Bob Bonniol

The Experiential Creative Toolkit: Software, Part One

Bob Bonniol discusses the software tools he uses to sell an engagement, plan execution, and communicate to his collaborators.

Back in the salad days of the early “aughts,” I was quite smitten with the term “convergence” in live experience.  Lighting, Video, and Audio were blending and blurring, creating compelling new tools and approaches. These days I refuse to use the term convergence. Convergence is dead. The phenomena of the crafts combining hasn’t stopped. Instead, it has become so pervasive and complete that I believe it isn’t converging; it has fully converged.

This is reflected in the software tools I use.  A quick survey reveals applications that seem common to a video editor or effects artist. In fact, they are core to my work in lighting and directing as well.  Conversely my “creative” toolset also features software you might find in any office in the world. This topic will be a two part missive. Next week, I will talk about applications and how I use them to create content. This week? The tools I use to sell an engagement, plan execution, and communicate to my collaborators: 

  • Microsoft PowerPoint: One of the first stages in almost any creative effort is communicating the ideas to collaborators and clients. PowerPoint is my tool of choice for that task. There are other great options.  Keynote is a wonderful app with all of the same attributes. Recently, I’ve been meeting with some of the amazing creatives at The Mill who favor Adobe InDesign for this type of communicating. The reason I use PowerPoint is that it is platform independent. If I am collaborating on a presentation with a distributed team who may be using a mix of Apple and PC, steering clear of Keynote is a good idea. InDesign is wickedly powerful and expressive, but again, in a collaborative world, I sometimes need to prioritize universal accessibility. PowerPoint has fantastic tools for quickly laying out text and graphic elements. There are a plethora of PowerPoint templates available for free or small fees that can give your presentations a more refined look and functionality. Finally, major corporate clients will often have base presentation templates that include brand elements and layouts that are pre-vetted according to official guidelines, thus great for coloring within the lines with corporate communications.
  • Adobe Photoshop:  The foundation.  The beginning.  The hub.  The center.  The starting point.  If you learn no other, if you use no other, use this. Adobe Photoshop is the cornerstone for generating graphics, touching up images, and saving assets to appropriate formats.  There are other similar programs, but none are as widely used, or as powerful.
  • Maxon Cinema 4D: My powers as a creative communicator are immensely enabled by familiarity with a 3D application like Cinema 4D. I learned 3D apps to increase my options as a content creator.  As time went on and I was called upon more and more to impart creative ideas, 3D became a core tool for that.  I am not much of a modeler. But over time, I have created or collected a catalogue of useful items:  stage houses, arenas, trussing, light fixtures, LED screens, decorative scenic accents.  There are also several excellent stock sites that allow me to purchase 3D models to add to show assets.  One strength I worked hard to build was lighting in 3D, and this is oh so useful for demonstrating to clients and fellow creators the real atmosphere, look, and feel of a show.
  • Microsoft Excel: I know.  I know.  What is this doing here?  I am here to tell you that if you want to be an effective creator, you have to be organized. I use Excel to develop project budgets.  I also use it to identify and track deliverables:  Any installation or production that is rich with media or interactive layers is going to end up with thousands of content assets, scenic and technological items, and descriptive information.  Exel-foo is key.  I also use Google sheets, which is almost entirely equivalent, and has the advantage of allowing for realtime collaborative workflow.  During the time I served as the video designer and screens producer for the TED Conference, I came to know and appreciate the power of Google Docs as a realtime source of critical information.  As the executive producer made changes, updated production assets and timings, every department could track and react in real time.  Spreadsheets are not just for accountants.

The next time we gather, I’ll discuss my preferred software for creating assets that end up in shows.  You’ll no doubt witness some overlaps, but there will also be some new apps to discuss. 

Thank you for the comments and likes you have been showering on the articles!  Please keep them coming. Writing these articles is fun, but the dialogue that follows is where some of the best information develops.  What are some of your favorite software tools for planning and presenting a show? Let’s talk.

Bob Bonniol is a director, production designer, and contributing editor to Live Design. He is known for his implementation of extensive media and interactive features in his productions.

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