By Stephen Murphy
Although the attraction uses tens of thousands of gallons of water in fountains, waterways, and water cannons, it is not another Wet 'n Wild theme park. Although it boasts 96 theatrical projectors, multiple laser displays, and more than 870,000 Watts of neon, theatrical, and other lighting, it is not another Universal Studios-style theme park. Instead, it is a groundbreaking shopping center called the Mall at Millennia in Orlando, Florida.
The Mall at Millennia expertly combines extensive architectural features with state-of-the-art visual and audio technology, including 12 one-of-a-kind LED screens and a 40-speaker, 12-channel surround-sound installation in the mall's Grand Court area.
WHY A MALL?
The 1.2 million square-foot, two-level mall combines more than 150 shops and restaurants with an impressive array of audiovisual technology, breathtaking architecture, and distinctive interior designs. The result is a shopping experience that matches the level of the city's more famous entertainment attractions.
A recent survey by the U.S. Department of Commerce Tourism Industries confirmed what many in the travel business already suspected: shopping is the No. 1 activity among vacationers. This conclusion underscores the importance for international destinations such as Orlando and Las Vegas — cities defined by their entertainment offerings — to provide a high level of excellence in shopping attractions.
The Mall at Millennia, located ten minutes from downtown Orlando, fits the bill perfectly, providing the central Florida city with the ultimate shopping complement for its world-class entertainment parks.
The co-owners of the Mall at Millennia, Taubman Centers and the Forbes Company, worked with JPRA Architects of Farmington Hills, Michigan, to design and build an environment on par with the more famous Orlando tourist attractions. The mall gives would-be vacationers additional incentive to spend their holiday in Orlando, and visiting and regional shoppers benefit from a distinct and comfortable shopping atmosphere.
ENVIRONMENT AND TECHNOLOGY
The most spectacular element of the Mall at Millennia is the marriage of breathtaking architectural and environmental elements to state-of-the-art multimedia systems. The main entrance of the mall, called the Water Garden, gives first-time visitors a taste of this marriage.
The entrance opens to a 60-foot-high Pilkington glass rotunda that features three innovative water elements: curved lighted pools at the base of the glass wall, a 24-foot cone-shaped fountain, and a triangular-shaped fountain lined with river stones. At the top of each hour, a five-minute choreographed show of sound, lights, lasers, and water is presented.
When you leave the rotunda, an 80-foot, 1,000-gallon-per-minute “river,” complete with a glass bridge, leads you farther into the mall. Guests entering from the second floor Winter Garden entrance walk through a dramatic triangular-shaped atrium, under a ceiling of twinkling fiber-optic lights, and then through a grove of preserved orange trees.
The overall design of the mall is meant to evoke a bond with the natural environment in several senses: themes of the earth, the universe, the changing of seasons, and the passing of time are well represented. Specific terrestrial elements are also featured, including fossil-laden stonework, flowing waterways, and an S-shaped skylight that flows along the entire length of the mall, allowing the mall's internal ambiance to reflect changes outside. Cutting-edge audio and visual technology is adeptly used to enhance and complement these themes.
THE GRAND COURT
Undoubtedly, the most dramatic area of the Mall at Millennia is its eight-story-high Grand Court. This area serves as the mall's central gathering and performance space and is regarded as an overall architectural and technological masterpiece.
Twelve 35-foot-high masts, each representing a month of the year, surround the 44-foot-diameter, circular terrazzo floor. The top of each mast features a curved 10-foot LED screen, resembling a ship's sail. South Dakota — based Daktronics, a supplier of integrated electronic display systems, custom-designed the vertically oriented displays and cabinets. The screens are ProStar VideoPlus Series AE-2000 LEDs, 240-by-90 pixels, on 12 mm (0.47-inch) spacing, featuring 14-bit color processing and 19-bit, 100 percent digital video processing.
The 12 curved sail-like assemblies also invisibly house 36 full-range speakers — just part of the Grand Court's state-of-the-art 40-speaker, 12-channel surround-sound system. The system — designed by Jeff Bobbin, president of Show Systems Integrators — is centered on a Peavey MediaMatrix Mainframe processor. The system also incorporates audio gear not usually associated with a mall installation, including a SMPTE-locked Mackie SDR24/96 digital 24-track deck and a PZM microphone for use with Peavey's GAP Ambient Level Control software.
