Hanging Banners Stage Design – Alive Festival 2013

Church Stage design - projecting onto bannersAs winter was still upon us with freezing temperatures, snow, and polar bears, the venue for the “Alive Festival” was changed to the warm and cosy Northampton Jesus Centre. For many this could have been a disappointment, as the giant marquee we usually use adds a unique flavour to our large events. So between Tim Tecno and myself we decided to change the look of the Jesus Centre stage, and add some symmetrical hanging banners (3 either side of the main screen) which we then projected onto. The image above was taken during the song “Deliverer come set me free”.

Forgiven-editedWe also tried live video onto the banners, using a Blackmagic Intensity Pro card (HDMI in from the video mixer), and routing the feed through Resolume Arena, with some outline effects added.
IMAG Resolume capture effectsIMAG effectsWe also created some footage to project before each event to set the scene, and to showcase one of the amazing aspects of our church – its people! Made by Aidan in Cinema 4D the clip below was projected so that each photo section lined up with a banner.

And in case people wandered into the venue not having a clue what was going on (which probably accounted for half the audience congregation) then this ident made by Gideon in After Effects helped:

Comp 1 (0-00-02-06) Comp 1 (0-00-03-24) Comp 1 (0-00-04-11) Comp 1 (0-00-08-02) Comp 1 (0-00-10-12) Comp 1 (0-00-10-19)

The festival was brilliant, and all the hard work by the lighting, rigging, PA, and video crews backed up the message and the Holy Spirit’s presence.
WorshipTechnical info:
2x Christie LX605 projectors
Drapes: 5 foot wide. 22, 16, 10 foot high
Resolume Arena software (with masking and keystoning on a 2160 x 1152 composition)
Blackmagic Intensity Pro card for HDMI in
Content created in After Effects CS6, Premiere Pro CS6, and Cinema 4D (R13)

Sheffield 2012 Event – Visuals

Every year the Jesus Army gathers in Sheffield to hear God’s word and direction, and to enjoy spending time with friends from different towns and cities in the UK. This post is a behind the scenes look at how visuals were created and involved in the day.

The superbly lit choir on stage singing Majesty (they must have woke up the lighting boys…)

Visuals, and projected video in particular is becoming more of a feature in our church events – in part due to the team of people making interesting content, and also because it can reinforce what is being said or demonstrated. 2012 was our most ambitious design yet as it involved four projectors mapped out across four different surfaces, and included an item where people sent text messages which appeared on an unfurled drape.

Stage Design

The stage design including the unfurling front central drape

More details on the design and rigging side of Sheffield Praise Day 2012 are on a separate post by Josh. The basic feel was to have two rows of drape, and a central one that came down later in the meeting, all of which were to be projected on to.

The hall, rig and central IMAG screen (showing customary shot of back of speaker)

A view from the side showing the rigging and projector locations. Click for a larger image.

Having such a large expanse to project onto was great to work with, but also difficult to know aspect ratios and pixels sizes for the drapes. So we had to work with some rough calculations and plan in plenty of safe margin in case we had to resize anything. We had a couple of discussions with the events team to thrash out ideas and how projected video could add to what was happening. The main theme was “passing the baton” which had our D.N.A. in it.
In these discussion meetings I usually daydream think of what visuals could be made. Then after some more thought it’s a case of getting these ideas out of my head and into a format that Gideon (After Effects) and Aidan (Cinema 4D) can work with. It seems scribbling on scraps of paper is the best way to do it!
Technical Set-up
Having a complicated rig with four projectors meant a fair bit of planning to make sure it all worked. We had just bought a new PC that runs the software for visuals (Core i7 3930K, 16GB RAM, OCZ Vertex 4 SSD, nVidia GTX 680, Win7 64bit), and it was certainly put through its paces!

Diagram showing the connections in and out of the PC (VFX) to the projectors

We used four Christie LX605 projectors (6,000 lumens) – one for IMAG, two for the main display, and one for a special drape at the end.

The display settings in Windows 7

We use Resolume Arena 4 software for video playback, and the improvements made to it over the last few years have been brilliant. It enables us to route different parts of the whole composition to multiple screens, and does soft edging and warping for projection mapping.

