Motion imagery: film footage, computer generated animation, even video shot with a DV camcorder. It can be a powerful tool when used to enhance corporate worship. Even though I am a full-time director of a stock footage company (Artbeats), worship is my real passion, and bringing motion imagery to worship has been my focus. To display moving images as a background to the lyrics during praise and worship is a desire of church leaders everywhere. Several years ago I wrote an article exploring the possibilities of this technology. Since then, I have been able to use this technique in all kinds of situations from small churches, and retreats to large worship events and Promise Keepers. Now I would like to share some practical advice on making this a reality in your media department.
To make the most out of using motion imagery to enhance worship, it will ultimately mean investing significant resources for equipment and footage. But before you recoil at the thought of raising or budgeting more funds, please read on and I’ll try to explain some ways to make this as painless as possible. First, here are the points we will explore 1) Live video editing timed to the song, drama or other event; 2) Creative staff dedicated to this new position; 3) Layering the lyrics over the video; 3) The equipment necessary to make this happen; 4) Preparation before the event or service; 5) Building a solid content library. I’ll cover each of these in detail throughout the article.
Understanding the theory of Live Video Editing
What is Live Video Editing? The spontaneous presentation of video clips on a large video screen as a song, drama piece or other activity is happening at the same time. Since most of the video editing will probably be applied to praise & worship, I’ll reference my comments below to video editing for songs rather than other forms of worship.
Live editing involves having multiple clips available at your fingertips, and a new set of clips for each song. Each clip is chosen from a computer screen menu and is transitioned onto the main screen with dissolves or cuts between each clip. There are typically two channels of video from which to pick from, and so you will transition back and forth between both channels. The transitions should be coordinated with the music changes and the clips should support the message (or feeling) of the song. For details on how this works, please see the Sidebar: The Anatomy of a Live Video Editing Session.
Live video editing is very different from post editing (like a pre-made music video). We’ve found that longer dissolves will work better than quick cuts, and imagery that is literal to the song lyrics is recommended. Obviously, this requires some sophisticated equipment which we will discuss later in this article. However, the theory here is that the editor is communicating to the viewer with imagery that supports the worship. What is he communicating? All kinds of things from the majesty of God to specific moods that embrace the message of the song. The key word here is to “support”, not to distract from the worship.
A New Staff Position
Live video editing should be handled by someone with sensitivity and a creative gifting. I can’t stress enough that this is not a technical position. Because of the power of the images, poor editing can ruin a worship set. Also, this cannot be handled by the same person operating the lyric software. This may be the biggest challenge for small churches with limited volunteer staff. Fortunately, live video editing software is easy to operate, but there are no classes existing to train the editor in the fine nuances. In the early stages of this craft, those of us who are working with this technique are making the rules as we go. The manual has yet to be written. However, I believe every church has someone in attendance that has a creative talent just waiting to be releases in a new form. This is it!
Layering The Lyrics Over The Video
You may currently be using PowerPoint, Sunday Plus, EasyWorship or other presentation software to project your lyrics. That part won’t change, because you still need a lyric source to overlay on the video. However, now you’ll be using just the “luminance” or brightness of the lyric image to “key” the text over the video. This is why we suggest that you configure your software to display the lyrics as white on a black background. If your video mixer doesn’t provide a drop shadow, you may need to generate one by making the drop shadow text slightly lighter than black. When the mixer keys out the black background, you can set the threshold so that it will leave the lighter drop shadow text visible. The drop shadow is not absolutely necessary, but it does help with the readability of the text on bright moving images. We have found this to be vital on images where there is a mottled white texture, like snow capped mountains or sun reflections on water.
It’s best to have no more than 4 lines of text, and use a san-serif font (like Helvetica or Arial). Do not fill the screen with text top to bottom or side to side. The text should be condensed in the center of the screen without a lot of spacing between lines.
For the actual video editing, there are several ways to go, but one solution stands out above the rest. That is the Edirol DV-7PR video presenter ($5995.00 retail). With the additional V-4 mixer ($1195.00 retail), it is possible to layer text on the screen, even with a drop shadow. The DV7-PR holds up to 640 clips in 20 different palettes. Each palette displays 32 clips which is a good number for your typical worship song. The 32 clips show up on the screen and can be selected at will and then “transitioned in” with the mixer.
A separate computer provides a source for the lyrics and the video mixer is where they all come together. For a simple diagram see Figure 1.
