show.
The Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) has upgraded their infrastructure for HD broadcasts across the board. As part of the HD upgrade, the company took the opportunity to redesign and improve the way their popular shows are produced.
A game show called Tartu Mikkiin ("Grab the Mike") is one of the most popular shows on YLE's national TV2 channel in Finland. Produced by FremantleMedia Finland, the show is an entertaining combination of karaoke and top-class live music. Viewers get the chance to participate in pre-recorded karaoke inserts. These are used as clues to invited performers in the studio who try to guess the song and do their own rendition in front of the audience.
For the HD redesign of Tartu Mikkiin, FremantleMedia called on Lacquer to reinvent the video server which displays and processes the karaoke inserts and renders live-controlled game graphics such as song selection screens. The previous system was a two-PC setup with a complicated workflow for importing material from the Avid editing systems. This posed a problem, as space in the control room had become more limited in the HD upgrade.
The new system is built using PixelConduit. It runs on a single Mac laptop, with a HD-SDI converter used to connect to the video mixer in the TV2 control room. A custom user interface was built in PixelConduit. It allows material to be imported and setup directly in the same application that is used to actually run the show during the recordings - this is a tremendous time-saver during productions. Thanks to Conduit's multi-resolution support, the new system can easily deal with all kinds of insert material: older SD recordings work seamlessly together with the new HD media.
PixelConduit is a free app for Mac OS X.
Stage Tools is an add-on that is included in PixelConduit Complete which costs $119.