Christmas Eve Opener 2012


Here is our Christmas Eve opener.  This is the raw footage, no edits, no mix downs.  Merry Christmas!


Adding Video To Your Set Design

The world of video projection has changed so much of the way theatrical and church set design is done.  Backdrops and props that might only be useful for a specific series or show can now be used in multiple ways simply by changing a graphic.

coroplastRecently, as part of our Christmas set, our Visual Arts Director constructed several large white “boxes” out of coroplast.  If you have never used coroplast before, you can think of it as the plastic version of cardboard.  It is a very durable, yet lightweight material that can be used in thousands of different ways.  It is also fairly inexpensive, comes in multiple colors and can be ordered in sheets up to 4’x8′.

The three boxes became the centerpiece of the set design by projecting video images on the front sections.  As you can see in the image above.  It is a pretty amazing effect and the great part is by using ProPresenter, Media Shout or Powerpoint, you can easily change the image with the push of a button.  If you want to go really high end, you could also show videos on them with a little creative editing.

Now I’m sure by this point you are wondering how all this works.  Well here are the steps we used to make it happen.

IMG_10831.  Get the props you plan to project on in place and make sure your projector can project an image wide enough to cover them.  We downloaded a grid graphic and inserted it into a ProPresenter slide to help us see where all the edges and corners would be.  By tweaking the position of the boxes and the projector, we completed this portion of the setup and were ready for step 2.






2.  Color in the grid to cover each of the boxes.  To do this we basically added a “shape” in the ProPresenter slide and sized it until each of the boxes was covered.  In our case, we used different colors to help us see the edges.  You have now created a template.  Save this slide as a jpeg and then use it as the “slide background” every time you start building a look.

Grid PIc3.  With your template in place, cover each of the boxes with an image and fill in the grid with black shapes to cover the lines.  You may have to do some minor tweaking once you project the images, so be sure to test each one for clarity and alignment.  You will also need to make sure you have layered the images correctly over the template. Below are a couple more examples of slides we created.







There are a couple more hints to making this work effectively on your stage.  First it is important to be able to control ambient and stage lighting.  Remember that these surfaces are white, and natural light from windows or stray stage lighting can destroy the illusion by washing it out.  Second, make sure your players, singers, actors and teachers know that these are projected images and that if they walk in front of them, they will cast a shadow.

This is not the first time we have used this method for set projection and I’m sure it won’t be the last.  I’d love to hear how you use video set projection in your church or theater.


Countdown To Christmas Eve

You may have noticed a little time has passed since my last post.   We have been busy preparing for an unusual December that includes 5 Sundays and Christmas Eve.  If you are involved in church worship ministry, you already know that Christmas time brings with it the expectation of somehow topping last year’s extravaganza.  While I love Christmas Day, I have to admit that I start stressing out in early October about the 24 days of December that precede it.   I am blessed to work with an amazing team of staff and volunteers who are at the top of their industry.  This evening we began the process of programming the lighting for our Christmas eve opener,  (See picture above) and we will continue preparations as the countdown continues.  I am looking forward to posting some pictures from our Christmas Eve service here and then getting back to posting some new blogs after the first of the year.  I have some amazing tips & tricks I have learned in the last few weeks that I can’t wait to share.  Until then … here’s to successful Christmas Eve services at your church and then a well deserved Merry Christmas with your family.

Need A New Look For Your Stage? The Answer Might Be Right Outside Your Window.

The quest for the new and unique in stage design can be arduous and expensive.  From high tech to high dollar, options abound for those with bottomless checkbooks and visions of grandeur.  This is not to say that I have no appreciation for pushing the envelope or the experience of a spectacular visual presentation, but in the real world of church ministry, dollars are frequently limited and Sunday continues to come once a week.

Finding clever solutions for stage design is really not rocket science.  Two elements walk hand-in-hand, like a bride and groom, each having equal relational importance in designing a great stage.   These elements are reflective surfaces and good lighting.  In the past 12 years, I have used everything from styrofoam, bubble wrap, and vinyl floor tiles to spandex, rope and brown paper bags.  It is amazing what kind of ideas a slow walk through your local Home Depot or Lowes can produce.

Recently, our Visual Arts Director added a new surface to our arsenal of palettes.  That surface would be a few rolls of stiff, shiny window screen.   Who would have thought that a material developed in the 1820’s to sift flour and provide home protection from insect invasion while still allowing good ventilation would be great for set design?   If you work in any area where quick, innovative and inexpensive set design means the different between good and great, keep reading.

