One of the most breathtaking exhibits in the Met’s China: Through the Looking Glass show turned the Astor Courtyard into a moonlit pond where costumes floated like lilies on water. The effect was achieved by a video projection of the moon on the ceiling which was reflected on the gloss black floor. The effect was magical – and it took a bit of magic to pull it off.
The projection itself was a fairly simple multi-projector blend of two 12K lumen Panasonic PT-DS12KU projectors. The projectors sat on the floor and used custom mirror rigs to bounce the image up to the ceiling where it was blended using Dataton WatchOut.
Where does magic come in? Well, there was no ceiling. The Astor Courtyard is roughly a 60’ by 40’ room with a pyramid shaped skylight with no load bearing points for rigging, and rigging experts told the designer that it was impossible to suspend anything. So the challenge was to build a ceiling that wasn’t a ceiling and hang it from nothing. This is where we got excited.
The suspense builds…
Working under strict guidelines from the Met’s structural engineer, Big Show came up with a system hanging T-track from a series of catenary lines spanning the 40’ width every 4’. The catenary lines themselves were rigged from custom header blocks that were anchored to building steel far behind the finished walls of the room which lifted the points above the top of the walls to avoid damage to the plaster.
Showman Fabricators came on board to handle fabrication and installation once the design was approved by the Met and their engineers. Installation had its own share of challenges. If you’ve ever been in the Astor Courtyard, you know the entire space is a 17th century style Chinese garden built in 1981 comprised of Taihu rocks, granite terrace, ceramic tile flooring, roof tiles, and door frames, various woods (nan wood columns, pine beams, gingko latticework), and brass fittings. In other words, a tiny space filled with precious materials. We proceeded like a very careful bull in a china shop.
To hang the temporary ceiling, the riggers worked 32’ in the air above and around the architecture and tilework of the room. To get the riggers up there required boom lifts, but the only doors to the space were too small for the type of lifts needed to get them up there. We located special crawler-boom lifts from Pennsylvania that would fit through the narrow doors of the space. Then the riggers went up and over the tile roofs and other structures to place the 30 custom header blocks to rig the 15 catenary lines that supported the T-tracks that held the 56 aluminum laminate panels that became our projection surface. And that’s how you make magic.