Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Category: Stage Design (Page 2 of 4)

Christmas Eve Set

This year, we’re not doing anything too radical for Christmas. Four services on Christmas Eve and that’s pretty much it. And—thankfully—it’s pretty much the same service we did last year (albeit with some new music and a slightly different band configuration). Our thinking was, it worked well, let’s not mess with it (much). 

To that end, we’re doing a very similar set. Whereas last year we used a lot of OSB, this time around it’s luan. For the last six months or so, we’ve had seven 4×8 flats upstage, lit by ColorBlasts. For Christmas, we’ve built a quasi-wall with them. The idea is to keep a woody theme to warm up the stage. 

The block wall provided a nice backdrop for our vocalists.

The block wall provided a nice backdrop for our vocalists.

To dress it up a little more, we built a 3D wood sculpture out of plywood and luan. It’s based on the block wall concept our student ministries team built in their new room this summer–only bigger. 

We ripped 1/2” plywood into strips 3”, 6”, 9” and 12” wide. Those strips were then cut to length to make 2’ square boxes. After some glue and nails, we faced them with luan fronts. The boxes were then attached to a backer board (also 1/2” plywood) with nails and construction adhesive. 

Here's the wall with light. Four Flat Par 7s hit each block wall from the side, about 4' downstage of the wall. ColorBlasts lit the panels on the back wall.

Here’s the wall with light. Four Flat Par 7s hit each block wall from the side, about 4′ downstage of the wall. ColorBlasts lit the panels on the back wall.

Another angle with a better view of the lights.

Another angle with a better view of the lights.

We bolted two sheets of ply together with 2×4’s to make two 8’ square walls. Once we had the sculptures, we hung them from the truss using aircraft cable. To attach the cable, we used a device known as a “bottom hanger iron”. Basically it’s a J-shaped piece of steel that gets bolted to the bottom of the flat and serves as a connection point for the cable. A “top hanger iron” sits at the top to keep the top of the flat close to the cable and basically upright. 

Bottom hanger irons. These can support some serious weight. 

Bottom hanger irons. These can support some serious weight. 

Top hanger irons basically keep the top in line. Mostly...

Top hanger irons basically keep the top in line. Mostly…

We weighed each piece and totaled up how much each 8×8 was going to weigh, then designed our hanging system to be about 20 times stronger. Normally it’s suggested to do a 10x, but it worked out at 20 because I wanted to run three lines up to the truss for stability. 

To make it easy to level out, we also attached one of the cables per flat with a turnbuckle. That way, we could get it close with the cable clamps, then dial one side up or down with the turnbuckle to get it perfect. Of course, it’s only hanging about 18” off the floor, so that was pretty easy.

Here you can see the turnbuckle we added to make leveling easier. Turns out, we didn't need it. We painted the brace bright pink to keep people from walking into it. So far, it's worked.

Here you can see the turnbuckle we added to make leveling easier. Turns out, we didn’t need it. We painted the brace bright pink to keep people from walking into it. So far, it’s worked.

Once we hung them, we noticed the center of gravity was higher than I anticipated and they hung forward. It wasn’t terrible or dangerous, but we didn’t like it. So we added a 2×4 brace to push the bottom out and plumb it up. That also had the effect of pushing it slightly downstage of the back wall plane, adding a little more depth.

To add some dramatic effect, we lit each side with ADJ Flat Par 7’s. We bought those to put in our student room, and since we haven’t installed them yet, we figured, “Why not?.” 

The final effect in context.

The final effect in context.

Of course, we also have our vintage bulbs hanging on bare cords like we did last year. Everyone liked the look, and we now have a good system in place to put them up, so it was pretty easy. Add one giant Christmas tree and some pre-lit garland at the stage lip, and the set is done!

Today’s post is brought to you by Horizon Battery, distributor of Ansmann rechargeable batteries and battery chargers. Used worldwide by Cirque du Soleil and over 25,000 schools, churches, theaters, and broadcast companies. We offer a free rechargeable evaluation for any church desiring to switch to money-saving,  planet-saving rechargeables. Tested and recommended by leading wireless mic manufacturers and tech directors. 

Christmas Eve at Coast Hills

Christmas Eve has been a big deal at Coast Hills for a long time, and it’s become more important in the last few years that I’ve been around. This year and last, we’ve dispensed with the big pre-Christmas production and put all our proverbial eggs in the Christmas Eve Service basket. By all accounts, that seems to have been a great decision. 

