Post Conference Observations

Over the last few months I have been using an app called Life Cycle to track where I go using my phone’s GPS. It gives me an idea of my home-work balance. Last week was a little off as we were getting ready for and running our marriage conference. This is not a bad thing. I’m not complaining, it is part of the ministry life that I have chosen. By the way I had these same weeks when I was in corporate life also. I can say that this is not a regular occurrence.

Over the last three months my average work hours have been at least 20 hours less than this and today I’m writing this post from home on a rest day. I will work less than 40 hours this week. I don’t think a work balance means 40 hours a week every week, you will have long weeks, just make sure you get some short ones also.

Find something that you can monitor your time and keep an eye on it. Life Cycle is not perfect because I do work at home from time to time, but it gives me a good picture and even surprises me occasionally when I thought I was at work more than I actually was.

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Video of Our Apollo Right Arm Test

Test of an Apollo Right Arm from Rick Russell on Vimeo.

I was in the process of testing this moving yoke fixture and I decided to shoot a video from the lift. This is hung on our house center truss with a 14 degree ETC Source 4 ellipsoidal. This was shot on my iPhone 4 from the bucket of a lift about 30 feet in the air.

I would say that overall I like the fixture, other then the speed. About half way though the video I have the fixture pan its limits and it takes about 5 seconds to move 200 degrees. We also found it a bit tricky to balance the fixture on the yoke. If you are in an installed setup you shouldn’t be moving the yoke too much and then this is not be a big issue. This fixture also includes a four pin connector that can be used for powering and controlling accessories such as a scroller or an iris.

Unitaskers

Snow ShovelKind of sounds like a word that I made up, but it is not. Do you watch Food Network at all? Now come on men you don’t have to surrender your “man” card if you do. I love the show Good Eats and Alton Brown uses the term unitaskers all of the time. He doesn’t think a kitchen tool should only have one purpose. This got me thinking about my production environment and how many unitaskers we have.

I have attached a picture of a snow shovel or is it just a snow shovel? When we moved to NC it would snow on occasion, but I never wanted to pay for a snow shovel for the one to two times a year it would snow until I saw a neighbor use it as a dust pan. Might be the best dust pan I have ever used. Now it has value beyond the single task, I can own it. Of course I live in Southeast TX now and it has become a unitasker again, for now.

At churches we have lots of unitaskers, could be buildings, tech gear, volunteer positions. Sure there are times that you have to have unitaskers, but with some thought or changes could they be used for more? Let me share some examples from my world.

Do you have any wireless systems with only hand helds? Seems like it makes sense that you would have a handheld mic dedicated for solos or the worship pastor. What happens when VBS hits and all you need is headsets or lapels? It costs a little more to add the body pack, but think of the flexibility it adds. We have used them as guitar packs, drama mics, countryman on a violinist for a specials. I think that it is crazy to get a wireless with out both. Multiple times a year we use packs on channels we thought would be dedicated to handheld use.

We have yet to add a dedicated recording console in our worship environment, but I would make sure that I added a vocal booth or maybe even a larger room for doing voice overs/over dub/general recording as well and connect it to the recording console. Why should that be dedicated to doing a service mix only. The same applies to a dedicated video studio how could the equipment in your worship environment be leverage for the creative video work you do. This could be as simple as keeping a few backdrops in the worship center for shooting green screen or other types of shots. You already have the cameras, lighting systems and recording equipment. Would it be the most optimal? Maybe not, but it would be a good use of the equipment that that sits idle other than service times.

We are adding a stage camera next budget year and the camera we have budgeted for is not a studio only camera. I wanted something that could be used standalone for remote shoots or creative video projects. Adding a stage camera will also add a volunteer position that I think we can cover by the training the stage manager that has no responsibility during the worship section of the service. I don’t know about you, but volunteers can be harder to get sometimes than the money for new equipment.

I have two MacPro CG systems sitting in the worship center that are quad core Intels with a Declink Extreme capture cards for ProPresenter with Alpha channel. Great setup, but is that not also a video editing system? Why not have someone do video editing on them during the week? In our case it is pretty expensive to have someone work in the worship center due to a/c and lighting costs, but if you have a video booth that is out of the main room why not leverage this equipment for video editors. At the very least, I plan on setting them up as render nodes when the room is cool enough in the winter.

I could go on and on with examples, but you get the idea. We are spending money given to us by our Lord, it is not our money. We can’t totally eliminate unitaskers from our environments, but especially in financial times like we are in now we need to spend our money and use our resources wisely. Down with unitaskers!!!!

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Panasonic AV-HS400A

Panasonic AV-HS400AWe recently purchased a Panasonic AV-HS400A switcher for our student worship room. If you have not seen this switcher, check it out. I don’t think you can find a switcher on the market with the same features for the price. We have been putting it through its paces in our worship center while waiting for our Grass Valley Kayak HD-100 switcher to arrive.