Though I am not a video projector consultant, I know that in order to make the images “pop” on the screen, it’s important to understand that moving video has a lot of subtle shades that are lost if the projected contrast is too low. This may not be a problem if you’ve been projecting white lyrics on a dark blue background, but video is different. There are two issues to consider: 1) The brightness of the projector, and 2) The ambient light of the room. It’s easy to think that the best answer is to get as bright a projector as possible, but even a 10,000 lumen projector with a 12′ screen will have a hard time competing with daylight streaming in through large windows (even if the screen is not in the direct path of the light). The same room could be handled well with a 2,000 lumen projector if the windows were covered and the lights turned off. Obviously, most ambient light situations are somewhere between either extreme. It’s a compromise between having enough light for the band members to see their music, and yet dark enough to see a video image with a full range of tonal values. I would personally rather have my blacks as dark as possible, rather than try to overpower ambient light with a mega-dollar projector. The goal should be contrast rather than brightness.
Regarding projector brands, it won’t take much research to find out that Sanyo is highly regarded among nearly everyone for image quality, value, and robust design for permanent installs and for the road. The experts at ChurchMultimedia.com, like the Dukane brand because of their warranty, and Kent Morris from Cornerstone Media likes the Christie Digital brand for color and image quality in high-end applications.
One final tidbit about screens: As I travel to various churches for worship video presentations, I often find a center screen high above the platform. I will then set up 2 more screens, one on either side. I am amazed about the positive comments this setup has generated. I am finding pastors who are altering their media plans to include three front projection screens instead of one, after seeing our presentation.
Preparing for the event
When I originally built Orison (a custom high-end live video editing system), my vision was to be able to feel my way through a song, spontaneously picking clips from various menus as needed without any preparation or forethought. How wrong I was. The editor should set aside some time before the event to prepare. He should have an advance worship set list and carefully listen to each song, previewing clips that fit with each one. Not only each song, but also each verse and chorus. The editing system should allow the user to arrange clips in the best order possible for the event. I have often spent eight hours preparing for one worship set.
When the lyrics say “You are my Rock”, the editor should be prepared with mountains, rock formations or some other representation of something steadfast or permanent. An image of flowers can send a conflicting message and undermine the song’s purpose. When the lyrics say “I will rise like an eagle…” there should be aerials, or cloud footage on hand. On other phrases that have a more subtle content like “I look up to you…”, I often show a camera tilt-up to the sun. Some songs have a large contrast between the verses and the chorus. Songs like “All Of My Days” and “Need You Here” by Hillsongs get very big during the chorus. To support this change, I often use brighter imagery or abstract imagery with elements that are rising or bursting out from the center like kaleidoscopes.
After putting together hundreds of songs, here are some simple guidelines that have proved helpful to me (I’ll use some of the same names as found in the Artbeats footage library):
Slow, Intimate Songs: Flowers, lake and forest scenics, slow moving abstracts, and sky shots.
Medium Tempo Songs: Waves, rivers, cloud fly-thrus, waterfalls, mountains, Aerial Cloud Backgrounds.
High Energy Songs: Tight shots of ocean waves, creeks & white water, Ground Rush Aerials, fast moving timelapse clouds, fireworks.
Holiness and Reverence Themes: Backlit clouds, suns, sunsets, forest rays, cloud light rays.
Heaven: Stars, space, clouds, and Aerial Cloud Fly-thrus
Subjects of Sin and Crucifixion: Storms, rain, lightning, Dore Illustrated Bible images of the cross (scans that are pre-animated with camera moves).
Gen-X/Y: Fire and edgy backgrounds like Digital Edge, Light Waves, and Kaleidoscopes.
Of course, these are only guidelines; I would encourage anyone to try any footage or stills that are appropriate.
Building A Footage Library
No doubt about it, footage is expensive, even when purchased from royalty-free stock houses. However, footage shot with a simple DV camera can be very effective in worship. Plus, the clips can be downloaded easily into an Edirol DV7-PR. Still images can work great too, as long as you transition between them as if they were clips. If you are going out in the field with your DV camcorder, it is suggested that you shoot nature footage on a tripod, since unstable footage can be distracting and it can wear-out the viewer. Do slow pans and tilts for camera moves. Shoot full screen waves, white water and tree leaves moving in the wind. It’s hard to edit with clips less than 10 seconds song, so I suggest shooting clips at least 20 seconds long.
Creeks, lakes, mountains, rivers, skies, sunsets make great imagery for almost any worship song. You can also animate stills, like those found in the Dore Illustrated Bible. You can do this by scanning and then taking the image into a video editing program (like Adobe After Effects) and panning or scaling over time. You might also experiment with models doing postures of worship, but I would steer clear of using members of your congregation.
If you want to purchase stock footage, you will get much better image quality than a DV camera. If quality is a big concern, then stock is the way to go, just choose one of the larger companies with a good reputation. Also, stock footage libraries contain hard to shoot footage like slow-motion effects and aerials.
When choosing stock content, it’s best to stay as generic as possible. Avoid images of familiar landmarks that will distract the viewer from trying to figure out “where that place is”. Finally, you can find great loopable clips at stock houses, which can be helpful for long song segments.
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