Quince Imaging: the company behind the NBA’s jaw-dropping 3D projections

Quince Imaging is a firm of speciality image designers that has made a name for itself in the sports industry with its dramatic and jaw-dropping 3D projections.

Quince Imaging: the company behind the NBA’s jaw-dropping 3D projections

Basketball fans were left awestruck by Quince Imaging's light displays at this year's NBA All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden.

Quince Imaging is a firm of speciality image designers that has made a name for itself in the sports industry with its dramatic and jaw-dropping 3D projections.

“From the very early stages we fancied ourselves as different,” laughs Scott Williams, owner and chief operating officer of Quince Imaging, when asked to explain the thinking behind the name of his company.

When Williams set up the firm as a speciality image design agency in the 1990s, he wanted to stick out in a sea of companies called “AV this or Projection that”. Williams’ business is, and always has been, several rungs up on the creativity ladder from the typical AV or image projection company. “We weren’t an AV company and we didn’t want to be identified as one,” he says. “So in that vein of being different, we chose a letter – Q – and a word that was not vastly used. Now it’s become fairly well known and we’re pretty proud of that fact.”

Now in its 18th year of business, Quince Imaging has made a name for itself through its spectacular image projection techniques. An event at the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Quicken Loans Arena last year provides an awe-inspiring case study. The National Basketball Association (NBA) team approached Quince with an idea for a half-time show during a game in March to celebrate the retirement of their much-loved centre Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

The elaborate light show Quince conceived and executed for the ceremony – with the arena’s hardwood court seeming to ripple, pulse, fall away and build itself up again over a vigorous and mind-bending programme – reached a crescendo that drew audible gasps from the packed house.

Although sport accounts for roughly a third of Quince’s business, alongside corporate events and public installations, there has been plenty of work in the sector for Williams and his team over the past 12 months. Separate to the Ilgauskas one-off, Quince installed a permanent court projection system with full interactivity at the Quicken Loans Arena. It did a similar thing at the Wells Fargo Center, home of the Philadelphia 76ers, before building out a content programme for that NBA team to run with their new hardware. Quince also installed permanent systems at the Philips Arena, home of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, and the Prudential Center, which currently plays host to the New Jersey Devils National Hockey League team.

In terms of special events, the Quince team put together shows for the NBA All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden, the Sacramento Kings’ opening week in SleepTrain Arena, the Calgary Flame’s opening event at the Scotia Saddledome, the Jordan Classic at the Barclays Center in New York, and the Miami Heat NBA championship ring ceremony.

But it was the Ilgauskas celebration that ranks as one of the most impressive pieces of work Williams believes his firm has ever done. “Typically for an NBA or NHL game you get a minute or two of exposure,” explains Williams, “but this was a special event where the court projection was much more featured. That was the most impactful thing we’ve done.”

The expertise behind Quince’s work is necessarily technical. Williams himself is a 33-year veteran of the industry. His background is in the science of projection technology and he spent the first 18 years of his career in display and engineering design. “I was designing display systems for military applications 50 per cent of the time,” he explains. “We studied the height and width of characters and the viewing distance of characters, and what type of contrast of characters on to screens worked best for admirals and generals in command centres to be able to make very quick ‘friend or foe’ assertions in battlefield conditions.”

When Williams and his partner struck out on their own in the 1990s, the business was initially centred on the distribution of the brightest video projector in the world at the time. As the technology evolved, so did Quince, adding new personnel, new expertise – design engineers, display engineers, creative technicians – to the team. Now, Quince’s sole mission can be defined in one sentence: “to be engaged with customers who have challenging and impactful image applications”.

This show at Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center is an example of the kind of 3D effects Quince Imaging is able to produce.

Williams adds: “The one thing that hasn’t changed is that in the special events industry, the imaging business, through the entire chain of an event – whether it be an NBA All-Star Game or a Fortune 100 company corporate event – the last thing the attendees see is a projected image onto a screen or surface. How you go about deploying that image has changed radically. From composite video to component video, to serial digital to HD, to higher than HD, to 4k to 8k.

“Our philosophy the entire time has always been to embrace higher resolution, newer technology, and to bring this technology to the market as quickly as possible.”

A one-off Quince project will almost always include hardware, set-up, and content conception and execution. Depending on the level of content input, costs can range from between US$100,000 and US$250,000 for projection in an indoor arena. Outdoor projections, in football or soccer venues for example, are doable, but bigger, more difficult and more costly.

For a one-off special event such as the recent NBA All-Star Game, Williams says that the process would typically begin 60 days out from the event. In this instance, a team of NBA producers – “a very advanced crew who build media and content” – approached Quince a little bit further out than that. The All-Star event, Williams notes, is particularly challenging simply because of the competition for floor and rigging space. “There’s a permanent stage, a semi-permanent stage; there’s semi-permanent displays that are used for the half-time celebration and the pre-game celebration,” he says. “There’s a lot more that goes in the arena in the way of technology and rigging.”

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ Quicken Loans Arena is one of many US venues now utilising Quince's 3D projections.

After scrutinising the building grids and undertaking a site survey, Quince ascertained what the requirements and limitations of the project would be. “The projection systems cannot be too far off-axis,” Williams explains. “You want to project from an angle as high as possible – for basketball, typically, it would be somewhere between ten and 15 feet off the sides of the court. Your design also has to include angle of incidence and how the projectors receive signals, how they’re networked. The angles have to be locked down because you can’t go up and move the projector two inches to the left.”

At that point, the Quince engineers build a wireframe of the court, including the precise paintwork that will feature on the day, and pick up momentum on content planning. “That part of it is typically a highly collaborative effort,” says Williams, “and takes about 30 days. It would normally include four or five Quince creative guys. There would be a creative director, then there would be an animator, then there would be a cinema 4D artist and a creative producer. In a permanent installation, it’s typically a single operator who could have other functions.”

In tandem with the NBA producers, the Quince team unpicked their pack of 3D projection secrets to put together a show that made strong use of the drama of false perspective.

Those 3D elements – the breaking away, falling in and rising up of surfaces – are Quince’s speciality, but Williams is happy to reveal the fundamental mechanics behind them.

“The images need to be bright enough to provide the contrast ratio that is high enough so that when the elements of the court move, your eye follows the projected image of that element of the court, and not the element on the court itself,” he says. “Once you attain certain brightness levels, certain pixel resolution, part of the secret is to project the image of the court onto itself and then to force movement in those areas – like the three-point arc, or the foul line, or other graphical elements around the court that are specific to the team or the league. You use those to your advantage.

“That’s one of the ways that we force three dimensional viewing.”

To contact Quince Imaging, call +1 888-252-4960 or email info@quinceimaging.com. Alternatively, visit www.quinceimaging.com