Professional audio

Oscar Comes Home

Mar 1, 2002 By Kelly Bartel

Life imitates art, especially in Hollywood. For example, in a movie-like turn of fate, the Academy Awards ceremony is returning to make its new home on the very street where it was born. The Kodak Theatre, part of TrizecHahn Development Corporation's glamorous Hollywood & Highland complex, opened in November 2001 to much fanfare. The $94 million Kodak Theatre incorporates an extensive infrastructure to accommodate the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' annual awards ceremony and telecast, providing Oscar with his first Hollywood home since 1960. And what scriptwriter could have made the location more appropriate? On March 24, 2002, the Academy Awards will take place just across the street from the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, site of the very first Academy Awards in 1929.

The Kodak Theatre is actually only one of the Oscar-friendly features of the $567 million retail and entertainment complex, which also encompasses the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel (see sidebar below). Situated at the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, the 645,000-square-foot complex features a dramatic entryway from the Hollywood Walk of Stars, a media-friendly Winners Walk and a 30,000-square-foot grand ballroom where the Academy's Board of Governors' Ball will be held following the telecast.

The theater's auditorium seats from 2200 to 3500 in a flexible configuration that includes three balcony levels and 24 private boxes, all with unobstructed views of one of the largest stages in the country, measuring 113 feet wide by 60 feet deep. A parterre ring of seating will give Oscar nominees easy stage access during the telecast. In the center of the orchestra level, in front of the lower balcony, a "media cockpit" has been created for the audio, video and lighting control equipment used to stage and televise Oscar's big night for 1 billion viewers worldwide. A lift located in the media cockpit allows equipment to be moved to and from the basement level.

But the Academy is not the only client of Anschutz Entertainment Group, Kodak Theatre's new management and operations firm. Designed for maximum flexibility, the installed sound, video and communications equipment in this 180,000-square-foot live-broadcast theater will support a wide variety of performance applications, allowing AEG to offer a full program of musicals, ballet, concerts and other live presentations each year. In its opening month alone, the theater played host to Russell Watson, Melissa Etheridge, Barry Manilow and the American Ballet Theatre's The Nutcracker.


The theater was designed by David Rockwell of The Rockwell Group, and the principal consultant was David Taylor of Theater Projects Consultants in South Norwalk, Connecticut. Boulder, Colorado-based Bob Mahoney provided acoustical engineering services.

David Clark, audio engineering director at Engineering Harmonics, design consultants for the installed infrastructure, explains that the installed systems fall into two operational areas, the auditorium and the lobbies. Engaged by Theater Projects in the second quarter of 1999, Clark and company president Philip Giddings were principal designers on the project. System installation was by SPL Integrated Systems of Las Vegas.

The audio design requirements for the Academy Awards were arrived at through consultation between Engineering Harmonics and Pat Baltzell, a long-time engineer for the Oscars. The consultants also held discussions with Scott Harmala, vice president of technology at ATK/AudioTek, a Los Angeles-based company specializing in audio production and reinforcement systems for televised awards shows.

"I attended pre-production for the 1999 Oscars," recollects Clark. "I basically camped in Pat's pocket, took notes on how he goes about his work and talked to him at length."

Rather than install the FOH sound reinforcement equipment, the team decided to provide a portable system that could be partially or totally struck if a touring show preferred to use any of its own gear. The systems integrator for the FOH system, which is almost 100% portable, was IPR Services of Hacienda Heights, California.

"The design goal was to have a multipurpose theater, but with the focus being on the Academy Awards in terms of their requirements," confirms Robert Patrick, IPR's project manager. "The building was built and completed with a cabling infrastructure, and the portable sound system [was] laid in on top of it. It's tour-graded, as opposed to the normal permanent install approach."

With the criteria for the portable system defined, Patrick collaborated with Craig Doubet to develop the design of the equipment, cabling and cases. Dave Lawler was responsible for the design of the Meyer Sound speaker system, including rigging and tuning. Direct AV, the house infrastructure installation contractor, assisted in the installation of the portable system cabling.

"A permanent install would have been far more dressed," concedes Patrick, "but would have negated any kind of flexibility. This system will accommodate probably 90 percent of the acts that come in. It's standard high-end equipment, so everyone is familiar with it. And it's easy enough that when touring groups come in they can mix and match."


The house speaker system consists of Meyer Sound arrays flown on either side of the proscenium, configured to cover the auditorium floor, all three balconies and the boxes. An AMEK Recall console offers computer-assisted automation and recall functionality at the FOH position. This console is equipped with 50 Rupert Neve-designed mic/line and six stereo-line input modules. It is also outfitted with an ATA road case and cable "doghouse." Control, effects and playback/record equipment are all racked and cased, as are the microphone splitters and all cables.

The two speaker arrays are identically configured and entirely self-powered. Six Meyer MSL-4 horn-loaded, long-throw loudspeakers provide orchestra and balcony coverage; with two DS-4P horn-loaded, mid-bass loudspeakers supplementing the lower registers. Two DF-4 dedicated down-fill loudspeakers bolster the down-fill coverage, while three UPA-2P compact, narrow-coverage loudspeakers cover the private side boxes. Two Meyer 650-P high-power subwoofers handle the low frequencies for the floor and balconies, with another 650-P positioned on each downstage wing.

Patrick and Doubet called in Lawler to review the portable system in early 2001. "It was designed to cover the venue except in areas where the infrastructure system was providing coverage," comments Lawler. He recollects that the eventual location of the flown system required "some tricky rigging" to provide adequate coverage throughout the auditorium. "The array was fairly unusual [for me], but it worked well when we got it in there. I think it did an even better job than we estimated."