I haven’t seen the final numbers yet, but it’s a pretty safe bet we surpassed the 4,000 expected attendance number. The 4:30 in particular was standing room only with eight rows of folding chairs in the lobby.

Christmas Eve is one of my favorite services of the year to mix. It’s a wide range of music, musical styles and we get a mid-week rehearsal so I had a good chance to really work on the mixes. We also do a great job of presenting the miracle of Christ coming to Earth and the need for his saving grace. Being part of sharing the Gospel to 4,000 people in one day is a pretty humbling experience. 

From a production standpoint, this was very similar to what we did last year. We again hung the antique lightbulbs (that we found at 1000Bulbs.com) on bare cords, but we changed the set up quite a bit. We still wanted a warm, inviting look, but whereas last year it was more of a “kids turning the inside of a barn into a church” look, this year was a bit more industrial chic.

In the coming week or so, I’ll talk more about the set (the 3D Block Wall in particular), and some of my production workflows. But for today, enjoy a pictorial journey through the service.

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It’s Finished (Enough…)

I apologize for the radio silence the last week. After a much needed day off on Monday, we hit the ground running for the final sprint to the finish. This past weekend was opening weekend, and while the project is not completely finished, it was done enough to open and serve our kids and students ministries. My goal was to have my stuff wrapped up by Friday night, and since I left the building at 11:30 PM, I made the goal!

Of course, we have some PA tweaking, some interfacing and cable-making to do yet, but those things are the icing on an already pretty decent cake. Though I was exhausted this weekend, it was very satisfying to see the rooms teeming with kids and students. In fact, we had larger attendance in many of our age groups than ever. So that’s pretty neat. Already God is using these rooms to change lives, which is of course, the whole point. 

Today is the first day of a few weeks off, so I’m not going to go too deep here (I feel a nap coming on…). But I did want to share some pictures of how things turned out. Overall, I’m extremely pleased with how things worked out. Aside from a few minor snafus (which we’ll talk about in future posts), everything worked as planned. I have a lot of lessons learned through this process as well, and I’ll be detailing those here in the coming weeks.

But for now, enjoy a pictorial tour of our new South Wing.

I have to be honest, until the carpeting went in, I didn’t like the color scheme. But adding the carpet made it all work. We went with a 2×2 square tile, which are easily replaced if they get damaged or stained. It’s a cool look that should look good for a long time.

This is the stage in our K-3 room. As you can see, we are running an Apple TV in here (and in the other rooms as well). The Apple TV works surprisingly well, and we’ve had no issues with HDCP with our switcher/scaler (a Kramer VP728). I’ll detail the connections at a later date, but know that it does work, and it is really sweet to be able to walk into a room, hit the Apple TV and be streaming music from my iPhone to the PA in seconds. 

In the K-3 and 4-5 grade rooms, we re-used portable mixing racks to house the mixer and rack gear. Since we used a GB2-24 in the Student Life room, we went with a full-width counter. I decided to mount the rack to the underside of the counter, but that led to the question of how we were going to get behind there to make connections, or work on gear. Being versed in cabinet making, I went back to my kitchen building days and ordered up some full-length drawer slides. Mounted to 2x4s screwed to the underside of the counter and boom! a pull out rack.

The slides, with shipping, cost me about $20.

You’ve seen the curved stage before, but it is now all wrapped up. We decided to carpet it in black, which I think was the right call. The sculpture on the wall (still in progress in this photo) was dreamed up by our Youth Pastor Jason. It’s basically 4x4s cut at random lengths, stained and mortared onto a piece of 1/2 plywood screwed to the walls. Now that it’s done (framed in burlap-wrapped 1×6), it looks very cool.

Here’s another view of the Student Life tech booth. Eventually, we’ll be putting some wall controls for our EZ Button system in the empty boxes in the wall there. Since they weren’t needed for opening weekend, they got pushed off. 

Here’s the outsdie of that booth. We chose different color stains for each of the tech booths to match something that was going on in each room. As you can tell, we still need to get another coat of eggshell yellow on the booth, but that will get done eventually. Painting was a bear on this job.

Dropping down a grade level, this is the final stage for our 4-5 grade ministry, Flood. It’s a smaller stage (8’x8′), which suits what they like to do in there. It’s typically 1-2 musicians and a group of 40-50 kids. Again, Jason dreamed up the slat wall, which looks really great in here.

