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Show control technology used in Mob Museum

A museum telling the story of organised crime and its battle with law enforcement is making extensive use of show control technology, writes Paddy Baker

From Edward G Robinson in Little Caesar in 1931 to The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire in more recent times, the world of organised crime has been a mainstay of the worlds of film, TV and books. Now, we can add visitor attractions to that list, with the opening of the Mob Museum in Las Vegas – Sin City’s newest crowd-puller. The location of the museum is appropriate to the subject. Not only does Las Vegas loom large in the annals of organised crime, but part of the building housing the museum was formerly a federal courthouse. One exhibit is devoted to material relating to Oscar Goodman, who – before serving as mayor of Las Vegas between 1999 and 2011 – participated in trials here during his career as a lawyer. Opened in February, the attraction tells stories from the ongoing battle between organised crime and law enforcement. In the words of its tagline: “There are two sides to every story.” Iconic artifacts on display include the actual brick wall against which the mobsters were shot during the St Valentine’s Day Massacre and the barber’s chair where one-time Murder Inc boss Albert Anastasia was sitting when he was murdered. Among the interactive exhibits and environments are FBI wiretap surveillance and weapons training. There are also a number of high-tech presentations, in which Alcorn McBride audio, video and show control equipment features strongly. “We have three floors of exhibits, and a large portion is content. Visitors start at the third floor with the birth of the mob and continue down to the first floor, which documents the mob today,” explains Ryan Markus, IT manager. “There’s so much amazing content: the average leg walk [for visitors] is two hours. Most of our equipment is controlled by Alcorn gear – we have several racks full.” Five Alcorn McBride V16 Pro frame-accurate show controllers for serial and network devices control six Digital Binloop HD multitrack video players, which play loops of a diverse range of content tailored to particular exhibits. One exhibit calls for visitors to pick up a rotary telephone that sends a tone to one of the V16 Pros telling it to play a certain audio track. The tone in turn signals an Alcorn McBride AM4 Digital Audio Machine, a professional MP3 and WAV audio player. A total of 10 AM4s are in use in the museum; some provide playback for phones that give visitors an idea of what ‘mob speak’ sounds like. Asked to nominate the most complicated exhibit, Michael Lewis, design engineer with lead integrator AVI-SPL, chooses the Courtroom. This consists of a seven-minute, four-projector show. Two custom Da-Lite Electrol projection screens flank the judge’s bench, showing images from Digital Projection’s dVision 30-1080p-XL projectors. Behind the judge’s seat, a Christie LW640 projector illuminates a custom translucent plexiglass material to provide “a somewhat holographic effect”, according to Michael Lewis, design engineer with lead integrator AVI-SPL. Behind the translucent rear projection, background images and shadows complete the effect. These are projected from a Panasonic PT-DX800, directly onto the back wall. Lewis explains: “At times during the video production characters on any of the screens interact with those on other screens. Moving light fixtures are also installed into the space and add another level of visual effects to the experience.” The entire content of the show and synchronisation of the video, audio, lighting and screen movement is transmitted and controlled from Alcorn McBride V16 Pros located in the AV rack room one floor below. The system opens and closes the courtroom door and rolls up the screen when the show concludes. A LightCue DMX recorder and four Alcorn McBride DMX machines control over 1,500 lights in the museum. “Almost all of the lights in the building are controlled with the DMX system,” notes Markus. Hitting the wallOne exhibit that is being revamped is the St Valentine’s Day Massacre wall. “This new exhibit should add a more dramatic reveal on one of the key pieces in our collection,” explains Markus. “Currently there is a Digital Projection projector there showing a short film projected onto glass. We are adding a 122in x 98in motorised screen, reprogramming the surrounding lights as well as the spotlights on the wall. We will be utilising the same Alcorn Binloop, V16 Pro and DMX machines.” An important source of revenue for the museum comes from private tours and corporate events – and with this comes demand from clients for a non-standard show. “So far the private tours have gone great,” says Markus. “We are able to control virtually every aspect from pausing a single exhibit to muting entire floors. We have a large amount of museum buyouts and we are continually challenged with requests from our guests. Most guests use the Courtroom for their function, so we have set up ways to bypass or stop the Courtroom – allowing them to make a presentation, and afterwards we can turn that particular section back on.” Currently his team is adding a matrix switch in that room so clients can use one of the four projectors for their presentations. The museum uses ShowTouch, Alcorn McBride’s touchpanel interface for its show controllers with Ethernet, for tour guide presentations. “People presenting private tours like being able to start, stop and pause exhibits,” explains Markus. “They don’t have to shout, or have devices locked to their heads, to make themselves heard.” As is common in museum installations, there was a degree of evolution between initial concepts and final installation. Lewis comments: “The Mob Museum, being an historical building site, provided ample opportunities for trades to work together with creative design teams to navigate the unforeseen obstacles and make new solutions to overcome them. Flexibility was key, and the Alcorn McBride system allowed for each of these changes to be made with minimal hassle.”