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Second Vision New Media experiences the blessings and curses of the Voodoo Lounge





More than 1-1/2 years ago, David Eno and Toni Young, a pair of music-industry-savvy producers and talent agents, pulled off a major coup by landing the production of the Rolling Stones' first CD-ROM project--also Eno's and Young's first CD-ROM project.

The recipe was straightforward: Form a company to act as the production entity, mix in music and video footage from The Stones' "Voodoo Lounge" tour, sprinkle in some multimedia, let it stew in the PR pot, then serve it up in CD+ format (for computers and audio CDplayers), and voilà--The Stones on ROM, to be released at the same time as the band's latest album.

Then everybody changed the recipe.

Since the primary ingredient is one of the greatest rock 'n' roll bands in the world, the various producers, recording companies, distributors and even the band made creative and business contributions in order to guarantee that the title would be nothing less than the world's greatest rock 'n' roll CD-ROM. As a result, the title has about as much in common with other music-based CD-ROMs as the Voodoo Lounge tour has with a Saturday night polka-fest.

Since this is The Stones, the disc has become one of the most hyped and anticipated titles in multimedia history.

Without benefit of the comfortable cloak of anonymity that typically shields start-up producers from the scrutiny of their peers until after titles are released, Eno and Young adopted the name of Young's consulting company, Second Vision, and promptly commissioned a squadron of 3-D artists, programmers and other contract commandos to realize The Stones' Voodoo vision. Somehow, the duo would have to reconcile and finesse the demands and aspirations of dozens of people, including strong creative opinions from the band and key financial partners, Virgin Interactive (the publisher) and GTE Interactive (the distributor). One sympathetic technician on the project put it this way: "You've got all these worlds colliding--the music industry and multimedia and distributors. Then you add egos and politics and money and fame and ... luckily, all I have to do is make this thing work."

Ironically, the partners' unique blend of talents and networking skills may turn out to be exactly the right juju to bring this power project out of the swamp of entertainment politics and into the multimedia marketplace.

The measure of how they succeeded will be seen around Halloween--or not. No preview copy was available at press time and the project has already missed a couple of launch dates. In the eerie world of magic potions, strange rituals and macabre personalities known as the music industry and the interactive business, anything can happen.


Gimme Shelter

Appropriately, the home base for newly renamed Second Vision New Media is a funky Hollywood mansion off Sunset Boulevard. This is the integration and coordination center for the project. And it looks it.

Before Second Vision's arrival a few months ago, the most sophisticated piece of hardware in the house was a self-cleaning pool sweeper. Now the house looks like a cross between a college dorm during finals week and a cyber-rock mission control. Computers, monitors, storage bays, editing consoles and mixing boards cover nearly every available square foot. On the wall, tour posters and The Stones' trademark lips-and-tongue logo reinforce the dorm milieu.

Sitting in her poolside office, projecting a confidence that belies the obstacles she and Eno have had to overcome, Young describes the organization and tangled chronology of the project. Behind her, the hose of the pool sweeper slurps and splashes out of the water at odd intervals like a Loch Ness monster. George, the project's Brindle Boxer mascot, prowls the room looking to have his ears scratched.

"It's like a Rolling Stones album, except for the multimedia format," Young says. "Second Vision New Media is the producer. David Eno and I are the executive producers. There isn't anything [about us] that could be
really considered true developers. We put together a team specifically for this project. I never see us as developers; it's more like we're the producers of the album."

Without hesitating to dwell on their potential limitations or showing any doubts, she continues to lay out the genesis of the Voodoo Lounge CD-ROM.

David Eno was approached by Prince Rupert Loewenstein, the band's lead business manager. Eno, a quiet, enigmatic Briton, is a musician and investment banker who spent a handful of years in the music business before hooking up with Peter Gabriel to work on Gabriel's "Real World" interactive theme park project and then wound up as executive producer for Gabriel's 1993 CD-ROM, Xplora 1: Peter Gabriel's Secret World.

