Live Blogging from the Projection Master Classes at LDI 2013

Once again I will be a stranger in a strange land, a lighting designer sitting amongst projection people as I audit day two of the Projection Master Classes at LDI 2013.    

9:30am-11:00am Case Study – Michael Jackson’s ONE Production

The day begins with a sizzle reel of the show, Michael Jackson’s One from Cirque Du Solei.  I have inadvertently chosen a seat right where the projector exhaust fan is blowing.  It sure feels nice and warm.  A few thoughts on the session:

One, 3d projection mapping has certainly come a long way.  What once took hours of painstaking work can be done in minutes.  It makes shows like this possible.  The same tech can be used to drive moving lights, eliminating the need for cumbersome programing at the desk.  It’s impressive stuff, and has exploded the creative possibilities. 

Two, projectors are really stepping up their game.  When driven through media servers, they can do really amazing things “beyond the box.”  There was a moment (I think) some thought LED walls would really dominate.  This case study makes clear that LED walls would be prohibitively expensive to use.  Plus, LED walls are heavy which makes them more expensive to move around.  I work in TV, where LED walls of various resolutions are the goto source.  However, it is clear that both projectors and LED walls have their place in the industry.    

Three, communicate, communicate, communicate.  Clear, concise communication is becoming even more important during the preproduction and build-out phases.  More and more people and companies are involved which can muddy the waters if steps are not taken in these ever more elaborate productions.  Without clear communication, the stress level gets inordinately amped up for everyone.   

Four, the industry needs shows like Michael Jackson’s One to push the envelope so the rest of the industry can benefit by the tech they implement and use.  Until some entity (like a casino) with means uses it in a show environment, the tech remains an “edge” technique that remains out of reach for many. 

Five, create a system that can adapt.  Too rigid and you risk things falling apart when directors, designers, producers, or other creative staff want (sometimes) sweeping changes.  Anybody can create a complex, cumbersome system that is difficult to run and manage.  The greats make a nimble, flexible system that readily adapts to changing circumstances.


11:15am–12:45pm Media Takes Control on Bon Jovi’s Because We Can Tour

Panelists Dirk Sanders, CFS Technical Designer, Ryan Mast of Meteor Tower, and Daniel Jean from Moment Factory gave a technical and in-depth talk about Bon Jovi’s Because We Can Tour.

One thing that occurred to me to during the session was how much, as a designer, I love integration between departments. When different design elements work together, it amplifies their effect. Many of the videos the panel showed depicted really smart, seamless integration between video and lighting.

It’s clear, though, as this session illustrated, such integration is not accomplished without serious technical effort. It takes smart people and companies to take the ideas of designers and create systems that offer the audience member an integrated experience.


2:30pm-4:00pm Production Designer Roundtable – Video as Digital Scenery

Now it’s time to talk digital scenery. Bob Bonniol has gathered a distinguished panel to ... ahem ... shed some light ... on the topic.

One of the topics discussed was the concept of restraint. For example the dreaded IMAG box on either side of the stage. Are those boxes really necessary? Can they be better integrated into the stage design? Why should people look off to the side when so much effort was taken to make the stage picture look amazing? Also discussed was how and when should you restrain from taking on a project. That’s a tough question for anyone in the industry. Telling a potential client video is not necessary or, worse, would hinder their project is a tough thing to do. Sometimes, though, it’s absolutely necessary.

Another concept: Know your place. With electronic music festivals, video and lighting are huge. Showcasing them front and center makes perfect sense. For a Broadway show, however, video should not stand out. To do so means utterly failing. Understanding how video fits into the overall project is absolutely necessary in order to create stand-out events, concerts, shows, and festivals.

Clearly both concepts work together. Knowing your place work well with restraint. Video scenery can do amazing things, but like all tools it must be used correctly.


4:15pm–5:45pm Outliers-Exploring the Design Fringe with Video

Bob Bonniol leads a panel in the last session of the day: the extreme edge of video technology. Also, there are no chocolate chip cookies.

This session really highlighted the importance of pet projects. Making money is nice, but our passion projects help us to push the boundaries. There is incredible value in making big ideas work from meager means. We push technology in ways it was never meant to be pushed. We push ourselves to learn and grow in ways our careers or paying gigs may not push us. It also aides us in executing those paying gigs. No knowledge is ever wasted, and pet projects are how professionals learn and grow.

The panel then moved to the future. What will the industry look like in a few years? Many wanted better LED processors. While LEDs have gotten brighter and better, the box that drives and maps them still needs a lot of improving. There was also some discussion regarding how to really get audience participation when the audience is thousands strong. Current technology make it prohibitively expensive, and there’s hope that costs will come down. Lastly there was talk about interactivity. Audiences are expecting authentic interactions. How do we best accomplish that?


Well ... my time undercover has come to an end. Tomorrow the trade show opens and I can be a lighting person again. I’ve sat in on these classes for several years now. It amazes me how far the technology has grown in that time. The arms race between projection and LED is genuinely fascinating. Also, when LEDs and media servers first came out it seemed as if lighting and projection were collapsing together. However, that didn’t happen. Instead the two have grown together but each more complex.

It's been an enjoyable trip seeing how the other half lives. That said, I still prefer my half. No offense, Bob.


Lance Darcy is a Lighting Designer for The Lighting Design Group, based in New York City. He also writes LD On The DL blog for LIve Design.

Read more on:

Suggested Articles:

An in-depth look at the plot for A View From The Bridge.

Sweet Land began in the scene called The Contact, where Hana S. Kim's projections were displayed on a scrim surface.

R.U.N's entire stage and set extended 180 degrees around the audience and was a massive panoramic projection surface.