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KnowHOW: Getting started with environmental projection

KnowHOW: Getting started with environmental projection
Wintry effects brought into St Anne's (Photo courtesy of Niall McNally from Cast Ireland)

KnowHOW: Getting started with environmental projection

Tim Southwick of TripleWide Media describes what environmental projection is and how to get started

Environmental projection (EP) is the act of creating a visually immersive worship environment that ushers the intimate and powerful role of visuals, art and media back into our modern worship spaces. Technically speaking, EP is producing an immersive environment using projection to create a digital canvas on the walls and natural surfaces of a worship space. It can be used to create an intimate, immersive environment for worship, to tell a narrative story and transform your space.

It does not require special projectors to get started; we have implemented environmental projection with almost any type of projector. While there are some key elements to consider (size of your projection surface, throw distance, ambient light, etc.), your environment will dictate the projectors you need rather than needing a particular projector to incorporate EP into your space.

(Photo courtesy of Niall McNally from Cast Ireland)
(Photo courtesy of Niall McNally from Cast Ireland)

Step 1: evaluate the room

The first step of setting up EP is to evaluate your room. There are several factors to consider. But, first, what exactly are we evaluating here? We’re going to want to look at lighting, use of current projection/technology, shape of the room, angle of walls, budget and what your install window looks like.

This is the step most people skip, which is a huge mistake. If you don’t take the time to evaluate all these factors, it is virtually impossible to find the right equipment. There really isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ projector that works for EP.

Step 2: measure the room

Next, get out your tape measure or laser measure (this will save you time). At this point, you (or a consultant, installation company, etc.) should have an idea on projector brightness. Now it’s time to determine how many projectors you will need and what lens you need for each projector. You can determine this by the following measurements:

  • Overall width of projection surface.
  • Overall height of projection surface.
  • Distance from the back of the room to projection surface(s). This is to determine where you may be able to project from.

Step 3: find natural intersections

In this step, I recommend looking at the room and locating the natural intersections, or places in the room (or on the walls) in which you can hide the alignment of two projectors. You need to be able to align your projectors in a way where you can’t see the edges of each projector. Our secret is natural intersections.

This may include separation of walls, screen edges, a column or stage element, or possibly an imperfection in the wall. On a side note, if you’re room doesn’t have any natural intersections, you will need a technology called edge blending. In short, the natural intersections are the places we can hide the seams of each projected image, so the audience doesn’t see any edges.

EP used at York Minster during its Northern Lights fundraiser
EP used at York Minster during its Northern Lights fundraiser

Step 4: software and processing
Many would argue that this step and Step 3 should be reveresed, but I disagree. If you cannot find natural intersections in your room, you will have a tough time determining the best software or equipment required to set up EP. For example, a room with natural intersections may be able to use a standard presentation software and an external multi-screen processor, but a room without natural intersections may mean you have to look into other alternatives, such as edge-blending hardware (or software) or other more advanced image mapping technology.

A critical process in this step is to determine the purpose and use of EP in your room. Will you ever want the image to be ‘tiled’ (or repeated) on each section of the room? Will you ever want to display text or lyrics? Will you only want to display still imagery, or will you want to play videos too? Will you ever want to manually dissolve two images (or videos) together? What software do you already own? These answers will all play a factor in the software you ultimately go with.

Along with software, you will need some sort of multi-screen processor. In most cases, this is a piece of hardware. The DatapathX4, the TripleHead2Go, Green Hippo Hippotizer or Vista Spyder System are all examples of various multi-screen processors.

Step 5: equipment installation

Now you’re ready to install everything. This is a fairly straightforward section and I would highly recommend looking into a professional installation company to install your projection hardware and mounts. This will make your install look clean and most installation companies give customers a year of support or, at the least, a warranty for the products you install.

Step 6: alignment

Once you have installed/mounted projectors and taken care of getting all the right signal and power to them, the next step is to align. In order to do this well, you are going to need a good alignment pattern. If you don’t have any (or you don’t like what you have), don’t worry, we’ve got some great test patterns on TripleWide Media. They’re all a 2,400x600 resolution and will make this step a lot easier – you are simply matching up all the lines and the colour-coded angles.

The goal of alignment is a square image. Square your projectors off of the stage and/or ceiling and then align the others from there (rather than the ceiling and floor on either side). This may sound like it will be a quick process, but it will take some time and fine-tuning to get it right. Alignment is a bit of an art and will come easier to some than others.

If you are not aligned correctly, the image may appear warped or lopsided. There are two things to consider in this step. First, make sure the image is level. In the TripleWide Media alignment patterns, use the red lines (they mark the centre) to make sure that the projector is actually level. If the projector is not level, you will never be able to achieve success for the next part. Second, use keystone correction to make your image line up to create a uniformly square image. Don’t let the lines slant in any one direction and be cautious of your squares being trapezoids.

Odessa’s Life Challenge Church uses EP to drape its sanctuary in the American flag
Odessa’s Life Challenge Church uses EP to drape its sanctuary in the American flag

Step 7: masking and cropping

Every room is different and, unless you have three incredibly massive, perfectly proportionate screens, EP will not have a clean edge on all sides. Once your projectors are installed, part of the image may be on the ceiling, chairs, floor, light fixtures or other permanent pieces in the room. In this step, you will want to ‘mask’ (or remove) the portion of the image you do not want to show. There are a few pieces of software that will allow you to mask out your image in the same program you use to display your images. (Some presentation software has masking functionality built-in.) When we mask something, we are simply preventing a portion of the image from being projected. Masking is the secret sauce that makes your environmental projection feel like paint on the walls and a natural part of the room, rather than unbalanced and a major distraction.

Step 8: content

Without content, you won’t have anything to put on your walls. You can have the greatest projectors, alignment and masking, but, without content that speaks to your environment and the story you are telling, you’ll miss the mark. Start simple with stills that have texture and environment. When transitioning to motions, use those with subtle movement. Size increases speed. A floating particle on your computer screen may look like a meteor crashing to Earth if it’s moving too fast. Always test before you put content in use during a service or event.

This article first appeared in the September-October 2019 edition of Worship AVL, available for free on Issuu. Subscribe to the printed edition at www.proavl-central.com/subscribe/worship.



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