Part 1: Seeing the Future with Previsualization


When your event features a complicated screen setup, media design requires a big investment -- and too often, it’s a risky one. Too many productions spend months designing content, without truly understanding how it will look on the displays in their scenic.

That’s scary stuff! Who wants to catch a design flaw for the first time with an entire production crew on the verge of overtime and the client due in the room any minute?

Not us. And I’d guess not you, either. We Keensters think that understanding the final display system is critical throughout the entire design and review process, so we’ve put a technique called “previsualization” at the center of our design workflow.

What is previsualization?

The purpose of previsualization, usually shortened to “previs” or “previz,” is to realistically show the final outcome of a design as it will be seen by the audience, even while it’s still in production. For live events, this means modeling the scenic design and video engineering faithfully, and presenting designs within that context.

Why use previs?

Creatives, producers, designers and clients all see a show’s content on their computer monitors while they’re working on it -- but the audience experiences the show in a huge space, spread out over massive screens with scenic elements, staging and lighting.

That’s the context we should use throughout production, too.

First, we as content producers can’t make meaningful design decisions without the context that the audience will have.

Second, our clients can understand better why we make the decisions we do when we present them in context.

What makes a good previs?

Our goal in using previs is to create a virtual crystal ball that will let us see our event before it happens. A high-quality previs shows the future realistically and eliminates uncertainty. A poor previs is dangerous; it’s wishful thinking disguised as accuracy.

Here are a few things that we’ve found are essential in a high-quality previs:

Convey a sense of scale. Remember that your clients may see your previs on a 15” iPad while your audience will see it on a 150’ screen. It’s critical to give them hints about the true size of the screens in the previs. A human figure standing on stage in front of that screen is a great way to show just how big it is.

Explore every angle. It’s important to model your scenic in 3D. While you could produce previs by inserting screen content into flat 2D renders, this will not allow you to visualize the differences in sight lines across the audience. Giving your designers an interactive 3D model of the scenic allows them to move around the entire space and explore every angle.

Consider lighting. Whether you show clearly visible beams of light in your previs, or just color washes over the space and into the audience, the colors and intensities you choose will affect your viewers’ perception of the images on-screen. Also, your screens are often the biggest lighting source in the room, so remember the impact that your on-screen content will have on the rest of the space space.

The devil is in the details. Previs get you better feedback on your media design, but it also invites scrutiny of every detail it shows. You may try to lead a review on screen layouts, only to find your client fixating on the color of the scenic panels. This is not a bad thing -- it’s better to change the panels before you have to build them -- but you should know in advance that every visible detail is up for discussion.

Accurately preview IMAG. If you will put a live camera shot up on screen, it’s important to model what the camera will actually see. Using a presenter’s headshot as as stand-in for IMAG can seriously mislead your team. The camera will probably see your scenic or your screen as the background behind the speaker. You need to understand what impact that fact will have on overall tone and brightness and on separation between IMAG and the rest of the screen.

Coming up next

Stay tuned for some more practical tips in Part 2 on this topic, Previs in Production.

We’ve also been building a platform for previs: a 3D, VR presentation system called Foresight. Using VR, Foresight gives a very accurate sense of scale, immersion, and “thereness.” If you’d like to have Foresight on your next project, you can apply for our private beta here.




Eight weird tricks for an awesome media-served show

Using media servers on your live event can give you enormous creative freedom — but without good production management, it can also cause enormous headaches! With apologies to Buzzfeed, we suggest these eight “weird tricks” for running smoother media-served shows.

1. Create one media department to handle all things on-screen. We traditionally separate a bunch of screen-related work into different departments — graphics, video, playback, lighting — then tie them all together at the last minute on-site through the stage manager. This guarantees confusion and missed opportunities. Organize these departments so they work together from the beginning of production. Get them to coordinate design and technology early on to help you deliver your best creative.

2. Pre-visualize early, and pre-visualize often. Pre-visualization needs to be the first step of content production. The audience experiences the show in the context of the scenic; that’s how all content production should work, too. First, you can’t make meaningful creative or design decisions without the context the audience will have. Second, your client will better understand work presented in its scenic context.

3. Choose your big creative moments wisely. Impact or “wow factor” is like the dynamic range in a song; the contrast between the soft parts and loud parts is valuable. Spread your high-impact moments out over the show to design the audience’s impact arc. Get the biggest creative bang per production buck by conserving resources in the soft parts, and spending resources in the impact arc’s crescendos. This simplifies production and makes for a great audience experience.

4. Pay special attention to the in-between moments. Transitions are a fantastic case for “any pixel, any time” media-server shows. You can execute creative in transitions with servers that’s too complex to do any other way. The moments between show segments are often a great time for building energy in that audience impact arc, but if you don’t design them with flexibility in mind, they can become a production nightmare if you need to make a last-minute change in your show. Give transitions the right level of impact, and keep them modular for easy re-use.

5. Staff a dedicated coordinator for media. Media coordination is a full-time job. Dedicate a tech-savvy coordinator or job manager to this role for at least a couple weeks prior to show through the on-site. They’ll make sure that media department i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed, you’ll free up your designers, developers and programmers to focus on making your show better.

6. Prioritize operational simplicity. Designing a show is one thing; actually running it successfully is another. You can have the coolest creative in the industry, but if it’s too complex to run when the show caller says GO, it’s a failure. Dream big at the start of each project, and invest time in figuring out the simplest, most elegant way to cue challenging creative.

7. Use the right tool for the job. When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem begins to look like a nail. Just because you have a media server on the job doesn’t mean you need to use it for your presentations; charts and graphs and last-second changes belong in PowerPoint or Keynote. And with flexible content layering, you don’t have to give up “any pixel, any time” when you use graphics — you get the best of both worlds. Make sure your media team is using their entire toolbox.

8. Don’t buy more (or less!) than you need. There are a lot of server products on the market, and the right one to use really depends on the specifics of your project. Some are overwhelming overkill, and others leave too much to be desired. Be Goldilocks: get it just right. Take the money you save and put into content production (hint, hint), or into scenic, or talent, or straight to the bottom line. Technology, capabilities, and pricing are changing rapidly. Make sure you’re making the pragmatic choice for your production.