Over the last 25 years, the automated lighting industry has upped the ante on visual effects by developing technology internal to the light fixture itself. Gobo’s (first metal, now glass), effects wheels, color mixing and more have vastly improved the audience’s experience as well as the lighting programmers working tool set. At the same time, the film, multimedia and Web development industries have been making breakthroughs in the evolution of computer animation, and in turn have unleashed some incredible visual technology. Nowadays we can free video from its 4×3 aspect ratio prison and utilize incredible tools to develop environments previously unheard of.
Houses of Worship no longer have to build cumbersome, expensive and limiting “hard sets” to offer the visual support so important to any church production and drama ministry. They can virtually manipulate reality and make it fluid to integrate into any theme imaginable. That’s a powerful visual message for houses of worship today!
So how do you go about projecting a virtual set?
There are many options available for non-traditional projection surfaces. Spandex is a good projection surface because of its elastic properties and the way it takes light. Now, with the proper framing, it allows the creation of more three-dimensional fabric sculptures. But any light-diffusing surface such as muslin, scrim or flat, white-painted surface will work. Muslin is good to use when going for the “Living Wallpaper” look because of its canvas-like properties, and white, off-white or light gray seem to work best. Dark colors kill projection, so they can be used as a background to absorb any spill that overlaps the projection surface. Surfaces such as inflatable, vinyl and high gloss paint react poorly to projection.
Balancing the stage light is also an important consideration— lighting and projection should work in harmony. Ambient or house light, stage wash for video and the light from follow spots can dramatically reduce the brightness of your projection if they spill onto or near the projection surface. As a rule of thumb, you should allow about 10 feet of real estate on the upstage edge for your projection surface to live in. Backlight poses little threat to projection, but front light can be a killer. Lighting and projection work best in separate zones.
The creation of media or content is also key to the success of your delivery. There are many software tool sets you can use to create a dynamic product; particle emitters, 3-D modeling compositing, visual effects, generators, editing and audio are all elements that can be used in the creation process— not to mention a dynamic and creative mind.
Selecting the hardware for projection is just as big an area to consider. There’s far too much to go into for this article, but suffice it to say that the general rules of AV apply here as well. Size, ambient lighting conditions and various other project requirements come into play in selecting the proper equipment.
Brighter is always better, but the contrast ratio of a projector has a greater influence on the perceived brightness than you might imagine. Texas Instrument’s new dark metals are increasing contrast ratios to the benefit of projectionists everywhere. Resolution is another consideration, though for scenic projections, high resolution is not always a prerequisite. In a lot of cases, an LCD projector will work just fine. The switching control is vitally important, and the new breed of DMX Media Servers is all about integrating the video and lighting. Depending on the simplicity of the program at your house of worship, you might be able to get away with something as simple as a Video Mixer with two DVD players and preview monitors as “the poor man’s solution”, but some of the functions on the new media servers, such as scaling, positioning, masking, layering, internal media libraries and shuttering, are extremely helpful for “on the fly” control and are indispensable in many situations.
If you are thinking of blending light and projection, there are some tricks to help produce a work with maximum impact. Try not to use matching colors when blending light and projection; contrasting colors allow for better definition. Now, make sure to create your media in a field of black – the black areas will disappear into the background of the colored light.
The digital projectionist’s marketplace resides in wide array of venues, including houses of worship, weddings, youth ministry, corporate theatre, touring, theatrical production, and theme parks. The need to differentiate in this highly competitive world is greater than ever, and digital projection provides the tools to unleash your imagination and creativity – two things that can’t be copied.