For Max Koehler and Ryan Warffuel, LED video walls are more than a medium for displaying stunning breakout patterns and other images. The two young designers, who are partners in Minneapolis-based Antic Studios, view these panels as living, breathing vibrant entities in their own right — and not merely repositories for colorful images. Panels themselves become active elements in Antic Studio designs, being pushed ever outward in a seemingly endless variety of geometric configurations.
By breaking down LED video walls into fragmented pieces of different shapes and sizes that sometimes point in different directions, Koehler and Warffuel have not only created captivating designs, they’ve also often reshaped stages, making them seem larger. The latter quality has come in handy on more than one occasion, allowing the pair to create big looks when budget constraints limited the number of video panels in their rig.
Koehler and Warffuel, whose designs have been used in performances by Adventure Club and Hardwell, as well as at music festivals like Nature’s Dance, spoke to use about their outside the box approach to building multi-faceted video walls.
Can you tell us a little about how you decide to configure a wall in terms of horizontal versus vertical orientation?
“It depends. If you are talking about configuring the wall within the software, it just comes down to the design. If we are doing an intricate design, we can really only configure the wall one way, which is to say it isn’t going to be horizontal or vertical – it’s going to be all over the place to reflect the design we envision. As long as the different sections are linked in the right order, any configuration is fine. On the other hand, if we’re using one large screen, typically we will configure the wall horizontally instead of vertically, as it is easier to link data and power doing rows at a time versus columns.”
What are your feelings about having one continuous video wall as opposed to breaking the wall up into separate sections?
“Typically, our design process begins with the number of panels allocated in a specific shows budget. We tend to like to break up our panels into smaller modular sections. We think this tends to be more visually appealing. It also allows us to make our stages look larger with fewer panels; plus it gives us our unique look. So, most of the time we will try and break up our panels into designs rather than making a solid wall. That is of course unless we’re requested to do otherwise by the artist.
“As far as deciding to how to orientate our panels, the decision completely comes down to the design concept. Sometimes the design will be straight up and down, and other times it will be angled. It just depends on how the vision for the design turns out. However, our modular style also creates more challenges when configuring the display running to the LED’s. The data cables running the signal through the wall aren’t running in your typical horizontal/vertical zigzag pattern.
“You also have to consider the resolution on your driver. It’s critically important to make sure that all of the shapes combined do not exceed the driver’s resolution limit. Knowing the pixel pitch of the panels you’re using before making a pixel map is important to the decision about how to configure the display.”
When you have the video wall broken up into separate sections do you like to display the same images on all of them, or do you like to have different images displayed on different panels?
“We like to have the option to do either. We usually have a few layers dedicated playing recycled content that’s mirrored throughout the design, resulting in a fresh new look for each stage. We also have a couple layers dedicated to custom content that’s specifically made for the pixel mapped display. At the same time, we usually dedicate one layer towards the top of our slice stack to have an image over the whole stage. Some visuals will look better over the whole thing, and some will look better mapped to each section. It all just depends on the VJ’s preference and visual choice.”
What advice do you have on balancing video and light? How do you keep one from overwhelming the other?
“As we mentioned earlier, we like to break up our panels and make intricate designs. This gives us more negative space on stage, which gives us better placement and creates good balance with the lights. We like to have our lights placed evenly throughout and around the stage and video. Also, while running live performances, we try and go back and forth with lights vs visuals. Sometimes we will use only lights, and sometimes we will use only video. With fast pace music like EDM, it is fun to be able to go back and forth between the two quickly. Of course, sometimes using both at the same time is just as effective. There are times when you want total sensory overload, and there are times when you want to see the full design of both.”
Do you ever just use your video wall for color, rather than displaying images?
“Other than strobing white, not really. Sometimes we will leave static designs up to fit a theme, or really slow moving basic visuals. We definitely like to see the visuals moving throughout the stage most of the time.”
What are the big challenges about doing a video wall for a one off?
“We would probably have to say designing a new stage design every time presents us with the biggest challenge. We try to never use same design more than once, and most of our shows are one offs. So, this creates a huge challenge every time. We have designed hundreds of stages, and hundreds more unused stage designs. Another challenge sometimes would be setup time. Some shows we get a very small window to build a stage. This can be very stressful, and if we run into any technical issues while testing the wall, it makes it very challenging.”