All was good for about the first month including three “Imagine Christmas” performances. But over the past few weeks, the switcher became unreliable leading up to three lockups (in the span of two services) last week. Needless to say, we were getting worried. I did a quick review of Panasonic’s site and didn’t find any software update or listed issues.

Then I went to the first rule of trouble shooting. What has changed that could be causing the issue? I had to rack my brain a little bit because we change things all the time. After a few minutes, I called the director on the intercom and asked him to unplug the network cable from the back of the switcher. We had no issues for the rest of the day. We have run another Sunday now with no issues., so I think that it is safe to say it was the network connection.

We really were not using the networking features, we just wanted to try out loading some graphics over the network. If you need to load graphics that way I would recommend you not leave it plugged in during a production. I have no idea if our network configuration was to blame, but if you run into the issue it is something you will want to test during your trouble shooting.

Wall Projection

friendslist Recently we have been using a projector and putting images on the baptistery wall. During worship we use it as more as a lighting effect to add some visual effects to the stage. If you do video like we do you know it can be hard to have enough color on the stage after you light every thing with enough light for video.

We also though it would be a good place to show the sermon branding. So here are two short animations I made from the sermon graphics for the wall. This is a great way to keep A.D.D people like me reminded of the sermon series.

iPhone

iphoneI was an early adaptor of the iPhone. Yes, I was one of the strange people who waited in line for the phone on the day that it came out and now I have upgraded to the iPhone 3G. In the past I have own Windows Mobile devices and Blackberries, but the iPhone with the open development platform and tons of add-ons in the iPhone App Store make this device a powerful tool.

All of the recent phones I have used were intended to help with my work. The Windows Mobile device was nice in that it supported Remote Desktop and could maintain Windows servers in the case that I didn’t have access to a laptop, but was missing a good SSH client. My Blackberry had the best texting and email composition of any mobile device I have used and had a workable SSH client, but the Blackberry really lacked in the area of web browsing and Wifi.

In the past, I was a system administrator and a developer. I was most interested in having access to a shell and maybe VNC or Remote Desktop to maintain systems; today I do audio, video and lighting. Some of the same tools are used, along with some new applications. Over the next few posts, I plan to detail the application I use specifically for production as well some applications I would like to see.

The basic iPhone without the additional applications is a powerful tool to the tech producer by itself, but even more so if you are a existing mac user. The iPhone handles all of the basics you would expect for general organization and communication. It is easy to check email, text and review your calendar. Most of the common attachment types are viewable as well.

With the iPhone also being an iPod, you have access to play music at events. I keep a few playlists on the phone that fit a few types of background music needed for the standard events we do. I have found it best to put the iPhone into airplane mode if you want uninterrupted music playback during an event. Don’t forget that you can also keep podcasts on hand at all times to help you keep up with what is going on in tech. Don’t forget to include devotional and sermon podcasts to keep you spiritually fed.

The inclusion of Safari makes browsing documentation and research easy even if you are in the catwalk or on a lift. I also find the built-in camera handy for quick documentation without typing. I can take a picture of a label on a product to have easy access to a serial number or model for future research or documentation.

I do hope that Apple plans on adding “To Do” list functionality in the future that syncs with Mail and iCal, but there are a few third party applications that can be of use in this area until Apple decides to add this functionality. I used the phone without applications as a powerful tool for the first six months until the App store was released which just put it over the top.

The Christmas Season

Imagine 2008It is Christmas time again and I have been away from the blog for awhile. As a tech director for a church that does a Christmas program, the season means insanity from about November through the first few weeks in December. We have been working twelve plus hour days for about two months now getting ready for “Imagine Christmas – From the Beginning.”

This is my second Christmas program as a tech director. Last year’s program was pretty good once it happened, but leading up to it almost killed me. This year was a marked improvement in organization and execution. In the weeks before the program, I really dislike the Christmas Season, but all it takes is one performance and I’m in the mood and will be looking forward to the putting the program together again next year.

With each program we do, I get the opportunity to work with new people and do a program that is out of the normal Sunday service and I get to learn and improve my skills. Last year I learned much on the technical side of lighting and how to call cues and produce a more theatrical type program. This year I had the opportunity to learn as well, but in different kinds of ways. One thing that comes to mind is that practice really helps not only the performers, but the tech team as well. I knew that was the case, but it was really emphasized when the audio team really nailed the orchestra mix. The video team as well knew exactly where the action was and what camera to shoot it with. I also learned how hard it is for someone to come into a presentation like “Imagine” and light it well.

For the past two years we have hired out the lighting design; both groups did the best that they could and I do like seeing the different styles of lighting and how they can effect the look. I just don’t know if they fully understand the scope of dance, ariel and drama until the fixtures are hung. At that point it is (most of the time) too late to fix the issues.

