The MFA in Boston is one of the most comprehensive art museums in the world. Its collection encompasses nearly 450,000 works of art. More than one million visitors come to the MFA each year to experience exceptional works of art, special exhibitions, and innovative educational programs. The museum’s film program at the Remis Auditorium features a wide variety of foreign, independent, and classic films.
(Photos: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.)
Boston Light & Sound (BL&S) recently installed a digital cinema system in the museum’s auditorium to augment the existing 16 and 35mm films currently offered. The new state-of-the-art 4K digital cinema projection system enables the MFA to offer the highest resolution available today, and allows for easy transitions between a wide range of media, including legacy formats such as VGA computer, HD Cam, DigiBeta, Blu-ray, and DVD. The newly installed Digital Matrix Router also has an upgrade path to accommodate the newest 4K-UHD resolution from 4K video and computer-based sources to accommodate the MFA’s changing presentation needs.
The installation project was not without its challenges. In the lightly shaded auditorium, light diffuses onto the adjacent walls and can degrade the contrast of the image. BL&S took creative steps to minimize this effect by upgrading the projection screen, ensuring that the digital cinema and film image quality are at their best.
BL&S upgraded the MFA’s Dolby processor and digital sound processor to support digital cinema and film, improving sound quality and streamlining operations for MFA staff. The experienced staff fine-tuned the equipment to adapt to the acoustic anomalies of the room in a way that would deliver clear, crisp sound quality throughout the venue.
The MFA was pleased with the resulting system and its audio and visual performance. The museum is now one of the few theatres in Boston that offers 4K digital cinema and 35mm film, ensuring that visitors see the finest quality motion picture and video presentations possible. The upgrade is in keeping with the museum’s continual work to provide unparalleled visitor experiences.
“The best configured and easiest to use booth”
“We have the best configured and easiest to use booth our projectionist has ever worked in. The screen set up looks fantastic. We couldn’t be happier with the whole project.”
Harvard Art Museums recently partnered with Boston Light & Sound (BL&S) during its expansion and renovation, bringing together the Fogg Museum, the Busch-Reisinger Museum, and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum under one roof. The renovated space within the museum’s Menschel Hall created new resources for study, teaching, exhibition, and conversation.
Museum staff planned to create a mixed-use space, and knew BL&S could improve the acoustics of the room while maintaining its aesthetic integrity. Working closely with Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano
and Payette, BL&S created a versatile 300-seat lecture hall for presentations, performances, events, and films.
BL&S installed a digital cinema system consisting of a Barco DP4K23B projector, Doremi digital cinema server, and a cinema surround sound system using ultra-compact Meyer Sound surround speakers. The team spent time carefully tuning the equipment and finding the ideal placement to achieve optimum sound quality. In addition they installed a Crestron Control System to make it easy to switch from difference sources, displays, and projectors.
The new room had some challenges. First, the projection booth was very small, and required inventive thinking to find ways to get all of the equipment to fit in the tight space. In addition, BL&S needed to make sure the look of the surround speakers didn’t detract from the beauty of the hall. To do so, they designed special brackets for mounting in between the paneling. Both the brackets and surround speakers were painted to exactly match the color of the paneling.
Projects of this scale involve myriad trades, including engineers, designers, architects, and more. BL&S synchronized its work carefully with all other trades to ensure that everything came together seamlessly. Fortunately, their hard work paid off. The system was completed on time for the scheduled museum opening. It works flawlessly in a way that preserves the beauty that the Harvard Museums are known for.
The Walker Art Center is a beloved contemporary art center in the heart of Minneapolis. One of the nation’s “big five” museums for modern art, this 17-acre multidisciplinary art center presents visual arts, performing arts, film, video, and hosts many educational and community programs.
The Walker’s devotion to the glories of moving pictures both old and new
compelled them to turn to Boston Light & Sound (BL&S) to enhance the quality of film experiences and incorporate new multimedia sources, including digital cinema and 3D formats.
