workshop discussions

sher Doruff (
Wed, 18 Feb 1998 10:09:41 +0100

I'm reposting this SNDD Scenography synopsis as the attached file idea
was problematic. Any questions about the Image/ine software are
welcome. A demo version is downloadable from STEIM's site .

Sher Doruff, Lot Siebe, Eileen Standley and students of the SNDO

Workshop Backround:
The Winter Course at The School for New Dance Development in Amsterdam
this year was comprised of several three week workshops, all leading to
a combined presentation in the beautiful
Black Box theater of the Hogeschool voor de Kunsten. STEIM added support
to two workshops - Joel Ryanās Sound and Gesture workshop and the
Scenography workshop which featured a new program - Image/ine - which
provides real time image manipulation (video, movies, stills, text, etc)
by a variety of controllers (computer keyboard, midi, sound, etc.). A
lighting workshop plus two composition workshops were also offered. The
goal was a collaborative presentation that would somehow combine all
these essential elements of theatrical performance. An ambitious
undertaking, especially considering all the new technology that needed
to be absorbed and implemented. There is unanimous agreement, I think,
that this process was an enormous success. The presentation was of a
very high caliber, conceptually and technically, given the formidable
time and coordination constraints.

Computer:Two 8600 PPCās with 64 MB ram, 4MB Vram, Peavey Midi
Controller, JVC LCD projector, Jaz drive, Image/ine software, Adobe
Premiere and Photoshop Software, ProjectionMagic Software

Dia Projection: four Dia projectors (51mm lens) with two extra zoom
(70mm-120mm) lenses, 35mm camera with strobe, Poloroid 35mm dia film
and Poloroid developer, Screen shooter (diaās from monitor), glass
slides and gel material

Projection surfaces: four projection screens of varying size (three
front projection, one rear projection),11 meters of special effects
material for high reflection /semi- transparency, one white scrim, one
black scrim, three full length mobile mirrors

Video: three video cameras, two VCRās, two video monitors, video
switcher and amplifier, three small black and white monitors for
switching station, four mobile platforms for camera mounts,
availability of video studio

Lighting: In the Īlabā (609), two scrims and a rear projection screen
were hung for testing. The scrims were backlit to allow transparency.
Minimal lighting design for testing reflective properties of surfaces
with stage light.

Key responses: Differing of course, per student. Dia projection was
unpopular; perhaps we offered to little guidance here. We thought by
providing equipment and materials the students would explore projected
light/shadow, colored light, skewed perspective, monochrome image, etc.
on different surfaces but there was little interest. This perplexing to
Lot, Eileen and myself. Makes Nan Hooverās workshop last year all the
more memorable. We began the workshop by providing these materials
without a great deal of explanation or fanfare and left the students to
experiment and play with size, shape, surface, etc. Hindsight tells me
this had to be more structured in terms of specific assignments and
examples. (We tried to locate Nanās personal documentation of her
workshop for examples but she was unavailable).

I subscribe to kind of Bauhausian ethic with regards to education e.g.
Gropius asking Paul Klee to teach weaving, of which he knew nothing
technically, but everything essentially (color, form, texture, pattern
relationships). Helas, it was not enough to provide the materials, the
space and the enthusiasm for experimentation in our case. Iām not sure
why. Unmotivated students just back from holiday? Preconceived notions
(boring,ho-hum) of old media or low-tech problem-solving? The weather? I
do not believe that this approach to scenography is dead in the water.
I think it was a bit of a fluke and that we needed to be, if anything,
more technical in our approach to old media (for this group anyway)

Key working methods: Initially, the explorations we advised were Form
based. We encouraged them to begin without notions of image content and
first explore projected light, shadow, color and surface. This was
unsuccessful. They wanted, or needed, to have images to get them
started. Providing a camera and instantly developed dias was interesting
to only a few students and C. who did use these techniques in her piece.
Unfortunately, I couldnāt give her all the time and attention she
deserved with her idea as we had to begin with how to use a 35mm camera.
She had trouble getting the images she envisioned so we ended up
scanning in drawings (created by another student), adding text to them
in Photoshop and shooting from the monitor to produce the dias. This
worked well but more individual instruction was required to master the
process -camera technique, projection equations (for anticipating lens
focal length, aperature, projection size and distance)and so forth. I
admired her resolve and persistance to complete her idea which was one
of the few that specifically involved using the space.

On the first day I passed out some choice remarks from Svoboda about
scenography by way of explanation and intent for the workshop. I also
gave diagrams of our Īexpectationsā and thoughts on the process,
particularly involving dance/theater. We spoke about the Īchoreographyā
of spatial projection - possibilities for every element to be in motion
- cameras, light, projection surfaces, projector, performers. We also
spoke of spatial transformation by set design (3D surfaces, angled
surfaces, textured surfaces, transparent surfaces) for projection. This
was perhaps a bit abstract and overwhelming in scope and letās face it
- a black box theater offers too many possibilities and just as many
limitations which can only be discovered by physically experimenting in
the space itself with lighting, structures and surfaces. (A proscenium
stage is more easily adapted because the constraints are clear). The
Īset designā (positioning of projection surfaces, etc.) had to be in
place by the end of the first week at the insistence of the lighting
designers and tech crew. This was, probably, the biggest impediment to
creating a dynamic spatial environment. There was simply not enough time
for the students to experiment, work out their own ideas for
presentation and design a set for the theater that was inclusive of the
work being prepared by all the other workshops. One of the students
volunteered to construct a maquette. This was a critical step and helped
to clarify the space but we only had a few hours to make positioning
decisions that we all knew would effect the entire presentation. I think
the students felt pressured by this premature decisiveness. As a result
a very simple, elastic environment was chosen.

