Projector Lens
Creative Commons License photo credit: libraryman

As promised in my post on Tuesday, today I’m going to give you a look behind the scenes at the technology that I used to create the projections for The Planets.

This basically breaks down into two sections, creating the media to be projected, and actually running the show.

Creating The Media

On Tuesday I mentioned the DigitalSky 2 software which I used to create the 3-D space visualization sequences. The system is extremely sophisticated, and in fact has its own scripting language. By writing scripts I’m able to “fly” the camera through the 3-D model of the universe. It can also manipulate what objects are visible, and increasing or decreasing their size. In order to create the effect that I was looking for, I often had to increase the size of the planets and moons in view. This is because the distances in space are so gigantic, compared to the size of even the largest planets and moons.

The other major elements in the piece are mostly NASA images. There is a tremendous amount of maturity are available here, which was a great blessing, though as you can imagine, it could complicate the process of selecting material. In general I was looking for a combination of the most spectacular, beautiful and highest resolution images available. Fortunately, many images were available at far above HD resolution. The higher the resolution of the image, the more choices I have in how to use it. With the largest images, I’m able to show a small portion of the image, and then slowly move across it. This is the so-called “Ken Burns effect.” This effect allows me to take a static image, and give it motion.

Projecting The Show

When I set out to do projections for any piece were I’m collaborating as a part of a live performance, one of my primary goals is to not do anything to get in the way of the performers. One of the things that this means, is that I don’t want to create projections as a movie. It would’ve been very easy to create the projections and burn them onto DVD, and then just hit play at the beginning of each movement. The problem with that, is that then the conductor would have to follow the timing of the projections in order to stay synchronized. To my mind, that’s an unacceptable compromise to ask for in most cases.

My answer is a software package called  QLab. This amazing Macintosh software allows me to create each “visual event” of the show as a separate cue. By doing that, I’m able to essentially “edit” the projections in real time, during the performance. I read the score as the orchestra performs, and trigger each cue at the appropriate moment in music. This allows the conductor the flexibility to adjust the tempo as it feels right, and I’m still able to keep everything in perfect synchronization.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this peek behind-the-scenes of The Planets. Do you have questions? Please ask in the comments, I’d be happy to do my very best to answer them for you.