Unconventional Video

In Uncategorizedby tfwm

Video is everywhere: in our homes on our TV’s and computers, in the corporate boardroom, on street-side “jumbotron” screens from Times Square to the Las Vegas strip, on the Broadway stage and in concert venues worldwide. It has even become an accepted convention within the church! (Imagine that.) In fact, it’s so conventional that we hardly take notice and, for the most part, that’s a good thing. Some of us remember the days when video first entered our sanctuaries; everyone took notice and some took exception. Thank goodness those days are pretty much over.

But with familiarity – and so much quality material out there – there breeds a boredom; a certain contempt, even an attitude of “so what.” No longer does video command our attention; it has become run of the mill. Media is so prevalent on our 4:5 and 6:9 boxes that it is taken for granted. Of course, one can see the advantage of this (no more battles), but there are those disadvantages I mentioned as well.

So, how do we make people sit up and take notice again? How do you offer new surprises that will make video special again? By using the convention unconventionally, of course. Not everyday, mind you; that would be overkill and defeat the purpose, but when a special impact is required to relate something that would otherwise pass in one eye and out the other – then the time is ripe.

Ideas From the Theater/Concert Setting
There are several Broadway plays that now use video interspersed with the live drama. Musicals like Jazz use video to condense the story line and provide transitional material. Others utilize video to project scenery or much like IMAG to bring the audience closer to the actors. Still, these do not exceed expectation or present something much outside the box; they are still conventional uses (though unconventional for theater).

Back in the 1970’s (in my BC days) Alice Cooper used the video screen interactively during his “Welcome to My Nightmare” tour. He would “enter” the on-screen action by passing into and onto the screen by way of a slit in the fabric. The simple innovation was quite memorable for me.

Just as memorable are my more recent experiences seeing the Blue Man Group shows in Chicago and Las Vegas. In their shows – a hybrid concert/theatrical multi-sensory experience – they also interact with the projected image. Media is projected from the rear of the screen and, passing behind the screen, the Blue Men create amazing shadow plays that are sometimes real (live shadows) and sometimes actually part of the video (animation).

Could you adapt these effects for use in the church?

Ideas from Theme Parks
Innovative use of video has also played, and continues to play, a part in the amusement park industry. Early on Walt Disney used video projection in the Haunted Mansion. It’s everywhere! When the ghosts dance in the great hall it is a video projected upon a sheet of glass positioned at a 45 degree angle form the viewer: you see the projection, but you also see through it. The three singing graveside busts are video projected on faceless heads, the head in the crystal ball is a projection and a video loop plays on another tiny faceless puppet as you leave the ride.

Today they use basically the same trick (though in rear-screen) for the Disney’s California Adventure attraction Golden Dreams. The show is primarily a movie, but on each side of the screen are totems of the mythical personage Califia (the spirit of California). During the show the totems come alive with a talking Califia, played by Whoopie Goldberg, and even seem to be interactive with the audience. And who could not stand in awe at the video display in the Animation attraction on Disney’s Hollywood Boulevard (DCA in Disneyland Resort)?

Of course, most notable and well-known is Disney’s use of video projected on mist screens during their show Fantasmic! (at both Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World). These screens, produced from water spray, can be either opaque or translucent(used much like a scrim) to either mask theatrical transitions or interact with the players. (If you haven’t seen this show, you need to.) 3D video is also used, with stunning results, in Universal’s Islands of Adventure Spiderman ride and elsewhere.

So it’s out there, but the question is: Can it be in here, in your church? Yes, it can, and if you haven’t yet been hit with an idea or two here are some ways I’ve used video in the church quite unconventionally.

Can these ideas stimulate ways in which you might use them?

Ideas From My Own Bag of Tricks
You may have heard of the Catalyst by High End Systems. It is a lighting/video hybrid device that utilizes a video projection head to throw video imagery around in 3D space by way of a mirror controlled by servo motors. It works on the same principle as a scanner, the automated luminaries use in concert and club lighting. The projector is fed content by way of a computer/software interface. Static images and video, along with Photoshop-like masks and keystoning effects, allow for media to be manipulated and moved at the will of the designer. Virtually anything you can dream up can become a gobo. The device is quite expensive, but you can create some of the same effects with your own projector. Here’s how:

On one occasion (before the advent of Catalyst – wish I’d have patented my idea) I created a flexible cross out of a reflective material made by 3M (the same material from which the Krypton costumes, as worn by Marlon Brando, where made for the movie Superman). Essentially, what I made was a cross-shaped screen that rose out of the stage and stood above a set in front of a black drop. There I projected images from PowerPoint onto the cross-screen. Over the images I imported into PowerPoint I created a cross shaped mask (using polygons made with PowerPoint’s drawing tools). The effect garnered whistles, applause and ah’s. One could easily use motion graphics as well using today’s PowerPoint (and Crystal Graphics PowerPlugs). Try mounting a projector as you would a theatrical lighting fixture and feed in some gobo-like images.

Other Ideas
For an Easter production I wished to have an angel “magically” appear atop the gravestone to give his oration. First I filmed the actor dressed in white and standing on a black backdrop/ground covering. Later I rigged up a dry ice fog machine to a hose that was mounted in the ceiling (fly loft) of the sanctuary – the nozzle pointing straight down. On cue the fog machine fogged and I projected the video onto the column of vapor; a very weird and unearthly effect. (Hiding a speaker in the tomb gives directional cues to the audio and adds realism.)

You could also project onto a wall of fog created by expelling the fog through a PVC pipe into which you have drilled holes along its length. (Be sure and cap the end.) You could easily adapt this effect for other angelic appearances for Christmas.

You can create images in a “mirror” by mounting a projectors lens into an opening of a black box. The front side of the box would be made of frosted glass (frost on the back, away from the audience) and your box would appear to be a mirror while it is dark. When the images are projected the apparition appears to be in the “mirror.” You might also try rear projection on a painting done on tightly stretched scrim material.

Well, there you have it, a few ideas to begin with. Now, let your imagination run wild and remember, like the Disney Imagineers say, “If you can dream it, you can build it.”