Resident VJ - Tisno, Croatia / by Stephen Bontly

The Village of Tisno

The Village of Tisno

I was hired on as a site manager, but who cares about the boring stuff. I came to work on lights. To play with the DJ's and bands that everyone, and even myself, love. To create an experience. I purchased a new computer to run my performances, and a new controller to operate and was ready to go. Running a TouchDesigner/Resolume Arena hybrid, dealing with up to three different outputs:  6 x 3 m LED wall, a custom video wall outputting 48 x 64 pixel 2D matrix, and a Christie Roadie projector.

7 Festivals, 72 Artists, 10 weeks 

The Beach

The Beach

 I have done a fair amount of performances since starting on the path of digital media. I was not ready for this. In fact, I don't even think resident DJs perform like this. This wasn't a club. The themes were vague. Everything was always changing. You make the rules (kinda XD). And people wanted a good time. Welcome to The Garden Tisno.

Before I had left, I did my homework. At least as much as I could. I knew that I was faced with the challenge of being a VJ for 7 festivals. I can say, I am truly thankful to all of the support I've had in the previous years because It was completely necessary for this job. What I learned this summer has become the principles of my work ethic and will influence many of the choices I have ahead.

I had bought an APC40 the spring before, after doing research on VJ controllers and the best layouts for each software. It was an obvious choice. The amount of buttons and sliders fit Resolume's profile very nicely. I used an XML template I found on the forums, and began to cut out the code that was unnecessary in order to free up these controls for TD. However, I soon found out that it was impossible to pair the same MIDI device with both software without a third party API such as LoopBe or BOME products. Which I didn't exactly have time to invest in. Regardless of this, I knew that I was going to be using the Resolume interface with the controller. For my audio interface I am using a NI Komplete Audio 6. Which worked easily with both softwares.

Solomun, thanks to Movement Croatia

Solomun, thanks to Movement Croatia

As a VJ you are responsible for taking the content, and not only syncing it to the performance, but making it GOOD! Externally this involves communicating with the other light and sound technicians, collaborating with artists who have personal content, and fulfilling requests from the stage and production managers who require special attributes to be added for each event. Internally, listening to the music, I follow compositions, layers, colors, effects, buttons, sliders, switches, knobs, as well as the environment and the crowd. In Resolume, I normally run about 30 - 40 animations per artist, 4 layers, and around 10-15 standard effects. It gets a bit more complicated when I begin to include custom outputs, leaning more towards lighting effects over animation loops if the right scenario is provided. Game time normally started around around 18:00 and ended about 2-3:00. Excluding one night, when The Garden Tisno became Barbarella's, hosting a sunrise set by none other than Louie Vega. 

Louie Vega at 7:30 AM, Main Stage

Louie Vega at 7:30 AM, Main Stage

While I was working as a video technician/ VJ, I was also involved in production and maintenance of the entire site. It took away from producing the network I would have liked, but I liked the challenge. I was operating on the main stage, along with our head audio engineer, Kim, and light technician, Marko, leaving me to be responsible for the video. I took it a step further to create extra production with prop building for the projections. This was more of a design/build collaboration I had with my boss, that was short and sweet. See some of the photos/videos showcasing Love International and Electric Elephant. I added these features in the small gaps of time I had between jobs.

Love International

Love International

The LED wall was operational with no problems. rented for the season from a local company specializing in stage production throughout Croatia. They came in on the week prior to the start of the summer, setup and calibrated the screen for my machine. The rest of the hardware used was left for me to setup. Luckily I found a few helpful hands. 

Night before main stage opened for season

Night before main stage opened for season

I installed the projector on the third day of the first festival with no time for testing or calibration. As the sun was setting I turned on my machine, finally plugging into Resolume, assuming it would operate just as smoothly as the first two days. At that moment nothing was working. The monitors registered on my NVIDIA GPU, however when switching to display mode, the interface malfunctioned. I was happily forced to develop an output for TD and had the show running and calibrated within the hour. This was a shaky start, but you never wanna give your crowd everything all at once ;-) 

It was at this time I began to develop the foundations for the custom hybrid software I use today as a VJ. Over the following days I had a basic UI developed to output visuals. I have a very unconventional way of performing with Touch Designer. My networks are always exposed during the performance and could be considered a piece of art all on their own... aesthetically. I have been taking notes Mr Ragan, v2.0 will have some dramatic upgrades. Stay tuned for a new blog series that will focus on rebuilding an operational and 'attractive' interface.