The advanced screen setup in Resolume showing which slices go to which screen

The warping and soft edging in Resolume to map onto the drapes

The soft edging feature in Resolume made it easy for Tim (our projectionist guru) to blend two projectors together. In fact it only took a couple of minutes to do! That was the only perk – everything else took ages.

Welcome Screen

In the past we have done welcome titles for just the IMAG (live video) screen but as we had a large workspace to play with we went for ultra widescreen across it all. Created by Gideon in After Effects CS5 and includes views of Sheffield, a couple of Jesus Centres, and one of the first community houses the church bought.
Section Titles

The evening had the theme of D.N.A. running through it as an acronym. D standing for Divine Life, N standing for New Friendship, and A standing for Apostolic Dreams. Gideon created these so the top drape had the text, and the bottom one had an old projector film running across it with images or footage that related to the title.

The backdrop during Mick’s talk conveying the D.N.A. message

Animated Bible Scriptures
To show the importance of passing the baton (and our D.N.A.) to the next generation being founded on scripture an animation was created. Aidan used Cinema 4D to make the D.N.A. structure, baton, and parchment which the scripture is written on.

The passing the baton clip at the end was filmed in front of a green screen where I passed it to Aidan, and then colourised it so it looked similar to the one in the animation, as the baton we had borrowed was silver. Simple but effective.

The baton pass, and unlike Team GB we didn’t drop it. Thanks to my Mum for lending the baton she got for being a volunteer at the 2012 Olympics

Why not just have a simple screen with just the text from the Bible on it? Firstly we had to get the message across about D.N.A. – passing the baton to the next generation, and Biblical relevance in one scene. Secondly it’s good to stay modern – as the Bible started off on parchment, then was hand written, then duplicated on a printing press (to much disdain), and then made into an eBook. So having it animated and unfurl kept us up to date – as long as it’s designed so you’re not distracted from the actual text itself when it’s being read.

Each of the three sections took around 5 hours to render on over forty cores (a mix of Intel Core i5 and i7 processor PC’s), as the Cinema 4D export was 1980×396 pixels.

In Need Of A Saviour – Music, Drama, and Video
The geniuses that create music were hard at work and came up with a song that conveyed the fact that everyone is in need of a saviour. It was also a chance to fuse electronic music (using Ableton), live effects on drumming, and the usual band (bass and electric guitars, keys, vocals etc). Live music, combined with a stage drama and video produced this:

The song was recorded a few weeks beforehand so the drama guys and video team had something to work with. The audio below is the studio recording.

The direction for the stage item was to have snapshots of what was going on stage projected behind them. So I chose the good old Polaroid photographs theme and set to work. We did some filming in Leicester outside some shops late on a Sunday night the week before the event, and then edited it all together in Adobe Premiere.

Filming in Leicester in the worst light possible!

Editing all the Polaroid snaps in Premiere Pro CS5 (who needs After Effects anyway?…)

When it came to running the item on the day it was a bit hit and miss, as both the lighting crew and myself hadn’t seen the drama so we weren’t too sure on timings. And you can tell! Also having the IMAG screen as part of the main projection meant I had to ask the video mixer to display something to make it full screen, and resulted in a slight delay because of this. Still not a bad effort by all involved.

The Thespians (and the worlds largest frame) with the video backdrop

It’s whitten written in the stars

Picketing from stage was deemed a suitable way to end. Maybe they’re French.

The Real Live Lounge

It’s like the choir, but better looking. No comment on the vocal talent though…

The key to any church event is breaking the divide between what is happening on stage and the congregation, so you don’t have a 1,000 people in cinema mode but engaged fully. The idea came up to have lounge style worship scene on stage, with lots of people and a few simple instruments (guitars and djembes obviously – you can’t have worship without guitars). And this was the result:

Rather than have just a few bods on stage looking uncomfortable, we thought we’d put a funky backdrop behind them using lounge furniture. It doesn’t help the awkwardness but hey it’s something nice to look at. Aidan created it in Cinema 4D to fly into place as they all trooped nervously on stage.

I heard a lot of good feedback about this item. It seemed to do the trick of helping people engage with what was going on and to be able to worship God themselves.

Spoken Word – “Dreams”
One thing you don’t want in an event is a sensory overload – too much lights / video / music. And this item was a spoken word piece that allowed people to just focus on the speaker (Artemis) who did a brilliant job conveying the message.