Upgrading the Walker Cinema, however, would involve far more than simply incorporating new formats. The Center embarked on major renovations to make it the most versatile cinema in the region, embracing the latest technologies while preserving the aesthetic integrity of archival films. They also knew that enhancing acoustics was integral to heighten the viewer experience.
BL&S worked in a consultative role, advising the Walker on the best presentation design options to achieve their key goals. Using BL&S’s design, the Walker invited film and digital cinema presentation vendors from around the country to bid on the work. After reviewing all the submissions, they selected the BL&S team to replace the Center’s existing film and video equipment with new state-of-the-art dual 16/35mm film projection systems, as well as 4K, 3D, and digital cinema projection systems, along with new digital switching systems to accommodate future media formats. In addition, installing a custom touchscreen control system and preview and confidence booth monitoring systems enabled Walker staff to support multiple presentation capabilities with ease. The team was also able to adapt the existing screen to support 11 different film, digital cinema, and video masking formats.
The BL&S team worked alongside speaker manufacturer Meyer Sound Laboratories, installing a 7.1 digital surround processing system along with speaker processors to complete the cinema audio upgrade.
BL&S worked with the Walker as they tested films prior to the theatre opening. The results were impressive. The projectionist declared, “The film never looked so good.” BL&S was thrilled to be on hand during the premier of the new theatre at the special pre-screening of Sundance darling “The Beasts of the Southern Wild”. Moviegoers were treated to a stellar presentation.
With this renovation, funded by the Bentson Foundation, the Walker Cinema is perfectly situated to advance the art of film while showcasing its history.
“I don’t think there’s another company in the U.S. that could deliver the service, knowledge, and capability that we received from BL&S.”
“Boston Light & Sound was an outstanding partner on the Walker Cinema renovation. They worked with us from initial equipment specification, through the design process and installation. Every step along the way was handled with professionalism and attention to detail, resulting in the best equipped, best considered Cinema I’ve ever seen. I don’t think there’s another company in the U.S. that could deliver the level of service, equipment knowledge, and installation capability that we received from Boston Light & Sound.”
The Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) recently unveiled its new home on Boston’s waterfront to much fanfare. Poised above the harbor, this distinctive space features a dramatic folding ribbon form and walls of glass. Conceived by award-winning architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the new ICA features flexible galleries with adjustable walls and skylights, a cantilever space that serves as a digital media center, a 325-seat theatre, a two-story education center and art lab, and a water café.
The museum’s 325-seat theater was created through the extension of the wood HarborWalk material from the public grandstand into the interior of the building. The remaining walls are glazed in clear glass, allowing visitors to enjoy harbor views behind the 51-foot stage. While visually appealing, such a unique space can present acoustical challenges. Since the new ICA had expanded its mission to offer performing arts and film genres, they envisioned the room to serve as both a movie theatre and a live stage for dance, music, and theatrical performances.
As a nationally recognized installer of audio, video and film presentation systems, Boston Light & Sound (BL&S) was chosen to implement the consultants’ audiovisual design, as well as design-build a motion picture film projection system. BL&S worked closely with the design team, installing a sound system to produce the highest quality audio for both live sound reinforcement and Dolby Digital 5.1 Cinema Sound. The BL&S team also consulted with the new ICA’s production staff throughout the build process, to ensure that the systems met their specific needs. This project was particularly complex, involving multiple consulting firms working in harmony with building trades to deliver a complete system under an uncompromising deadline.
To accommodate the multi-use nature of the space, BL&S implemented several innovative systems. The main projection screen and masking panels can easily be retracted and hidden when not in use. For film and video screenings, the sound system can be quickly set up in full surround sound mode, and then converted back to a front-of-house PA system with stereo effects channels for live performances. The video system has a full complement of source decks, but can also accommodate “guest” video decks from production companies using the facility for a specific event. The system was also designed with ease of use, flexibility, and expandability in mind.
In addition, a remotely controlled video camera captures live video of the performances, and distributes it to various locations throughout the facility. This feature enables the staff to zoom into an area on the stage, frame that picture, and broadcast that image to the dressing rooms, alerting performers to their cues.
