Projecting the right image
Projecting images that do not distract from the message can be a careful balancing act for HOWs. Here, three experts offer Alice Gustafson an insight into choosing the right content, and how to use it.
Regular churchgoers may have come to take the impressive projections that accompany worship ceremonies for granted over the years. As technology continues to evolve, offering better, faster, brighter and more impressive visual solutions, houses of worship have not missed a trick, and continue to invest in the latest products the industry has to offer. Although religious services do not strictly fall into the entertainment category, entertain they do, and so naturally pastors want to be able to deliver their message as effectively and with as much impact as possible. However this can present a problem, as the visuals must not be so eye-catching that they distract from the service itself.
Here, Worship AVL Asia talks to three industry professionals to find out what it takes to come up with appropriate projection concepts and take them from an idea to reality.
On this panel is Donnie Haulk, president and CEO of AE Global Media Inc, who says that ‘developing ways to inspire people through innovative design, using technology and automation to create environments that communicate’ is his passion. With his team, Mr Haulk has designed and installed thousands of production media systems around the world and has produced multiple live events.
Experienced illuminator and VJ Stephen Proctor is the second member on the panel. Mr Proctor’s primary focus is designing visually immersive experiences for live events. Together with his business partner, Nate Griffin, he runs Grateful Inconvenience, a creative collective that focuses on visual storytelling through film, atmospheric design and media.
Completing the panel of experts is Nicolas Rivero, a live video director who is currently touring with country artist Lady Antebellum. In the past he has travelled with acts such as TobyMac, Chris Tomlin, and Hillsong United, and has directed videos for events such as the Passion Conference.
What concepts go into creating new and appropriate visual design solutions to project for a service?
Donnie Haulk: A creative team of two to six people get together with a pastor or minister and learn about their sermon theme or message title and then spend some time without the minister to brain storm the idea. It is important that the pastor or minister not be in the first sessions so that the really ‘off the wall’ ideas can be discussed and can evolve into something that may be usable. Then at a later date the team get back with the worship leader to ‘pitch’ the three top ideas. After one is accepted, then it needs approximately one to four weeks or so to further develop with graphics and themes.
Stephen Proctor: I start with a few basic but necessary questions: What do I know to be true of God? What do I want to say based on that truth? How do I want to say it? Once I have an overall vision for the worship narrative (liturgy), then I figure out how the visuals can help tell that story. But as we all know, there are many approaches to this, and many things to keep in mind along the way. It's good to find a harmony between message and design – an image can contain a good message, but if the design isn't good, then what's the point? We have to realise that the medium is also the message.
There are also visuals that have good design but don't really ‘say’ anything, but I think those are okay to use because some visuals tell a story while others create more of an environment. Some images are very literal while others are very abstract, and sometimes those abstract visuals contain very powerful yet simple metaphors.
Personally, I like to mix it up. With some songs, I'll tell a visual story that harmonises with the lyrics, and then there are songs when I simply create an appropriate atmosphere and ‘vibe’ to support the emotion of the song. But I won't always take a song-based approach to curating visuals. For instance, sometimes I will choose an overall theme and go through a series of visuals related to that theme throughout an entire worship set. This is a great way to unfold one simple story over the course of time.
Nicolas Rivero: Usually when I go into a worship service, I try to think about all the aspects going on in the room. If I am going to use visuals for Sunday morning, knowing what the worship message is or the music being played is important, and the same goes for knowing what the Sunday morning message is.
The mood of the room has a lot to do with the visuals. I have to consider if there should be a very vibrant feel or a darker, more intimate atmosphere. You also have a lighting system, so have to think about if that system provides a certain look. There are a lot of factors so I try to look at the big picture as a whole – speak to the pastor, speak to the worship leader and speak to the technician. I try to understand the big picture as a whole and try to work together to understand what message we want to convey. It is about getting as many details as possible beforehand to then plan out what you want.
I often use a storyboard, especially when I am creating visuals or graphics for projection, and most of the time, I will go as far as creating a mock up or a rendering of this graphic to show what I am thinking. If you are going to create graphics from scratch, I would spend time talking about your ideas with key stakeholders. If you do not have anyone to create content, consider going to websites like Worship House Media to purchase content or visuals. This is a great place to sift through things and storyboard in a different way.
