Projection Designer

  • Projection Designer

Projection technology is by no means a recent innovation, but its integration into live theatrical production is very much a burgeoning art form. Designers and directors are just beginning to explore the capacity of projection to be seamlessly intertwined with live action on stage, and manufacturers of the equipment necessary to carry out that task are constantly returning to the artists for guidance on how to further push the boundaries of possibility.


Duties

The projection designer is responsible for producing all moving and still images that are displayed during a live performance; this includes acquiring stock photos and video, as well as creating original material. This content must then be edited together in the designer’s software of choice, and loaded to the media server that will deliver content to the projectors. Depending on the scope of the show, the requirements of the projection designer may be very limited or quite extensive; for instance, the Blue Man Group show in Orlando combines saved images with live video fed through six projectors. If the production calls for it, the designer may be responsible for programming the media server, or this task may be delegated to a specialist who serves under the designer. Together with the technical director, the projection designer will spec out the necessary media equipment and establish a budget. He or she also lays out the plan for hanging or mounting projectors and sets projection angles and parameters.

Working under the supervision of the director, the projection designer collaborates closely with audio, scenic, and lighting designers to ensure fluidity of projection during the show and to see to it that the various technical elements work together, not in competition. The lighting designer must create an environment where stage lighting does not obstruct the clarity of projected images; the set designer must provide a surface conducive to video; the audio designer will provide any necessary accompanying sound cues. Also important is to integrate video and the media server through a show control system. Many productions use the lighting console, networked to the media server, to initiate video and some audio cues. It is the projection designer’s job to instruct video crew members how to properly maintain equipment and monitor the artistic integrity of the projection elements for the run of the production.

Skills & Education

Effective design of projection for live entertainment is completely dependent on the designer’s artistic talent and technical proficiency—one is not sufficient without the other. The projection designer must have a strong understanding of projection, video, and editing technology, but also the skill necessary to produce original art. A college degree in graphic design, film, or video production is recommended; some drama schools offer specialized degrees in projection design. The projection designer must understand the functions and specifications of projectors to the component level, but to succeed in this career, a sensitive understanding of dance, drama, music, and art is also necessary. You are encouraged to take courses in fine art, film history, and theatrical design. Specific training is required to master software like Final Cut or Avid tools.

What to Expect

This is still a relatively new job title in the world of live entertainment, and thus there is not a standard path toward a career as a projection designer. Early innovators were contracted from film or television production, or from vendors that specialized in video content creation and projection. To begin your career, experience in projector maintenance and repair can get you on a show crew, as can skills as a camera operator for live entertainment. Of course, video reins in theatrical production, so operators must be familiar with handheld digital video cameras. Post-production editing experience is an asset in this career, as is professional work in post-production visual effects or animation.

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