There are several methods you can use to create very unique looks with window screen.  All of them involve bending, twisting or crumpling it in some way.  It is imperative that you use screen that is stiff enough to hold a shape.  The synthetic, flimsy stuff won’t cut it in this arena.  In this picture, two rolls of screen were crumpled and then stapled to a black surface.  The deeper the crease, the better the look.  After the installation the screen is lit with LED lights from directly above and directly below, which gives it a three dimensional look.

Here you can see the same shot side-by-side with flash and without.   It is fun to watch people walk up on the stage to try to figure out what in the world we used to create this effect.

So if you are looking for a simple way to make your stage design turn heads, the answer is literally right outside your window.  Run by your local home improvement store and let the fun begin!

The Perfect Storm

Recently it seems that weather related stories have permeated the news cycle landscape, in spite of the barrage of political ads and election commentary.  Since Noah’s Arc first began to float many thousands of years ago, humans have had a fascination with the weather.  During the past couple of decades, scientists have coined a term that defines the convergence of multiple weather systems or factors known as “The Perfect Storm.”  Books and movies have further piqued our interest in this phenomenon by memorializing and dramatizing these historical events.

If you work in ministry for any time at all, whether as a professional or volunteer, odds are that you will probably experience a “perfect storm” of sorts in a weekend experience.   When multiple complications arise that threaten the success of a service, you may be faced with difficult decisions that force you to prioritize and may ultimately determine if you sink or swim.

Growing up in Florida, the threat of Hurricanes was an annual event, and I can say that I have experienced several, first-hand.   When you live with an awareness that a storm of this nature can form in a matter of just a few days, and when you understand the unpredictability of a hurricane’s exact path, you learn to always be prepared.  Flashlights, candles, water, canned food, generators, and materials to protect your home are something that, if you are wise, you invest in and keep on hand all the time.  Many homeowners, especially on the coasts, will even build storm shutters into the architecture of a new home from the beginning.

Preparedness in media ministry is equally important.  Just recently on a Sunday morning, we found ourselves without a FOH engineer, Lighting Director and our Media Director was at the hospital with his wife, after discovering she had a life threatening blood clot in her lung.  To complicate this, we lost our video scope less than one hour prior to the first service and the video feed between our two campuses was down.  And yet, we didn’t miss a beat.  We executed our weekend experiences without a single flaw.  How you ask? Cross Training.  

Just like hurricane preparedness can save your life in a storm, good cross training between staff and volunteers can save your weekend in a crisis.  Over the past several years we have intentionally cross trained everyone on our team to be proficient on at least one other media position.  While this process doesn’t happen overnight, it truly does pay off when your Sunday morning falls apart.

So what was our solution?  We huddled up, determined our priorities, re-assigned responsibilities and watched what being prepared looks like in action.

Cirque du Soleil “Zarkana” Opens In The Aria At City Center, Las Vegas

It is no secret that I have been a big fan of Cirque du Soleil since I saw my very first show back in the summer of 1999.  It is also no secret that it has had a profound influence on my philosophies about creativity and the creative process.  In future posts, I will spend some time unpacking the wisdom I have gleaned from this amazing organization.

I have had the opportunity to be a part of previews for the opening of three Cirque shows, Zarkana being the latest.  I had the good fortune to snag a seat in the front row center of the balcony.  After being told, “that’s a great seat!” by two different ushers, I was definitely not disappointed.

The theater is located inside the beautiful Aria hotel at City Center in Las Vegas.  It is the former home of “Viva Elvis” that closed at the end of August.  It is a beautiful venue with 1840 seats and an enormous stage.  It took 65 semi trucks to deliver the set for retro-fitting the theater  for Zarkana and the talented people at Cirque made the transformation beautifully.  Elvis has definitely left the building.

Zarkana is the story of a magician in an abandoned theatre who has lost his love and his magic.  Guided by a cast of interesting characters, his journey takes him through a mystical landscape towards finding that which he had lost.  As with nearly every Cirque show, there is very little speaking.  The story is ultimately told through the artistry of the presentation. The very talented performers in Zarkana brought their game and delivered several impressive “wow” moments during the show.  For avid Cirque fans, there is enough familiar content to make the show a true Cirque, but the new and unique undoubtedly trumps the standard fare.

