Who will make up the video team?
Working in the Theatre and Live Events is a collaborative exercise both within and across departments. The same applies to video in shows. The Video Designer is naturally your head of department and on smaller shows, it may be possible for this person to carry out a large proportion of the work required for the show with a little assistance from the Lighting Department. However, these types of shows are becoming increasingly rare the more the medium sparks ideas and creativity and the more people understand and appreciate what video can do.
Let’s take a look at what the Video Designer might have on their to-do list on any given show in order to get an idea of what their role entails and to help in considering how big the video team needs to be. To aid this, I have a production timeline (that pleasingly looks like a fish). You will notice that there are both technical and creative activities listed that go hand-in hand throughout the process and that both types of tasks spread the entire length of the show’s production process.
Basically, there’s a lot for one person to do and with desires of the creative team invariably stretching the resources available in any way they can (as they should), on a show of a medium scale or larger, the Video & Projection Designer will more need to enlist the help of a team of specialists of their own.
So, the video team may include some or all of the following:
Media Server Programmer / Visual Engineer
The Video & Projection Designer will collaborate with the programmer to achieve the best results from the rig and they will program the media onto a media server for play out. Despite this often being seen as a technical role, the best programmers demonstrate a high level of sensitivity and creativity of their own and can support the designer by being an extra pair of eyes and making suggestions that will improve the way the design is fulfilled. They may also take on some of the collaboration with the Theatre technical staff behalf of the designer.
There are Video Designers who program shows in addition to creating and amending content during technical rehearsals but if this is the case, the time and attention of that one person is unavoidably split and halved and the resulting design may reflect this.
The Projectionist is responsible for the technical aspects of running and maintaining video equipment and troubleshooting any technical issues, in close collaboration with the programmer, the Video Designer and the in-house crew.
The Projection Designer should know their stuff when it comes to projectors and will most likely have designed the rig and specified the equipment that they need to use for their design but when it comes to the load-in, they may be unable to be in attendance (at that time they are likely to be juggling attending rehearsals, managing or carrying out the final stages of content production and programming) or they may be unable to leave their post during tech so the projectionist is on hand to step in here.
Where budget permits, the Video Designer may hire a Video Associate to help them manage the content team and to work alongside them in the Theatre during rehearsals, making content changes as required.
They may also be responsible for paperwork and be sent out to new venues if the show tours, very similar to what a Lighting Design Associate’s role would entail.
Content Creation Team
On the whole, the Projection Designer will know a thing or two about content creation too and depending on the scale of the show and the designer’s approach, they may either be extremely hands-on in the process or assign part or most of the work to a specialist team that they manage. Either way, on anything other than the smaller end of the scale of shows, this activity does not generally fall within their design fee and therefore should have some budget allocated against it.
The team can comprise one or many of the following disciplines: Film Crew, 3d Animators, 2D Animators, Compositors, Painters, Illustrators, Puppeteers, Researchers and sometimes even a specialist content producer.
Alternatively, if budgets are tight, the ‘team’ might simply consist of the designer and their well-chosen associate.
It’s arguably worth including the hire company in the Video Designer’s Team as they will collaborate in specifying the required kit and agreeing the hire deal. Then once on site the Designer and Projectionist will work with the crew that the hire company may send to ensure the kit is working and troubleshoot anything that isn’t.
Do I really need to hire a Video & Projection Designer / Team?
Well, on some shows, is has been known for the Production Designer may also take on the role of Video & Projection designer. This has been known to work in title, especially on smaller shows, however often if you look at the teams eventually involved, the designer is likely to have needed to enlist the help of additional specialists to fulfil many of the roles described above. They may also have granted the Associate a larger role that involves running the rest of the team and stepping up to make key design decisions during tech when the designer is otherwise occupied with matters of set and costume. In this scenario, the Associate could conceivably be granted a co-design or Video Design role as so much of what is originally conceived and produced evolves once in the Theatre and they must take on the responsibility to make key decisions.
Another way of working is for the Production Designer to hand over a large proportion of their responsibility for set and costumes to their assistant during technical rehearsals in favour of remaining at the production desk (on comms) and fulfilling the Video / Projection Design with the other work taken care of.
As always, this depends on the show and the design team involved and there are some great examples of all-rounder designers out there. But again, the more tasks you give to one person, the more you split down their time and therefore arguably also the output. Where time is short, you might do better employing specialists working at the top of their game everywhere along the process. After all, it’s the effective communication and creative collaboration between designers on the same level that ensures a seamless visual language within the show, not necessarily having one person do it all. Even better, this collaboration can promote unexpected invention. Plus, you might even avoid ending up with a designer collapsing at the end of it from the effort of trying to do everything!