Eno, in turn, contacted Young, whom he'd met when she was managing music talent--including Gabriel's business affairs in the United States--from her office in New York. When Second Vision's founder, Bruce Kirkland, moved to Los Angeles to take a position with Capitol Records, Young moved, too, and kept the company name, even though she'd retired from talent management.

In Los Angeles, Young developed what she refers to as an "accidental reputation" in the music industry as a multimedia specialist. "Company presidents would call me up saying, `I understand you know what a CD-ROM is. Can you explain this stuff to me?' Well, I knew a little bit about it, so I kind of became an ad hoc consultant," she says.

Young partnered with Eno for the project, with one condition: that the band be involved as much as possible so that the work would reflect their creativity, not some third party's idea of what The Stones wanted.

Her reasoning was simple: "You can see videos better on MTV and on a VCR than you can on a computer. You can hear music better on CD [audio] than you can on a computer. The product's got to be something a lot more compelling than that."

With that goal in mind, she created several initial concepts for accessing The Stones' material via CD-ROM. The one Mick Jagger and The Stones liked best was the Voodoo Lounge environment, which, as she recalls, started out as "a very simple, single room that you pan, and you click here and you see a video, and you maybe come over here and have a drink that represents a song."

However, after additional meetings with The Stones, Mark Fisher (the Voodoo Lounge set designer) and Patrick Woodroffe (the tour lighting director), the environment "went from a one-room shack to a huge mansion full of all this stuff," Young recounts.

"It went from being a very small program to a very intense, big, rich, deep, better-than-anything-else-that's-out-there-we-hope-to-God title," she adds.


Suck on the Jugular

The transition from very small to humongous was anything but smooth. Creative differences between the various members of the production team and the producers quickly deadlocked development of the title. Last January, with no more time-outs left as they began to crowd the release date for the next Stones album--an anthology billed by record publicists as The Stones' biggest release ever--all of the programmers and designers were pink-slipped, and Eno and Young started over from scratch.

"It just didn't work out. They just kept going off and doing their own thing," Young says of the original programmers and designers.

"They made a lot of mistakes, which is pretty typical [for multimedia], and they learned from it," says an outside multimedia producer familiar with the project.

"It's not like the film industry where they've had 75 years to figure out how to do it," he adds. "Things are changing really fast here. A lot of people are getting into this [industry]. And there's a learning curve. Everyone's got to have their first time. And these guys just happened to have a very high-profile first time."

After the restart, Eno focused his attention on the business side of the project and Young became the primary creative conduit between the band and the developers.

The only people left from the first effort were Young's chief aide-de-camp, Nadir D'Priest, a former rock star whose rakish Irish charm was originally applied to casting beautiful women for the green-screen shoots, and David Bellino, the video director D'Priest had worked with during his rock days. Bellino, who'd directed the three Voodoo Lounge green-screen shoots, stepped in to fill the in-house side of the technical vacuum as the title's director.

Bellino has a degree in electrical engineering and has comprehensive experience in software development and consulting, including a long stint with the Jet Propulsion Laboratories and the Department of Defense, creating war game simulation software.

"He fit in with nontechnical types so well, I had no idea he was a technical geek," Young jokes.

The general consensus among the members of the production team and interested third parties is that Bellino, the only person with an established background in actual multimedia production, is the main force behind getting the title out before the holidays.

"I was kind of leading two lives between the software industry and the entertainment industry," Bellino confesses in the matter-of-fact tones of a career diplomat. Both sides of his background have been useful to his work on the project, he notes.

"Much of the same stuff I was doing [in software development] comes into play on this kind of project. Even though it's a whole different level, it's still similar because it's a software project. Whether it's 250,000 lines of Simscript code or 4,000 lines of Lingo for a Rolling Stones project, you still use some of the same techniques."