Strongest results: Two students chose to work solely with analog video.
Both of these students, K. and B., produced beautiful imagery. They both
have a strong visual sense and chose to bypass the new technology in
order to achieve their visions. This was exciting to me as I am not an
advocate of technology for technologies sake. Their work added depth and
balance to the whole. I was very impressed by a clip of Kās in which he
put a glass in front of the camera lens to achieve a Īnaturalā
distortion that Image/ine would be hard-pressed to replicate. Two
students (with some previous computer experience) wanted to work only
with Image/ine. B. was quick to learn and improvise. He used text with
an immediate, responsive technique of Īcommentingā on the performance
during the show. M. I. had prior experience (through demos) with the
program and developed an interactive concept combining pre-recorded
digitized video with live image - the shower sequence - which worked
beautifully on Thursday and failed on Friday evening because the cable
feed from the live camera was somehow disconnected. B2 was so captivated
with Image/ine that she found it difficult to find an idea to work with
and preferred to absorb, question and assist other students with their
work. We suggested she be the production director, controlling the live
three-camera input and two-computer output during the presentation. This
was an important role and though she claimed a fear of the technology,
she adapted quickly and with clear assurance. P. had a single idea
which involved a videotaped sequence (of K. trying to fly) processed
through Image/ine to simulate the clip in Īfast forwardā mode. She
choose a projection angle that enhanced her clip by distorting the size
of the image according to its position in the frame.
All the students had to be involved as participants and technicians
during the presentation. Two students were required to physically move ,
position and focus the LCD projector during the presentation. Size,
angles, distortion and movement were determined by the these students
and created the spatial relationships in the theater. Two live
camerapersons were free to interpret the dance presentations and these
video feeds were the processed by the Image/ine operators. Several
students were needed to push and pull the central projection screen to
various positions.
I have to say that all the pieces had strength - some a pure visual
power, others conceptually intriguing.

Follow-up workshops: The biggest disappointment for me was the lack of
time. Pressure to produce for the presentation did not allow the
students to investigate the most important aspects of new media software
which provide controls for real time interactivity between performer and
projection. These are not nuances, they are vital to the constructs of
Image/ine-like programs and potentially offer unexplored terrain for
live performance.

a) relationship of performer to projected image - This is becoming a
larger cultural issue due to media technologies of telepresence,
conferencing, holography, etc. I think there is much ground to be
covered by performers, and dancers in particular, with physical
relationships between the Īliveā 4D participant and the Īliveā 2D
participant, be it animal, vegetable, mineral or landscape. The
possibility of temporal manipulation, for performers to interact with
themselves in real time with a captured projection of sequenced live
samples of gesture and movement within milliseconds (or during) of its
occurence is one of my main interests with this program. Disorientation
is a side effect of working with these parameters and I would love to
see choreographers addressing this issue. For instance, I would like to
see how a dancer would respond to their own image and movements
projected on the body of another performer who might be controlling the
rate at which these actions are displayed. My theoretical wish list is
long, but with all new technologies, concepts, questions and
problem-solving can really only happen with immersion.

b) tensions between real time improvisation and pre-recorded(set)imagery
manipulation - this is an unanswerable question for me now but precisely
why Iām interested to pursue work that tackles this concept. Here the
discussion of technological possibility is less interesting than the
Īwhy do it?ā. Concept/content takes over here for me. Real time
manipulation of imagery and sound by a performer can yield beautiful,
ugly, unexpected results that are either transparent or obvious to an
audience. On the most fundamental level, these are the environments
these programs create. I suppose it doesnāt really need validation as
imagery and sound in a performance pastiche has a long history. That
these new programs allow a step to another plateau where visual
language, communication (responsiveness) and unpredictability become
part of the performance equation is uncharted territory or perhaps a
kind of multi-dimensional contact improvization.

c) role of on-stage camera person - no rules, dependent on concept. I
canāt entirely imagine a dispassionate observer because the the
physical/emotional involvement of making visual choices (long shot,
close up, wall, floor, blinding light) precludes a staid objectivity. A
stationery camera would achieve this end better. Iām sure one could
offer analogies - narrator, Greek chorus, voyeur, reptilean viewpoint
(low angle), whatever. Whether the cameraperson is a cognizant
participant or storyteller is, I think, a relative conceptual matter.

Next Time????
In a workshop of this scope, leading to a Īpresentationā in an
impressive theatrical space, there is a delicate balance of pros and
cons. On the one hand - the pressure of contributing to an unclarified,
amorphous whole leads to an emphasis on collaboration (frantic) but
useful in terms of the theatrical experience. That the theater, in its
essence, embodies not only spatial-temporal sensual relationships, but
all the elements of ritual makes it the natural proving ground for this
synesthetic future weāre embarked on. The downside is marked by limited
opportunity to finesse an idea, which requires fundamental understanding
of the techniques and individual gestation time.
I think it wise to somehow have preliminary courses (not just in
computer basics but in foundational elements as well) and applying these
techniques in the full collaborative spirit of a performance or
presentation. Itās just so difficult to absorb all the technical
possibilities, acquaint (hands on) and produce in the span of three
weeks - however intensive. I would also place an emphasis on controllers
and sensors stimulated by the performers, not as a means to gimmicky
effects, but as a way to approach communicative methods. I think there
is much room here for exploration.

Finally, bottom-line, I marvel at what was accomplished and the
inherent creativity and expressiveness of the students.

Sher Doruff