The tech booth in Flood. Eventually we’ll get doors on the booths as well to keep too many kids from hanging out in there.

For our K-3 room, we built a bigger corner stage to accommodate a larger band. All the stages are carpeted with the same black carpet and rubber nosing, which should hopefully last a long time.

The Kid Life tech booth is a triple-win for me. First, the carpet guys hit it with vinyl cove base before I could get my wooden base on (which meant a lot less staining and finishing for me). Second, it’s chroma-key green so we can use it for video shoots now. Finally, I’m a huge fan of the natural wood stain. With this color, the Douglas Fir looks a lot like natural cherry, which is my favorite wood. And who doesn’t love bright orange door jambs?

Finally, this is what it’s all about. Though I was mixing FOH in the main room this weekend, I did manage to sneak out and snap a quick picture of my daughter, Robyn, leading worship for Flood. I had to leave after a minute because I actually became quite emotional seeing the results of 6 long weeks of hard work. 

I joked several times that it was like spending 6 weeks in Purgatory (mainly because we were without A/C the entire time, during the hottest weeks of the year), but what a better pay off than to be able to create a space where kids can worship and learn about their Creator. The fact that my daughter is the worship leader for Flood is an extra bonus. There were many times when I wanted to quit and times when I thought it would never end, but knowing we now have some incredible space for our ministries to use that will impact lives for eternity makes all the long, hot hours well worth it.

In future posts, I’ll talk about the equipment, how we laid things out and some of the lessons learned. But for now, I need a nap.

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Clearing the Stage; Quickly

This is the full band set, with drama locations on either side of the stage.

VBS. Those three letters can strike fear into the heart of the most seasoned tech director. In our case for 2012, we had a lot to deal with. Each day consisted of two main sessions—an early morning and late morning—and each session had both live music (in some cases several sets)and a skit. In between, we rehearsed music and drama. Since the drama and band needed to occupy the same piece of stage real estate, we needed a way to quickly strike the band (or at least part of it). Here’s how we did it.

First, we used Steeldeck stage platforms on wheels for the entire band. Steeldeck is a little pricey, but is rock-solid and the wheels roll like butter on a non-stick skillet. The band consisted of an 8’x8’ deck for drums (raised up to 2’ high), and three 4’x8’ platforms 1’ high for keys/guitar, vocals, and bass/acoustic. All the platforms were on wheels so we could move them quickly. But that’s only half the problem. The other half is cable management. And that’s where we got really creative. 

Taping the cables down meant they didn’t tangle up the band members, or get caught under the wheels.

Everything was hard-wired, so we cleanly wired all the mic’s and DI’s to the deck. All cables were run neatly and gaffed down so they wouldn’t go anywhere. We set the lengths so the male ends made it just over the rear corner of each deck so they could mate with a snake. We coordinated our snakes to cables so we didn’t have a lot of extra channels floating up there. We also labeled both sides of the connection with gaff tape and silver Sharpie using a simple letter code. A connects to A, B to B and so on. Simple is better.

Even if you don’t know the alphabet, you can still match the shapes…

On stage right, we used a 4-channel snake to mate with the three lines (stereo keys, electric guitar, which used an SGI). The center deck had four lines—three mic’s and an SGI for the other electric. Stage left held the bass and acoustic DI’s. We ran a six-channel snake up the center on the left side to connect both the center and stage left decks. We ran short XLR cables over from the bass/acoustic deck (we also stacked the DI’s on the right side of the deck to keep the runs short). 

The bass/acoustic platform connected to the center snake with two lines and a power cord.

Our drums are normally connected via a Whirlwind 12-channel snake with a MASS connector, so that was easy to disconnect if we needed to. We also ran our 4-channel snake back to four unused channels of our drum snake so we only had two main lines running out to all four platforms. 

The process of moving decks was simple and took only two people; my trusty assistant TD, Jon and a Jr. High volunteer. One of them unlocked the wheels while the other unplugged the cables. After that, it rolled right off stage. It took less than a minute to get a deck off stage. Because of the way the drama was set up, we never had to move more than one deck at a time, which made transitions really fast. Even re-setting from band to drama rehearsal several times a day was no big deal.

We probably spent the better part of an hour working out cable runs, patches and how we were going to implement this, but once it was done, it saved us a ton of time. In fact, we had the whole stage set so that we could clear all the band platforms in under 3 minutes if need be. Plan ahead; it really does make life easier!