Bobbin acted as audio system designer and project manager for the MediaMatrix-based Grand Court installation as well as the Peavey Digitool-based Water Garden audio system. He was also involved in the initial creative conceptual process for the Grand Court masts' original audio/video content.
“The 12 discrete audio/video masts circling the Grand Court area feature a variety of custom video and audio programming avenues,” Bobbin says. “Sequences typically run a few minutes in length and are designed to entertain, to inform, or to provide a relaxed setting.”
Each of the 12 masts can be addressed and controlled individually, simultaneously, or in a synchronized sequential manner, allowing creative content to be delivered to audiences using a variety of innovative methods. “For instance, each display may feature discrete images of a particular season, or they may all be coordinated to convey a series of events, such as fashion shows from New York and Paris,” says Bobbin.
Approximately ten hours of daily display programming rotates through a balanced playlist of featurettes and mood pieces produced by several top film, video, and music sources. The evocative productions are constantly changing and expanding, so returning mall customers can always expect to be entertained.
TAKING THE INITIATIVE
When Bobbin heard that construction had begun on the massive Mall at Millennia, he drove to the construction site and knocked on the developer's trailer door. A few presentations and proposals later, Bobbin was on the job.
It is that kind of initiative that gets the contract. It is that same initiative that brought Bobbin all the way from his hometown of Baltimore, where he started in the late 1970s as a club soundman, to his present position as head of a highly successful systems integration Orlando-based company.
Of course, no one becomes an expert systems designer and successful business owner without putting in many years of hard work. Bobbin paid part of his professional dues at live sound giant Maryland Sound, working his way up from the low man in the paint shop to full system technician.
As system technician, Bobbin spent many years on the road touring with Neil Diamond; Pink Floyd; Crosby, Stills, and Nash; and other popular acts before switching to Maryland Sound's Orlando-based contracting and install division. Bobbin later went to work for Soundelux's ShowWorks Orlando theme systems division, before eventually starting his own company in 1998.
Bobbin has been project manager or system designer on a large number of top entertainment and retail theme systems, including live performance venues and several major attractions at Universal's Islands of Adventure in downtown Orlando: Spiderman, Dr. Doom's Fear Fall, Cat in the Hat, One Fish Two Fish, If I Ran the Zoo, among many others.
The Mall at Millennia's Grand Court A/V system was designed to be multi-purpose. Though it is principally used to show the original content and programming during the day, the versatile system can be switched over at anytime to support a special performance event held in the Grand Court area.
“One of the reasons the mall developers hired Show Systems Integrators was our extensive experience in live event venue installations,” says Bobbin. “They wanted a permanent sound installation that complements the visual programming. But they also knew they would need a full-range live event system with full 360-degree coverage on both floors to accommodate live performances. They wanted to avoid having to rent a piecemeal live system for every event.”
Bobbin's initial conversations with the mall's developers began in late October 2001. By late spring 2002, final design specifications and engineering plans were complete and fabrication of the system could begin. “Fabrication commenced in the summer of 2002,” says Bobbin. “All of the fabrication was handled here at Show Systems. We spent about a month installing and configuring the audio system and integrating the audio and visual systems.” Bobbin and three of his technicians completed the intense install on schedule, with one month to go before the grand opening of the mall. “They smartly wanted buffer time to fine-tune the mall's complex lighting, environmental, and physical plant systems,” says Bobbin.
The Grand Court audio installation utilizes 36 full-range speakers and 4 subwoofers from Eastern Acoustic Works (EAW). Each of the 12 video mast cabinets invisibly houses three speakers: two EAW UB42 compact speakers, one facing into the circular area, and the other facing out for 360-degree coverage of the Grand Court lower level; an additional EAW MK8126 long-throw speaker faces out to provide coverage for the surrounding upper level. Four EAW SB120P subwoofers mounted around the sides of the Grand Court provide even bass coverage throughout the area.
Each mast effectively provides one-twelfth of the 12-channel surround system, but each speaker in the 40-speaker system is individually addressable through the MediaMatrix Mainframe processor and its own dedicated amplifier channel. “The power of the MediaMatrix gives us unlimited control and adjustment capabilities — essential for a necessarily versatile audiovisual system such as this,” says Bobbin.
Peavey's Remote Access software for MediaMatrix (RAMM) was used extensively during the installation and tuning process. “The Grand Court is over 600 feet away from the MediaMatrix equipment rack,” Bobbin says. “Using RAMM and a laptop hooked into one of our network tie-ins, we were able to fine-tune the system from the listener's position.”
