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  • Writer's pictureDustin D. Miller

"He Projects Monsters" or "How I Conquered the Design Tiamat"

Hello friends!

Quick Recap: I started a new job at a lighting systems sales representative in February and it has put me on a path in my career that I'm incredibly happy with.

In February, I opened and closed To Quiet the Quiet at Williamston Theatre, my first lighting design with the company and third production as Technical Director.

Williamston has been an amazing company to work with, and I was asked to design for their holiday production this upcoming November, so look out for that announcement on their website!

Now on to the main subject of this post...

My latest projections design position, She Kills Monsters, a production by Eastern Michigan University, opened in Sponberg Theatre on May 31st, 2019.

I was asked a few months ago by my Alma Mater to come on board with the production as the Projections Designer, and gave myself the goal to not only push what was possible with my design, but try and show my student crew the extent of what you can do with multimedia design and show control, a still relatively new design area in theatre.

Thus began my adventure to vanquish this five-headed dragon, my own personal...

"Design Tiamat"



First draft of my design called for 7 projectors, two QLab machines & a complicated cue list process utilizing network cues and building the show on two machines.

As I progressed, I was given approval to use the more powerful NEC PA600X 6000 lumen projector over two BenQ MW814ST 2500 lumen output projectors.

This meant I had three 6000 lumen projectors (including two Christie LX600s) focused on the middle of the stage, one 12000 lumen Christie LX1200 for the back wall and mid screen, and the two BenQs as side wall projectors.

Still needing two QLab machines, I used one iMac, one Mac Pro w/ a Matrox TripleHead2Go DP on each.

The theatre program at EMU utilizes VGA for their control cable, so sadly the HD capabilities of the projectors was not possible, but the 1280x960 resolution per projector did just fine at the distance the audience was from the surfaces.



Mapping of the content was through MadMapper, Playback & Programming through QLab 4, network video was sent over NDI to NDIsyphon.

All these software created a neat little system that allowed for me to change things relatively fast, and have the system stay consistent through the process. Two of my crew members were Simulation, Animation & Gaming students and were assigned the task of creating and pulling various pieces of content for the design.

They jumped on board very quickly with not only the physical aspects of hanging and focusing, but the digital in utilizing Maya, After Effects and various other software to start making my design a reality.



As I mentioned above, I mapped the show with MadMapper, and will never do projections design again without it.

The software not only allowed me to map things in a matter of minutes, with full soft edge control and mapping control to allow be to accomplish true 3-D mapping of objects, I could also send video content out of QLab via Syphon to MadMapper, and then out of MadMapper via NDI to an additional machine, then using a software NDIsyphon, port the video as Camera Cues into another cuelist with full output surfaces.

Over all I had 26 surfaces mapped (wall, screens, panels, 3-D dice, floor, etc.) and 12 masks.

Though mapping could have easily been accomplished through QLab, MadMapper allowed for me to do a multitude of tasks not possible through QLab alone and everyhitng QLab can do, but much faster.

Also, given almost every area of the stage was hit by a projector, this mean I could project content on actors and props, giving a sense of magic in the show not normally seen.



Because of this software flow-chart, I was able to turn a design that would need to be programmed on two machines and utilize hundreds of network cues to make sure everything timed out properly, to only needing to program on one Mac Pro, sneding content over NDI to use the second machine as a glorified patch router to the prjectors connected to it.

Programming went from something that I planned on taking 6 days to accomplish with two cuelists on two machines, down to 4 days on one machine.

In an effort to make things look as clean and "magical" as possible I used videos and images with Alpha channels (PNG & PreRes 4444, respectively) to layer content over itself.

This meant I was able to have a Dragon appear over moving smoke, and a gelatinous cube to bounce over a mountain side.



Once this huge milestone was accomplished, next came the other added element of the design, triggering the sound machine during fight scenes and other crucial moments of the show.

Using QLab commands in Network Cues, we sat down with the sound designer and laid out all cues that would need to be called together in the show and discussed where network cues would be the best solution, which ended with approximately 40 sound cues triggered by the Projection Qlab Machine over the network.

Tech week had it's ups and downs, but over all the process was made incredibly smooth by me sitting in the house screen shared into the two PJ machines to edit on the fly while the show teched through.

Agnes vs. Tiamat

The above clip shows all surfaces being used, sound cues being triggered by the projection machine and projections on actors.

Once the issue mountains were traversed, things polished, & 1324 cues later, we opened on May 31st, and I'm happy to say this process, design and production team has been one, if not my favorite so far as a designer.

Every single person, cue, and note given will stick with me for years to come.

This show didn't have to be on a Broadway stage, with a-list actors and designers to astound, amaze and blow me away.

Thank you to everyone involved in this show, I proud to have vanquished this dragon with you all.

Design & Conquer My Friends,


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