My personal approach to creating ideas is to always have my laptop and notebook in my backpack. For me there is nothing better than pulling out a pad of paper and getting ideas down. Having said that, many people like to use Adobe After Effects to draw out their ideas, and sometimes I will use this software, but my preference is a pad and paper.
What basic pieces of projection equipment are required?
Donnie Haulk: At the very basic level, just a projector or two. Surfaces to project on are usually screens but can also be architectural elements. The use of plasma screens or other types of video monitors can also be very effective. Whenever possible, a combination of these things are great. Using different video elements on the stage or platform can bring a much greater impact. What you are looking for during a sermon is something that brings depth to the content, and the challenge is that you provide the maximum impact without bringing any distraction. You want to make the sermon have a lasting memory, to ‘imprint’ it on to the congregant.
Stephen Proctor: The main ingredients for projection usually include the following: a computer (I highly recommend a Mac), presentation software (or VJ software if you are a bit more advanced), and for this I recommend ProPresenter 5.
You will also need a multi-screen output device in case you are projecting across multiple canvases, as well as necessary cabling (such as VGA) and digital projectors. Screens are optional, as many times I project straight onto the walls and ceiling, which is an effect called ‘environmental projection’, but the most important yet most overlooked ingredient is the visual content – not having good content is like having a Ferrari with no gasoline!
Nicolas Rivero: There are many affordable solutions available for the HOW market now. Much of this has to do with the size of the space. You have to think: ‘Is your space a sanctuary or a classroom?’ It is hard to pinpoint what people need, but the main factor to consider with a projector is the maximum number of lumens for the price and budget available. Lumens help determine what type of projector would be best – the more lumens the better!
What are some of the latest technologies on the market for projecting content?
Donnie Haulk: High definition is awesome! With this, you can have your graphics ‘pop’ off the screens. Also, software such as Pro Presenter is great for limited budgets, as it allows for greater creativity with moving elements of the presentation. When the budget allows, you can move into broadcast mixers, allowing the team to have the greatest creative impact with a video presentation.
Edge blending surfaces have also become much more affordable and allow for greater creativity in the presentation of video design. The presentation video world is quickly evolving and becoming the ‘go to’ tool for bringing a great impact to sermon series and special services for ministries – and of course, the 52 big Sundays we have every year.
Stephen Proctor: I mentioned a multi-screen device earlier, and the one I currently use is the Matrox TripleHead2Go. This allows my laptop to output a triple-wide resolution, and the TH2Go then splits up this panoramic output into three parts, which can go into three projectors. This is a typical necessity when dealing with environmental projection.
I am also a huge fan of Hitachi's Ultimate Short Throw projector line – these tiny projectors allow me to project a very large image with a very short throw distance. I can hide them on stage and tuck them away, allowing me to project over entire walls and backdrops with very few limitations and challenges, such as shadows.
Nicolas Rivero: There are a whole slew of new projector products, such as new ultra short-throw projectors. They are perfect for projection staging, and a mood can be created much more simply.
What are some practical suggestions you can share when it comes to creating a basic visual design for worship?
Donnie Haulk: You want to think of consistency in a concept. When people first get started in graphic and visual design for ministries, they are tempted to use every cool trick that they can see. This can be confusing for the congregation and quite often has the opposite of the desired effect. Think one theme at a time, do not use multiple styles of fonts or colour pallets or visual styles. In short, create an even flow of content delivery.
Stephen Proctor: Less is always more. It's easy to get excited and to go wild with motions and imagery. I admit, it's a very exciting thing to be part of a worship ceremony, but I have learned that in any context or setting, going with a simplistic approach always helps.
Some aspects of projection are more utilitarian and information-driven, and what’s emerging now is more creative, artistic and theological uses of visual media. At some point, it may be healthy to separate these roles and allow one person to focus on the text and information while another focuses on the artistic side.
When designing slides, make sure to clean up the screen as much as possible. Don't repeat phrases over and over again on one slide, and don't over-populate your screen with text. For me, I go with two to four lines of text maximum, and I avoid widows and orphans (single words that get automatically moved to the next line). Treat your slide layout and text with good design, and treat each slide like a work of art, even in the little detailed areas. Also, don't ‘think’ too much about the visual experience, but try to ‘feel’ it more. View yourself as a member of the band, and the projection is your visual instrument.
Nicolas Rivero: Do not feel the need to imitate anyone or be someone, and just do what is right for your congregation and space. Look around and see what you have and use it. Simplicity is key – you do not need to reinvent the wheel.