How Illinois State was able to bring Hollywood stars to Redbird Arena
Patrick Leahy ’00’s undergrad experience at Illinois State has helped him achieve success with one of the largest production companies in the world. And when it came time for Illinois State to put on a blockbuster event of their own, he was just the person for the job.
Leahy is the Director of Global Accounts for Production Resource Group, LLC (PRG). PRG is one of the world’s largest event producers. They have been involved with the Super Bowl Halftime Show, the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics, and The Grammy’s, among other big events. In short, if you are watching a major event on television, there is a good chance PRG is involved in some facet of its production.
Through Leahy, PRG was able to bring Jane Lynch, Sean Hayes, and Gary Cole from Hollywood to Redbird Arena via hologram at the Redbirds Rising Campaign Kick-Off event.
Leahy said that he was invited to present ideas for the Redbirds Rising Kick-Off event in September of 2016. He said he showed campus leaders various techniques and ideas that PRG had available, but one in particular really stood out.
“I stumbled across the Holo-Gauze video in one of my presentation decks and I showed it to them,” he said. “It stuck. Everyone in the committee signed up for it right away.”
The Holo-Gauze technology may seem like something out of science fiction, but it has roots in an illusion technique created in the 1800’s called “Pepper’s ghost”. Pepper’s ghost is a trick that uses lighting and mirrors to project an object from a room out of the audience’s sight to a staging area. The effect makes the projected object look ethereal, so it is commonly used in haunted houses and carnival rides to make ghostly apparitions appear before your eyes.
The illusion created by The Holo-Gauze technology cuts down on the amount of setup necessary to pull it off and makes the projections appear tangible. It is a theatrical gauze with a metallic coating that makes projected images appear three dimensional when properly lit. Additionally, anything behind the material can also be seen, allowing for a blend of live action and pre-recorded performance. PRG originally used the technology for television and film, but has since expanded into using it for live shows. Leahy says that PRG had an extensive Holo-Gauze setup at this year’s Coachella music festival.
Leahy said that PRG arranged to shoot the celebrities’ sections based on scripts provided from Illinois State in studios in New York and Los Angeles, taking special care to make sure they were dressed properly.
“You can’t wear black with a Holo-Gauze,” he said. “You won’t be visible, or you will just be a floating head.”
After the video was shot, PRG processed the footage and Leahy ran test setups to make sure it was going to work at Redbird Arena.
“When you walk into a venue you’ve been to, you remember certain quirks about working there,” he said. “And when we got here, people were looking at me like ‘you’re crazy’. I said ‘I’m not crazy. I know this can be done’. Sure enough, that is what we did.”
Leahy knew Holo-Gauze would be possible because he knew the building. He had done work in Redbird Arena as an undergrad studying theatrical design and production. His ability to convey little intricacies about the structure was crucial in helping PRG get the holographic effect as real as possible for the audience at the event.
“When Jane Lynch appeared and she sang the fight song, everyone stood up and sang along,” he said. When it happened, there was even a slight gasp from people in the crowd. It looked like she was standing on stage even though she really wasn’t.”
For Leahy, those reactions from the attendees and the response from campus leaders made this job particularly rewarding.
“When President Dietz walked in on Saturday and saw the finished work, it became very real for him.” Leahy said. “He and others were so grateful for the help and support that we gave to make the event the success that it was.”