Pro Audio Systems Produces Magical Projection Project

The Art-Deco Grade II listed Queens Hotel has been a majestic presence on Leeds’ City Square since its construction in 1937. Designed by W.H. Hamlyn and faced with white Portland Stone, it is a striking landmark which over the years has hosted many notable guests. Princess Grace of Monaco, Cary Grant, Nelson Mandela and Laurel and Hardy, all chose the comforts of the Queens. During the recent festive season, The Queens was the focus of a spectacular art installation which saw LeedsBID (Leeds Business Improvement District) collaborate with Barcelona-based creative studio Onionlab on ‘Magical Night at The Queens’, a visual spectacular which used the elegant architecture of the Hotel as a canvas for multiple projections.

The ambitious and innovative project, which embraced state-of-the-art technology and world-class design, required the highest level of technical and logistical expertise. LeedsBID engaged Bradford-based Pro Audio Systems (PAS) to co-ordinate and supply every technical aspect of the installation, which saw the ten-minute show, voiced by Celia Imrie, repeated every thirty minutes between 4.30pm and 8.30pm for nine nights in the run-up to Christmas.

PAS’s Joel Sheldon takes up the story:

“Our first contact with LeedsBID was back in the summer of 2022 when we provided some large format displays and audio playback for its ‘Jurassic Trail 3’ project in Leeds. Since then we’ve worked on a couple more projects with them, one of which was to adapt an electric vehicle as a mobile advertising unit for ‘Welcome to Leeds’. LeedsBID is a forward-thinking organisation which places great emphasis on quality at the heart of all its work, so when we were approached with its ambitious plan for a Christmas spectacular, we knew that it would be a serious undertaking with very high production values. Many months of planning followed, during which time all the agencies involved demonstrated a fantastic can-do attitude to what became a huge collaborative effort.”

On the technical front, PAS oversaw the specification, supply and installation of all the projectors, networking, playback and control, as well as a substantial audio system. Its team was central to designing the video systems to ensure that the content was seamlessly projected onto the ‘canvas’ of The Queens Hotel to achieve complete coverage with optimal brightness. PAS was also responsible for selecting and co-ordinating a number of trusted subcontractors to implement the wide variety of ancillary elements of the project under its direction.

Chris Beardwell of PAS worked on the technical aspects of the projection:

“Once every feature of the building’s frontage had been laser-mapped by Autoplot to enable optimal design of the content, we had to construct two 7.5m scaffold towers on City Square to house the projectors. We worked collaboratively with city stakeholders, to complement the ‘Making A Stand’ art installation for the year of culture, as well as a bustling Leeds Christmas Market, with stalls and concessions at the front of the Square. We needed significant elevation to achieve uninterrupted projection with good sight lines, which avoided any shadows."

“Our friends at Raven Staging duly obliged, with great emphasis placed on safety, as well as physical protection from the elements for the ten projectors deployed for the job. Given the time of year and the possibility of bad weather, we needed to ensure that we eliminated every potential risk, so also in collaboration with Raven Staging, we installed robust weather-shielding, heaters, temperature monitors, and even a weather station to feed information to our control centre.”

A total of ten Panasonic projectors (8 x PT-RQ50K and 2 x PT-RQ35K) were deployed, with seven in use and three as backups. Networking, playback, and control was via a combination of Netgear AV Line M4250 network switches fully loaded with Fibre interconnectivity, Lightware DVI over fibre video extenders, Green Hippo Karst+ media servers, and Datapath FX 4 controllers. Chris continues:

“Experts, Motion Mapping from Ipswich supplied the media servers and worked closely with us on, aligning the projectors and  programming the media servers, to ensure that we brought Onionlab’s vision to life exactly as it was designed. This was yet another fine example of the collaboration that characterised the whole project.”

For the audio element of the show, PAS installed a self-powered Meyer Sound system comprising 6 x MSL-4 long throw loudspeakers, 6 x UPA-1P wide coverage loudspeakers and 4 x 700-HP subwoofers, controlled by a Meyer Sound Galileo GALAXY processor. The system was designed to ensure the required SPL and coverage to provide clear, powerful audio in a crowded outdoor environment. Whilst the show audio was all distributed via Dante and a Yamaha QL-1 console, PAS installed a separate discreet analogue system with console as backup, so that in the event of any failure on the network, it would still be possible to communicate with the large gatherings at the Square in the event of an emergency. In an innovative and imaginative move, the electric vehicle which PAS had previously customised for LeedsBID was deployed to caption the show’s audio for deaf people, utilising HDMI over IP technologies.

From a logistical standpoint PAS had to work within strict parameters from start to finish. The city centre location meant that set-up and strip-down times were limited to between midnight and 4am, so planning and co-ordination was of the utmost importance. Dave Simpson, Business Development Director at PAS reflects on the challenges:

“Joel, Chris and the entire team, including all the outside contractors, brought the project together superbly. Every person from every company involved delivered exceptional service - it’s one thing setting up in daylight hours on a summer’s morning, but quite another in the freezing early hours in December, especially up against strict deadlines! At the end of the run of shows, everything had to be stripped out very quickly, and again the whole team performed this mammoth task with incredible patience and efficiency.

“The public’s response to the shows was incredibly positive - people were wowed by the quality of the installation, which created a huge draw, increasing footfall to businesses in the area and creating a tremendous festive atmosphere in the city centre. LeedsBID recognised the impact that  art and technology can make, and through the collaborative efforts of all the stakeholders involved, succeeded in delivering a spectacular show. We’re very proud to have played a major part in bringing their ambition to life.”

James Wilson, Project and Events Manager, LeedsBID

“Bradford-based Pro Audio Systems, alongside Onionlab, were fantastic to collaborate with for Magical Night at The Queens in City Square, Leeds. The team were attentive, responsive and problem-solvers through and through, delivering technical excellence for our projection mapping spectacular.”

Photo Credit JAM Photography

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