Stage backdrops can be used as a phenomenal tool for building an atmosphere for worship.
They can set the tone, look, and feel of a worship space.
When lit correctly, they can change their feel, to match the energy of a service.
The same is even more true with backdrops that incorporate projection.
Stage backdrops can be as simple as a black curtain behind the stage, or complex enough to require months to build.
The common purpose of every set in the church world, though, should be to support the message and worship that it accompanies. This can manifest itself in very literal set designs that physically create a theme or space, or more abstract designs, that let the congregant’s mind fill in the blanks.
Most times, lighting plays a huge role in helping to clearly communicate the ideas in a set design. Projection does the same, but to a much broader scale.
Backdrop design that includes projection opens up a whole new realm of possibilities.
With traditional sets, lighting can create shadows, color, and some texture. With projection added to the mix, you can create almost endless texture, color, movement, detail, and complex visuals. These projection visuals can be as simple as color on the backdrop surface, or as complex as high-resolution video that includes lyrics and detailed video playback.
Within backdrop design that incorporates projection, there are two main types of projected sets, projection surfaces and projection augmented sets. Projection surfaces are made to be primarily used as a projection facade, whereas projection augmented sets rely on projection as a small addition, to a much larger visual.
Typically, augmented sets can stand alone without projection, but the projection helps to further define and create the stage backdrop. We will dive into both, and see how we can use them to serve our churches well.
Projection surface sets are relatively simple. These sets can be as basic as a projection screen or as complex as a three-dimensional wall.
The main purpose of these sets is to create a digital set. When not lit with projection, these sets often can look bland or dull. Once projected onto though, the sky is the limit! These surfaces, along with good content creation and curation, can help to create some of the most stunning and moving environments you will ever experience.
In the past 10 years, flat projection screen surfaces have been pretty common for backdrops in worship settings. These are typically pretty easy to install and at most times, end up being semipermanent in their installation.
Being locked into a single size and finish projection surface, though, can get dull with time. In the last few years, churches have been moving somewhat away from this, to surfaces that offer more design flexibility. Many new projection surfaces in churches are modular and reconfigurable, helping to enable changes to keep the set fresh.
Many of these sets also have designs worked into the surface to break up the large, flat projection surface, into multiple smaller surfaces. This helps to create a very defined visual that is unique. Many times with well-done projection, these backdrops look more like they are emitting the visuals, than acting as a projection surface. Moreover, these surfaces are easy to build for your church!
One church that has really dived in fully to incorporate such backdrops, those that consist of multiple small surfaces to create one large projection surface, is Life.Church in Edmond, Oklahoma. I have been blessed to work side by side with their team on the creation of multiple projection surface designs, through my company, Mod Scenes. We have helped to manufacture those designs, and the implementation has been stunning.
The projection set at the Life.Church campuses has enabled Life.Church to more clearly communicate the desired energy and excitement sought to be tied to their experiences. One of the keys to this was the ability to use these sets, not only for visuals, but also for lyric treatments. You can see a few of the visual examples of these sets in the photos included in this article.
As you can see in these photos, even with a simple two-dimensional projection surface set, that you can create some stunning visuals. These backdrops can range from a small section on stage to a full-stage backdrop that covers the entire back wall.
Although it is possible to create them to any size, for ease, many times it is best to create them in a scaled 16:9 format. This enables a projector to be directly focused on the backdrop, without custom content or a large need for additional video processing.
These projection backdrop visuals can be taken even a step further, by building lighting, gaps, and voids into your projection surface. This visual “break” helps to build an even more unique visual. It can also be very helpful in creating great positions for lighting.
With a little more work on the video end, you can also create multiple, smaller screens that can be treated as individual sections of a larger screen or an array of smaller screens.
In addition to flat surfaces, 3D surfaces can even further enhance the visuals of your projection backdrop design. Many times, these elements can even be projection mapped to further play off the depth and dimension they have. One such great example of this is shown in the photo from the 2016 SALT conference. Using the 3D shape of the panels and projection mapping, they were able to make complex visuals that made the projection wall look as if they were morphing and changing.
With 3D projection surfaces, it can be harder to accommodate lyrics, however the visual interest you add is typically worth it.
To create something even more dynamic, you can mix both 3D and 2D elements and get the best of both worlds! You can also use lighting in conjunction with your stage backdrop and projection to get more saturation, more shadowing, and an even a more unique visual.
In addition to projection surfaces, augmented projection sets can be a great way to further enhance your stage backdrop. Augmented projection sets are stage sets that don’t necessarily need projection, and most of the time rely on lighting to create the visual. The addition of projection to these sets can help to further refine the stage design. Many times this looks like projection creating texture, on top of the already existing stage set. This projection can also be used as “lighting” to change the feel and look of the existing stage set.
Projection like this often requires a bit more complicated playback solution to fit the specific needs of the design. Frequently, this will be accomplished through the use of a media server.
Projection stage backdrops are an incredible tool for stage design. These backdrops are flexible and easy to use. These projection backdrops may just be the perfect fit for your next stage design change!