Let's Spend the Night Together

During production, Bellino supervised and coordinated the work of 15 to 20 full-time technical people, plus another five to 10 consultants on an as-needed basis. They often worked around the clock to meet interim deadlines. From the beginning it was decided to hire the best talent available, regardless of cost and where the talent is based. When the decision was made to author the title in Macromedia Director, for example, the staff went to the source, Macromedia. "Who better to do the programming than the people who created the tool?" Young says.

Fred Sharples came in from San Francisco as the Macromedia project director and Larry Doyle was hired as lead programmer. Other freelance consultants included Karen Helweg-Larsen, who integrated most of the content into the title. The production supervisor, Linda Wall, oversaw most of the art direction from the Second Vision side of the project. Most of the 3-D artwork was done in Boston by Liquid Video Associates, a group that did work for the film, Johnny Mnemonic.

With the new and improved development team in place, Young and Eno proceeded with their efforts to create a Stones fan's dream disc. The title offers users the opportunity to "hang" with the band at the Voodoo Lounge--a 23-room dilapidated antebellum mansion-cum-clubhouse on the outskirts of New Orleans. The lounge is staffed by such colorful figures as Baron Samedi, lord of the underworld, who owns the joint, and Legba, a taxi driver and guardian of the passage between the ethereal and earthly planes.

As Young explains, "You'd have a drink at the Voodoo Lounge and then have a mystical voodoo experience. A voodoo cocktail that gives you a `vision.'"

Users interact socially with the band and their entourage, which includes backup singers, road managers, the head of security and your standard backstage retinue of transvestites, strippers, groupies and supermodels. In all, users have the chance to meet 85 live-action and animated characters.

The title includes tour footage, special music-track mixes for the CD-ROM, personal scrapbooks, and, in homage to the band's musical influences, a VIP room where the users and the band mingle with legendary bluesmen (see sidebar, page 32).

A "Screen Raver" lets users select from four full-length audio tracks from the album that have been remixed specifically for the CD-ROM. They can pick from a variety of background colors and patterns, a variety of foreground characters, graphic art that was broadcast on big-screen monitors on the tour (including the spiky tongue logo licking the screen). Users also can select movement patterns for the characters, such as spiraling, zigzagging or trailing across the screen to create wild, organic art forms.

Users can trigger the "Jagger-Cam" to get a Mick's-eye view of some of the places the band visited while on tour; Jagger shot the footage personally with a camcorder. Other original video footage includes a sequence shot from a "lipstick" camera worn by one of the band members. The idea, Bellino says, is to give the user a feel for what it might be like to be on stage with Mick and the band.

After a few virtual cocktails, users may need to navigate to the rest room, where they just might bump into Mick or Keith combing their hair. The Stones found that nuance very amusing, Bellino notes.

A "passport" feature that presents rare footage from shows in different cities on the tour, including Miami, Paris, Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro, is good for one visit per play. To see other cities, users will have to put the disc in again.

At the technical level, Bellino says the lack of a common background and knowledge set among the music people and the interactive designers manifested itself most visibly in a single area: making changes. More precisely, he says, the challenge was convincing people not to make changes.

"There are things that sound difficult to change that are done very easily, technically," he explains. "And, there are things that sound very simple to people who don't understand what's involved--things that are nightmares to go back and alter.

"For instance, it's hard for people who don't have technical backgrounds to understand the difference between changing a song loop and changing the location of a composite in a QuickTime movie." Because of the data-driven design of the engine itself, he says, the former entails dropping a new file into a new folder without recompiling. The latter, which has an image set against a specific background so it's more or less hard-coded, is anything but plug and play.


Sympathy for the Devil

Mick Jagger, who has a well-publicized passion for the creative use of new technology, came up with the idea--insisted, really--that the title offer a different initial experience every time a user logged on. As it turned out, the new object-oriented programming approach then being developed by Macromedia for Director was the ideal engine to give Mick the randomness he wanted. The newly designed global object descriptor, or GOD, engine, employed by the Macromedia programmers, let the producers create a 3-D environment where any object, whether it's a character walking across the screen, someone hanging out at the bar, or a movie playing, can have its own states and behaviors. Using GOD, Bellino says, "We were able to basically put together an interactive movie, and set up different scenes and have it be virtually different every time."

