Total Production


January 2008

(East London) - In 2000, Screenco, with several other companies, hosted a two-day multimediia event in London to show designers and the industry-at-large. We examine the lasting influence of the Illuminated Video Workshop.

By the turn of this Millennium, video had well and truly nestled itself alongside sound and lighting as one of the main elements of a live event production, but only after a long fight.

Large format projection had found its way on to the menu as early as the mid-70s, with Led Zeppelin, and heavyweight CRT screens played a part on many a stadium show from the mid-’80s onwards. For the majority of tours and events, however, it wasn’t until well into the ’90s that video provided any more than image magnification (I-Mag), i.e. close-ups of the talent for the benefit of the rear-seated audience.

A number of highly creative video directors, including Dick Carruthers and Blue Leach, had done much to bring bespoke footage and interesting animated graphics into the mix alongside live camera I-Mag on several tours, as well as introducing new ways of configuring the screens themselves, but they were the exception.

The Illuminated Video Workshop, co-ordinated by Screenco at Three Mills Island Studios in Bow, East London in October 2000, sought to harness a wealth of creative and technical might to bring new standards to the fore. A two-day event held in two back-to-back studios at Three Mills, it demonstrated the future creative possibilities of video and lighting working together, and gave attendees the opportunity to experiment with new, emerging technologies.

Inspired by Screenco’s Mike Walker, the event brought together a consortium of front-line concert service providers, such as Vari-Lite Production Services, Avolites, Stage One Creative Services, Creative Technology, Aerial Camera Systems, SSE Hire, Out Board Electronics, Vertigo Rigging and Showsec, to inject their various specialities and form a complete production.

One studio, run as a conventional concert stage with a live band, saw Screenco’s large LED screen split, track and fly into a number of configurations, using Stage One’s Q Motion system, while an Electrosonics Vector image processor mixed a stunning range of imagery and live camera feeds.

Next door there was more of a fast-moving, DJ-driven environment, which played host to more abstract experiments. The 32 LED screens in here were designed by Nick Jevons in a random, fragmented, asymmetrical format, and displayed a range of cutting-edge graphics, textures, bold colours and scrolling patterns. There is evidence to suggest that Jevons’ design for this event was highly influential on tours and events over the following couple of years.

LD Vince Foster, who designed the concert stage showcase, said at the time: “I’d been moving increasingly towards video with my shows and had built up a library of atmospheric, non-specific film footage and textures.

“Often on tours the final decision is down to the client, and suggesting LED screens can be like offering a crucifix to a vampire — production managers are scared of the content until they’ve seen it. Hopefully, the Illuminated Video Workshop will have cut through those prejudices.”

Dave Crump, the MD of Screenco at the time of the Illuminated Video Workshop, has been involved with large screen video since the era of Eidophor projectors and Led Zeppelin’s shows at Knebworth in 1979.

He takes a pragmatic look at where things have gone since then and what we might be looking at, if the Workshop was repeated today.

“The Workshop was a classic case of being in the right place at the right time. There had a been a few clever uses of moving Jumbotron screens before LEDs arrived to make everything lighter, less power-hungry and — in the early years — more than a little red.

“Whilst LED screens were a significant turning point they did not provide the USP for what we did in Three Mills and all that has happened since. It was the transition from Parallel to Serial data that suddenly allowed screen elements to be placed some distance apart with simple, cheap and above all reliable data connection.

“Whether it be a bunch of screen modules arranged in an abstract form or any one of the numerous ‘Mi’ derivatives from those clever guys in Belgium — MiPix, -Trix. -Strips and even balls (a.k.a. MiSpheres) — none would have have been possible without the ability to reliably distribute vast amounts of data around the stage in a simple and cost effective manner.

“The list of products that have appeared on the market in the last few years could fill these pages. Anyone walking the aisles of PLASA or LDI in 2007 will have witnessed a transformation; the unusual stands were those that did not have some sort of low resolution LED video display. Lighting and video are rapidly becoming one.

“We, the video guys, have spent years striving for better and better resolution — 30, 20, 10mm... the dynamic and virtual pixels have all been and will continue to be critical elements in defining picture quality. In the last year or two, we have seen a change in direction: lower resolution has allowed bigger, cheaper, lighter displays to be used in ever more creative applications. Ironically, the 25mm Unitek product, the mainstay of the Video Workshop and seen today as outdated and ‘low res’, is in fact the exact same resolution as the Stealth and MiTrix ‘low res’ screens that form the backbone of many of today’s most spectacular productions including Take That and Led Zeppelin.

“The recent Symphony In Red (Symphonica In Rosso) show for the Dutch Entertainment Group is a great example of how far this technology has come and how the video displays have become integrated into the stage set.

“As for the future, we are going to see bigger, more flexible screens. Architectural use of this technology will drive volume, reducing cost yet further, and allow larger and yet more creative applications of the technology. The spectacular screen specifically developed for the Asian Games in Doha in late 2006 could be purchased today from any one of a number of manufacturers making transparent low res systems.

“The convergence of lighting and video will become complete; those who visited the last LDI may have had a private viewing of a prototype moving light/video projector in a single unit. Unlike previous products this is a real light and a real projector, and perhaps not surprisingly it comes from those same clever guys in Belgium. If the past is any indication of what will happen in the future, it won’t be long before there are numerous clones, the patent lawyers will have field day and the prices will tumble.

“Display technology is only half the story. At our Workshop in 2000, Nick Jevons and the team worked with high power PCs and Macs to deliver content. Soon after, the Catalyst was the first serious media server to appear, and LDs could create, manipulate and control moving media from their lighting desk within their own comfort zone.

“Today, the list of media servers is growing, as is their sophistication. Moving lights — a.k.a. projectors — can have them built in, media servers can be controlled by DMX or ArtNet, and these can be communicated wirelessly, further expanding the potential to eliminate complex and unreliable wiring and further freeing the creative process.

“Less than 25 years ago some forward-thinking people in Texas developed a moving light and around the same time Mitsubishi built their first Diamond Vision screen. No one could have foreseen how far those technologies would have come in such a short space of time.

“One thing, however, remains constant and has since bands first started to perform. All of the technical innovation would be worthless without the creative vision of those who apply the technology and the commitment and dedication of those who tour the planet, making it work night after night for artists and audiences.”