Some projection designers approach their work hands-on, spending hours at the New York Public Library Picture Collection, scouring the web, creating the artwork (sometimes literally by hand), programming their own show control, etc. Some designers are more like movie producers in that they surround themselves with the most talented people they can find to help them realize their vision. The bottom line is that, unlike set designers who design their work and then have it built by a scene shop, the modern day projection designer is also responsible for the “construction” of the media.
That being said, Wendall Harrington and I recently created projections for a workshop of a new musical titled The 60s Project, directed by Tony-winner Richard Maltby, Jr. In a nutshell, the show tells the story of America in the 1960s using the popular music of the 60s. For this production, the use of media was twofold: source material — such as news footage, period TV shows, and movies — helped move the story along and convey historical information, and still imagery helped assist in setting the locations, such as a high school gym, the Vietnam jungle, or a small town coffee shop.
In effort to keep the limited budget in check (keep in mind that this is a workshop, so limited means really limited) and because we had to build the entire show in only a few days, we decided to build it in Dataton's Watchout. Watchout is a timeline-based presentation application. This means that everything you can do to your media happens over time. And while it is very powerful, it is also very limited. The only things it can change over time are opacity, scale, and position.
The author of the show was nice enough to give Wendall and I a copy of her research materials, mostly DVDs of news programs and 60s documentaries. We took these DVDs and converted them into QuickTime movies using an application called Cinematize® 2 from Miraizon, which basically lets you re-encode a DVD into QuickTime using the codec of your choice. It can extract audio, video, or both. To save disk space and ensure playability, I encoded the videos with the Sorenson Codec at 320×240 resolution. Once the videos were extracted, Wendall was able to go through each of them and make her selects.
Initially, we made an edit list, loaded the QuickTime movies into Apple Final Cut® Pro, and started jumping around the clips and marking our select. However, we found that, in the time crunch, it was easier to open the movies in QuickTime, select the segment we wanted, cut it, paste it into a new movie, and save it as a self-contained clip. You need QuickTime Pro (available as a download at www.apple.com) to be able to cut, paste, and save video clips. The trick here is that you must make the clip self-contained when you save it, otherwise it will only be a reference to the original clip, not the clip itself.
Another program we discovered is a great little application called Audio Hijack. This application from Rogue Amoeba Software lets you record any sound that is coming through your computer at that moment. There are some movie file types from which QuickTime will not let you export the audio. We could hit “record” in Audio Hijack and “play” in QuickTime to make an audio recording of the file. I've heard that several podcasters use Audio Hijack to record audio conferences in iChat to use as “phone-in” interviews.
Once we collected all of our clips and still images, we loaded them into the media list of Watchout and began laying out the show. The venue was a very nice, simple black box theatre with a matte-white screen painted onto the wall. Using my NEC VT540 projector, we were able to get an image that was bright enough and could both convey scenic locations and historical information. Ultimately, everyone involved was pleased with the media's role in the show, and I think it really helped the show creators get a better picture of how things worked, which is what a workshop is all about.
It has always been argued that the most significant software development takes place in the open source, shareware, and freeware side of the trade. Working with a bunch of great freeware and shareware applications, as well as a few reasonably priced alternative applications, only reinforced my theory that you don't have to spend a million bucks to look like it.
Got a problem that you need solved? Found a cool trick that you'd like to share? Looking for a recommendation on a piece of hardware or software? Comments? Drop me a line at Zachary@Borovay.com.