Education Today #1: Behind the Scenes of KA

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Blog entry by Richard Williams posted 02-03-2009 12:26 AM 1127 reads 0 times favorited 0 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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(Sorry Everyone. I could not get the pictures to post but if you send me an email address I will send it along in Microsoft Work 2003 format for you. They have some mighty fine carpenters to take care of things here.

Engineering and the Entertainment Industry
By Richard Williams 1/30/09 One of the many benefits of having spent a lifetime in the electrical construction business was to be part of so many things that are used to serve all sectors of society today. Even in the entertainment industry it shows our work being utilized in so many different ways with lighting, motors and controls, safety systems, sound systems, data systems and the list goes on and on. So it was particularly fascinating for me to accompany the North West Career Technical Academy’s, Civil Engineering Class, to a behind the scenes look at a truly remarkable world class act simply called KA. I had only seen this very same show one week before this behind the scenes tour took place and I can tell you that I am still in awe about what I saw on both sides of the stage. This is of course here in Las Vegas, where big productions seem to be the norm rather than the exception. It is almost impossible to describe the wonders of this production and it really must be seen to appreciate and understand what happens during the performance, but I will very briefly try to do so. These wonderfully talented performers and simply great engineering come together in a show using the Martial Arts, or gymnastics and presumably both. Three various disciplines of the Martial Arts are involved with the performances that are carried on in non-stop action with one truly difficult to describe main stage. This stage moves in the 3D axis by the use of some major hydraulic components that cannot be found anywhere else on the North American Continent. I’m talking here about a whole bank of about 8-250 hp 3 phase motors that provide the power to the various hydraulic pumps that drive two hydraulic pistons that are 75 feet long with a 5 inch diameter piston rod and some other hydraulically driven things as well. 6500 gallons of vegetable oil is used for the fluid component to accomplish all of this. These hydraulic systems work to move a 2000 square foot stage in different directions and even at right angles to the viewing audience and every other conceivable angle in-between. This visual experience is like eye candy and is really awesome, as this younger generation likes to say these days. This is also done while the actors are holding on I might add. This is the reasoning behind their superb physical conditioning and fearless performances. I will not say anything else here about the plot because it is the process of how this show is choreographed and accomplished with engineering assisted designed systems that is so extremely unique and “engineering-ly” interesting. I know that the young students were very interested in what they saw here on this day. They were all eyes and ears and asked some superbly great questions. They saw what systems are behind the scenes that help create this wonderful show effect, that is so widely acclaimed by those that have “experienced” the performance of KA. In order to present these behind the scenes descriptions with pictures to you, I would first like to say that it was also a learning experience for this writer as well. Everything in front of the audience and behind the sets is painted in a flat black color to absorb light and keep out of view things not intended to be seen. What I learned here was that a much better sophistication with a camera and equipment is needed to incorporate pictures for an article like this one. In many instances with the pictures I had to use corrective software programs to allow you to see what was focused upon. This whole theater is cavernous and could fit many whole buildings inside of it, so a little flash on the camera doesn’t go very far.  I’ll write a brief description of each picture up above it to let you know what you are looking at.

In the two pictures down below I want to first introduce to you our civil engineering class of high school students. We were getting briefed in on how things work during the show and we would soon be taken behind the sceens to show us how everything is accomplished. Something like being told how a magic trick is done after you first see it.

Unfortunately, we had to be split up into two touring groups because of the fastly approaching time of another show that was set to start and also because behind the scenes were kind of congested in many places. Bye the way, each seat has its own sound system if you can believe that.

When I talked about this place being canvernous or big I did not exaggerate. These two pictures do not do it justice in any way. Above and below the main viewing area are several stories above and below in each direction. Once again before being split up into two separate groups we are being told some very interesting things about the show by one of the high level managers in the right side picture below here.

