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A Word on Scenic Design Trends from Tony Castrigno

Meet Tony Castrigno, from Design Contact , who took the time to answer some of our burning questions around scenic design trends in 2017 and what is to come for 2018. We’ve broken down Tony’s thoughtful answers in to two parts..and here is the first!

Scenic used to be about creating an environment for the attendees to enjoy. Enter the Steve Jobs black stage with small imagery behind him while he walked the stage, speaking his message. Now, there are numerous considerations around the scenic backdrop for an event.

First, I have a few general comments. Steve Jobs was a master showman. The moment he made famous was pulling an iPod out of the watch pocket in his jeans; the tiny object was shown huge on the screen behind him. Many a tech giant has tried to mimic this, with mixed results. What it has meant is that video projection has come to dominate staging design in many arenas. The trend was to eliminate “scenery” and do it all with projection. Screens got bigger and bigger while content became more and more graphic … and not always to positive effect. Not everyone was Steve Jobs and not everyone had a message as eagerly awaited as anything from Apple. The second comment I have before answering questions directly is about the TED Talks. Everyone wants to have presentations that seem as engaging and inspiring as a TED Talks presentation. The challenge, again, is content. No matter what the format, if the story isn’t strong and the presenter isn’t charismatic and engaging, the presentation falls flat. Clients often cannot compress all they want to say into fifteen minutes and eight slides. Still, it has become trendy to talk about presentations in the manner of “storytelling” (a tenet of the TED Talks style) and to speak to the “narrative” of a presentation, not just its “content.”

My third comment: For decades we designed sets to emulate an environment: news sets, spaceships, control rooms, talk shows, computer screens, the inside of a body, small towns. All of these were designed to give context to the story being told — to make it urgent, relevant, forward-looking, convincing, human. The set would, in fact, be the dominant visual image for days on end at a meeting. This is still important, though it is now expressed in more contemporary contexts and achieved by other means — all influenced by Steve Jobs and TED Talks.

Finally, video imaging — projection and LED screens — have advanced so significantly that they are now part of the scenic designer’s tool kit. We create architecture and formats designed to be a “canvas” for video. This includes powerful geometric shapes that video can “map” to, unusual textures and materials, translucent projection screens to provide layering, and moving LED screens with media that tracks in real time. Media that used to be confined to a box IN a set now fully integrates WITH the set.

How will it look on social media as the background for the video/imagery?

This is a strong consideration for product launches and other promotional events. Scenically, we either provide for carefully placed branding, or media surfaces that are sure to make it into the frame that might be on a Twitter feed or Facebook page. This can range from a dimensional logo or product to a step-and-repeat graphic that will back up every shot — or a set of monitors or a projection surface to which the media team can feed changing imagery. On a more macro level, big, bold sets with strong visual imagery on them make for video postings that impress the audience with the grandeur of the moment. By using scenic visualization and design software (3ds Max, Cinema 4D, and others), we can now study all the angles and design to specific camera shots.

What messages do you want to create behind the speaker?

The same drivers behind the social-media question influence the experience in the room; the difference is that rather than using a camera or two that freezes a moment in time, we are designing for hundreds or thousands of pairs of eyes looking at the event from many different and often changing perspectives. Screens are place in relationship to stages, so the content becomes a natural extension of the speaker’s comments and immerses them in the story. Some presentations still require technical visuals — financials, live-screen software demos, medical information — but in many cases, the visuals can be higher level, less word-heavy bullet points, and more imagery. This allows them to break out of the “box” (the 16:9 image frame) and become more immersive.

Keep an eye out for Part Two of Tony’s take on scenic trends coming soon.


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