Cover Feature: Consistency in Action
Cover Feature: Consistency in Action
Action Church has expanded to four campuses in less than five years. James Cooke discovers how AVL is managed at this rapidly growing church
Action Church sprung to life at the start of 2014 with its first service taking place at Winter Springs High School near Orlando, Florida. In the five years since, Action Church has grown at an extraordinary rate, with campuses in nearby Oviedo and Sanford opening in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Then, in late 2018, the church inaugurated its purpose-built Winter Park Campus, which serves as Action’s dedicated broadcast campus.
John Williams joined the church as its music director during its third year. His role includes responsibility for the audio systems, as well as aspects of video and lighting. ‘When I started, one of the first things I noticed was that the two campuses at the time – Winter Springs and Oviedo – had Avid SC48 consoles, and another had been purchased for the upcoming Sanford facility,’ Williams recalls. ‘When it came to planning our new, dedicated broadcast facility at Winter Park, the SC48 unfortunately wasn’t going to cut it in terms of connectivity and I/O options.
‘I previously worked as a systems integrator and had experience with Allen & Heath consoles. I knew that they had addressed a lot of the issues from the iLive and I had heard a lot of good things about the newer dLive systems. We explored our options and looked at what another reputable manufacturer had to offer too, but they were too expensive for our budget as we required connections for Dante and MADI, and the costs of those soon add up. While budget isn’t our biggest concern, we still need to spread what money we have over the entire audio, video and lighting setups, and across all four sites. Therefore, we needed to look into what else was available.’
As a former systems integrator, Williams was no stranger to the world of pro AV trade shows. He attended InfoComm 2017 in Orlando, along with others from Action Church, to find out exactly what was on offer in terms of mixing consoles.
‘The guys at Action Church had heard bad things about Allen & Heath consoles due to the iLive,’ Williams explains. ‘But, the thing to remember is that iLive was really the first digital mixer of its kind at an affordable price point. Allen & Heath remains a strong brand and, as technology has moved along, I knew that they could offer us a good product at a more reasonable price. So, at InfoComm we went to multiple booths for a comparison. I knew Michael Palmer, who used to handle sales for Allen & Heath in the US, from my time as a systems integrator and I’d had the chance to see the conceptual drawings for dLive before it was released. I was therefore confident that dLive would impress, even before I’d seen it in person. We checked out the S7000 surface and were extremely impressed with all of the different protocols it offered.’
While the Action Church team was impressed by the demonstration of another console brand at InfoComm, with all the features and connectivity options needed at Winter Park, the dLive system from Allen & Heath came in at approximately half the cost.
‘Our first dLive S7000 was delivered to Winter Springs High School, as that was originally our broadcast campus.’ Prior to the opening of Winter Park, Action Church had to set up for broadcast at Winter Springs High School each week, with everything taken down after the service. ‘It was a major operation and we used an OB truck,’ Williams recalls.
The church’s Oviedo services also take place in a high school, while the Sanford site was a disused Methodist church that Action purchased in 2017, becoming its first fully owned campus. A week after Sanford hosted its first service, the church acquired a building that would be renovated before becoming the new Winter Park facility.
‘As we had the new S7000 for Winter Springs, we decided to move its Avid SC48 across to Sanford,’ says Williams. ‘However, it soon needed replacing and a second S7000 we had waiting in storage for use at Winter Park was brought out early.’
With dLive desks in use at front of house at both Winter Springs and Sanford, a decision was made to standardise across all of Action Church’s sites.
‘Most of our technicians are volunteers and it was difficult for them to learn to operate multiple console types,’ Williams notes. ‘We moved both S7000s to Winter Park, using one for front of house, the other for broadcast, and then bought Allen & Heath’s C3500 consoles for use at the three other sites. The C3500 is more limited than the S7000, but we didn’t need all of the functionality of the larger console at the other campuses.’
The C3500s are all accompanied by MixRacks. The number of channels included differs from site to site depending on requirements. ‘All sites are different in terms of the racks,’ confirms Williams. ‘The important thing is that we have similar desks at FOH at each site, as the C3500 and the S7000 are essentially the same to operate. This consistency means our volunteers can travel between sites and know exactly what they’re doing.’
Consistency is key for Action Church across its four locations, and it doesn’t end at the FOH position. ‘We try to stay consistent with our microphones, using Shure models at all four sites,’ Williams explains. ‘With Winter Park being our broadcast site, we invested in an Axient Digital system with KSM8 and KSM9 mics. At our other three sites, which we call our receiving sites as they screen the broadcast services from Winter Park in addition to hosting their own pastor and music, we have QLX-D digital wireless systems.
