This special July issue of Sunday| Mag explores the creative process of?SALT Nashville, a?creative arts conference. I (Jonathan Malm) know firsthand that putting together a conference is a lot like putting together an Easter service. The goal of this issue is to take a look at a conference and see what things we can learn for our own creative church endeavors. Enjoy!
When we began to brainstorm for the creation of the visuals for SALT, one of the most important elements we focused on was figuring out how the visuals could best tell the story we were trying to share. In our first year, our theme was the story of what God has done and is doing in our world: creation, fall, redemption, and recreation. In our second year, our theme was ?rebuilding the creative walls of the church.? With each year, our goal was to make sure our visuals were intentionally enhancing the environment and the story rather than subtracting from it or being irrelevant. Because of this, the creative process for the visuals looked different each year.
For year one, we spent the majority of our time focused on creating and executing graphics for the modular grid set. This included content for both the projection mapping as well as the LED strip mapping. ?Creation? was the theme for the first session, so we wanted content that celebrated that concept and got people excited. We also wanted to focus on creating content that took advantage of the modular layout of the set and the technologies we were using.
We started with an initial pixel map that allowed us to understand what the exact dimensions of the set were in relation to its physical structure. We then used this as a guide when creating content.
We used programs such as Cinema 4D and After Effects to create most of the graphics for the projection mapping, and many of the simple loops for the LED mapping were created in Apple Motion.
These graphics were then mapped, both to the projection and to the LED via a program called MadMapper. In this way, a single clip could be played to control both the projection and the LED if we so desired.
For year two, we knew we wanted to have a big opening moment that illustrated the visual history of the church. We wanted to show where the church has come from visually, and where we hope to see it go as we pick up the baton and take ownership in our part of the church?s visual history.
We decided to use several different types of projection to illustrate this: an overhead projector, environmental projection, and projection mapping. We started out the session with minimal lighting and a single overhead projector sitting on the floor in front of the stage projecting onto a small standing screen. As a music track and voiceover played, an actor (played by the illustrious Seth Bartlette, who also wrote the script) approached the overhead and began drawing a book. After he drew the book, the pages came to life and began flipping, resting on a blank page. A drawing of the early apostles then began animating on, with Seth drawing on extra embellishments relating to the animation.
This continued for several scenes until an image of stained glass drew on, which then spread from the small overhead screen onto the set, and then onto the walls, using a combination of projection mapping and environmental projection.
The opener ended with the band taking the stage and playing off the end of the music track while words emphasizing our calling as creatives in the church were projection mapped onto elements of the set.
Pulling?off something with this many elements took a bit of foresight and planning. We once again started with a pixel map, accounting for the resolution of the overhead projector as well as the projector covering the set and the two projectors covering the walls on either side of the stage. From there, we began creating animations according to that scale.
All of the animations on the overhead started with physical drawings that were then animated in After Effects as a separate composition.
That composition was then added to a composition correlating to the entire raster of all the projectors (ie, the pixel map). It was in this composition that the animations spreading from the overhead to the walls were calculated to be proportionally correct. After all the content was created, we used MadMapper to map all of the content to the physical surfaces in the room.
From our perspective, creating visuals for an environment needs to be very intentional, especially in a church setting. An audience member has been invited into an experience and everything that is happening in that environment needs to be cohesive and work together.
For SALT 2014, we used the different forms of projection for the opener because we felt like that was what was needed to emphasize the story we wanted to tell. However, we didn?t feel the need to use the projection continually throughout the rest of the conference even though it was still in place. We never used the mapped set again, and we only used the environmental projection at one other time during the conference as an illustration for one of our speakers.
Sometimes less is more, and intentionality in what you are displaying to the audience always needs to be at the forefront during service planning. Just because the technology or media is there,?it isn’t always necessary to use it.?Using visuals in an intentional way will enhance your environment and lead to a more cohesive and impacting?experience for your audience.