Video for Magnification (imag or image mag)

Big Christian events and churches often have a live camera feed to the screen to help people see the speaker.  The good reasons to do this is if the size or layout of the venue mean that many people can’t see and to get close to the facial expressions the speaker may be using.  In this first picture you can see the expression on Gordon’s face on the screen but can hardly make him out on the extreeme right of the image…

event-projection02

However, what I don’t understand is why live video is used when it doesn’t add anything.  It should never be used to give a wide shot of a stage which in effect adds nothing at all.  Look at this…

event-projection01

See the problem?

For both of these photos I was in front of the front row of this venue i.e. between the front row and the stage – but way off to one side (as mentioned in previous posts I was involved in the children’s programme at this event and this is the day that the children come in for the parents to hear what we have been doing all week).

So here is why I think this is a waste of time…

event-projection01b

This photo shows that Jenny (who is leading the worship) is the same size (actually a little smaller) on the screen as she appears in perspective looking at the stage.  So what is this image on large screens either side of stage adding?

I’m not saying that live cameras shouldn’t be used.  They are very good for magnification of the speaker – as mentioned before.  But [I think] there should never be a medium or wide shot which visually doesn’t add anything.

The other problem is that because events have live cameras they end up using them during worship which totally baffles me.  Why do you need a close up of the worship leader singing, or a guitarist, drummer, keyboard player, etc.?  I don’t get it. Obviously, given this blog, I am very much in favour of visuals during worship but generally speaking I wouldn’t include live camera in that – there have been a few occasions I have used live camera but very very occasionally and thinking back on those events I don’t actually think they worked that well.

OK, so ‘rant’ over – if you are involved in this sort of event and find yourself projecting live video of the band please question why and if something else might be more suitable.

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Visuals in Children’s work

Just got back from tech’ing for the children’s ministry at CLAN this year.  No time yet to write anything up, but here’s some relevant pics of setup at least…

Ck09-1setup-wide1-web

start of the week didn’t look good – no black out (which we had for the past three years but seems to have been left out this year), smaller fast folds and weeker projectors didn’t fill us with confidence.  It meant we cut some major aspects of our plans straight away and we are all sure we could have had a better program with the ability to use full visuals and lighting, but no point on dwelling on it.

Ck09-general45-parents-web

This was taken when the parents come in to see what the program was like.  You can see that some patchy blackout has been added to try to help.  Also, here you can see six TVs around the stage, this is predominantly for the younger (smaller) children along the front for whom the side screens would be difficult to see.  Due to the light levels we used the same image on all screens to avoid confusion (the plan was to throw different images on different screens)

Ck09-general52-worship-web

Here is a photo taken during worship, you can see I tried using some lighting to aid excitement and atmosphere but there was no way to overlay words on video as it wasn’t easy to see the words in these conditions.

The last problem we faced was that there just wasn’t enough macs to go around – only three macs between two just isn’t enough :-/

not enough macs2-web

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Reviewing the past

I’m very busy getting ready for a children’s event next week.  It is the children’s work at a large Christian Conference in Scotland which we’ve been involved with for the past four years.  The first year Jenny took a band into the children’s work and as I usually work with her I went along to provide some visuals.  The following year Jenny was in the team who took on the children’s work for all primary children and again I got involved.

At the time we had to go to a considerable effort to convince the organizers that the children’s work (the way we were doing it) needed two additional tech’s and a pile of video gear – even though we were really doing it on the cheap as much as possible.  Anyway, in a couple of days we pack the van again and head off to do it again.  I thought I would have a look back at the notes I made back in 2006 after the first time we aimed to fully integrate a visual ministry with the children’s work.  The following is what I wrote then, a lot of it we have learned to do better and I will try to write up some of what we do next week and hope to see what if anything is different.


this is a sort of summary of some of the uses of video that we made at CLAN Kidz 2006

Vox Pops
Our theme was HEART or the Father Heart of God, or how God loves us as Father, or something along those lines.  We planned to have a VoxPop video put together for each morning session asking people what they thought the word for that day meant.  To get something ready we filmed the first one using the team at one of the training sessions.  The rest were done at CLAN using a mobile camera with interviewer and to get people’s attention and make sure people knew that the Kidz team were on site, we mounted a camera to a large fluffy heart (can’t believe that I have no pics of this).

