You must not fight too often with one enemy, or you will teach him all your tricks of war.
— Napoleon Bonaparte
After reading last month's segment of On Projection [“Have We Become Redundant?” by the esteemed Wendall K. Harrington] I have become a bit concerned about the current mindset of today's projection designers. While I agree with Wendall's comments on the importance of collaboration in a production and share her concern for its state of health, I also worry that other comments may lead some readers to believe that this is a bleak time to be a projection designer. In many respects, I am in complete agreement with her there as well. She mentioned that she had recently lost a projection design job to a set designer. Coincidentally, I too have recently lost a completely unrelated job to a set designer. It was a bit of an eye opener to me. It's safe to say that the advent of digital projection, media servers, easy access to photo and video manipulation software, etc. have created higher competition within a market where, until recently, only a select few had flourished. The truth is that the basic things that were previously considered difficult are easily done in a matter of moments thanks to the developments of technology.
But while many might think that all of this talk makes for a dreary career forecast, I beg to differ. This is a time of rebirth for the projection artist. The popularity and marketing hype of these digital media servers has opened the eyes of many producers to the fact that projected imagery is a key missing element in their productions. There are more shows being produced with some level of projected imagery now than ever before. People seem to “get it” all of a sudden. Shows are starting to look far more dynamic, and it appears to me that creative teams are not relying on the lighting department to fix the problems as heavily as they have in the past.
If there's anyone that stands to profit from all of this it's the well-established designers who have been practicing this craft for several ages now (with the notable exception of Wendall, who is clearly in a class by herself). They know the fundamental tricks of the trade better than any of their rising competitors. They already know the pitfalls because they've already made (and learned from) their mistakes. The seasoned professionals have the credits to their names and years of experience behind them. Now it's really down to two factors. First, are you in the loop? Secondly, are you keeping on top of your game?
So, are you in the loop? Well, this all depends on which loop you want to be in; there are plenty of them out there and the need for projection designers is prevalent in many different areas. Wherever you see a projection screen, LED video wall, or matrix array of plasma screens you can bet your bottom dollar that there's someone that is (or at least should be) being paid to make its presentation look the best that it possibly can. From Broadway theatricals and concert touring to televised events and corporate theatre, there are contracts o'plenty to be had. Not only are they plentiful, but they are also ripe for the picking. Take a good look at the content that's being spewed onto some of these screens and you'll see what I mean. So the first question is…are you in the loop? If the answer is no, then get off the pot and start working your way in; nobody is going to hand it to you on a silver platter.
As for the question of whether or not you're staying at the top of your game, well, you really need to be honest with yourself about that. In a world where anyone with a computer and the proper software has the ability to “do” your job, it would really behoove you to keep up with the latest developments in technology. Don't get me wrong. Technology is not going to replace the projection designer. There is simply no way to properly replace the artistic mind with software in a way that enables it to make appropriate artistic decisions. However, what used to be considered the magic of technical genius is now covered in the basics of software installation. The digital realm that we now work in has relieved us of many of the time-consuming burdens that came along with content creation.
The real challenge now is to know the ins-and-outs of software so that you can push your visions to the next level. If you're already at the top of your craft, then why not take it even further? At an early age I learned the harsh reality that no matter how good you become at what you do you will never reach a point at which you can afford to stop learning. There's a lot of truth in the old saying about sitting on the train tracks long enough.
Competition has, and will always be, a good thing. I understand that this is a bold statement to some and that many would have strong argument against it. Those with good hearts have innate compassion for the inevitable losers of a competition. However, losses often come as a result of mistakes, and it is through learning from our mistakes that we prepare to win again. Through the ages it has driven those that have the desire to do better past their own preconceived limitations and on toward greatness. It simply pays to be a winner.