We’ve Weathered The Storm — Live Events Are Back
CTUS helps Subaru reveal its newest EVs, in the process revealing a promising future for live-event production.
Asked how he came to create his most famous statue, Michelangelo purportedly (and apocryphally) replies he just chipped away all the parts of the marble block that didn’t look like David. It’s a joke that goes back over 150 years — think of it as a Victorian-era stand-up routine — but there’s no doubt that the actual statue was a masterpiece. It’s also not unlike the process by which some trade-event stand productions become AVL masterworks of their own: find just the right pieces of a complex AVL proposition to keep.
One such production was the Subaru exhibition at the 2022 New York International Auto Show April 14-24 at Manhattan’s Javits Center. Attendees gathered in front of the central part of the car maker’s nearly 37,000-square-foot presentation, where a rear video wall displayed the predawn stillness of a western landscape, clouds floating towards the crowd. At the moment of the reveal, the center portion of the wall pulled apart and the “sun” rose in the center of the tableau, bathing the stage in bright, warm light from a large Fresnel being slowly raised behind a transparent video wall. It illuminated a 2023 Subaru Solterra EV as it drove up from the valley behind it and came to a soft stop atop a slowly rotating turntable — itself a video floor with the media reverse-spun so it looks like the car is floating. It was the most dramatic moment in a truly theatrical production that also saw other newly introduced vehicles set in the environments that their owners might envision them in, such as the burbling stream that seemed to pool at visitors’ feet after tumbling down a mountain, all constructed from over 1,800 LED tiles, many custom cut, its realism enhanced by a cumulative 28 million pixels. The set design was by Hansen Productions, constructed and directed by Exhibit Works Worldwide. The key video hardware and control elements were put in place by CTUS, who collaborated with both creatives and the car maker and reflect how the company can take a vision and transform it into reality.
“Subaru came to us with a grand idea, and we develop the way it can be accomplished technically,” says Herb Brandt, Chief Business Officer for CTUS. “That’s what we’ve always done best, but now we’re doing it in live-event business that’s really roaring back.”
Ready For The Return
Grand ideas and ambitious visions are going to be part of the return of large live events. The urge to go big had been crushed under Covid’s covers for two years, and clients are ready to stretch their creative muscles. CTUS is ready to help them, says Brandt. To support this expected rush of event production, he points to CTUS’ establishment this year of a new cloud-based production division and to new digital extended reality (XR) facilities in several locations, including the new CTUS flagship facility in Las Vegas.
As importantly, he adds, CTUS’ people are also ready. “We made a conscious effort to hold onto many key personal during Covid, moving people into different parts of the business when necessary, such as the cloud division, which is what is letting us transition back so quickly,” he explains. “Unlike a lot of other companies that had to scale down and then had to try to rebuild, we were able to transition back very quickly.” In fact, he notes, in May 2022 CTUS did as much production work as it had done in May 2019. “And we did it with fewer resources, coming out of the pandemic,” he says. “Our ability to be able to move so quickly and flexibly back into live production is a big part of why our business has surged this spring and summer.”
Brandt says that strategy enabled CTUS to transition smoothly from the many virtual events it supported during the pandemic into a hybrid interim and now back to fully live events. “We always knew it was headed back to live, because people had a need for the kind of energy that live events provide and that just doesn’t happen in the virtual world.”
Challenges do remain: labor continues to be a pinch point at times, and supply-chain concerns remain. But live-event production seems to have found its footing once again and is building its own momentum, with new business already being booked well into 2023.
“We’ve never experienced anything quite like what we did for the last two-plus years,” says Brandt. “But we had the strategies and the resources and the people to get through it, and we have all that and more to help bring our clients back to a fully live production world again. We’ve weathered the storm. Live events are back.”