So, 6 voxpops to lead off discussion of ‘Holy’, ‘Eternal’, ‘Abba (daddy) ’, ‘Ruler’, ‘Truth’ and a final sumary one with clips from the others… of course as we were at a Christian conference people kept giving us the ‘right answer’ so ‘Abba’ does actually mean father or daddy to Christians and not the 70s super group!

These seemed to work, but I don’t know how or if you could measure the effectiveness of this sort of element in a program.

Heart Surgery
For the evening sessions where we were looking at ‘Humble’, ‘Enjoy’, ‘Adore’, ‘Respect’, ‘Trust’ we had already filmed a series of sketches with Alistair, Bruce and Andrea playing the parts in a spoof ‘heart surgery’ soap.  This involved a few jokes before the Doctor found and removed from the heart things like ‘Pride’ (opposed to Humble), ‘Distrust’ (opposed to Trust), etc.

Again there was no way of knowing how this would go down with this age group (although we kept laughing at it).  On the first couple of days, they just sat and watched, then turned to hear what would be said next…  by the third or fourth day as the episode started they were singing along with the theme tune, cheering for “Dr Vain” and for some reason booing “Nurse Heart” – who was the only actor from the sketch who was actually there.

Other visual ideas that worked well were

  • Live Camera – sparing use of live camera for games happening up front (how long can you hold a fruit pastel in your mouth without chewing was good because while other things went on I had close ups of the children’s mouths and folk shouted if they were chewing or not).
  • Branding, I had made a series of video titles of the words ‘CLAN kidz’ with different animated fonts so that we could brand and give ownership to the venue.
  • Voxpops needs another mention – the first one was entirely team members
    a) this meant I could film it at one of your preparation meetings,
    b) it helped introduce team members to the children on day one, and
    c) it helped me meet team members and them get used to the idea that I would be very likely to shove a camera in their face (and also for me to find out who really didn’t like that and try to avoid doing it to them).Also, while at CLAN we used a large pink fluff heart shape strapped onto a mono-pod with the camera sticking through it to run around and get people’s attention – this combined with our team T-shirts let the general CLAN delegate who might not think anything about children’s work going on see that something was happening and hopefully pray for the children!  It also saved any ‘what is this going to be used for’ moments.
  • Team Wall – I’m not sure about this.  I came up with the idea (more difficult to explain than to see) of having all the team members images in a 5 by 4 table on screen, but instead of still images each would be a video, some being more animated than others – giving a wall of moving and changing images.  It was a little bit of a fiddle to make, but not as hard as I thought and a learning process, but I’m not sure what it added to the venue/events.
  • Story time – for each children’s story we took photos of the picture books, powerpointed them and followed along in the story. Simple but essential to hold attention.
  • Drew’s daddy video – a ‘one off’ video that I will certainly use again and again.  Drew was one of the leaders and was there with his three children, so we spent 15 minutes filming them running to him jumping on him or being swung around as well as hugs, and sitting to read with daddy.  You can’t go wrong with footage like this – lots of slow motion and gradual fades and make it fit to a suitable backing track. Guaranteed tear jerker.
  • Testimony – while doing our best to avoid filming children because of all the legal / permission problems.  I suddenly realized that during our team meetings at the end of the day I should film people’s stories from the day of what God was doing in and through the children.  It remains to be seen what can be done with this footage and it might be good to find a way of feeding it back to the adults session during the week if we do this in future years.
  • Nothing – worth mentioning that when you want the children to listen or focus on one thing, showing nothing i.e. blanking all the screens, helps a lot.  It is difficult for us at the back to keep that in mind when most of the time our focus is on getting things happening on the screens.

Basically, while I know that visuals (video and stills) add a lot to worship and teaching for adults, this is even more the case for children who are more used to lots of things happening around them.  Who respond to visual stimuli that backs up spoken word or experience.

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cathedral art projection

I came across this on Create Digital Motion it is a video of ANTIVJ who do artistic projection mapping, light sculpture, outdoor projection, stuff.  This basically means “painting” architecture and objects with projected images. It isn’t something I’ve had time to look at but I’m intrigued and would like to investigate this more – not that I think I’ll be able to do this sort of thing:

This video is a live performance at Cathedral of Breda, NL with original music by Thomas Vaquié, played on organ by Gerard Maters with light design by Giacinto Caponio, Grote Kerk is a sublime modern, digital spectacle, a light and sound show all performed live using software from arKaos.

