One of the interesting aspects of being based in central Florida is that the area is home to many themed attraction design companies. These developers supply ideas and creative content to museums, parks and entertainment venues around the world. Nearly everyone involves one-of-a-kind presentation formats that are designed to display memorable programming to entertain and enlighten guests for years to come. For a little over a year I had the pleasure of editing the content for The Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Library – a free visitor attraction commissioned by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association – is designed to tell the Billy Graham story, as well as continue his evangelistic ministry. It opened early this summer to a host of international press and dignitaries, including three former U. S. Presidents.
The Billy Graham Library complex was designed by ITEC Entertainment, an Orlando-based attraction company who developed the concept and supplied all creative direction. To complete the video portions of the venue, ITEC hired ImageROCKS, a local high-concept, film and video production company. ImageROCKS director Jack Tinsley and I go back quite a few years having worked together on various projects including EPCOT’s IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth. In fact, we had both worked on several other high-profile ITEC Entertainment projects including a high definition “film” that Tinsley had directed on location in Israel. Jack started production during the summer of 2005, taping HD footage at Rev. Graham’s last crusade on the grounds of the old 1964 World’s Fair near New York City. I joined the project in fall to handle all offline and online editing.
One Size Does Not Fit All
The Billy Graham Library experience winds through a series of themed rooms that present a mix of informational and inspirational videos and gallery rooms containing photos and memorabilia from Rev. Graham’s past. In total, these include eleven video programs – each about six minutes in length. These have been produced in a variety of single and multi-screen formats using standard or high definition projection or LCD display panels. Some rooms use multiple synchronized video sources. One of the most involved is a set built to look like the street side showroom window of a 1960s-era TV and appliance store. Eight sources are distributed to fifteen displays that are integrated into the old-fashioned TV consoles. Another combines four screens in a circular venue, and there’s even a replica of the Berlin Wall, complete with a projected “set extension” for a portion of the wall. Along the way, guests encounter the facade of the 1949 Los Angeles revival tent (the “Canvas Cathedral”), a Korean gate, an old radio studio and the Graham’s living room – each augmented by custom-formatted video display systems. The experience culminates in the Finale Theater, an approximately 10 ft. x 33 ft. presentation consisting of three seamless, overlapping HD projections.
As daunting as some of the technical issues might sound, the main focus of our effort was to tell the best story. Hopefully a visitor leaves with a more complete experience through the cumulative effect of the entire complex. Each room tells a different aspect of Rev. Graham’s legacy and mission, with certain rooms designed to create a natural guest flow through the Library. During the editing we had to pay attention to such issues as the length of the individual modules in order to maintain consistent guest traffic. Our creative content also had to form a logical story as guests move from one room to the next. My role in this as an editor was not unlike editing a documentary. In fact, all the video modules together would have equaled a linear program of about an hour in length.
A Wealth of Material
The good news – and the bad news – was that Rev. Graham has been covered in the media in every conceivable way for over sixty years. This started even before he first gained national prominence during his 1949 Los Angeles Crusade. It turned out to be our good fortune that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association had kept good archives of these many tapes, films and still photos. The wealth of material kept our production coordinator Kelly Burroughs busy working with their staff to pinpoint the specific subject matter from our wish list. By the end, I had accumulated content from about 200 tapes for over 140 hours of selected raw footage. Our goal, however, was not to simply tell a story filled with facts and figures, but to show how the Christian salvation message was presented through Rev. Graham’s words and deeds during the six decades of his personal ministry.
Our desire was that guests would be left with the feeling that God had worked through Billy Graham and not simply that he was a celebrity evangelist. After all, our charge from the Association was that the message be inspirational as well as educational. To that aim, we tried to dig deeper into the available footage to find clips that weren’t the same tired sound bites used in every other video about Graham. Searching led us to some interesting discoveries, including a live ABC telecast of a Billy Graham Crusade in Times Square announced by newscaster Paul Harvey, an Edward R. Murrow remote broadcast interview with Billy and Ruth Graham from their mountain home in Montreat, North Carolina and even a late night talk show hosted by Woody Allen! The process of honing down the content for those eleven modules took the better park of 2006 as Tinsley and I worked closely with the ITEC creative team, consisting of President Bill Coan, project producer Jeff Burton, creative director Eric Gordon and art director David Roadcup.
