Projections for The Planets – A look behind the scenes

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.

Projections for The Armed Man

A couple of years ago, I was fortunate to be invited to do a massive projection design for The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace when it was performed by The Community Church of Durham.

This is a massive choral work by composer Karl Jenkins, and is the single most powerful piece of music I have ever experienced.

You can listen to the opening movement here:

Sorry – the service that provided that ( has been shut down.  All I can suggest now is that you buy the album, but it’s totally worth it.

Click here to buy from iTunes!

Or click here to buy the CD or MP3s from Amazon

When I first looked at the space (the Church’s sanctuary,) my reaction was that the whole space – walls and ceiling, were white.  This meant they were possible projection surfaces.  After some testing the overall scale of what was possible became clear to me.  Add to that lots of listening to the piece, and the choir’s concept to juxtapose religious and military imagery and a design began to take shape.

I could talk for a long time about the design process and the technical gymnastics required to make it all work; and I’m happy to post about that as well if there’s interest, but for now, I just want to share some photographs taken during a rehearsal.  Please click on the photos to view larger versions.

And just to give you a peak behind the curtains:

Here’s a photo of all of the computers and the main projections that made everything happen.