Why have I included it in this post? Well there was actually meant to be some visuals on the drapes, and a dearly beloved friend of mine spent ages getting pictures to display on the drapes. In the hustle and bustle of the day I forgot didn’t have time and so they weren’t shown. And the item was much better as a result. Sometimes less makes for more.

Running The Race – In Honour of the Martyrs
The final section of the evening event was our annual honouring of the martyrs, which was introduced with this video followed by a minutes silence.

In the interests of my professional reputation: I did not use Times New Roman in that video.
After the minutes silence we brought the fourth projector into play as a drape unfurled to take up the front of stage. Having it at the front made it more engaging for the congregation (in theory).
The projector was placed a ground level right next to the technical area. I did wonder if it would get knocked at all by people walking past but thankfully the only dramas were those on stage.

A side mounted Christie LX605 projector with a Sony camcorder strapped to it to record the evening event. Plus an enthralled lighting and video team

The “running the race” section was split into three parts. The first was to honour and remember people that have died for their unwavering commitment to Jesus, the second was to honour and remember people that reached the end of their lives whilst staying faithful to Jesus, and the third section was to give people an opportunity to commit themselves to Jesus for the rest of their lives. The video below is of parts two and three:

Perhaps the best part of the whole day for me from a technical point of view is that the match sound came through when the candle was being lit. It’s amazing what a difference little touches like that can do to any video or item.
The worst part came when the drape was unravelled as it was meant to reveal the Bible scripture. But due to a problem with the layers in Resolume we just had a rolling baton coming down so it looked odd to say the least. Doh!
The candle was filmed on the Thursday evening, more of an afterthought really as a scrolling list of names on its own looked a bit bland.
The third part was people texting their names in which then appeared on the drape.
This was a complicated process! Each text had to be verified to make sure no stupid or rude names got through, and then the names had to scroll on a loop with more being added all the time. The diagram below was the process of someone sending a text through to it being displayed on the central drape:
A huge thank you to Nick Porter, who engineered the text-to-screen system including a MySQL database for the texts, an authorising mechanism in PERL, and a scrolling website to display the names in PERL, Javascript, HTML, and CSS. He used Gammu to get the texts off the Nokia 6310i mobile over bluetooth. The phone numbers were not stored, and the names were deleted after the item.

The other ideal use we made of an old Nokia phone

In total we received 475 text messages that were displayed, and a further 50 didn’t come through till after the meeting due to Orange network congestion. Apologies if you texted your name and it didn’t appear.
Some people felt that going from a minutes silence honouring the martyrs to texting their name onto a screen within ten minutes was a bit much, and others said it made for a lasting impression. And they are both right. Don’t try to please everyone but go with the inspirations you have, whilst making sure you listen to God so you don’t get in the way of His work. On the plus side constructive criticism is actually very helpful so thanks for those that were honest.

The Customary Celebration (where we dance like muppets)
Last but not least – a cacophony of video, lights, and cheesy music:

Final Thoughts
Overall the event ran pretty well – not too many running problems and errors considering how technically ambitious it was. Our team has learnt plenty about what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to large scale visuals – our church events recently seem like a constant boundary pushing exercise. There is the possibility of technical ambition making it over the top but one thing I’m passionate about is why should the world have the best lighting team, set designers, musicians, and video production? I believe we have genuine talent in these and want to see them continue to raise the bar. It’s good to be in a church that stays modern and relevant.

What it all comes back to. Jesus – our source, inspiration and saviour

The RAW 2012 Youth Event – Behind the Scenes

RaW 2012 – Rise

RAW (Real and Wild) is a UK Christian youth event coordinated by the Jesus Fellowship Church. It is a Christian event for anyone aged 15 – 35 with a focus on the gospel of Christ. There are practical opportunities to live out a radical New Testament lifestyle in the communities of the host city.

RAW always presents a challenge to our technical teams. There are often wranglings over what the aims of the event are; should it be simple, who is it actually for etc. We also use RAW as an opportunity to push out and try new things, as the punters are more forgiving than the average punters we work with. Occasionally these new things work, although rarely on first time of asking. We are all quite accustomed to the sinking feeling as the lights fade, or unintentionally come on full in the middle of the preach, or an item falls flat on its face. It’s an excellent way to learn some humility I can assure you!

