First Project with CS5

Downloaded the trial of Photoshop CS 5 while we wait for the copies we ordered. Wanted to try it out on a quick project that came up for our guest speaker. Here is the original picture the guest speaker gave me to use:

I decided that it might be cool as a title slide on our 55′ x 25′ center screen. So I used the new content aware tools (clone stamp and healing brush) and came up with this:

Turn out nice and was much easier then it would have been in CS4. I also cut out the soldiers because I wanted to use them on a lower third which turned out to be pretty easy as well.

( Sorry for my ugly mug!!!)

I think that CS5 is worth the upgrade.

Use any tool for the job.

Last week I had the opportunity to do audio recording for a short film. Recording field audio is a tough job and yesterday we were not having fun. We were shooting a scene where a man is leaving a conference room, going down stairs and out the building while talking to his wife on a cell phone. Well the location that was picked was very nice other then the incredibility loud AC system. Oh yea, it whistled and we didn’t have control to shut it off.

Due to the nature of the shots, a shotgun mic was out of the question so we used a lapel (Tram…Check them out, sounds great!). The actor was wearing a suit and We couldn’t find a hidden place where the mic didn’t rub on something. I continued to record with it, but Brandon came up with a great idea. Use the voice recorder on an iPhone to record the audio. The mic on the iPhone is not to bad and it would be in a great place to capture the audio. Just had to show the actor how to start and stop the recorder. I have not reviewed the audio we captured with the iPhone, but I figure we should use any tool you have to get the best audio you can.


Over the past few months I started seeing some interesting animations created with Blender. Blender is a open source 3d animation package similar to Maya or Cinema 4D. If you are not familiar Blender check out their website at Also check out Memory and Big Buck Bunny, both created with Blender. Being that I have a soft spot open source, I figured it was the package for me to try and learn even though we use C4D at work.

Blender runs on OS X, Linux and Windows (if you must) and was a easy install on my Mac. I launched the software and the interface scared me. This is a common issue with Blender and most would give up right there. In fact, I had looked at it once before and did give up. With a little more determination this time, I did some research and found lots of online resources for teaching yourself the software. I will list a few resources at the end of the post.

The UI is designed for productivity and not user friendliness and it is daunting, but once you work with it a little bit, you will get the hang of it. Most of my struggles have been with learning 3d terms that would be an issue with most of the packages. After a few hours of tutorial I’m able to do some basic molding and animation. Still lots to learn and that is exciting as well.

To date I have created two items that I have used in service at Sugar Creek. First I modeled and animated the logo and composited it with some graphics built in After Effects for a lower third. I came up with the idea to see if I could export videos with an alpha channel from Blender.

The second project was just a quick title animation for a guest speaker. This was designed for a screen setup we had that is two projectors projecting a 2048×768 image on screens floor level behind the speaker. The grass and the “LIFE?” are 3d elements with the clouds being a 2d image. The animation is just a basic camera move.

Life? Sermon Background from Rick Russell on Vimeo.

Both of these are very simple examples I know, but they have been a great learning experience. Over the next few months I’m hoping to continue to come up with projects that will help me to develop my skills. If you are interested in 3d, give Blender a try, but commit to taking some time to do some tutorials to get you up to speed on the interface. Plenty of information is out there.

By the way, 3D projects can take lots of time to render and if you choose Blender, there are no extra license fees to setup a render farm on any hardware you have around you. Bonus!!!

Free Blender Resources:

Recently released 9 hours of training if you have a subscription.

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.

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.

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