For example the lighting plot had top light on the ariel actors. Top light is a very dramatic effect that I like. The problem was that the actor was performing about 20 feet in the air and that put them about 10 feet off the light. The shaft of light is just too small at that point and the aerialist would swing in and out of the light. Bottom lighting would be a better effect in this case.

The other struggle that I have is with the video lighting. Being that the lighting designer is not familiar with the camera and needs, the design doesn’t usually account for color temp changes of the lights used. In this program, the key lighting came from two main sources. Spotlights that were 1200 watt and a HMI based lamp that were about 4200k temp. The other was High End Studio Commands 1200 watts that were 5200k temp and didn’t mix well with the cameras that were balanced to the spots.

This year, as last year, proved to me that creatives are passionate about what they do and the most heated discussions are about differences this time of year. That will never change. My list is long for what I would like to change for next year’s performances, and I can’t wait to get started on the planing even if I still don’t have the worship center put completely back together.

Yamaha Digital Consoles

M7CL-32 in GYM1

M7CL-32 in GYM1

At Sugar Creek Baptist Church we just opened a new Family Center. In this new building we have about four rooms with media support and the two larger rooms have Yamaha digital consoles. I was very excited about have features such as offline editing, on board effects, and networking. I have been very surprised at how much I like the the M7CL-32. In our worship center we have a Digico CS-D5 which has been great. I was very pleased at how easy it was for me to pick up the M7CL and how some of the features were similar to the Digico. Now I have only mixed on the LS9-32 once, but as of yet I’m not a big fan of the console. I seem to have to keep my head in the board too much while mixing. The touch screen really helps with the quick changes.

I have one large disappointment with both of the consoles. This last Thursday, I finally got some network wire pulled to both of the consoles and tried to place them on the network. All was going well until I went to adjust the subnet mask. Come to find out, the firmware only supports class C subnets (255.255.255.0). So let me tell you what that means. With that mask you can only have 254 devices attached to the network. Well that is fine for many groups that might be using the console, but for use in larger churches or conference facilities it is just too small. The part that I really don’t get is the interface is built to change the subnet options, it is just disabled. Very frustrating. So now I’m going to have to build a dedicated network to access these consoles. Yamaha please fix this issue!!!!

ProPreseter and a Free Motion Background

Are you a Leopard user? You just got a free motion background for Pro-Presenter. We were sitting in production meeting last week and I had my laptop up and running. About midway into the meeting my laptop kicked in the screen saver and Stephen loved it and thought it would be a cool motion background. He asked if I could make it work for a song on Sunday. I started running different ways through my head of how to capture the screen saver to a video and make it into loop. I forgot about it until Friday night and then I started working on it. It took me a little while just to find where in OS X the screen savers were stored. I knew that OS X had started using Quartz Composer files for some of the screen savers and the one I was using, Arabesque, was a Quartz file. Quartz happens to be an integral part of Quicktime and the QT player can play Quartz files. Most of the time, if QT can play it then most likely Pro-Presenter can play it as well. Sure enough, I just dragged the file into the background library and it worked. Now we have a new background and it was under my nose all of the time. By the way, the screen savers are stored in /System/Library/Screen Savers.

Quartz Composer is a very powerful compositing and graphic creation program. What is even more interesting is that Quartz files are dynamic. Arabesque is a random composition and when you used in Pro-Presenter it is random as well. This could be good or it might not be what you intended. I’m very interested to learn a little more about Quartz and see how we can use it in media ministry. A few ideas that come to mind are maybe a news ticker across the bottom of an announcement loop or a countdown clock that is longer then 99 hours. Let me know if you come up with some Quartz Composer ideas.

Un-timely Necessary Projects

We all know that stuff breaks at the most inopportune times.  Currently, I’m flying solo in the production department and my favorite video switcher decides to go on the fritz.  I don’t know if you guys are like me or not, but I just can’t leave well enough alone.  Just not smart enough to follow the old “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” saying.  I decide that this was a prime time to clean up the video racks, a project that has been on the list for a while.  This turned out to be never ending project that ended up eating all of my week and most of my weekend.  As of tonight, I’m very happy with the results.

Most of the work that was done had to do with cables routed on the outside of the rack.  Yes you know what I’m talking about, the cables that get thrown in last minute with the intent of cleaning them up later.  The Video booth just seems to attract these kind of cable runs.  Most of the time I consider myself in the middle of the road on cable routing.  Definitely not the most anal person that I have ever met, but I do like clean cabling.  The cabling in these racks certainly made me understand how detrimental sloppy cabling could be.  I think that a root canal might be more fun then debugging issues in these racks.

So it is beautiful now, right?  Well not yet, but we made big headway and removed 99.9 of the poorly routed cable.  We also removed about 50% of the cables inside the racks.  Yes there is still much work to do inside, but we made it 100% easier to find issues in the racks.  Next week I think that I’m going to tackle underneath the desk at the front of the booth.  May the force be with us.

More pictures here