I design for a wide variety of projects, from small (but very groovy) club events that still use SD and DVDs, to arena shows, tours, and corporate installations that use the latest HD media server/modular LED technology. The single most indispensable tool for me is Adobe After Effects. Regardless of whether the style of a project demands 3D animation, live action, or animated artwork/logos, pretty much all my workflow will pass through After Effects.

Although I have used AE for many years, it has especially come into its own in the HD/custom res era, as it enables you to output at any resolution in any size ratio, which makes it perfect for productions that demand coordinated video on stage wings, balcony edges, etc., and other nontraditional areas.

Of course, it all flows from the design, but once the style/palette/dynamics have been decided, my workflow follows this path:

  1. CAD design of staging structure/auditorium dimensions.
  2. Concept art design suggestions created as still montages in Adobe Photoshop.
  3. Creation of custom media assets: live action elements, Autodesk Maya animation, still art/logos/photography processed through Photoshop and After Effects.
  4. Compositing/formatting and outputting through After Effects.
  5. For SD and standard 1080p HD, I may do additional edits in Avid or Apple Final Cut Pro.
  6. For some projects, the finished video is imported into Adobe Director, where synchronized DMX cues and other data elements are integrated.
  7. Load onto media server, and off you go!

I am a big believer in appropriate technology, so as I work in a wide range of styles, I often use custom software patches, processing equipment, even ancient video-synths, etc. For example, for an event for Elton John at MSG last year, I used a Fairlight CVI for one segment of the custom HD visuals.

As far as cameras go, I still have a strong preference for 35mm motion picture film for origination, but today's HD cameras offer a quality option if time or budget is limited. I look forward to using a Panavision Genesis digital camera soon. I have a feeling this might be what I am looking for in an all-round imaging solution.

This is only a general outline of what goes into a traditional arena event/tour style production. I do many projects that vary wildly from this template: AV shows for which I create animation that is locked to the music where I am DJ/VJ and LD, and I also perform live VJ events where I use software to trigger clips and effects in realtime.

Event technology is a moving target. Even as I write this, I am looking forward to starting to work in new software specifically for designing 3D/multiplane displays. Next year, I will have a completely different answer. Sometimes, the only constant seems to be the audience's hunger for new and improved event experiences. Feeding that hunger and exceeding expectations is a responsibility that I take very seriously.
-Stefan G.

The content I create is done using a multiple variety of sources. I have never relied on stock footage so far. I like to record textures with a simple digital camera, a Panasonic DVX100B. These are incorporated into the final imagery. I also like to animate using a combination of Autodesk Maya, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and Adobe After Effects. My PC is a Dell Inspiron 9600.
-Anaitte Vaccaro, Digital Scenography

Content is king. No matter what media server, display device, or video distribution system you use, your choice in imagery is the most important. For creating animation sequences, I use Apple Motion and Adobe Photoshop. I scan in elements such as artwork from the scenic designer or artwork I've sketched out for the show. The whole Apple Final Cut Pro Studio 2 suite is indispensable for creation of content and film-produced content.

When I want to share custom clips with my client, I will render small previews (usually a quarter of the final size). Using Microsoft Expression Media — available for Mac and PC and formerly iView Media Pro — I import the images and fill in metadata/comments. From there, you can export the file to DVD with the clips or make them available on your FTP site for your client to review. The program is extremely helpful in sorting out all the content you own and recalling it by keyword, resolution, grouping, rating, etc. when sitting at FOH.

For digital lighting, I use a lot of black and white textures, such as those found in the book Crumble. Crackle. Burn. by Von Glitschka, available at www.texturebook.com (there are also some free images on the website to try out). Designer Christian Choi has pointed out previously that having black and white content allows you to make it any color you want through a media server.

When looking for imagery, I make the rounds at the following sites:

www.sxc.hu: I use them when putting comps together to feel out the look of a show with the director. You can often use the photos for free, but make sure to read what rights the artist has allowed. You can purchase the use of the photos through the website, or you can contact the photographer/graphic artist to make arrangements.

www.stockxpert.com: This is the “pro” version of the previous site. You can only purchase photos/clips using a credit system.

www.acclaimimages.com: Another royalty-free/managed rights website for searching photos.

www.digitaljuice.com: They only sell in bundles but come in handy at times. The website has great video tutorials on post production procedures.

www.quartzcompositions.com: When working with a High End Systems Catalyst, sometimes you need content with live, musically interactive elements or even realtime clock displays that are not based on when you start the video. This forum site can help you write your own or find someone that can.

www.showfootage.com: A well indexed “pay-per-clip” or packaged site for content, this one gives you options to download the content optimized for your media server. It comes in handy when onsite with a laptop and a wireless Internet connection, but you just don't have the right content you need for the show. Make sure you have time to download the clip.

shop.bluepony.com: Apollo's branch of digital gobo/signage, this site has packaged content and is now taking the approach of a pay-per-clip deal available online. You can also get custom content created here.

www.artbeats.com: A great source for real-world footage.

www.alunablue.com: A great studio that comes up with unique imagery and has both footage and images available.

www.feedbackvideo.com: Great for seamless loops.

www.footage.net: When in need of new footage.

www.digigobos.com: Another source for box sets of media, great for rock ‘n’ roll shows.

-Andrew Atienza, freelance digital lighting/scenic designer
Fx Production Services