The first attention grabber in the show is a very gifted woman who juggles.  While in print, this doesn’t really sound impressive,  it is when you see it live.  She juggles up to eight green spheres at a time, but that’s not all. She doesn’t juggle them in the air, but bounces them off the floor, walls, boxes and most impressively walking backwards up a set of stairs while bouncing them (yes all 8 of them) on the steps in time with the music.

About halfway through, the next memorable moment was a very talented sand artist.  For whatever reason, performance art of this kind moves me and this act was no exception.  Artistically telling the story of the magician, she beautifully and seamlessly walked us through the journey in sand pictures that were projected on a large circular screen above her head.  I have seen many sand artists and this particular one was a master of her craft.

The last of my “wow” moments was a very gifted athlete who performed a series of gymnastic poses & movements on a circular platform at center stage.  Behind him were hundreds of white ropes suspended from the ceiling forming something of a “rope curtain” as the backdrop.  As he began his performance, a digitized, almost ghostly video image of him in blue & green was projected on the front of the ropes.  The effect was mesmerizing.  This particular artist was featured on “America’s Got Talent” a while back and you can look him up on youtube.

Zarkana stands strongly on the talent of it’s cast and the beauty of the set design & lighting.  Major kudos for the integration of video into the set design.  While stunning, it never overpowered or upstaged the talent.  Every look and scene was beautifully created and unique to the particular act performing.  The talent of the musicians was world-class and was delivered on a pristine audio system.  My only constructive comments would be the need for beefing up the musical score to better support the visual elements and to evoke more emotion from the audience.  Additionally, transitions and set changes between some of the bigger acts were sometimes lengthy and not well covered.  Since the show is in the preview stage, I’m sure these are issues that will be addressed before the Grand Opening.  I look forward to seeing it again on a future visit.

If you are an avid Cirque fan, then Zarkana should be on your list of must see shows.  I still believe that the show “Ka” at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas holds the title for the best all around Cirque show in the world, but Zarkana still offers a stunning and satisfying visual journey into a magical story that is well worth the price of admission.

Check out the preview video here.

Blackmagic Design ATEM HD Video Switcher Offers Big Studio On A Budget

Over the past several weeks I have had the chance to put a Blackmagic Design ATEM Television Studio Video Switcher through some testing, and I have to say I’m impressed!  While only taking up 1U of rack space, it includes the same features as the most powerful switchers used in broadcast TV.  At at price point of less than $1000, all you have to add is a mac/pc and a monitor and you have a full, 10 bit digital 1080i or 720p video switcher with 6 HD/SDI or HDMI inputs, an upstream keyer, 2 downstream keyers and 2 media players.  In addition, it includes a H.264 encoder for internet streaming.

The unit can be controlled on your computer desktop through a standard looking A/B control panel.  I found the interface easy to use, but it does require some practice and good mousing skills to operate it quickly.   You can manage the switcher media pool and set all adjustments, and switcher control includes full keyboard shortcuts.  In addition, the panel lights work just the same as a standard hardware control surface.

If you require repeated fast cuts or dissolves or just prefer the feel of a real take bar and buttons, the ATEM 1 M/E control panel will solve this problem, but comes with a price tag of $4995.  A cost jump of nearly $5000 really negates the low budget benefit of the base unit and puts the system more in the price category of several competitors.

The one feature that you rarely see in a switcher at this price point is a built in Multi-View.  All 6 inputs, the 2 media players and a large preview and program window all fit on a single SDI or HDMI monitor.  Several layouts and fully routable inputs make for a very versatile display, and tally indicators highlight both on-air and preview sources.

Of course, I never like to play by the rules and I love to creatively trick out my gear.  Two really cool options I added to the switcher were a ELO 22″ Touch Screen monitor and an X-keys programmable USB remote box.   The touch screen saves having to mouse over buttons for transitions by instead allowing the software interface to be operated more like a conventional switcher at a price of $500 instead of $5000 for the ATEM 1 M/E panel.  The X-keys USB remote panel allows me to make use of the switcher’s keyboard shortcuts and control the switcher remotely from a secondary location.  This is especially helpful when you are shorthanded and need a remote control panel at another workstation.

Whether you work at a church, school, theater or local community television studio, the Blackmagic Design ATEM Television Studio provides a feature-packed, broadcast quality, full production studio for less than $1000.  We are planning on installing this unit for local IMAG screen control in one of our venues.  I’ll keep you updated on how it performs.