Video design or projection design is a creative field of stagecraft. It is concerned with the creation and integration of film and motion graphics into the fields of theatre, opera, dance, fashion shows, concerts and other live events. Video design has only recently gained recognition as a separate creative field. Prior to this, the responsibilities of video design would often be taken on by a scenic designer or lighting designer. A person who practices the art of video design is often known as a Video Designer. However, naming conventions vary around the world, and so practitioners may also be credited as Projection Designer, "Media Designer", Cinematographer or Video Director (amongst others). As a relatively new field of stagecraft, practitioners create their own definitions, rules and techniques.
Filmmaking and video production content has been used in performance for many years, as has large format slide projection delivered by systems such as the PANI projector. The German Erwin Piscator, as stage director at the Berlin Volksbühne in the 1920s, made extensive use of film projected onto his sets. However, the development of digital projection technology in the mid 90s, and the resulting drop in price, made it more attractive and practical to live performance producers, directors and scenic designers. The role of the video designer has developed as a response to this, and in recognition of the demand in the industry for experienced professionals to handle the video content of a production.
United Scenic Artists' Local 829, the Union representing Scenic Artists in the USA has included "Projection Designers" as of mid- 2007. This means anybody working in this field will be doing so officially as "Projection Designer" if he or she is working under a union contract, even if the design utilises technology other than video projectors. The term "Projection Designer" stems from the days when slide and film projectors were the primary source of projection.
MA Digital Theatre, University of the Arts London is the first Master's level course in the UK designed to teach video design exclusively as a specific discipline, rather than embedding it into scenic design.
In the USA, the Yale School of Drama began the first graduate level program in Projection Design in 2010. The Projection Design Concentration is part of its MFA Design program. Headed by Wendall K. Harrington, it graduated its first two designers in 2013.
Roles of the video designer
Depending on the production, and due to the crossover of this field with the fields of lighting design and scenic design, a video designer's roles and responsibilities may vary from show to show. A video designer may take responsibility for any or all of the following.
- The overall conceptual design of the video content to be included in the piece, including working with the other members of the production team to ensure that the video content is integrated with the other design areas.
- The creation of this video content using 2D and 3D animation, motion graphics, stop motion animation, illustration, filming or any other method.
- The direction, lighting and/or cinematography of any film clips included in the piece.
- The design of the technical system to deliver the video content, including the specification of video projectors, LED displays and control systems, cabling routes and rigging positions for optimal video effects.
- The management of the budget allocated to video, including the sourcing of display technologies and control technologies, their delivery, maintenance and insurance.
This is a very wide skills base, and it is not uncommon for a video designer to work with associates or assistants who can take responsibility for certain areas. For example, a video designer may conceptually design the video content, but hire a skilled animator to create it, a programmer to program the control system and a projectionist to choose the optimum projection positions and maintain the equipment.
Concert video design
The creation of visuals for live music performances bears close resemblance to music videos, but are typically meant to be displayed as 'backplate' imagery that adds a visual component to the music performed onstage. However, as the use of video content during musical performances has grown in popularity since the turn of the 21st century, it has become more common to have self-standing 'introductory' and 'interstitial' videos that play on screen on stage without the performers. These pieces may include footage of the artist or artists, shot specifically for the video, and presented onstage with pre-recorded music so that the final appearance is essentially a music video. Such stand-alone videos, however, are typically only viewed in this live setting and may include additional theatrical sound effects.
The earliest concert video visuals likely date to the period of the late 1960s when concerts for artists such as Jimi Hendrix and The Doors featured psychedelic imagery on projection screens suspended behind the performers. Live concert performances took on more and more theatrical elements particularly notable in the concert events put on by Pink Floyd throughout their career.
Laurie Anderson was among the earliest to experiment with video content as part of a live performance, and her ideas and images continue to be a direct inspiration to performers as diverse as David Bowie, Madonna and Kanye West. Meanwhile, in 1982, Devo integrated rear-projected visuals into their concert set, choreographing themselves to match and interact with the action on screen for several songs. But the rock show that made video content 'standard practice' was U2's Zoo TV Tour conceived and designed by Willie Williams - who has, interestingly enough, recently collaborated with Laurie Anderson.
Technology used in video design
Video designers make use of many technologies from the fields of stagecraft, broadcast equipment and home cinema equipment to build a workable video system, including technologies developed specifically for live video and technologies appropriated from other fields. A video system may include any of the following: