Law Practice Perfects the Craft of Video Art

Sept. 22, 2009

Lawyers who play for high stakes also have a penchant for raising them. So it is with Las Colinas, TX-based Nix, Patterson & Roach (NPR), erstwhile Samson to the tobacco industry’s Goliath, and architect of what may be the most technologically advanced practice known to law.

It shows – in ways both immediately apparent and not. If an unusual array of audiovisual technology is quietly revolutionizing its practice – and, perhaps, the practice of law – NPR’s office spaces, located in an 18-story high rise, more audaciously assert the firm’s technological prowess and ambitions, as evinced by a translucent globe perched upon a pedestal in its circular lobby. Capable of displaying satellite imagery, the 4-foot-diameter globe is mere prelude to a lobby “apparition” known as the Megasphere, which creates the illusion of 240-foot-diameter orb.

“Other practices may invest in million-dollar paintings,” says Craig Taylor, account executive with Dallas-based systems integrator The Whitlock Group. “Here, we were creating video art.”

It’s a fitting approach for a practice that has come to specialize in intellectual property, the majority of which involves advanced technology. “In contrast to leather and mahogany, the client wanted its office to scream, ‘We get it! This is a company that gets technology!’ ” says Taylor.

Clients would have to be deaf not to hear it, particularly since this feast for the eyes also includes spaces awash in colored LED displays, a sweeping stone reception desk, and steel doors embossed with rippled patterns derived from algorithms. 

“We had a client that knew where it wanted to go and was willing to pay to get there,” observes Erron Young, project manager with project architect Leo A Daly in Dallas, which worked in close collaboration with an army of lighting, telecommunications, and audiovisual consultants to bring the project to fruition. 

In particular, Daly worked hand in hand with Whitlock to integrate architectural and audiovisual solutions into a seamless, seemingly effortless whole. “The globe was a challenge because the eye immediately seizes upon it,” recalls Taylor, who says architect and integrator concealed attendant technology, including a three-chip, 12,000 lumen projector, in the globe’s pedestal. The projector directs Internet-generated imagery upward, where a mirror catches it and directs it to a fish-eye lens. From there, imagery is projected directly onto the globe.

The globe consists of acrylic, the same material as a rear-projection screen, and was fabricated as a pair of hemispheres. The pedestal is constructed of laminated plywood and fitted with fans and apertures to ensure that its interior doesn’t overheat. An acoustical lining absorbs sound generated by the equipment.

The grander Megasphere called for an even greater sleight of hand, though Erron says that creating the oversize orb wasn’t as daunting as the resulting imagery suggests. The sphere derives from a simple, ceiling-mounted front projector that casts imagery on a 10- by 10-foot screen located within a multi-sided mirrored enclosure. Mirrors cant inward, resolving as a surface several times the size of the original image, an effect Taylor likens to a “hall of mirrors.” 

The effect has its affect. “The image is so powerful that people get dizzy,” says Taylor. Some, he adds, find themselves falling against a plate-glass window fronting the enclosure.

LED arrays located overhead fill lobby spaces with seemingly infinite combinations of color. The linear pixels, which number in the thousands, are perched above a frosted plexiglass fixture ringing the lobby. In addition to concealing the linear arrays, the fixture diffuses resulting light, which is regulated by software operating from a simple PC – the receptionist’s. Programming can be altered via a touchpanel sited on the globe’s pedestal.

The smoke and mirrors are noticeably absent from NPR’s Command Information Center, home to “The System,” as firm attorneys have come to call it. The system is an assemblage of several so-called litigation systems, including video, audio streaming, instant messaging, video teleconferencing, and high-definition video displays, to assist attorneys perform peerless depositions. 

Imagine this: An NPR attorney enters a New York conference room filled with opposing counsel. He opens his laptop, connects to a video camera, signs on to the Internet, and, suddenly, a host of attorneys in Las Colinas are not only plugged in, but also actively assisting in the ensuing deposition. On as many as eight screens, they can watch depositions simultaneously occurring in other locations, then instant message (IM) the New York attorney information relevant to the case. In turn, the deposing attorney can IM his colleagues and request additional information.

Meantime, real-time transcripting allows attorneys to monitor every word spoken by the deposing attorney and witness to ensure that questions and answers are correctly recorded. A real-time video feed allows them to evaluate the potential effectiveness of the witness in a courtroom.

The system required the construction of a video display wall comprised of eight 70-inch-high, high-definition projection displays. In addition to IMs, audio/video, and transcripting, each of the streaming video windows can display case-specific database information. Related hardware is enabled via a Crestron master touchscreen remote control.

Intuition would suggest that “The System” required programmers to integrate countless sets of software. Wrong. Virtually all functions are controlled by a program known as LiveNote.

“Hard to believe, but that was the easy part,” says Taylor. At NPR, seeing is believing.

John Gregerson is a freelance writer living in Chicago.

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