Part 1: Seeing the Future with Previsualization

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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.