Analogue v Digital

By Patrick O'Mahony — February 23, 2018

I am often asked, “What is the next big thing?” or “We want to do something that has never been seen before”. The knee jerk reaction is to look to the digital world and whilst it is something I love to embrace, I don’t believe that this ever-growing landscape is the only route forward. In fact in my mind, backing away from the obvious digital approach and looking at reimagining the physical world achieves some of the best results. 

The industry has been wowed for many years with the developments and scale that projection mapping has brought us, the ability for it to cover huge expanses of stadium with high quality animated content.  There is no doubt that the results can be breathtaking, and I don’t mean the now overused crumbling building effect – are there any more icons of the world that can collapse? – but more the scenes we saw during the Sochi Opening Ceremony.  It continues to amaze audiences around the world and has pushed aside the conventional ground sheets and large extensive prop build on many an occasion and to great effect.

However I believe there is still a strong argument for the emotional connection you can make with audiences when the physical world is manipulated and delivered in a different way.  I am by no means looking to “consciously uncouple” from our projection friends but instead find a meaningful way to co-exit. From hard backed printed presentations v digital decks to physical puppets or large scale props, can the analogue world still be seen as the “next big thing”?  Can it now start to push back and regain ground within the production budget of the bigger shows? Can the physical be the vinyl record of the show world?

It takes a brave Artistic Director to the embrace the analogue world but in my mind this pays dividends.  In the recent European Games in Baku we witnessed one of the most analogue productions I have seen in many years, yet with a technological back end that was unparalleled.   Ceremonies companies like Five Currents should be congratulated for delivering productions like this as it enables the likes of ourselves, Stage One, Show Canada and Tait Towers, to mention but a few, to sharpen our pencils and reimagine deliverable solutions. From large rotating revolves, to lakes filling the scenic bed, giant flying pomegranates and in our case a meadow of indigenous wild flowers growing through the stage deck, they were all out in force in this show.

The Grass Path we created for the European Games Opening Ceremony is a very good example of a physical world creative response. It could have been done with mapping and doubtless there are those that would argue that it should have been. Within this show we created 2,500 individually controllable and individually unique clusters of wild grass and flowers, as the leading lady walked across the stage the wild meadow of grew in her wake.  By purposely executing this is in an analogue form we achieved an emotional connection that I think would have been missing done digitally.

It was a moment that we were incredibly proud of and the creative process we went through with Dimitris Papaioannou was a real joy.   It was a bold move and one Dimitris was insistent upon as he wanted the physical sense of growth within the show, something the audience could almost touch and feel as the grass danced in the wind.  There is no doubt that he could have created a similar effect through projection, over a bigger area but would it have generated the same reaction amongst the global audience that watched at home?  I would argue not but you decide.

I think the digital world is something to be embraced but its application is what I would like to challenge. The next big thing is not always pixel led and we don’t always have to project the landscape our performers inhabit; instead we should be brave and embrace the physical world.

Click here to watch our video of the opening ceremony and the behind-the-scenes preparations.

— Written by

Patrick O'Mahony

— Date

February 23, 2018

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