‘We love Shure mics and use them for everything including all of our musical instruments and to capture audience response.’
Due to the changes in the law for microphone frequency spectrums in the US, there were delays when it came to delivery of the microphone solutions and wireless in-ear monitor (IEM) systems. ‘The Axient Digital system arrived just a week before Winter Park opened,’ recalls Williams. ‘However, the Shure PSM1000 IEMs were on back order due to the frequency spectrum issues, so we had to borrow some for the opening weekend.’
In addition to the PSM1000 IEMs in Winter Park, the church also uses PSM300 systems at its receiving locations.
As Action Church has grown at such a rapid rate, consistency across the church’s entire audio setup is still a work in progress.
‘The Winter Springs and Oviedo campuses have Renkus-Heinz speakers,’ explains Williams. ‘But, for Sanford and Winter Park, we needed more power and went with L-Acoustic line array systems. Sanford has three Arcs Wide speakers per side and four SB18 subwoofers on the floor, which provides plenty of PA power for a 300-seat room. Then, in Winter Park, we have three SB18s per side behind the array, and four KS28s on the floor installed in the face of the stage.’
The desire for system consistency across all four Action Church sites is twofold: ease of operation for volunteer technicians and the same experience for congregants at each location.
‘To make things simple for our volunteers, we have installed some rather complex systems that take out a lot of the difficulty,’ says Williams. ‘For example, we have QSC’s Q-Sys platform installed for system management, Dante for routing the audio, and MADI to transfer the audio to the video world.
‘It’s very important that our congregants all receive the same experience,’ he continues. ‘To ensure this from an audio perspective, when the receiving locations are showing a live video feed from Winter Park, we transmit eight channels of audio across. Those watching in Oviedo, Sanford and Winter Springs are getting much more than stereo left/right audio as the technicians at each site are able to create their own mixes to meet the needs of their particular room.’
The rate at which Action Church has grown is certainly impressive, and the church’s use of audio, video and lighting to provide the best-possible experience to congregants, no matter which location they attend, has greatly contributed to this. ‘Visitors are always amazed, particularly by what we are able to accomplish at our portable locations in Winter Springs and Oviedo,’ says Williams. ‘Nobody thinks it’s possible to create an audio, lighting and video setup that matches the installations at our fixed locations every week, only to tear them down at the end of the service, but we pull it off. People forget they’re seated in a high school.’
Lights, Camera, Action!
‘We do something rather unique at Action Church,’ Williams explains. ‘We use cinema cameras instead of television broadcast cameras.’
A combination of Panasonic VariCam cinema cameras and Fujinon lenses at Winter Park creates images with the deeper blacks and the depth of field that audiences will associate with movies, rather than television shows. The camera fleet comprises a static cam for a long shot of the stage, a dolly cam, a jib and several roaming DSLRs.
‘It gives our roaming locations a different perspective,’ adds Williams. ‘It’s like being at the cinema.’
As for lighting, Williams concedes that there is room to expand. ‘Lighting didn’t get as much attention as our audio and video systems. It’s also not as easy to stick with one brand for lighting as some manufacturers are better at producing fixtures for certain applications than others.’
Action Church employs a mixture of fixtures from ETC, Elation and Philips. The lighting rigs at Winter Springs and Oviedo are set up and taken down each week, just as the audio systems are, while at Winter Park, the new lighting rig was designed by Crown Design Group (CDG) with broadcast in mind.
‘[Action Church] required a versatile system that could cover both house and stage lighting and, because all locations take a live feed from the Winter Park site, they needed lighting that could easily transition for use in the sermon broadcast,’ says CDG’s co-founder, Ben Graham. ‘They wanted control of the house lighting to project any colour and to match with the background they have on screens, so we use Elation Colour Pendants to shade the room and bring colour from the stage out into the audience.’
For colour wash on stage, CDG used Elation Fuze Wash Z350 LED moving heads with SixPar 200 LED PARs, while Pixel Bar LED strip lights are installed beneath the LED screens and risers for decorative background effects. Cuepix Blinder WW4s provide audience lighting.
‘The Elation Pixel Bars are great for producing background video content via ArKaos LED mapping software,’ notes Williams. ‘We use ArKaos and control the entire lighting setup on our MA Lighting grandMA2 console.’
Maintaining an element of consistency in its lighting system rig, grandMA2 consoles provide control at all four Action Church locations.