"The Meyer subwoofer on each downstage wing supplements the infrastructure's front-fill speakers," notes Lawler. "None of the three subs on each side is coupling. Although some overall SPL is lost, that allows each sub to be controlled as part of its respective system and optimized with regard to EQ, delay and steering."

IPR's system includes built-in cabling for Meyer's dedicated Source Independent Measurement System II computer analyzer, which ordinarily sits at the FOH position. Lawler, a certified SIM engineer, attended the opening night and remarked, "I like to do some SIM work when there's an audience. We had a choir and orchestra with two full consoles. It was a spectacular night."

Patrick notes that, since this is a fully portable system, he supplied comprehensive documentation, including procedures for striking and flying the Meyer Sound arrays, with associated rigging safety measures. "On a permanent install, you get a fair amount of documentation, but you don't always get a system geared toward the operator," he says.


Control. System control elements such as EQ and delay are provided by a BSS Soundweb DSP system feeding the Meyer clusters. A Dell computer has been provided to configure and operate the DSP processors, which consist of one 9008 and three 9088ii units, providing 24 inputs and 32 outputs.

Cabling. States Patrick, "Cable routing is straightforward. Twenty-pair cable routes from here to the stage and then up each side, feeding all of the boxes off the BSS. The cross-connects for the console are all color-coded, and all the inputs and outputs are assignable, not unlike a tour [system]. There's an insert rack — 40 inserts, send and return — and you can patch in all the standard toys."

Signal. Outboard signal processing racks house an array of professional-quality equipment from BSS, dbx, Klark Teknik, Lexicon and TC Electronic. A Fostex D-5 DAT recorder and Denon DN-T620 CD player/cassette recorder complete the rack complement.

IPR also supplied the Whirlwind 56-channel three-way microphone transformer split system. Racked and cased for portability, the system offers cabling for FOH, stage monitoring and broadcast feeds, and includes eight channels of Shure wireless microphones, each with a choice of handheld or body pack. A comprehensive range of microphones has been furnished by IPR, including Shure KSM32/CG, SM57, SM58, Beta 52 and Beta 87A models, Audio-Technica AT4041, ATM25 and ATM87R microphones, and Countryman active DI boxes.

Power. Technical power for the portable system is provided from a 200-amp service tapped off an isolator transformer, Patrick explains. "It runs through a trough to the distribution panel, upstage right. That feeds the power to the clusters and the FOH, and also provides power for the stage monitor position."

Miking. A total of 308 analog microphone circuits serve 13 remote locations, with 142 more analog line-level circuits at 14 locations plus 32 each of fiber and CAT5 digital audio circuits at eight locations. Adapter panels called "bulkheads," housing modular panels for the various systems, furnish key production locations requiring many services.

Video. "Engineering Harmonics' involvement also extended to the distribution of video, communications and paging systems," says Clark. "Video is base-band distributed by Leitch distribution amplifiers over 87 circuits, fed from Hitachi cameras on the balcony rail and in the orchestra pit - plus a portable camera — to monitors at 62 locations including production positions, dressing rooms, offices and shops."

Paging and Monitors. Backstage, a Soundweb network, separated from the sound reinforcement system to prevent the propagation of potential network faults, manages the paging and program monitor system. Paging stations are Telex desktop microphones connected to Soundweb 9010 Jellyfish remotes located at the key production positions. The lobbies also have an extensive paging and program monitor system, separated at the network level from the backstage systems and again managed by a Soundweb network.

Program Source. Program is derived either from the auditorium distribution system or from a rack of playback sources. Pages are stored in a MacKenzie digital message repeater and played back to prevent feedback between the lobby loudspeakers and the open microphones. Video for the lobbies is base-band and derived from the auditorium system, with monitors located on all lobby levels for latecomers.


Senior consultants Tom Levno and Keith DeBelius, and Ethan Bush, project director at National TeleConsultants, were approached a couple of years ago by Doug Curtis, TrizecHahn's senior project manager, to help the developer understand the Academy's broadcast requirements. Those needs, explains Levno, "are separate from the basic theatrical needs of the venue because there's a host of people involved and lots of different broadcast entities, both domestic and international, and they all use portable cable."

Working with Theater Projects, NTC's design brief was to connect the places of interest to broadcasters with support for huge amounts of cable, says Levno. "Also, we helped the developer organize some sightline studies so that the broadcasters have good lines of communication for their microwave facilities."

NTC has provided sufficient infrastructure for both standard and high-definition television within the theater, while also allowing for 100% growth between the theater and remote broadcast truck parking. "It goes from the western side of the site on Orange Drive, where the trucks will park, to the theater," elaborates NTC's Bush, "and extends all the way out to the middle of Hollywood Boulevard, in front of the El Capitan Theater, then back behind the El Capitan to where the domestic and international press will park."

"There's also a leg of the infrastructure that runs up to the Governor's Ballroom, and another that goes to the Junior Ballroom and the meeting rooms in the hotel," Levno further offers. "So the whole facility is tied together. Some of that cable tray is wider than usual. For instance, there's a big cable tray on the Parking 2 level that's between 20 and 30 feet wide."

The final word goes to Barry Manilow, the first performer at the Kodak Theatre at its November opening ceremony. "It is the state-of-the-art theater," he commented to the assembled media and fans. "I think it sounds fantastic. The sound system seems to be sensational. Don't you think this is the perfect place to have the Oscars?"

Kelly Bartel is the marketing coordinator at Meyer Sound.