BPMC Speaker Spotlight: Howard Werner

Howard Werner is currently hard at work as projection coordinator/additional content designer for Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, the new mega-musical currently under reconstruction on Broadway for a June re-opening. Live Design touches base with Werner, a featured speaker at the Projection Master Classes on Monday, May 23 at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.

How did you become a lighting/projection designer…training, career path?

I started in high school with an interest in lighting and photography and one thing led to another and I found myself in NYC.... Born in Chicago, New Trier West High School, University of Illinois, summer stock in a bunch of places, Santa Fe Opera, assisting and designing small shows in and around Chicago, Goodman Theater, Steppenwolf, Moved to NYC in 1986 been here ever since. Designing away and loving every minute of it.

How do you approach content creation for a new project?

The content design needs to tie into the overall look and feel of the show. Generally this is something that is established before the video team is brought on board. In some cases, like the production of Dreamgirls that I designed, this was all developed in tandem. The video content set every location in that production. The content obviously must come as a direct result of the writer, the director and the set designer's ideas of the setting of the play. It must help to tell the story. In the case of content design for other uses, like architecture or multimedia facades, the content is more about look and feel but could be used to tell a story as well.

How do you select the tools and technology for projection, playback, etc?

What's the need to tell the story? What's the budget?
These are the first questions I'd ask myself.

What has been your most challenging projection project to date?

Probably Dreamgirls. The play is a classic and the original design by Robin Wagner was so amazing. When we started to evolve the design for the recent reviva, Robin designed a set that is as ground breaking as his original, and the media is a huge part of that. We were happy to be asked to take on that challenge. Spider-Man is also an amazing challenge but for different reasons. On that show we were creating something totally new, but based on an icon. How to do that and make it visually work was and still is a challenge.

What was the process for Spider-Man in terms of content, projection team, division of labor…?

The process is ever evolving on Spider-Man. Julie Taymor, Kyle Cooper, George Tsypin, Rob Bissinger, Don Holder and I have all spent countless hours working on the show. The rest of the team is huge: production managers, stage managers, programmers, animators, editors, assistants, crew members and the shops have all played very key roles in making the show happen. Is a huge undertaking and despite all the press we are very proud of our work at the Foxwoods and we all continue to make it better each day. The process can't really be summarized in a few sentences. I started on the show in the fall of 2008, others started earlier, and as we all know the final chapter has yet to be written.

What makes projection design an exciting design discipline in your opinion?

When I'm on a job as a projection designer it's hard to not let my brain go to that lighting designer place. Doing both make them both fresh for me. I think of projections as large sources of light that paint pictures in different ways than a moving light or a Leko but they are all brushes to tell the story. Some are just bigger brushes than others....

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