Electric Elephant

Electric Elephant

While we had the projector installed for the first two festivals, to include projection mapping, greatly increasing the value of the stage, the remaining festivals unfortunately lacked the investment or dedication. By the third festival we said goodbye to the Roadie and installed the video panels. Personally, I would have loved to run all three together to test out the limits of my GTX 980M. In the next weeks, I adapted the control panel to include another interface for these panels. 

The panels, privately owned, functioning with its own converter and plugged right into DVI, were not completely operational. Testing and installing was left to me. I ran a CAT5 cable from the converter to the first node and daisy-chained the line across the stage. Out of each unit, holding eight strips of 64 LEDs ( i believe a 4 cm pitch), four were operational and two had one lead broken. I didn't have the knowledge of the electronic hardware to fix this, so I ended up remapping the pixels through TD before outputting. This solved the problem however making it difficult to allow visiting VJ's to perform on the complete setup. A touring VJ came for the Sven Vath performance, but he was only able to run the main video wall due to this problem.

sorry for the blur, old camera phone

sorry for the blur, old camera phone

For the majority of the summer I was granted creative freedom with my content. Using my own intuition to direct the moods I enhanced through light. It was the second to last festival that gave me a taste of the real world. A company that I will not mention on this page, gave me strict, and later enforced regulations when playing video content. They had all of their own content and didn't want me to stray away from their brand. It was beautifully marketed and I was told to keep it simple.... on repeat. I reluctantly took the back seat and spent 4 days, ~ 8 hrs per day, of one festival watching the same content. I admittedly felt embarrassed. It was one of the co-owners of the festival venue that approached me and taught me a very important lesson. he said to me, "You know, there is someone within this company that has an image of how he wants his company to be run and perceived. This is his show, and you are here to make his show happen." These words I will never forget as a freelancer, as a designer and as a contracted professional. It really puts you in your place. A place I chose to be. Since graduating I have been doing my thing. But I want to make money. The people who have money also do their thing, and they want my skills. This is how we get paid.

Since beginning in this field, I have worked mainly with private owners. These are great people and really give you a humanized version of the career path I have chosen. This does not reflect on my ambition. As much as I love the production, I want a minimum standard. It is important that my future holds a little more professionalism and respect for the maintenance, performance and overall end product. I cannot be responsible for repairing faulty equipment, or ghetto rigging setups due to improper tools and resources. In the up and coming years, demands will grow. Isn't that what makes us professionals? The final culprit, time itself. Never will it stop, and the more in-depth my work becomes, the less I will have. As a professional I must make decisions that grant me more time to do the things that really matter.

To be honest, I hardly had a moment to see the big picture. I  was micro-managing my tools, looking at the small bits that created a whole. Or even when I was looking at the whole picture, I was still only seeing one perspective, i.e. the composition, layer opacity levels, the contrast of one effect against the other, etc. It is only now that I have time to reflect, watching youtube videos that the public and promoters have posted, I can see the fruits of my labor. I have countless recordings from the summer to sort through. In reality, its in the past and I can only go forward. Im interested for documentation purposes. I think that is what ultimately drove me into real-time design. The idea that the moment is past and you have an opportunity to absorb the NOW. Something is going on, so why stop? 

The next question is, how do we capture a moment? Ironically, This was the topic of my first project in Architecture school. See my Models page to catch a glimpse of my solution in 2011. 

I have yet to decide in my return to such a wild world.

I hope you have enjoyed this read. My next article will talk about my thoughts on traveling as a media artist. The tools of trade and the 'Do's and Don'ts' of travel and production. 

Stay tuned World.