by Brad Gallagher
Video projection design in the Church Market has witnessed a rebirth in the past few years. While just a few years ago, there was a large debate about whether the use of technology, specifically video detracted from worship. These conversations have largely ceased. One reason for the shift is the explosion in multi-site Churches which rely on good video production for the message to be delivered by an exceptional teaching pastor at the main campus or one of the main campuses.
One of the reasons that I see cited less frequently is that the technology has evolved to a point that it allows for much more creative expression. When we were stuck to displaying images inside a 4:3 square, everything was just an image inside a picture window. The only thing you could really do to stand apart was to make that window bigger or add more of them. At some point, you end up with a Church that looks more like a Sports Bar.
Fortunately, today technology has advanced to the point that we can get the image OUT of that rectangle which was grown to a 16:9 aspect ratio. Sure, we have high definition everything, but to my mind, the most exciting part is the existence of tools that bring creative expression and experience. This is probably the reason I enjoy working with Churches so much.
I have designed campuses for some of the largest churches in the country, but I get just as much enjoyment in exploring creative solutions for smaller campuses with limited budgets. It’s incredible where some inspiration and ingenuity can get you. With that in mind, let’s explore a few techniques that can help you build more creative environments for worship using projection:
Triple Wide Projection
This is one of the simplest methods out there to add more visual appeal to Church Production. The reason is that it has been so widely deployed at this point. With good reason. Like anything, overuse leads to becoming stale, but I think we’re still a pretty long way from that.
In a triple wide setup, you have three screens. This is typically two screens to the sides of the stage (for IMAG and lower thirds at medium and large Churches), and another screen with a different video feed onstage. In some of the Churches that I have designed, all three of the screens have been onstage, due to the width of the stage. You have to be careful in this case to make sure you have enough vertical height and you can manage masking onstage.
Using Pro Presenter, a Matrox TH2G, and some stock content from Triple Wide Media, you can quickly enable content that will span across all three screens, creating an enveloping experience. Even with empty space between the screens, if the lighting is done properly, the eye will tend to fill in the gaps onstage, creating one fluid experience of imagery. That fact that you don’t have to cover the entire areas with pixels makes this a cost effective approach with a lot of flexibility.
Software like Mad Mapper has made it very cost simple and cost effective to approach projection mapping. This opens lots of doors for creative content. The fact that you can use any software capable of output via Syphon means that you have a lot of options available to you. It also increases the chances that someone on your staff will have experience with a software platform that will allow you to leverage content creation and control for output to MadMapper.
Portrait Mode Projection
One easy way to leverage the gear that you already have in new and creative ways is through portrait mode projection. We are accustomed to viewing content in 16:9 aspect ratio, but much less familiar with viewing that content in 9:16 format. This helps our brain to disconnect from the idea of a screen as a “big television” and instead see it as a creative canvas. I’m talking both from the perspective of the audience and also the content creator here.
You have to be careful and confirm that the projector that you are currently using can be utilized in portrait mode without having an adverse impact on the lamp. This will vary from projector to projector. One of the great things about the new solid state projectors is that they can be used in pretty much any orientation without any additional engineering considerations.
All of these new software packages allow you to do neat things like warping and masking, but if you’re not doing environmental projection, how do you take advantage of these features? Stop thinking about projectors as the light source for a big TV and start thinking of them as elements in your lighting design. The just happen to have REALLY flexible gobos. We still need a projection surface, though.
Stretch Fabric screens are great for this application. Rose Brand Splats are probably the most commonly used for this application. They are IFR fabrics that work great for projection and lighting. IFR means they are inherently fire retardant, so that you can wash them without losing their fire rating.
Another great thing about these fabrics is that they have high acoustic transmissivity. This means they can also serve as a great hiding place for effects speakers. Additionally, you can put inexpensive absorption behind them to lower the RT60 of a room, in lieu of expensive sound panels.
A short throw projector, a big Splat and a truck bed full of Roxul or Owens Corning 703 placed upstage can make a great way to suck up some of that bleed from the drum kit bleeding into all of your other stage microphones.
I’ve used this stuff on several projects and have always been happy with the results. It is a specially formulated paint that allows for optical qualities that are pretty close to what you get with a professional projection screen.
This allows projection on surfaces that are more complex than what you can do with a typical screen. You need to get a high quality drywall finish, but as long as that is done properly, your results will be very good. Very cool for themed kids spaces as one example. If you’ve never taken a look at their website, you might be surprised at some of the examples. Worth a look, if for no other reason than the name of the company. Goo Systems Global. I love that!
Another projection technique that is really good at creating experience is environmental projection. Talk about getting away from the standard 16:9 picture frame. In environmental projection, we cover the walls from top to bottom with projection.
If you were to cover the walls top to bottom with lighting instruments, you could change their color at will to adapt mood. Still, this would have a certain look of technology, because you are clearly taking the existing texture of the wall and just changing the color.
With environmental projection, we can change the entire appearance and visual texture of that wall. This can be a strong emotional cue to be tied in with the overall worship experience, when done properly.
I hope these ideas have given you some new ground to explore into church video projector design. I wish I had time to get deeper into detail on all of these topics. Each one deserves an entire article of its own and hopefully I will have time to dig deeper in the future.
Brad Gallagher is an Audio/Video Design Consultant, who has worked with some of the largest Churches in the Country. He loves leading experienced teams on large projects and working with mid-sized Churches to do amazing things on a budget. Sign up for his blog for great Worship Technology Tips.