The Western logo and illustration of the silhouette of a cowboy

Meeting the Tech Challenges of The Western

Just as the Western continues to evolve, so does technology. To effectively illustrate the genre’s evolution, The Western: An Epic in Art and Film needed more technology and became the Denver Art Museum’s most tech-heavy exhibition yet.

The exhibition features 12 monitors, 15 speakers, and 15 projectors (even more than we used in Star Wars and the Power of Costume), some of which you might not even notice. The designers and curators of the exhibition wanted the tech to be hidden.

“Everything from speakers to monitors had to be hidden,” Ian Crow, an administrator in the DAM’s technology department, said. This meant that monitors were built into the walls, rather than mounted, projectors were installed discretely, and wires had to be concealed.

Other projections in the exhibition are also different than usual. In "The Counterculture Western" portion of the exhibition, there’s a "floating" screen on which film of Billy the Kid is projected, you can walk around the screen and view the film on either side. There’s also a small video of Buffalo Bill projected onto glass in "The Cast" portion of the exhibition, not your usual material for a projection.

The number of projectors also provided a new challenge for the department: how to control so many projectors that must be turned on and off every day. The answer to a tech challenge? More tech, of course.

The department now has software that controls all of the projectors in the exhibition–with one click on Crow’s computer the projectors can be turned on or off.

Special Speakers

But it wasn’t just monitors and projectors that proved challenging, the tech department also controls the sound levels in exhibitions. The Western is filled with sound, with different soundtracks and film clips playing throughout the exhibition.

To try to minimize audio bouncing to somewhere it shouldn’t be heard, directional speakers are used throughout the exhibition. For instance, in "The Counterculture Western" portion of the exhibition (we told you Westerns evolved!), you’ll clearly hear Bob Dylan’s Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, but if you step away from under the cone-shaped speaker, the audio will drop dramatically.

Curved & Floating Screens

The section of the exhibition dedicated to director Sergio Leone has three curved screens projecting the same clips simultaneously, which provided a number of challenges. The tech team had to figure out how to place the three projectors, make them play at precisely the right time, and get the projections to fit onto a curved screen–which took special software.

Carolyn Davidson was the 2017 summer writing intern in the marketing department at the Denver Art Museum.