Tackling HD and Beyond
At the start, ImageROCKS had been an all-Avid facility, but The Billy Graham Library required a fair amount of high definition video. This provided the motivation to upgrade the suites with new Apple G5s, AJA Video Kona 2 cards and a transition to Final Cut Pro. I handled all the offline editing at DV25 resolution using a single 2TB LaCie FireWire 800 drive. When it came time to finish the project at full resolution, we added “striped” (RAID-0) SATA drives to the main PowerMac G5 that had been the project’s home for over a year. All of the standard definition videos were recaptured from Digital Betacam as uncompressed video, while the high definition programs were finished in either 1080i DVCPROHD or uncompressed 720p.
Even though some of the modules were finished in HD, most of the content was archival NTSC footage, including some rather old material dating back decades. These required quite a bit of color correction with the Final Cut 3-way filter. To get the best image quality, I borrowed a Teranex Mini for all the SD-to-HD upconversions, instead of using the Kona’s built-in upconversion capability. Our biggest venue, the Finale Theater, even incorporated some close ups of faces from the audience at the 2005 New York Crusade that were shot with a Panasonic AG-DVX-100A in 24p. These scaled up remarkably well through the Mini and held their own when mixed with Sony 1080i and Panasonic VariCam HD footage.
The hardest portion to complete was the Finale Theater, since the screen format dictated a size bigger than most NLEs can handle. The concept is to immerse viewers in a small-scaled version of a Billy Graham Crusade. We wanted to give them a small taste of this and the size helps to stir the emotions. We opted to project three 720p images – sliced from a single, seamless composite of 2328 x 720. Final Cut could technically handle this, but not without great difficulty. So I worked in tandem with our graphic artist Sean Mullen to finish this portion in Adobe After Effects. The trick was to build up 1920 x 1080 layers in FCP that would become elements for him to composite in After Effects.
Driven By The Mac
As it turned out, this was almost a total Apple-based project. The video was completed on Macs, using Final Cut Pro and After Effects. Jack Tinsley is also a talented graphic artist and created his own 3D rendering for the Berlin Wall projection using Lightwave for the Mac. We even did some on-site tweaks in North Carolina. Tinsley and I drove up to Charlotte with a Mac Pro, the drives and a couple of PowerBooks in tow. This was our only chance to see the video run on the real display systems and allowed us to add some custom masks, adjust sizing and alter some of the color correction. Even our sound designer, Pete Lehman, relied on Apple Logic Pro running on a PowerBook. On-site mixing is essential. Audio systems in themed attractions often use special configurations and additional point-source ambient sounds to acoustically augment the visual theme of the room. For example, at the Canvas Cathedral tent, guests first hear sounds of a newspaper boy, a loudspeaker with the voice of a noted area radio personality of the day and singing coming from the tent. Tinsley and Lehman returned to Charlotte in January to complete the mix.
The final playback of all the sync audio and video sources runs from a custom PC-based server system designed by ITEC Entertainment’s staff engineers Philip Brogan and Steve Alkhoja. We used a combination of Apple Compressor and DVD Studio Pro to encode MPEG-2 files for the server. It can support SD and HD files with a bit rate higher than that used for DVDs, so we pushed the upper encoding range of each application. Driving the whole atmosphere of this experience is an inspirational, thematic score created by Emmy-nominated composer Colin O’Malley, with additional music by Tommy Coomes and Chris Peters.
This year the Billy Graham Library greets its first visitors. Unlike a commercial, film or TV show, themed presentations run for years. It’s one of the few projects that a content professional can revisit and enjoy through the eyes of a brand new audience each time. If our team was successful, visitors will be moved by the message and never give a second thought to the work and technology that brought it to life.
Written by Oliver Peters for Videography magazine (NewBay Media, LLC)