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The Brainlulator 3000

It’s VBS week, and that means it’s time to come up with some crazy props to support the programming for the week. Coast Hills is known for their creative dramas that weave the Gospel story throughout the week, and this year is no exception. This year, the theme is built around the concept of being a real hero; one who can do all things through Christ’s strength (Phil 4:13). So we have a league of super-heros who are out to stop Dr. W. and her sidekick Larry who are trying to take over the world. To do so, they need a device they can use to control everyone’s thoughts. Enter the Brainulator 3000 (and it’s successors, the 4000, 5000, 6000 and 7000). 

I generally get pretty free reign to design props like this, and for some reason, when the writers of the skit told me what they needed, this is what popped into my head. The concept was simple enough; take a spotlight, bounce it off a few mirrors and have it reflect onto the stage where poor Larry gets zapped into something else when the day’s experiment goes awry. In practice, the build proved a little more tricky.

First was the light itself. Our inventory is pretty limited; a half-dozen old Martin 518s and eight StudioColor 575s. I knew the StudioColor’s wouldn’t work, so I hoped a 518 would. My initial idea was to mount it horizontally on a pipe clamped to an upright pipe. However, we couldn’t quite get the right angle on it. So we ended up resting it on the deck on it’s back. Problem #1 solved.

I envisioned a series of mirrors on pantographs that would be adjusted into position as Dr. W. fired up the “laser.” Ikea sells a very inexpensive model, the Fråck. We bought four of them, and it’s a good thing we did. We needed three, and we broke one. OK, I broke one. But hey, we had a spare.


The second problem came when it was time to mount the mirrors. While the pantographs are plenty steady for putting on makeup, they moved way too much and were far to unstable when it came time to precisely position the mirrors. After some experimentation we decided to take the mirrors off the pantographs and mount them directly to the back board. It took a while to find the right size bolts, but thankfully Home Depot had them. Once the mirrors were secure, we could bounce the light from one to another and ultimately on to the stage. Problem #2 solved.


The makeup mirrors have both a flat and concave mirror, and we ended up using both. The first two are concave, which help to narrow the beam of light down, while the last one is flat for maximum reflection. It took some experimentation (and I think all of us were blinded at least once…) to figure out the right combination.


Then there was the issue of beam angle. I thought the 518 had a much tighter beam, but even at a few feet away, it opens up much wider than the first mirror. This wasn’t too noticeable until we added the haze. I should note we put our Unique 2 water-based hazer right behind the light to make the beams extra-visible. Once we did that, you could see the initial beam going right past the first mirror up to the ceiling. So we took some black wrap and made an iris. The first iteration worked great but cut down too much light. After we opened it up a little, we had a decent compromise of beam size and power. 

Finally, to give it that “mad scientist” look, I had one of my high school volunteers take a bunch of plumbing parts and come up with a crazy design. He painted it all different colors, and we used construction adhesive to glue it to the board. When all the elements combine—the light, mirrors, haze, plumbing, plus sound effects and other stage lighting effects—it works quite well. The kids loved it and the drama team was thrilled. Oh, and the total cost was about $30.

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Building the Hourglass

As I mentioned yesterday, our only real set element for Good Friday and Easter was the pair of hourglasses (we’re actually not sure what to call them; that term was coined by one of our A2s and it stuck) we built from EMT and landscaping tape. They did look great however. We spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out the best way to build them, so I thought I’d let you in on that process.

First of all, the original design was borrowed from Chestnut Ridge Church in Morgantown, WV. Actually, if you look at what they did on ChurchStageDesignIdeas, theirs came out way better. But we were pressed for time and what we came up with worked OK for our purposes. 

The guys at Chestnut Ridge used aluminum square stock for the top and bottom rods; I ended up using 3/4” EMT (electrical conduit). I used EMT for 2 reasons; first, I know I can buy it cheap at Home Depot; and second, because I need a bunch of it anyway for a project in our student room. I tried to scale the original design to figure out how big it was, but at the end of the day, it needed to fit our stage. So we went with 15’ long top and bottom bars. 

After looking around for a while, I settled on 2” white taffeta marking tape from Graniger. We spaced ours with 4” between each piece. When we started building them, we would measure each one, but then it occurred to me that if we made marks every 6”, we could just lay it out that way much faster. 

