Machinal happened last week; performances were Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The cast and creative team were charged by the result and sad to see the process end. In this post, I’ll discuss a few aspects of the projections that were done on the show.
As you can see in this picture, there were four areas of the stage taking projections: the 2 masses of cubes suspended from the flies, the thin rectangular screens hanging between the cubes (we called these the “shards”) and the screens center stage (which we called the “doors”). Another shot from Rishi Daftuar:
Cubes, shards, doors. These were important vocabulary throughout the process. Initially the plan was to have two computers running video, with one computer covering the doors and shards and the other covering both cube bunches. About two weeks before the show, there was a slight misunderstanding between me and Vicki: she asked if we had a “switcher” to split the two video streams coming out of the computers. I knew that the DMC didn’t have a switcher that would accommodate us, so I got anxious.
I went to Tom Bray. Ever the suave professional, Tom told me that we needed a Matrox device. “What’s that?” I asked. Tom explained that Matrox is a device that takes one video stream and divides it into two halves, then feeds it into two monitors. So for example, if you want to project an image of a hot dog onto a really wide wall, you can create a video image with an aspect ratio 32:9 (which is twice as wide as the standard 16:9). Then you plug your computer into the Matrox device (I will name the specific connections in a moment). The Matrox takes your 32:9 video, and slices it down the middle to produce two 16:9 videos. So in the case of a video of a hot dog, the Matrox would INPUT a wide video showing an entire hot dog, and OUTPUT two video streams: one of the left half of a hot dog and one of the right half of the hot dog. Both of these streams would be 16:9.
(You could do the same thing to accommodate any aspect ratio– for example, if you want to produce to 4:3 videos, you create an 8:3 video and run that into the Matrox.)
Now let’s get specific. What cords and adapters do you need to use the Matrox? This is a useful diagram I made during tech week with the help of sound designer Jameson Eisele:
We start on the left with the MacBook Pro. This MacBook is OUTPUTTING the extra-wide video image. A [mini-display port > VGA] adapter plugs into the Mac and then into a [VGA cable]. This cable runs a short distance to the [Matrox device]. This Matrox divides the video in two. It outputs these 2 videos to 2 different [DVI > VGA adapters]. Each of those adapters goes to a [long VGA cable]. For our show, these long VGA cables ran several dozen feet to two projectors, which shone the images onto the separate bunches of cubes.
It is a complex and sometimes maddening process. But it yielded the cubes, which I think were one of the strongest parts of our design. I can’t remember who originally had the idea for the cubes (either Sango Tajima or Max Kaufman), but credit is due to Vicki Huang, who proposed to use cardboard boxes, and Max, who brilliantly mounted the cubes onto wooden slabs using strings in a hodge-podge formation.
Long live raw collaboration.