As lead programmer, Doyle explains metaphorically, "This particular GOD is a benign sort of GOD, where each individual is endowed with certain behaviors and properties and acts a certain way. So the characters act the way they're supposed to act when they go in and GOD doesn't bother them. But GOD does keep track of things. If you have to, say, pick up a VIP pass before you can enter a room, GOD takes care of that and remembers that it has to happen.

"In each of the 23 rooms that you go into in the Voodoo Lounge, there'll be different people and different things happening. And you'll click on a wall that has videos and you won't see the same video twice for a long time," Doyle adds.

Ultimately, Bellino says, "the GOD engine gives the user more of a reason to put in the CD-ROM again, as opposed to just going through everything one time and seeing it all."



As the title was going through its final debug in late summer, Bellino took a moment to reflect on the project.

"The most important thing is the vision," he says. "It's like directing. If you don't know what it's going to look like before it's done, then it's not going to work. We had to be able to go through the entire lounge and do everything mentally before the first line of code was written."

Bellino figures the Voodoo Lounge project faced just about every obstacle an interactive title could face, but despite the trials, he says he enjoyed the process and is pleased with the final result--even if it meant working around the clock for months.

"The title's going to be great," he says. "Perhaps the voodoo gods are saying, `I think these people need to finish this project.'"

Taking her turn to reflect, the unsinkable Young admits that it was a humbling experience. "I can honestly say that now I know how to do one of these [projects]. And I also know how not to do one."

Who says you can't always get what you want? MMP 


The Cast and Crew

CREATIVE CONSULTANTS: Mark Fisher, Patrick Woodroffe
DIRECTOR: David Bellino/DSB Entertainment
ART DIRECTION/3-D GRAPHICS: Gene Bodio, Phil LaMarbre/Liquid Video Associates

Clicking the Blues

Toni Young knew from experience in the music business that the Rolling Stones are huge blues fans. So, before her initial creative development meetings with the band, she consulted Joel Berliner, a former client who is a blues harmonica player and singer. Berliner gave her a crib list of top blues musicians to study. Later, during the first meeting, Young says Mick Jagger stumbled across the list, got excited and said, "`Wow! These are all of our influences. Are these going to be in the title?'"

Before Young could answer, he added, "`I want to do this. I want to have our influences in this thing.'" 


From Mick's lips to CD-ROM.

Upon her return, Young gave Berliner the assignment to collect the materials that would eventually be housed in the Voodoo Lounge in an area known as the VIP Room.

The VIP Room is an homage to the blues, soul and country music greats that have inspired The Rolling Stones over the years. In it, users can mingle with the band and with several legendary blues artists. They can click on books or the CD audio case to see rare archival footage of famous blues players in performance, including portraits, biographies, extremely rare film clips and samplings of 17 of the Stones' top influences. These include Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Otis Redding, Bo Diddley, T-Bone Walker, Howling Wolf, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker, Little Walter, Robert Johnson and B.B. King.

In addition, users can hear comments from band members as they talk about specific artists and how those artists have influenced their own music.

"The band wanted to give something back to the guys who got them turned on to music enough to start playing in the first place," Young says. She recalls visiting the band on the road and finding Ron Wood in front of video tape of the latest blues footage, guitar in hand, and watching it over and over to learn chord changes from the masters.

"Keith Richards said, `Yeah, if it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you now, would I?'"

In the same spirit, Second Vision New Media has pledged a percentage of the profits from the Voodoo Lounge title to the Blues Heaven Foundation, an organization started by Willie Dixon and run by his daughter. The foundation protects the rights and legacies of blues artists and their families.