To build them, we first assembled the 15’ lengths of EMT using a standard coupling. The EMT was hung from the truss using safety cables. Given that the total hanging weight was something on the order of 12 pounds (probably not even that), I wasn’t worried about safety. The safeties were about 3’ in from each end, so I knew they wouldn’t slip.

We raised the lift up to a comfortable height with two of us up top and two working on the floor. Up in the air, we had two rolls of the tape. After gaffing our ends to the pipe, we dropped them down to the guys on the floor, who crossed them end for end. We were careful to make sure the tape didn’t twist up on the way down. We worked from the ends toward the center. After they team on the floor cut and taped their ends down, they threw the rolls back up to us.

This became quite a competition between the two teams, as it turned out. Much fun and laughter ensued. 

I should point out that we laid the floor pipe out so that the center point was in the same place vertically, but it was turned about 30° to the top piece. This gave us a bit of twist to the design; something that you couldn’t really tell from the floor, but made it a little easier to light.

Speaking of lighting, we used six ColorBlasts to light each one; three on top and three on the floor. The taffeta tape took lighting really well, and it looked very even across the entire piece. Because it was only about 25% opaque at the top and bottom, we were also able to throw light through it when necessary. 

I think we spent less than $70 on the entire thing and it took us about 2 hours to build. A big shout out to Brandy Gibson at Chestnut Ridge for the inspiration. It was easy, cheap and looked great. What else could you want from a set design?

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Simply Christmas Set Design

As our theme for Christmas this year was Simply Christmas, it stood to reason that we should make the set fairly simple. Last time, I wrote up our plan for the hanging lighting. This time, we’ll take a look at the rest of the set. 

Last year for Gunch!, we built a wall upstage, and cut a cool shape in it. We decided we liked the wall enough to keep it, so in March, we squared it off and painted it black. For Simply Christmas, we wanted to go a little more rustic. So we took a field trip to Home Depot to see what they had for siding options. We settled on 1/2” OSB for two reasons; first it had a nice warm, woodsy look to it, and second, it was cheap. We sided the wall with the OSB, running the sheets long ways to give us a 24’ wide upstage wall. To save material, we did the first 8’ completely, then did 2’ up each side of the wall.

We wanted to use some muslin for a screen. The idea was to create a setting that looked like some kids found a big sheet in a barn, then tacked it up to show movies on or something. To help create that allusion, we tacked some 2×6 and 2x4s to tie the screen off to. The screen was tied in the corners, then pulled taught to the 2x with clothesline. To finish it off, we strung some globe lights along the top. 

The screen has some natural low and high points in it, we didn’t want it completely flat. In the end, it looked pretty much like we wanted; simple, homemade and warm. 

As we had 8 people lined up to read the prophecy and birth stories of Jesus during the program, we needed something for them to read from. I had in mind a really simple, rustic podium, that would again looked like it was tacked together from some spare pieces of wood found in a barn.

It’s almost done; I eventually used cable staples to clean up the wiring.

I used a 4×4 piece of redwood for the main upright, and a simple 2×4 wooden base. The top was a scrap of the OSB we used for the wall. I found a cool porcelain lamp socket at a hardware store in Palm Springs while I was there with my wife for our anniversary (that’s a long story…), and planned on mounting an old-looking Shure 55SH mic to the podium.

The 55SH is a fine mic, but would make a terrible podium mic. So I gaff taped a DPA 4098 to the upstage side and used that. The 55 just looks cool. The old-fashioned bare bulb in the porcelain socket completed the look.

This was the first cable groove. I soon cut another on the other side for power for the light. The hole held the short mic pole.

I could have let the cables hang out the back, but that seemed crude (I was going for rustic, not sloppy). So I took a chunk of the redwood 4×4, plumb cut it, then routed a few grooves in it for the cable to chase through. The cables came out on the upstage side of the main upright, and I cable-stapled them in place. When it was done, the audience didn’t see any cables, and the light was a great touch.

The four of these created a crazy amount of fake snow.

The final piece of the puzzle was to make it snow. My boss has this idea that we needed to make it snow for the program, so I rented four Little Blizzards from our local rental house. After playing around with hang points, we decided to hang them from our backlight pipe, which is pretty far downstage in the center, right below our main valance. 

We backed it off a little bit for the actual service.