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The Spiritual Stuff

I had always planned to use this blog for a mix of “How to..” guides and some of the spiritual Christian aspects of using visual media in a worship context.  Of course the practical stuff is not only easier to write about than the spiritual side, but this week I have a good example which should illustrate how I find video mixing a spiritual experience.

So this month’s Deeper service at St Silas had a set up of three projectors all taking the same signal from a Mac Book Pro running ArKaos Grand VJ software – with the middle screen also having song words keyed over when needed.

We kept the set up fairly simple in that it was a straight forward 800×600 screen size.  Two of the eight available layers had a chroma key type mix, the others were just opacity mixes.

The first part of the service was more or less a scripted running order with mostly specific videos to appear on queue for the talk etc. but once it gets to the sung worship time the song words are provided by another operator and I have no script to follow for what visuals appear on screen, when to change them, how to pace it, etc.

I had a look through the song list a few times, praying and thinking about insperation but I don’t generally go into any great detail with any song – I don’t look through the words too much in advance just the general feel for direction.  During the set I will often have a look at what is coming up next and glance at the words at that point.  It’s also worth saying that I’m not particularly good with worship music, I can never remember how something goes until I’m singing it -but that’s just me.  Song list:

  • Blessed be the name
  • It’s our confession
  • You chose the cross
  • Holy God
  • God in my living
  • O taste and see
  • Who is like you
  • Let the weak say

So the way the set developed seemed to be working well.  I started off with mainly abstract & conputer generated graphics which fitted the tempo but not generally trying to say anything.  Then through “It’s our confession” I added in some stills of hands tied together being opened up, and gradually added more footage of a celtic cross, then flames, etc.  frequently coming back to the CG abstract stuff to weave that through as  a sort of theme.

For some reason (let’s call it God) during the second last song I noticed that I hadn’t used any water type images so I had a quick look at the name of the next song: “Let the week say..” (aka What the Lord has done in me” ) – it didn’t particularly bring anything to mind so I loaded up a set of watery videos ready for the last song.  During the song I moved from water splashing to sparkly light reflections on water and so on.  Then during the song it turned out these were the words (my emphasis)…

To the river I will wade
There my sins are washed away
From the heavens’ mercy streams
Of the Savior’s love for me

I will rise from waters deep
Into the saving arms of God
I will sing salvation songs
Jesus Christ has set me free

So, what I’m trying to say is – pray before hand, be prepared and pray during.  I now have a large and constantly growing ‘pallet’ of video footage to draw on and try to listen for insperation.  Sometimes I come away thinking or feeling as if I’ve done it all with my own effort, and sometimes I have no idea why I decided to use a certain type of image (like the water ones) and they fit exactly with what God is doing.

This leaves us wuth a fine line between preparing well (i.e. having the footage available and knowing it well) and not over preparing (i.e. scripting what image to use with each song) – so that God has space to do his own stuff through what you are doing.

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ArKaos Grand VJ Performance troubleshooting tip

[update:30June2009 – see also this info added to the ArKaos blog]

[I’m still learning lots about ArKaos GrandVJ software, so posting notes, tips, etc. for my own memory and that may be of use to others, however I’m no expert and am gathering this here from manuals, forums and hands on experience and expressing it in my own words – if I get anything wrong and you know better please let me know and I’ll update as appropriate.]

Keeping an eye on performance…

There are two figures in the bottom Status Bar of Grand VJ ‘Graph‘ and ‘TotalAS FAR AS I CAN TELL these work something like this:

Graph is the fps being sent by the GrandVJ engine to the Graphics card / graphics processor
Total is the fps being sent out by the Graphics card / graphics processor

The figures change in real time according to what you are doing in the layers, how many are active, what effects are in place, etc.  It is important to learn what these two numbers are when everything is OK, so that you know what ‘normal’ looks like.  Then when you see a problem on screen with a choppy or stuttering image you can use these figures to tell you if the problem is with the mac or somewhere down the line as follows:

  • If TOTAL is in the ‘normal’ range then the problem isn’t with the MAC
  • If TOTAL is low but GRAPH is ‘normal’, the most likely problem is computing the image to be output (1)
  • If TOTAL is low and GRAPH is low, the most likely problem is pulling video from the HDD and decompressing it (2)

(1) if the problems with the graphics card/processor computing the image can be resolved by reducing the complexity of the output, i.e. the number of visible layers, resolution of footage, effects being applied, etc.

