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Reinventing an Arena

(August 2004) posted on Tue Aug 03, 2004

Madonna photos cover Worcester, MA arena


By Jake Widman

click an image below to view slideshow


When Madonna scheduled four shows at the Centrum Centre in Worcester, Massachusetts, in late June, they were the only New England dates in her current "Reinvention" tour. In gratitude for the booking, Centrum Centre management wanted to find a way to acknowledge the pop icon in a way she'd be sure to notice. The result was an arena covered with 21 13.5-ft photos of Madonna from various points in her career and in her current persona. The project graphics were printed and installed by Castle Graphics of Concord, MA, using material manufactured by FLEXcon (which is also headquartered in Massachusetts). Both parties contributed their efforts for free for this first-time job for the Centre.

Castle Graphics has been in the large-format digital printing business for just over 12 years. With 19 employees, the company operates six machines, including a NUR Fresco, Durst Lambda, and a handful of inkjet and dye-sub machines. Castle also employs a full team of designers and another of installers, which have produced floor and wall graphics, vehicle wraps, presentations signage, and much more. Among its many clients is Samuel Adams Beer (another Massachusetts company), for which Castle creates all the custom P-O-P displays worldwide (about 130,000 pieces a year)--if it's a Sam Adams display with the name of the bar on it, Castle produced it.

The Madonna project began with Flexcon's employee outing to a Worcester IceCats hockey game at the Centrum Centre, during which Flexcon distributed a commemorative decal printed on static-cling film. A few weeks later, Flexcon received a call from the advertising director at Centrum, who had seen one of the decals and wanted to know if Flexcon could do something with the Centrum's windows for the Madonna engagement.

Because Castle Graphics' relationship with Flexcon had been growing for the past several years--as Castle had done more and more jobs utilizing Flexcon's products--it was Castle that first came to mind. Flexcon set up a meeting with Centrum representatives and Dave King, Castle's vice president of sales and marketing. After kicking around various scenarios, King came up with the idea of mounting photos on the windows, and the project was given the green light.

What became immediately clear was that the scope of the project would not be its only challenge, however. For source material, all Castle had to work with was an offset-printed two-sided press sheet of Madonna photos from the Centre. Since a direct scan would have picked up the screening of the press sheet, says King, Castle made 4-x-5-inch transparencies of the press sheet--which didn't pick up the screening--and scanned them on its Screen drum scanner instead. "It's a trick that works great," says King.

The company's team of designers, headed by owner Danielle King (also Dave's wife) then set about descreening, sharpening, color correcting, and increasing the resolution of the photos in preparation for printing. Danielle King also figured out the layout at this point, so that the seams between panels would not fall in the middle of a window. All this up-front work made the later printing and layout work go much more easily.

Meanwhile, King and Flexcon examined the media options, including static-cling film and low-tack vinyl. Because the Centre is a public building and governmental regulations mandated that the people working there still be able to see out, they finally decided upon Flexcon's SeeThru-Sign White/Black Flex, a temporary-adhesive"?backed perforated vinyl. SeeThru-Sign has a black backing, which prevents the printed image from showing through to the other side; at the same time, the perforated holes enable people to see through it (and King also liked that the perforations only take up 40 percent of the surface area). The result was that one person working in the building didn't even realize the photos had already been mounted, since they were so easy to see through from the inside.

King chose the Nur Fresco 1800 4-color machine to output the job, primarily because of its speed: By the time the job was ready to print, Castle had only five hours to produce 1300 to 1400 sq ft of material--11 panels of vinyl that would cover 22 panes of glass. The quick turnaround was necessary because the press had been invited to view the installation, and the approval process had taken so long that printing didn't commence until the day before the press event. "We received final approval on Sunday afternoon and did the final signoff on Monday morning for the Tuesday morning installation," King says.

King set up the images in the Onyx RIP, using the layout that ensured that the seams would not fall in the middle of a window. The printing part of the job went smoothly, he says: "We had to do no color correction at all," he says. The job did not require any finishing beyond trimming the margins of the vinyl to the image borders.

The installation, on the other hand, wasn't so easy. The first day they tried it, it was about 92"? out. At temperatures of more than 80"? or so, says King, the vinyl begins to stretch when you pull off the release liner. At 92"?, that can become a serious issue. What would have only taken a day in decent weather turned into a 2-day, 11-hour job, because it took King's crew 7 hours that first day just to get the first 40 ft of windows completed.

All the effort was well worth it, however. Madonna and her management team not only took notice of the window-graphic promotion, but they were so impressed that they gave Castle Graphics and Flexcon more than 250 free tickets to her last New England show. (Castle Graphics: www.castlegraphics.net)


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