I got home from a show at about 2am this morning. Like so many shows that we do, by the time I get home, no matter at what ungodly hour, Im unable to sleep right away. So I sit on the sofa and watch old movies, while replaying the show in my mind.
This time, however, I found that the movie really didnt help take my mind off the show. It was an old black and white film that opened in a prison, with three men on a chain gang working on a rock pile. One of them says something about seems all theyll let us do is work our fingers to the bone making big rocks into little rocks. Somehow, I found it appropriate to what Id been doing most of my lifemaking little pictures into big ones.
This all started with Multi Image. Slide projectors were high resolution, but werent all that bright. So we harnessed large numbers of them to cover large screen areas. It was something only Rube Goldberg could love to deal with it as a technician, but audiences loved it. It was huge, bright, and had a resolution and a look that was impossible to achieve with video. Multi Image techs were the elite of the staging industry because of the high skill set in-volved.
The video revolution of the 90s took it all away. The biggest reason was that video was much cheaper to produce and much easier to stage. And, the video look was new, and audiences loved it because it looked high tech even though the resolution and brightness, even with the best projection systems available, were nowhere close to what wed done in multi image. But video projectors were expensive and finicky. In order to get bright images, we dou-ble and triple stacked projectors that were hard to set up and converge even in single units. This was the point at which most rental companies started stocking all fast fold screens in 3:4 ratio. At this stage, elite tech status moved from the multi image technicians to the video projector guys. I was one of these guys (to the point that I even named my dog Barco).
But audiences (and technicians) tired of the 3:4 ratio video look. We were competing with a maturing broadcast industry, and an audience who watched billions of dollars worth of television every night. It became very hard to make corporate videos that could compete for the audiences attention with on-screen content alone. But during this period of time, video projectors had become bright, sharp, and easier to set up. So, as usual for our industry, we had to go looking for a technology that was expensive, finicky, and difficult to produce for.
Enter Image Blending.
Around the turn of the century, we were starting to use the new, bright, sharp projection systems in new ways, because the tools had matured. Proc-essing was available from a multitude of vendors that allowed us to blend im-ages or mask them to unusual shapes and ratios, using multiple projectors. This created the capability of creating wide-ratio, high-resolution images. In a sense, multi image was back. Many of us dusted off our wide-format screens and started doing technically demanding and finicky things again, creating a new category of elite visuals technician. Once again, we are working in a nice, expensive, difficult medium.
But, if we learn from history, the next phase will be consolidation, where the display systems become more capable of higher resolutions, removing the necessity of using multiple displays to achieve this kind of wide aspect ratio and high resolution. Widescreen (and I mean widescreen WAY beyond 16:9) digital cinema projectors are becoming commercially available from a number of vendors. 4k and 8k resolutions are not just being talked abouttheyre in production. So, if history repeats itself, were going to move, over the next 5 years or so, from doing image blending to using the next generation of pro-jection systems to increase the brightness and resolution of single image screens, and the challenges move from the staging and setup back into the producers world, where THEY become the challenged ones in using the new systems to their maximum potential. This is not to say that image blending disappears, as there are other reasons for using it (throw distance reduction comes to mind). Its just to say that itll slowly stop being used for effect. As with all the other stages in this saga, well stabilize here for a while, the guys who are currently the elite image blending techs will tell the young kids they have it easy, and life in the staging business will go on.
But we wont let it stay there. Something has to become expensive, finicky, and difficult. Well need to create a new category of elite staging technician. If history DOES repeat itself, this will be combining the new projection sys-tems in unusual ways. But we also will have reached the resolutions we had 25 years ago in multi image, while making production easier and increasing effect.
And a new class of technicians will be naming their dogs after products that havent been created yet.