I read with great interest Mats Karlsson's article in February's Live Design (“View From The Dark Side,” p. 24) — a refugee from the world of colors and bulbs making his way in the world of moving images. Perhaps I should have waved as we passed! The original team at Green Hippo comprised a video programmer, a technical event manager with a heavy leaning toward video, plus a couple of coders who didn't care what the discipline was, as long as we fed them challenges — not exactly a strong lighting influence in those days. We dreamed of feeding real-time images to screens around the world without any hint that, in a couple of years, we'd be mixing with lighting guys and socializing at tradeshows with people from “the light side.” Nigel Sadler, a core member of our team, is to blame. He suggested DMX control for our box, and the rest is history.
I may lose the respect of a few friends, but I have to share my thoughts after a few years in the land of tins with bulbs in them. For I was guilty of believing that all people in the lighting fraternity wore pit-boots, sported unkempt ponytails, and had no fingerprints as a result of repeat burns from those nasty light thingies. The idea of being involved in anything fed by big power was scary, and I was happy feeding my video signals into someone else's switchers and mixers.
This statement is, obviously, a sweeping generalization. Even before the days of (cough) con*erg*nce, there were designers using video and lighting to create stunning events by blending disciplines, but I will stick my neck out and say that they tended to inhabit a world of design meetings, plans, and pre-production budgets. In the world of the average video technician in the mid-90s, lighting was one end of the warehouse (if even in-house), and you'd occasionally chat, but the division remained.
Then came media servers, and the video fraternity threw its arms in disgust at the idea of “lampies” getting moving pictures. In some territories, it sparked a response not seen since the British Miners Strike in the 70s. But media servers, which aren't merely video players, are just starting to be seen as tools for the vidiots (note: I've been called a vidiot many times, so I am immune to prosecution).
So why are servers still predominantly lighting tools? Well, I see two reasons. First, making video techs see video as something that doesn't appear on a fixed screen has always been a challenge. I used to open presentations to video professionals by asking them to lose the preconception of lighting as a wash around a screen on which video was displayed and see content as something you can splash where you like. This was usually met with glazed expressions. And who could blame them? After all, this was the mindset of guys in production studios feeding them with content. If you produce media all day in front of a screen, you see that shape as your canvas and not a 30m stage set.
I wouldn't be bold enough to claim that the server guys have influenced the current video outlook either. I think products like Barco's Encore display system have had a bigger influence on the stage-as-a-canvas mindset much more than we have. With video guys, we're an alternative, not the pioneers. Combine this with a handful of fresh-thinking production houses like Mode Studios, and things are coming around. But it's still slow. I recently demonstrated our server to a guy who gave me my first break in the industry, my mentor, so to speak. He spared me some time but struggled to see it as anything more than an alternative source for HD content. It'll take time.
More evident to me now, though, are the different attitudes toward content display from video and lighting techs at mid-level rental companies. When I was a video operator, my job was simple. I had to ensure that I had clean signals fed to a display screen with a well lined-up projector and that my color bars and grids were correct. If the content looked like crap, that was the production house's problem. I don't think that has changed much. However, on the flip side of the video-lighting line, the outlook is somewhat different. Johan West and Mikki Kunntu from Finland are feeding servers into LED fixtures and screens almost daily, and they recently told me of a show where the content sucked, but they colored it, blended it with the lighting, and it all looked great. 'Nuff said.
The first things you learn at Video College are formats and signals. The first thing you learn at Lighting College is color. For lighting guys, video is another splodge to dip your paintbrush into.
I'm now off to don my flameproof suit and will, no doubt, be barred from IBC show. I did bounce the above theories off a group of video professionals at a recent Paris tradeshow. I was greeted with a couple of raised eyebrows and reluctant grunts of agreement but no big opposition. Perhaps this new era is the end of the “us and them” days. I hope so. Otherwise, my summer barbecues are going to be a party for four lampies and me!
James Ross Heron is co-founder and director of London-based media server manufacturer Green Hippo Ltd. With a background in the audiovisual industry, pop-rock music, and pizza delivery, he feels qualified to comment randomly and with little justification on a variety of subjects both in writing and in English pubs.