A Wall of Colour: Bringing A Church Stage Design To Life

A Wall of Colour
Once a year the Jesus Army holds a national event in the north of England called “Sheffield Praise Day”, which as the name suggests is held in Sheffield. We hire out a sports hall and this gives us some flexibility with the layout. A team gets together to design the stage and then implement it, and after seeing a CSDI post about video mapping onto boxes I thought it would be interesting to try it out.

The design
After scribbling some initial ideas onto paper I handed it over to the experts to improve – Tim, Sam, and Josh, and they worked on making the panels and designing the stage. The theme for this event was “Crossing the Line”, so Josh incorporated a walkway that enabled people to go through a door in the middle of the wall, and down to the stage.

The ideas come to life in Sketchup

The ideas come to life in Sketchup

Capture Polar software

Capture Polar software was used to pre-program the lighting

Panels for the video wall
Material: correx (a coroplast equivalent) – 8’x4′ (1200 x 2400mm) sheets cut down to 4 foot squares, 4mm thick, with a bevelled edge so the squares stand out.
2″x1″ (50 x 25mm) timber on vertical sides of each panel. Panels all held together by a metal hinge to join 4 of them together in each corner.
Attached to the main top truss by velcro straps – 10m drops 50mm wide velcro. Loops on panels stuck to strap, and screw put through strap into the wood.

The panels being made in the workshop

The panels being made in the workshop

The panels are scored along the bevel lines, and then folded back

The back of the panel – each one is scored 50mm in, and then folded back into the score so that the panel slightly protrudes

Setting up

Testing the panels at our local church

Testing the panels and fixings in our local church auditorium


The usual discussion about replacing most of the PA with moving lights


Lighting Fixtures

  • 6x ADJ ViziBeam 5R
  • 8x Martin Mac 101
  • 6x Showtec ArcBar3
  • 1x 8cell Molefay
  • 2x 4-bar ACL
  • 6x Showtec Sunstrips
  • 2x Robe 148LT & 6-Bar Par for stage wash
  • 4x StudioDuo LED600 & 6no. CYClite for audience wash

I’m part of a team that creates visuals for events, and this year as we had a big screen to project onto we made some videos to play before and during each meeting.

The event ident video playing while the congregation gathers

The event ident video playing while the congregation crosses the line

I was particularly keen to show something of the city of Sheffield, as some people travel hundreds of miles to sit in a hall for the day which doesn’t seem very fair. So the week before I went round the city with Viv, and made a short video which encapsulates a little of what Sheffield is like.

As the panels were square and we knew their layout it meant we could map our content accurately.

Editing knowing where each of the panels would be

Editing knowing where each of the panels would be

Voilà! It fits! Peoples happy faces mapped to each panel

Voilà! It fits! People’s happy faces mapped to each panel

We used two Barco FLM-HD20 projectors at the back of the hall behind the congregation. These are full HD 20,000 lumens beasts, and made a big difference to the brightness and clarity of video on the wall. Supplied by XL video.

The projectors double stacked for extra brightness on the panels

The projectors double stacked for extra brightness on the panels, due to the width they had to cover

Resolume Arena 4 was used to map the video accurately on each panel.

Crossing the Line
small 1

A family goes through the door holding one of the pieces that made up a long line for people to step over

A family goes through the door holding one of the pieces that made up a long line for people to step over

Perhaps the most powerful moment in the evening, as we remembered the martyrs

Perhaps the most powerful moment in the evening, as we remembered the martyrs

A short video of a couple of songs from the event and showing the church stage design:

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