Video wall design is entering a bold new era. The 2015 version of Life In Color “The World’s Largest Paint Party” provided eye-popping proof of that. As impressed as we were with previous LIC festivals like the symbolic Phoenix in 2013’s Rebirth Tour or the mesmerizing circle of light in 2014’s Unleashed, neither prepared us for last year’s Paint Machine in a Factory show.
The massive multi-sectional video wall in LIC 2015 did more than provide stunning visuals, it also served as the foundation of an ongoing narrative that didn’t so much engage the audience as engulf them, sweeping them up into the Paint Machine story being played out on stage. In our view, the festival’s show represented a way of working with video that could scarcely have been imagined when the first panels were introduced a decade or so ago.
We caught up with Daniel Bouchard, the Production Director at LIC, to talk about new developments in video wall design, the evolving relationship between light and video and how both are reshaping festival shows.
You built an impressive video wall for Life in Color this year that actually contributed to the telling of a story rather than simply just showing images. Can you tell us how the idea for this came about?
“We really wanted to create a scenic stage. However, scenic is heavy, large and really hard to tour with, especially when your show travels around the globe. I figured the best way to scale this worldwide was to build the scenic out of something that is readily available worldwide universally. That’s when we decided that the video wall itself could be a facade/mask. We worked with Morgan Lavery and his team at Melt Creative to develop the content and deployed an alpha layer that allowed our many different VJs to play different content during the show, but it always played through the same alpha channel/mask. This made each show look consistent whether we were in Boston, Massachusetts or Istanbul, Turkey.”
When you have a video wall like this, where it relates a narrative rather than just showing images or text, does it change the way you design?
“Yes – when you’re just showing text or images you put up a video wall, then you put up content – and you were done. Now you build the content and figure out how the LED wall can support it. So it really changes the way the show design is built.”
Does it also change the features you look for in a video panel?
“Yes, we want high resolution and fast refresh, because the video and pics sell the show to the next audience who may be looking at the ‘after movies.”
Also, at Life in Color you broke your video wall into sections. It seems like more shows are doing this rather than having one continuous video wall. What are the advantages of doing this?
“The biggest advantage is depth. We all know what jumbotrons look like. It was not until Daft Punk did their Coachella set in 2006, where they had a huge video wall behind a scenic set, did the idea of using huge video ON stage as part of the show become mainstream. Since then EVERYONE does it, so breaking it up from just a square or a rectangle is the next logical step.”
How literal do you think you have to get to tell a story on video wall during a festival or concert? Do the images have to be realistic, or can they just suggest an image of what you’re trying to communicate? In other words, if your narrative involves birds, do you have to show images of birds, or can you have abstract suggestions of wings flapping?
“I think it’s best to not be literal, but suggestive. In Life in Color the overall theme was a Paint Machine in a Factory that had lost its power to operate. We had to tell that story on the wall by showing a really grungy machine with broken and sparking parts. Then the narrator (a scientist) suggests he figured out that the solution can be found in the people– our audience! Only their energy can bring the Paint Machine to life. The video content engages the audience and encourages them to ‘scream and get the machine’s meters to the top.’ Once they do, the machine blasts into color and becomes this slick modern machine. There is very little narrative, and the content playing on the screen tells the story through suggestive images.”
How do you tie your video wall in with the stage lighting? Do you rely on pixel mapping?
“We deploy two ways of creating cohesion between the video walls and the lighting. One way is to pixel map the ‘eye candy’ fixtures like the Nexus or the Batten 144 so it can display a low resolution constant throughout the stage; the other way is to have your LD and VJ aligned and working together, calling out colors or better connecting control via software so the LD can control color overlays on the video. It’s also important to have your team ‘share the lumens.’ You can’t have everything going at the same time; you need to create contrast between lighting and video; there needs to be times when the lighting is the star and other times when video is the star. This way it’s not like 15 guitar players on stage all soloing in different keys, which will sound like garbage, right? It’s the same concept to me. The same thing can be said for lasers –share the lumens bro!”
What are your feelings about having video wall sections of different shapes and sizes being used on stage?
“Everything else is boring, If you are touring worldwide, but getting local production provided, you must travel with staff that can help the locals achieve the looks you are going for both physically and technically.”
It seems that more LDs are putting fixtures like beams or blinders between sections of a video wall display – what are your thoughts on that? Any advice on how to incorporate fixtures into your video wall display?
“This is something we have done on my projects. We call it ‘Pipe and Cheese Productions,’ as we use a lot of aluminum pipe and Cheeseboro clamps to achieve these looks. It’s an essential design tool to keep things fresh and innovative looking. It’s just important to know the limits of your products, mostly the video wall and what you can realistically hang from its rigging.”
Any advice on how to keep video walls from being overshadowed by high output lights?
“Share the lumens bro! This is the responsibility of the Production Director (me) to manage their talent and make sure the show caller is keeping everyone sharing the sandbox.”
Is it possible to overuse video walls?
“Yes, and in my opinion it’s done constantly. Video walls are a nice tool, but they’re not ‘the show!’ You will make a much bigger impact by using it sparingly and creating moments, rather than flash and blind all night long. Even a barracuda will start to ignore the shiny objects after they are overwhelmed by them. Save the pixels for a moment that has a huge impact, or no one will notice your ‘big moment.’”
Do video walls make it easier for an LD to create a design?
“I’m not an LD. I’m a Production Director/Designer, but yes video is an essential element in all genres these days. Without them it’s just lights. With EDM in particular, a DJ is really boring to watch (sorry thumbdrive jockeys), so having lots of bells and whistles to display the magic and talent of the operators to accent the performer is absolutely essential.”
Where do you begin the design process when you have video walls and fixtures? Do you look at the video walls first?
“Every design is different. I try to work around a theme or a concept. If there is a content already developed, then we are limited by starting with aspect ratio of the content. I prefer to develop the content after the design so we are not strapped to one shape trying to build around it.”
For more information on Life in Color visit: www.lifeincolor.com