(2) if the problem is pulling video from HDD and decompressing, there isn’t much you can do ‘on-the-fly’ but when you have time try the same setup with the same footage pulled from another location to confirm the problem is HDD access or decompressing.  If it is HDD find a better solution, if the problem is decompressing converting the footage to a better format/codex should help.

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Use of Mixed Media in a Labyrinth

As mentioned in previous ‘how to’ post, at St Silas we have set up this large Labyrinth for the past 4 or 5 years as a Good Friday ‘journey’ come ‘meditation’ and it has been well received.  People find it a useful way to take some time out before the holiday weekend to think about the impact and implications of Jesus death before we go on to celebrate the resurrection on Easter Sunday.

There are many ways to make a Labyrinth, but as I’ve not come across many groups that use all the elements we do I thought it worth laying out some of the choices we have made in making this happen.  I’m not trying to say this is the only or best way to do this sort of thing, just what we find works and I welcome comments.

Firstly the physical environment.  As described in the previous post we ceate ‘walls’ which are taller than head height.  The start of the walk uses black fabric and later this changes to white.  Around most corners is an installation or ‘station’, these vary from simply a sign to play a given mp3 track at this point to videos to watch, and physical props to interact with.

The ‘walls’ as well as the lighting, use of personal mp3 players, etc. are designed to give an environment where each person is isolated from distractions and can emerse themselves in the experience as much as possible.

Audio: MP3 tracks, as mentioned the use of headphones/ear buds helps to isolate the user of the labyrinth and help the immersiveness of the experience.  The tracks themselves have been created specially for the labyrinth by mixing music with readings and instructions.  The pace is carefully planned and the end of each track has been extended following feedback in the first couple of years so that people can remain at any station for longer than instructed and press ‘next’ when they are ready to continue.  Each year we have changed elements of the labyrinth and so each year some of these tracks have been remixed. We also make sure we have some printed transcripts of the audio for any visitors with hearing difficulties.

Also, worth mentioning that even though people have personal headphones on they will still hear ambient sound from outside the labyrinth.  As we offer tea & coffee at the end of the labyrinth and with team members chatting, handing out players, people coming in and out, etc. we simply can’t keep the place silent.  We have tried to address this by playing music as ‘audio camouflage’ and have found that classical music is best, especially nothing with a strong beat.

Installations, most of the ‘stations’ have something to watch, look at or interact with in a variety of ways.  Many of these involve simply watching a video loop most of which were specially made and designed to have no (or little) narrative.  This means that people could begin to view the video at any point in the video without necessarily loosing any of the impact.  One, however was effectively a slide show of stills mixed with words from a poem, which is a lot harder to loop and some people did report that this station didn’t work for them.

We also used two still images, a drawing of Jesus stripped naked and a photograph representing Jesus falling.

This year there were three stations that required some sort of interaction and it is hard to know how well these worked:

– the first has a large piece of wood that represents the cross piece of the cross of Christ and the audio track asks people to think about the cross being given to Jesus to carry and invites them to pick it up to feel the weight.  However, very few people tend to do this, I think because it is fairly early on in the labyrinth and people are still finding their way.

– the next example is new this year, where we had a very large cross built and the instruction was much more direct as people were to hammer a nail into the cross representing their individual part in Christ having to be put on the cross.

– lastly, is a bit more subtle.  After listening to the track and watching a video people walk through the screen on which the video is being projected.  By doing that they become part of the image and go through the cross in a physical as well as spiritual way.  I’m not sure how many people notice or get that bit, but it is deliberate.

Multi-Sensory, already mentioned is the use of sight, sound and touch, we also use flowers and strong smelling oils at different stations but as yet haven’t found a way to introduce taste (other than hot cross buns with your coffee at the end).

Accessibility, we have given some thought to this, insofar as we provide a printed alternative to the audio and while a great deal of the labyrinth is visual we think that nothing is missed if only the audio was available.  We could also open up an alternative route for wheelchair users if need be because one part of the labyrinth goes on and off our stage.


Why am I writing about all this:

The main reason for this blog is to demonstrate and discuss the use of visuals in worship, but the thing to learn from a labyrinth is that video could be used as a stand alone station – run a video on a plasma screen near the entrance or in a quiet corner for meditation, etc.

Video/visuals within worship doesn’t have to be choosing what image or video to put behind words.  As I’ve mentioned previously it could be visuals projected elsewhere on the building or during different parts of the service / meeting / event, not just singing or to transition between parts of the service.

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