The ICA has been delighted with the results, and continues to seek out BL&S to support special events.
“They have to make the toughest group of people in the world happy and that’s execs in the motion picture industry, and they’re up to the task. There’s never been a situation that can’t be addressed.”
George Eastman House, a nonprofit museum in Rochester, NY is home to one of the major moving image archives in the U.S. The first curator of film, James Card, established this program to preserve classic films for future generations. Card’s devotion to the silent era of filmmaking, the golden age of Hollywood, and silent German cinema created a collection of classics unrivalled for its quality and diversity. George Eastman House presents public screenings year-round to share its holdings with the public in its 534-seat Dryden Theatre.
BL&S’s relationship with George Eastman House began in 1983 with their production called “A Night of 100 Stars.” Six leading ladies of the 1930s, including Myrna Loy, Louise Brooks, and Margaret Sullivan, were presented with the prestigious George Eastman Award. BL&S principal Chapin Cutler was the technical director and stage manager for the event. “Because of the archival nature of the film clips, we could not cut the prints,” states Cutler. “We had to install six projectors in order to produce their show. It all worked flawlessly.”
In 2005, the museum trustees hired Boston Light & Sound to develop a state-of-the-art archival showplace in the museum’s historic Dryden Theatre. The BL&S team consulted on the theatre renovation, building a museum projection system for showcasing all formats of motion pictures, standard and high-definition video, analog, and digital audio for the current, classic, and silent motion picture exhibition.
In 2007, the upgrade began. New state of the art convertible Kinoton FP 38 projectors were installed to replace aging 16mm projectors. Additionally, BL&S integrated a new film sound system into the facility in anticipation of a future upgrade to 70mm. The facility will now be able to handle old silver tracks up to state of the art cyan tracks as well as Dolby Digital. Looking forward, the process will continue with a total architectural revamp of the facility as well as high definition video.
When the full renovation is complete, the Dryden Theatre will reopen with state-of-the-art electronic 16/35/70mm projection, which is also capable of running nitrate film and variable speed silent classics-and it will have a high-powered 6.1 Dolby Digital surround EX sound system of unsurpassed quality.
A first-class job
“BL&S did a first-class job of designing a state-of-the-art projection and sound system and devising a way to install it all in a cramped, vintage 1951 booth and theatre. It’s a stunning improvement in our projection capabilities for our audiences. And BL&S completed a month’s worth of work in just two and a half weeks!”
More than 40 percent of the U.S. population is descended from the 17 million immigrants that passed through Ellis Island from 1892 to 1954. The Ellis Island Museum is housed in the same building that these immigrants came through in those 62 years. The museum’s two theatres are the centerpiece of this experience, bringing some amazing stories to light.
In 1990, the Ellis Island Foundation hired BL&S to design and build a video playback system to integrate with their existing 35mm endless loop film system, which was designed and originally installed by BL&S in 1984. The BL&S
team installed a museum projection system incorporating a hard disk playback device as well as inputs for RGBHV, component, s-video, composite, and computer. All sources are played back on a Digital Projection Highlight 5000gv projector located in the projection booth. The team also interfaced Dolby AC-3 decoder and discrete inputs with the existing Dolby CP-panels in the booth and in the podium at the front of the theatre.
In addition, they installed an AMX system, programmed to automatically start the show using times that have been input by the theatre staff.
Each day, museum visitors watch the award-winning documentary produced by the extraordinary Charles Guggenheim*, Island of Hope, Island of Tears, a remarkable account of this passage to America. Told largely in the words of the extraordinary men, women, and children whose epic journey to America led them through the portals of Ellis Island, Island of Hope, Island of Tears shares a rich history of the hopes and dreams that helped to forge this country.
Further, BL&S designed and provided the equipment and technical services for the 2005 world premiere of Sony Picture Entertainment’s Hitch for one thousand patrons in a tent on Ellis Island — a notable coda to BL&S’s original work on the island more than twenty years ago.
*BL&S and Guggenheim Productions have worked together on many projects, including the Johnstown Flood Museum, the D-Day Museum, and the Norton Simon Museum.