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St. Louis’ Union Station Hotel Immerses Guests in Grandeur

Technomedia overcomes unique canvas, historic building to create mind-blowing experience.

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If the St. Louis Union Station Hotel lobby were still a waiting area for trains, like it was for decades, it’s likely a lot of people would be missing their trains, mesmerized by the wonder above them on the 65-foot vaulted barrel ceiling in the form of short vignettes.

The Grand Hall Experience, which opened in May 2014 for National Train Day, is the largest permanently installed indoor immersive projection mapping show in the U.S. The five- and 10-minute segments displayed on the ceiling feature full 12K+ imagery spanning the original 1894 barrel ceiling, a 10.1 surround sound system, LED accent lighting, automated control system and all new media.

The projection show is part of a $66.3 million overhaul of The Union Station Hotel.

Technomedia interspersed a wide range of shows that play throughout the evening, starting with pop music performed on classic instruments as lighting sets the mood. Several “sprites” are projected around the room at random intervals bringing the walls to life.

“We wanted the space to really come alive,” says Technomedia president and chief creative officer John Miceli. “We’ve done domes and building projections, but this was the first time on a barrel ceiling. We had to create a theater sound system without any acoustical treatments. We wanted to honor the space and wanted to make sure that what we created wasn’t just a layer on top of that but really blended in very well into the architecture.”

If you can’t get to St. Louis, you can immerse yourself in The Grand Hall Experience here:

Technomedia had about eight months to incorporate AV system design, a Crestron Pro 3 control system, 3D and 2D animation, music composition and on-site audio mixing. Technomedia used Christie D4K2430 projectors on each end cap and a Panasonic PTZ100UK projector for the ceiling, a seven Byv Corporation xenon media servers and a Neon N3 audio processor.

Technomedia chose Lightware DVI-OPT-TX110 and RX110 transmitters/receivers to extend the multi-4K 120 frame video signal to 14 projectors.

The Grand Hall Experience plays above a stylish lounge and bar seating every night on the hour between 5 and 10 p.m. Since its debut May 9, 2014, the show has increased attendance to the Grand Hall by more than 125 percent.

The show take viewers on a journey from the depths of the sea where a whale, sea turtles and sharks float, to the heights of world’s great ceilings where the magnificent artistry of Rome’s Sistine Chapel and Paris’s star-studded Sainte-Chapelle soar overhead.

In other shows, the detailed filigree of the historic building come to life with 3D detail that transforms into immersive visuals like psychedelic flowers bloom. Clockwork gears turn and lighted train cars race down a tunnel, the building itself moves and shifts uncovering the incredible surprises behind the walls.

Each show consists of three to 10 custom-produced vignettes that range from local historical facts narrated by St. Louis natives Bob Costas, John Hamm and John Goodman to celebrations of local sports teams, the Mississippi River to “visual wonder” pieces that exploit what projection mapping can do to the space.

The show runs on a space that’s near a mall, the hotel reception area and a Starbucks coffee shop. To top it off, the hotel is a historically protected site, meaning installers had to hide the projectors in balcony planter boxes, etc., to keep up the appearance no technology was added to the space.

Although The Grand Hall Experience is free to the public, hotel owner LHM also rents it as a convention and event center and since the projection mapping has been in place, revenues have soared from $7,000 per week to about $47,000 – well ahead of the three-year projection.

Clearly, Technomedia did something right, because The Grand Hall Experience won the Themed Entertainment Association’s Thea 2015 Award for Outstanding Achievement in a limited-budget live show and the IAAPA Brass Ring Award for Excellence.

“The biggest appeal of the venue is that people come and see something they cannot see anywhere else in St. Louis, or even the country,” says Miceli. “We have many hurdles to overcome to achieve this level of seamless experience and immersive environment, but our biggest challenge by far was light, which practically floods the entire space all day and tends to bleed its way into the space in so many ways at night.”

Since The Grand Hall Experience is expected to be a permanent attraction at Union Station the aim is to create new content on a regular basis, says Andrew Atienza, immersive environment specialist for Technomedia. The original version went through at least four revisions before it opened, he says, using CAD drawings, 3D modeling and some on-site testing.

“We can also loop custom content seamlessly for special events held in the lobby,” he says. Managers can control the content from iPads.

At this time of year, the hotel has a deal where The Polar Express comes to town and takes kids on a special journey immersed in holiday splendor as they enjoy dinner.

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