I know what you might be saying to yourself here; how does all of this behind the scenes equipment get hidden and utilized during the show. Well the truth of the matter is that these next two pictures below here are not even behind the scenes at all, but they are actually in the audience where much of the performance is done over your heads. Even Martial Artists that shoot arrows toward the stage are climbing all over these platforms, walkways and of course with proper safety rigging on their torsos hidden moslty by constumes. Truly an awe inspiring performance done by these very talented individuals. The support columns are mainly in places within view of the audience for all of these performers that “fly” off of them. The whole main stage is even independantly supported from the building itself because it simply weighs too much for the building steel, footings and reinforced cement floors. Las Vegas, is also located in the third most active seismic area in the USA. Thus given reason for the different construction used here.

Now we will proceed to the behind and underground levels of this truly amazingly engineered feat. In the picture on the left we are looking towards the audience but under the main stage. A really surprising look at just one of the smaller assemblies that help to hold up everything else above it: picture bottom right. Lots of structual steel down here which our young people might be seeing for the very first time in their lives. It is really a maze down here, but with all the performers quickly moving into their other areas in which they will perform at, the most important thing is SAFETY and it is utmost and foremost at ALL times.

Massive support columns and beams are used throughout the underground performance area. After seeing many different types of construction done from Nuclear Powerhouses and even down to Mom and Pop greeting card stores, I can say honestly that this really impressed me, not by the amounts of and sizes of the supporting elements, but by the very well calculated use of them and in what they were designed to do. Remember that most things move down here are extremely heavy and move in many different directions and they have to be properly supported or guided in doing there function, or someone or several of them could get hurt seriously or even killed. In the picture at the bottom right here is the bottom floor. I was beginning to think that there wasn’t any. What I tried to capture in this picture is just one of the many safety devices found all over down here to capture those that might fall. It has happened but no one has been seriously hurt. It is a special inflatable device as used in similar ways to what the firemen use for saving people who must jump to safety. This particular one is so big and well constructed that up to 25 people at one time could safely fall into it. They do not want to practice this of course.

This shot down below here is just another angle of that huge blow up safety device and with all the performers in the show, they are all taught where and how these safety things operate. Safety first and even if a smaller mishap takes place they are all told by hidden recievers in their costumes to continue on as a delaying action, while things are fixed as quickly as possible. The show must go on! Sorry for the terrible picture quality.

Finding space to store the props used for the show must be equal in task to how NASA finds extra space and utilizes it on the International Space Station. Props are huge in size and mass and must all be quickly moved into position and then also stored away in the very limited spaces available. All hands turn to, to make this show work and just to be able to coordinate all of these action scenes is really remarkably well done.

In one of the ending scenes we have a wheel rigged as a pyrotechnical display bottom left. A great amount of safegurads are used to prevent anything from happening that is not supposed to.

Down below here we come into the areas that the performers use to get ready for their performances. A great deal of time is used to get ready for make up and costume changes. Every performer needs their own space for getting ready and all safety and communication devices are also part of their own equipment although you would never even know they have it on them somewhere.

This was pretty cute. Each performer has a head modeled after their own. Latex over lays are put on these forms using this material to enable makeup artists and those performers to put on those incredible facial expressions of good and bad. Many of the performers play different roles in different scenes. Given the non-stop sequence in the show performance, I have no idea how they can accomplish that so quickly. Performers are not the only ones that make this show such a tremendous success. People in charge of costumes and props work miracles with things like the crabs, bugs, starfish and giant snake head down here in the lower right hand corner. Performers have there own frequencies to use for remote control of lines that can lower or raise them in these scenes they do. That in itself is pretty impressive.

It would be unfair of me not to mention the great work done by those in charge and responsible for keeping everything working impeccably. A fully stocked machine shop that can allow them to do many of their own repairs or even the building of new props used in the show, can be done right here on site. Everything that this article has talked about and shown to you in pictures, is how this show is put together and works. I know I have only scratched the surface in describing to you engineers, students and teachers, about the role engineering and technology plays even in the entertainment realm. Terrific coordination on the part of everyone is needed to make it successful and it certainly is a great show. Don’t miss it if you come here to Las Vegas, I know you will be thrilled to experience it. Bye for now. 

-- Rich, Nevada,

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