Church Communications resources and tips from Justin Dean

The Challenges

One of the biggest challenges last year for the Willow Creek tech team was the big creative element ? the feature film. Not only did they score the feature film with a live orchestra, they had to sync up external video content and the audio from the movie.

They plugged a Ki-PRO directly into their HD projector (since their entire video system is in SD) and it pushed time code to Pro Tools and ProVideoPlayer to sync all the elements. ProVideoPlayer controlled a few Mac Mini?s to show supplemental video content on their stage design elements ? corrugated plastic cut and fixed to look like shards of glass. The extra video content included visuals like cityscapes during transitional points in the feature film.

They used Pro Tools to send a click track and audio cues to the conductor so he could conduct the orchestra live ? following along with the movie. Pro Tools also held all the dialogue, sound effects, and extra instrument sounds they didn?t have the budget to recreate live.

Their original goal was to have the film itself as two audio tracks. They wanted ? if something went wrong with Pro Tools ? to have a redundant audio system. Unfortunately, they just didn?t have the time to re-render the video file by service time, so they left it on Pro Tools. Fortunately, Pro Tools did fine.

That just left dealing with the live orchestra, all the cues, and the usual tech obstacles.

They dealt with the orchestra by applying good mic-ing and stage placement. One of their sound engineers was a live engineer on the Oprah goodbye show. They used a system that worked well for their orchestra, so Willow Creek rented the same system (shuffling money from some areas to free up the budget). The system was DPA Microphones MSS6000 ? Multiple Microphone and Summing System for Orchestral String Capturing. This system allowed them to take four microphones and sum them into one channel. This kept them from having to use too many inputs.

They placed the orchestra behind the normal rock band ? using risers and a stair step stage design. Since the orchestra was playing through the feature film and accompanying the normal band during the carols, they had to keep the rhythm section from bleeding into the orchestra microphones. They made use of some drum shields behind the drummer and crossed their fingers ? hoping it would work out at their first rehearsal. It did.

Another issue they faced with a live orchestra was lighting. Traditional orchestras are used to traditional lighting. How far could they push artistic lighting while still allow them to be able to see their music? They knew they had to be careful with front lighting and colored light. It was a constant balance of pushing artistry while keeping the orchestra comfortable while playing.

Finally, they dealt with the issue of multiple venues. Willow Creek?s main campus does Christmas each year as a big spectacle ? huge room, huge screen, big light show ? and none of their other venues have the facilities or budget to accommodate that stuff or the live orchestra.

Since the movie didn?t have the accompaniment rendered in, they recorded the first service and gave those tracks to the other campuses. They made sure each campus had the appropriate equipment ? Pro Tools and video playback systems. But they let the campuses have some autonomy in what they did with it.

Some campuses showed the movie, but many didn?t ? especially since many did their Christmas services earlier in the year. (Most of Chicago empties out by Christmas.) So they simply came up with their own Christmas services.

It seems that flexibility and exploration were the key to overcoming Willow Creek?s technical challenges for Christmas. And isn?t that really what?s necessary in all our technical environments? Without flexibility and exploring new options, we?ll never push the boundaries and reach new creative heights.

Be willing to explore. Be willing to adapt.

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