William B. Gorlin, PE, SE
Vice President – Entertainment
Towering over the Cotai Strip, MGM COTAI is Macau’s icon of innovation. The five-star, $3.4 billion integrated luxury resort houses a cutting-edge, multi-sensory theater using revolutionary technology to dazzle guests with a multisensory experience unlike anything seen before. MGM Theater is Asia’s first truly adaptive and dynamic performance venue installed with the world’s largest reconfigurable 4k LED wall featuring nearly 10,000 square ft. of light emitting diode (LED) display screens for a fully immersive theatrical experience. The innovation of this engineering and architectural masterpiece is taking live entertainment a step closer to the world of “mass virtual reality”.
Engineered by McLaren Engineering Group, MGM Theater’s immersive 4k LED video wall stands roughly 200 feet long end to end and wraps around nearly half the perimeter of the performance space. The experience envelopes theater goers into a simulated event within a multi-faceted environment with both automated moving parts and live video display.
The video wall system itself can be configured via electronically powered actuators and features multiple panels that slide back to create door-like openings for people, props and scenery to move onto or off the stage. Depending on the nature of the performance, the forestage seating area can completely transform into large variety of configurations, allowing for multiple configurations of the venue, along with portions of the stage that can transform into an additional five rows of seats to completely surround a smaller stage. The video wall’s two main configurations include a Proscenium mode with a traditional stage frame to create live-action displays, and Immersion mode, where the video wall surrounds the stage and part of the audience. This allows the venue to completely alter from a traditional theater with a thrust stage and proscenium arch to an arena-style theater with a surround-style LED wall, and then back again during a single performance.
In order to achieve a truly flexible and adaptive environment, many portions of the video wall are automated to achieve the full transformation. A large LED header panel approximately 56 ft x 13 ft is rigged from overhead steel so that it can fly in and meet with two large LED side walls approximately 39 ft x 39 ft that can rotate up to 70 degrees, allowing the theater to fully alternate between Immersion and Proscenium modes. McLaren’s intricate engineering design included a “midair” engagement system allowing the two side walls to meet with the header to create as seamless of a video image as possible for the proscenium arch. Additionally, elevated sections of the video wall that raise up to enable platforms to extend out though the walls and into the performance space as retractable balconies.
In addition to engineering the 4k LED wall, McLaren also designed the theatrical rigging system for all of the vertically moving elements of the LED wall, consisting of winches, cables, actuators and other machinery, which had to be carefully coordinated with the performance space’s theatrical rigging system. All aspects of the wall’s performance were strategically synchronized with anticipated Production demands and a combination of light-based and proximity measuring sensors in the wall’s moving elements sends messages to a computerized master show control system to ensure alignment and prevent mid-air collisions.
To create a fully the effect of the magical fully immersive experience, the complex design needed to minimize the seams between the moving and static LED screens. A seamless gap was established at just 2 mm thick (for comparison, a penny is 1.52 mm), which allows for virtually seamless imagery to the audience’s eye, a tolerance which has never before been accomplished on this scale The overall video screen, in its widest configuration, produces enveloping imagery moving all its pieces and parts to fully immerse the audience. At 28 million pixels, the multi-axis video wall is the world’s most flexible Ultra-HD screen. Creating an innovative and complex entertainment experience never-before seen, came with significant challenges. Aside from the nearly seamless image requirement, at the time of design, the team did not know the final LED size specifications to be used in this avant-garde design and as such had to work with generic LED modules with a conservative weight allowance. The team then needed to design and engineer the complicated moving components of the wall so they could seamlessly fit through a variety of openings of different widths and sizes which were dependent on which LED Module was selected for use in the video wall. The final system had to be engineered to accommodate LED modules of different sizes, weights, and thicknesses, all of which would potentially affect the height and width of the overall structure. The ability of McLaren to problem-solve and think outside the box, resulted in a design that held back the structure and supporting machinery so that if component specifications changed, the design would still function optimally and result in the desired nearly seamless image.
One key maintenance challenge involved the fact that the 4k LED walls’ rotating sides were located on large bearings at the base capable of handling both the vertical loads and the loads imposed by the side walls’ rotation and self-weight. A bearing at the top of each pivoting wall similarly resisted lateral and rotational loads but not vertical loads, providing compliance for the hinge. The bottom bearing was located in a void within the stage floor to minimize audience obtrusions, and a system was designed to enable technicians to replace or perform maintenance on the bottom bearing without having to remove the top bearing. This was accomplished by a series of short, wide temporary actuators that can be placed along the base of the rotating wall’s frame, lifting the entire wall almost 6 inches to provide access to the bearing.
The solutions and innovative strategies brought forth by all members of the project team proved a success. The groundbreaking design, engineering and construction of this unparalleled structure has opened the door into the future of entertainment. The intricacies of all the moving parts makes MGM Theater one of the most complex in the world on the forefront of entertainment technology. The space, and its innovative design, is now a top attraction in Macau and one of the world’s most captivating entertainment destinations. Advancements like this within the Cotai Strip are propelling Macau into a world-renowned tourist destination.
The team that brought the magic of MGM Theater’s 4k LED wall to fruition included designs from theater consultant, Scéno Plus of Montreal based in Montreal, Canada. Show Canada Industries of Laval Quebec was the specialty subcontractor that fabricated and installed the video wall system. Simulation Technologies Inc. of Durham North Carolina served as a technical consultant to the project and Los Angeles based VER was the LED vendor. Gala Systems, Inc. of Longueuil, Canada was the transformable lift system vendor. Sandman Associates of High Point North Carolina was the lift installation contractor. The MGM COTAI resort in full was designed by Kohn Pederson Fox, of NYC and engineered by Hong-Kong based Siu Yin Wai & Associates.
This project was awarded ACEC New York’s highest honor in Category I: Special Projects the Engineering Excellence Diamond Award in 2020.