Projections: creating illusions on stage

I came across this video last night, and realized that I have been investing my time looking at audiovisual work that is experimental or footage of live VJ sets and I haven’t been looking into the world of advertising. Samsung had a grand event in NYC recently to unveil the new Samsung Galaxy Note 8. Watch their presentation in HD here.

The show was designed by Sila Sveta, a production company based between Moscow and LA. I’ve been following their work for a while since a lot of their work involves creating immersive experiences using projections. I thought I would look at the show they did for Samsung and break down what interested me about it.

  1. Windows and portals: 3D content
    The use of 3D content is so impressive in this presentation because it really feels like the stage has been transformed and that the walls have becomes windows, and the floor has become a portal where the phones ascend from. Timing is everything, and they are clever about the moment when they decide to introduce the 3D visuals ad what they show. They don’t begin straight away with it and the first content to be shown is a cuboid that appears with the aid of a virtual stylus. Expanding the cuboid and rotating it to cover the walls that are almost perpendicular to each other, is the perfect visual to begin with for audiences to get used to the transformation of a 2D plane into the illusion of a 3D space as though it had depth.
    Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 11.28.16 AM
  2. Choreography of the lights
    Projections are not the opening hit, but they actually come after a short sequence where it’s like a choreography of lights. The lights appear and disappear in time to the music. They start and single lines before combining together to show the whole floor of the stage. This introduces the audience to the shape of the stage while also paying tribute almost or acknowledging the diamond shape of the stage. This is reminiscent of one VJ’s advice to me on how to tell the narrative of a triangle; start with its outline, then form the whole shape, now fill it in, maybe multiply it. Structurally, the opening choreography of the lights defines the space. The lights later work hand in hand with the projected content, rather than being completely separate.
  3. Text and space
    At the end of the day the show is once big commercial, but what struck me was how the text was presented in relationship to the stage. There was a retention of the two walls being separate but also working as one surface. So there would be text that says “can’t” on one wall, that shifts as if a page is being turned to the next wall and then one would see “can’t” crossed out on one side and “can” boldly visible on the opposite side. There was a clear management of the space in terms of how the content was designed to make it fit the design of the stage (necessary, of course).
  4. Stage design
    The stage was set in this kind of V shape formation, with the audience one either side. This reminded me of something director Roland Auzet said when I had the privilege to meet him. He talked about the stage design for “Steve V”, an opera on Steve Jobs, which had a similar arrangement of this V shape which he wanted so that included the audience; that the show almost came towards the audience and felt more inclusive. And for Sila Sveta, it also just a nice diamond form to work with to present 3D content.There’s also something about the two sided diamond thrust stage that makes me perceive it as being violent. It makes me think of an arrowhead. Depending on the content, it might feel inclusive in a positive way or it might feel inclusive in a way that’s threatening. In thinking of my Capstone, what do I want to make the audience feel? That they are safe, that they are in danger, that there’s an element of risk? What space am I trying to create?

    Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 11.29.12 AM

Seeing the illusion of folds on the stage floor created, makes me think about PIXEL, a show by Compagnie Käfig I caught this past week at the NYUAD Arts Center which combined hip-hop with projections. The projections were a combination of interactive video content with timed content. It was absolutely incredible BUT there’s only one way to see the show taking in ALL that it has to offer, and that’s from the balcony. From the balcony, one can clearly see the projections on the floor that transform the stage into different kinds of terrain with depth and all from using lines and dots. There’s one sequence at the end where it looks as if the dancers are jumping from one mountain peak to the next and avoiding falling into the abyss of darkness. From the ground view, one doesn’t see the terrain in which their walking on and so there’s no context to the motivation for their movements. However, from above, the projected content adds an element of risk. In term of the illusion of being on a mountain, but also the risk that the magic of this illusion can be destroyed with just one faulty step from a dancer. It’s up to the dancers to make the audience believe that the terrain they are on is not from a source of light, but once that has magically appeared to pose an obstacle to them.

(Catch snippets of their amazing performance here)

Which got me thinking about projecting content on the floor. This is something I had in mind to do for my Capstone when I was thinking about projecting content on the floor or ceiling. I’ve been focused on the technical aspect of how to achieve that, that I forgot the most important thing: what will the audience perceive? Something may look 3D from a bird’s eye view, but if you’re standing on the content, then what meaning do the visuals have if you can see only a part and not the whole?


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