Projection designers, like other theatrical designers, have a process. They have a methodology that works and that lets them turn an idea on the page to theatrical reality. One part of the process that has been very difficult has always been the downtime between the gathering of the elements of the design and the actual programming of them into the playback software. There is no reason that this job has to wait until tech, except the prohibitively expensive cost of the playback computers.
Some programs offer a way to edit a show offline, like Pandoras Box by coolux and Watchout by Dataton. Dataton allows its software to be downloaded for free and used as an editor. You can program as complicated a show as you like for free and save it to be used on site, ready for tech. For Pandoras Box, an editor has to own a special dongle that costs a few hundred dollars. It's not terribly unreasonable, but it isn't free either.
However, I have one small complaint that I’d like to make public. There are other media servers out there, and you know who you are, that do not offer any kind of offline editor. This creates an unfortunate situation for everyone. Nearly all of the people who actually use this software cannot afford to purchase it outright, and that means it is up to the producer to already own or rent the software for additional programming weeks. This creates a situation in which the designer only has access to the software during tech, using rented equipment and subject to union agreements. The extremely rushed nature of this only hurts the work. The product isn’t as good, the video designer looks bad, the media software looks bad, and we all look bad.
It’s going to take a lot longer for us to become great at using this kind of software if we only have access to it for two weeks with no time for exploration. If the makers of media server software want their products out there, they need to let the end-user designers, who make their software sparkle, have access to it offline.
Daniel Brodie is a freelance New York-based projection designer and multimedia artist. Check out brodiegraphics.com, inc.