Nine QSC Audio CX-404, 4-by-400W amplifiers power the 36 main speakers, and two QSC CX-1102, 2-by-1,100W amplifiers power the four subs. “We decided to go with a high-power low-impedance system over a traditional 70V installation system for the clarity and power required of a full live performance system,” says Bobbin. More than 22,000 feet of Belden speaker cable, model 5000UE, was used for the Grand Court and Water Garden installations, and more than 3,000 feet of Belden 8451 line-level and 1584A Cat-5 solid-core cable carried signal and data to the various pieces of audio and processing gear.
Each of the 40 amplifier channels is fed from an individual output on the MediaMatrix. “The MediaMatrix provides us with a 40-input-by-40-output routing matrix and plenty of digital signal processing,” says Bobbin.
“Most of the audio running through the system originates from the video programming. Some of that programming is in stereo, and some was custom mixed on site at the mall to 12 discrete channels using a Pro Tools rig. The stereo audio for video comes directly off the video server while the video with 12-channel audio playback originates from a SMPTE-locked Mackie SDR24/96, 24-bit hard-disk recorder/player,” Bobbin says. “The only video clips with a separate SMPTE track are those requiring 12-channel hard-disk playback.” The hard-disk recorder instantly locks to any clips coming from the video server that have time code, starting the 12-channel playback.
“I also use a ducking function in MediaMatrix to automatically mute all other sources except the multichannel source when SMPTE is detected,” Bobbin says.
The MediaMatrix system is programmed so each channel in a standard left/right stereo audio source is automatically routed to even or odd matrix outputs, respectively. Each of the three speakers mounted on a mast are coherently routed even or odd, so alternating masts follow a pattern of left, right, left, right, and so on. For 12-channel sources, each source is routed to its own mast speaker cluster. Subwoofers split to stereo pairs for stereo sources and default to mono low-frequency effects for surround.
Bobbin and Show Systems Integrators made good use of Peavey's MediaMatrix GAP Ambient Level Control software to continually monitor and adjust the Grand Court system's sound-pressure-level output. “We noticed that when the mall was operational but empty — say, after closing — there was a base noise level of 76 dB. The noise level rose to about 86 dB during a typical lunch hour with customers in the mall. And that was before the audio system was turned on,” Bobbin says.
Bobbin recognized that with that much of a dynamic range in ambient noise level, the system would have to be continuously adjusted so it was not too loud in the morning but loud enough to cover the noise from the lunchtime crowd. “We implemented a Crown PZM 11-D as a level-sensing microphone. The MediaMatrix GAP software samples the ambient noise by waiting for a break in the program material running through the MediaMatrix system and adjusts the overall system level accordingly,” says Bobbin.
Bobbin and Show Systems Integrators installed a smaller, self-contained system for the Water Garden mall entrance. The system is composed of several Peavey Architectural Acoustics 2652 speakers and EAW SB120P subwoofers powered by Crest Audio CA Series CA4 and CA9 amplifiers. A Peavey Architectural Acoustics Digitool MX standalone processor provides routing and system control.
THE BIG DAY
When the Mall at Millennia opened to the public in late 2002, large crowds lined up to be among the first to experience the latest multisensory extravaganza in Orlando. More than 160 musicians, magicians, mimes, and jugglers performed during the celebratory weekend.
Bobbin and Show Systems Integrators technicians were also there to celebrate the opening of the shopping mecca. With a live mixer patched into the MediaMatrix system, they were also there to provide audio support for several performance events and presentations held during the ceremony.
All went without a hitch. Bobbin and Show Systems Integrators are proud of their MediaMatrix-based system. “I've been a Peavey fan since the mid — '70s, when they introduced the CS-series power amplifiers, and have been using their products ever since,” Bobbin says. “I was also one of the earliest adopters of the MediaMatrix system, as a matter of fact.” Bobbin also says he is impressed by the power packed into the Architectural Acoustics — MediaMatrix hybrid Digitool MX.
“This was my first experience using the new Digitool, and I'm definitely impressed,” Bobbin says. “It's a very powerful unit at a great price point. For an eight-in/eight-out digital processor, it has everything you need in two rackspaces.”
The Digitool, by the way, was one of the first major audio tools introduced by Peavey in the new millennium.
Note: this article was a work-for-hire and appeared in S&VC magazine as "by Christopher Buttner"