Design

The design for this event went through three incarnations; the first never made it to paper as the venue for RAW was changed, so the whole specification changed. The second design was the rig that got away (see image below) – a monster of truss and beam-work lights. Normally at larger venues we are able to hang trusses from the ceiling of the venue, but here this wasn’t allowed, hence the big floor-standing structure. It’s fair to say I was quite nervous about it as it was one of the larger designs (and certainly the heaviest design) that I had created.

Second concept – the rig that never was

However this rig, like most of our rigs, was to rely heavily on the use of theatrical haze to emphasise the light’s beams. Having designed this, we were informed by the venue that they would not permit the use of smoke, thus rendering the design fairly useless… so it was back to the literal drawing board.

Often the concepts for these events begin with a sketch, normally on the back of a script or an old piece of paper. It’s said that most of us can’t think without a pen and paper, and this event was no different.

Sketch concept

The inspiration for the centrepiece actually came from Coventry’s cathedral next door, with its Norman arch and narrow windows. This concept was then created in various bits of 3D-modelling software, first in Trimble Sketchup to get the basic layout & then on into Capture Polar, which allowed us to pre-program many of the effects and looks.

Third and final concept in Trimble Sketchup.

Rig

The rig began on the Wednesday morning before RAW began. The first lorry was offloaded around 8am & by tea-break at 10am all three lorries and two vans had been emptied and the work began.

Vehicles offloaded & ready to rig.

To create the 8 upright legs on the backdrop we used H40 Prolyte Truss and wrapped them in a thin, white material. This would give the video guys a surface to project on to. Within the legs we had an LED par at the top & an old-school Par64 with a Morpheus ColourFader scroller at the bottom. This allowed us to create some lovely two-tone colours inside the legs when the other guys weren’t projecting on to it.

About 6pm on Wednesday.

Lights Used

* CYC 4-lites & Par64s for house lighting & stage wash
* 4no. Studio Duo StudioLED 600
* 6no. Morpheus Colour Faders
* 6no. Chauvet LED Par64 3W
* 6no. Showtec ArcBar3
* 9no. Showtec Pixel Track Pro
* 9no. Thomas Molefay 2-lite

The show was run on an Avolites Pearl Expert running Titan, with Avo T4 dimming. A notable figure on this show was that due to each Pixel Track requiring 160 channels, we actually filled all 4 universes of DMX on the Expert.

Thankfully we had some of the grey-gen (older guys) to help us with the scary bits.

The picture above shows Dave, one of our “non-youth” technicians lending his expertise. Here he is re-wiring the 125A 3ph socket that ran from the huge generator we had hired to provide power for the event (apparently joining lots of 13A sockets together wouldn’t do). This was hired from Impact Production Services along with some of the lighting and staging.

Not everyone appreciated the dubstep remix of “A Song of Worship”

Generally, despite the lack of theatrical haze, we found that the rig really worked for us and helped to provide an atmosphere within which people were able to lose some of their inhibitions and meet with God.

Music

I don’t have much to do with the music, so this is an understated nod to the many hours of preparation that I know the noise boys will have put into creating some of the Ableton soundscapes for the event. From the vocals of several talented singers, AutoTune, the brains of Jonny “Single-Handed” & Nayf™, there were some very listenable tracks created. I’ve included what was for me one of the stand-out tracks from the show:

Projection

We projected on to the set using two Christie LX605 projectors, and media playback and masking using Resolume Arena 4 software. The masking of every surface was slightly complex as the screen shot of Resolume shows:

A screenshot from the settings in Resolume showing each surface with a specific area mapped on to it

A snapshot of the loop of the sun coming up past the RISE logo

Some more photos from the event:

Lighting at RaW12

Lighting at RaW2012

Lighting at RaW2012

Lighting at RaW2012

Writing this I’m reminded again of the days and weeks of preparation that goes into an event like this. Guys and girls, mostly voluntarily, working for our church to produce and manage events to a finished level that is respected in the professional AV world. Theirs are jobs that are only really noticed when something goes wrong & I think that’s probably the way it should be. After all, the show’s not actually about us.

De-rig timelapse (recorded on a GoPro HD Hero 2)