We pointed them toward the audience in a fan pattern and fired them up. The name “Little Blizzard” is an apt one, it snowed like crazy! When I posted pictures on Twitter, everyone commented that they didn’t want to clean all that up. But that’s the great news; you don’t have to! It uses a special, extra-dry fluid that simply evaporates after about 3-5 minutes. 

The machines are loud, however, so we had to time the cue carefully. We made it snow during the build of The Earth Stood Still, and it worked just wonderfully. There was an audible gasp from the audience every time and everyone loved it.

Did you try any cool special effects for Christmas this year?

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Simply Christmas Lighting

This year, the theme for our Christmas Eve services was Simply Christmas. In the past two years, we’ve done really big, Broadway-style productions, and we really wanted to change it up. We wanted to go more traditional, down-home and rustic. The service was more similar to a typical weekend service, though it had several additional key elements. I’ll talk more about the production side and set construction in other posts; for this one, I want to focus on the lighting design.

We started our idea generation by basically ripping off the hanging bare lightbulb look that has become popular at the moment (great artists steal, remember?). I found some really cool, retro incandescent bulbs at a site called 1000bulbs.com. We used three different styles for the set, the T-9, the T-14 and the S21 (view all three bulbs at 1000bulbs.com). I chose these bulbs because they looked cool and were reasonably affordable. 

We ordered 78 of them (30 T-9, 30 T-14, 18 S21) and started figuring out how to hang them. I looked to Ikea, which stocks a hanging lamp cord. They sell them for over $7 here in CA, and since we needed a lot, that started getting expensive. So I searched the Google and came up with a company in the Chicago area called MyLampParts.com. I ordered up a simple 10’ lamp cord with an Edison plug on one end and bare wires on the other, which mated to a simple lamp socket. A volunteer and I put them together in under an hour, and the whole thing cost less than $200, including the black electrical tape I wrapped them in. 

It’s not quite “back of napkin” layout, but it’s close. Click to enlarge.

My super-awesome lighting guy, Thomas and I decided to hang them in a grid pattern, since we have truss in the air. We plotted out a pattern that would keep them out of the center screen throw (from most seats anyway), and figured out how to circuit them. The plan was to put 24 bulbs on each side of the stage, in 6 circuits, 4 bulbs to a circuit. I bought black power strips and a small truckload of 16 gauge power cords from Monoprice.com and we set to work.

We hung each cord at a different height, each determined on the fly and chosen kind of at random. We made no effort to make the two sides match, though each side is a mirror image of each other when you look at the hang points and circuiting. When we put the bulbs, in, we decided to keep like bulbs together on the same circuits. This proved to be a great decision as the S21 was considerably brighter than the other two. 

If you look really closely, you can see the pattern. But most never will. Click to enlarge.

When we did the plot, each lamp was assigned a color (one of six). We marked the hang point on the truss with marking tape. When we ran the cords back to the power strips (which were also colored-coded and zip tied to the truss), we color-coded the extension cords. Once we got to plugging it all in, we simply matched colors. 

The result looked fantastic. From the view of the congregation, it appears completely random—you’d never know there was a pattern. The three different kind of bulbs is harder to spot; if I were doing it again, I might just go with all T-9s (they’re the cheapest), as it’s tough to see the differences once you get into the seating area. Up close it looks really cool, though.

Photo (and great lighting) courtesy of Thomas Pendergrass.

Having the lights on different circuits might seem like overkill (they’re 30 and 60 watts each, after all), but it gave us tremendous flexibility in creating various looks. As I mentioned, the S21s were about twice as bright as the other two, so we simply turned those channels down to about 50%. For the message, Thomas ran those a little higher, which gave a cool, bright light, dim light look. We also had the ability to do random intensity chases with them.

At only a few hundred lumens per lamp, these bulbs won’t stand up to a really bright stage. But since we’re all black drape upstage, and we intentionally went for a darker look overall, these worked great. We’ll be keeping them up until Easter as part of our set look for the new series we’re starting in January.

What did you do differently for lighting your Christmas services?

This post is brought to you by Horizon Battery, distributor of Ansmann rechargeable batteries and battery chargers. Used worldwide by Cirque du Soleil and over 25,000 schools, churches, theaters, and broadcast companies. We offer a free rechargeable evaluation for any church desiring to switch to money-saving,  planet-saving rechargeables. Tested and recommended by leading wireless mic manufacturers and tech directors. 

