The Big, Fat Convergence Issue

I was lucky enough to have dinner earlier this fall with a nice mix of industry people: lighting designer Willie Williams, projection designer Elaine McCarthy, video artist Catherine Owen, Lighting Dimensions editor Marian Sandberg-Dierson, and consulting editor Ellen Lampert-Gréaux. A glance at that lineup and it should come as no surprise that the evening's conversation inevitably turned to the topic du jour in the world of entertainment technology: the future of design in a convergent age.

It all started when I asked Willie what he'd been up to. Aside from beginning preliminary work on the upcoming U2 tour, he mentioned he had seen the newest offering from Andrew Lloyd Webber, The Woman in White, which features set and projection design by Bill Dudley. Ellen also saw the production, and while they both had differing opinions on the success of the show overall, each felt that at the very least Dudley was attempting something that could have larger ramifications on the way shows are designed.

I don't know if it was the wine or the desire to play devil's advocate, but for some reason I found myself challenging Dudley's right to explore a new medium. Me, the guy who sometimes seems like he's become the official cheerleader for convergence in design! Well, needless to say, my comments didn't go over very well. Everyone rushed to the defense of Dudley, of projection and video in theatrical design, and of convergence in general.

Actually, that's not entirely true. Convergence has always been a complex issue for this industry (and let's face it, the idea of convergence has been around a lot longer than the recent explosion in technology would suggest; Josef Svoboda was grappling with these issues in a slightly different form and context over a half a century ago). It has always generated a wide variety of responses. The fact that it's now moving beyond theory and into the realm of reality only makes it more of a point of contention for many. True to form, at our table that night there were various opinions espoused, with varying shades of gray. I would say that the closest thing to a consensus was that this brave new world of projection technology must, like any new tool, be in service of the production, regardless of whether it falls under the heading of lighting, projection, or set design.

This issue of ED is an attempt of sorts to continue the discussion begun that night at a Manhattan bistro (minus the wine, alas). Ellen provides us with a detailed look at the design for The Woman In White (page 18), as well as an interview with Malcom Mellows of XL Video; contributor Bob Cashill takes a look at the issue of convergence as it relates to both the manufacturer and the designer, and we offer a roundup of comments from readers on the topic on pages 6-7. Our “On Projection” columnists Bob and Colleen Bonniol chime in on the continued necessity of collaboration in a convergent world (page 32), while “On Lighting” scribe Patrick Dierson, ever the breath of fresh air, tries to understand what the fuss is all about (page 28).

You'll also notice some changes with this issue. As we announced at ETS-LDI this year, ED is now the official publication of the trade show; as a reflection of that, we're devoting more space each month to products and technology, and have even moved them further up in the book. We've expanded our regular “Product Pick of the Month” to a full page, breaking down one lucky product's merits in detail as well as delineating its history and providing user comments. It's sort of a combination product write-up/mini-review, and very, well, convergent. In keeping with that theme, we look this month at the Green Hippo Hippotizer v. 2 media server (page 10). Also, we've expanded our business coverage, providing a new forum devoted to the needs of business owners, be they manufacturers, dealers and distributors, designers or consultants (see Industry, page 4). And we've modified the Re:Sources section, focusing on the research secrets and design treasures to be found in cities around the world. Our first stop: L.A.

It's a lot to take in, just like the issue of convergence itself. But I'm sure you'll enjoy it, wine or no wine.