Environmental Projection

I was about to start this article off with the phrase, “A few weeks ago…” but then I realized it was actually a few months ago now. Anyway, a few months ago, we had the privilege of hosting Camron Ware at Coast Hills as he did a hands-on demonstration of Environmental Projection (EP). Camron is a great guy; very knowledgeable and very humble. He will say he didn’t invent EP, but he certainly has been a driving force in helping churches all over the world get up and running with EP systems and media. 

When I was approached about hosting this event, I was a little concerned that our room would not be conducive to EP as the front of our auditorium is a mishmash of curtains, walls, screens, angles and the stage. It didn’t take long to find I was wrong. The first thing Camron did was to set up three projectors. Two were supplied by a local vendor (a pair of Chrisite 5Ks). The other one arrive with Camron in a suitcase. No kidding. He walked in with a rolling suitcase in tow, and pulled out a projector the size of two pizza boxes. Made by Hitachi, it spits out 4000 lumens and costs about $2,000. I believe this is the one: Hitachi CP-X4021N LCD Video Projector

After connecting all three projectors to his MacBook Pro using a TripleHead2Go from Matrox, he threw up this very cool grid in Photoshop. He created this to help him create the mask he uses in ProPresenter to mask out the areas he doesn’t want to project on. He spent about 10 minutes creating the mask, though he conceded that in a real installation or bigger show, he might spend quite a bit more time getting it dialed in perfectly. 

The images used for the backgrounds can be almost anything. Camron talked a lot about how cathedrals of old had all sorts of beautiful details and architectural features. Today, we build beige boxes. EP can be used to put some visual interest back into the worship space. To wit…

That one has a very modern, grafitti feel. But you could just as easily go ancient.

Note in this case, he’s projecting over our IMAG screens. In the previous example, he masked them out. This was done using different masks in the Mask layer of ProPresenter 4. It should also be noted that these images are not edge-blended in any way. He’s found that typically the building has enough breakup in the design that the slight overlap of images from the projectors doesn’t matter that much. By tweaking the mask, he made it look seamless, even though it wasn’t. Here’s another.

Camron had a lot of tips for us that day, and I won’t try to recap them all. A few items of note however: Someone asked about projecting on the side walls. He said he’s found that to be distracting. It’s hard to tell from the photos, but standing in the room, the area of projection just about fills your field of veiw. The side walls are in the periphery. If we were projecting on them, especially with moving backgrounds, it’s easy to draw people’s eyes away from the front, which is distracting. It’s better to carry the color down the side walls with LED washes.

Speaking of motion, you want to keep things moving slowly. Something moving an inch on your screen will move ten feet or more when projected, so be careful with that. Experiment first with static images, then once you get the hang of that, start on motion. Try motion backgrounds out before Sunday.

And when you find yourself projecting on horizontal surfaces, like the area over the front of our stage, make sure to mask it out, as it looks very strange otherwise. The following picture serves as a negative example.

In this case, he removed the mask and as you can see, it looks really weird with the buildings zig-zagging up the front. 

There is a lot more to say about EP, but clearly I’m no expert. I suggest you check out Camron’s website, Visual Worshiper, to get the full scoop. When it comes to EP in the church, he’s the man. One other takeaway; it doesn’t need to be crazy-expensive to do EP. For example, three of those Hitachi projectors would set you back about $6,000. A TripleHead2Go is about $300. Of course, you’d also need a computer and software, but you may have that already. When you compare that to the cost of a few moving head lights, it’s really pretty affordable. It’s also important to note that you don’t need 16K lumen projectors to make this work, either. The center of the image is being projected from almost 95′ away from a 4,000 lumen projector. The two sides are 50′ away from 5,000 lumen projectors (the fact that they don’t look different says a lot about how projectors are rated…). 4,000 Lumens is certainly enough for most situations, especially when you can control the ambient light. We’re also running house lights near full, just so you know.

So there you go, a few tips on EP. But really, go to Camron’s site to get the real deal. Or better yet, if you’re serious about getting started with EP, have him come in and help you out. It’s totally worth it!

This post is brought to you by Horizon Battery, suppliers of  award-winning Ansmann rechargeable systems that are used worldwide by Cirque du Soleil and over 25,000 schools, churches, theaters, broadcast companies, & businesses. Learn more about their pro-grade batteries and chargers by visiting their web site. Tested and recommended by leading wireless mic manufacturers and tech directors.

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