Projection designer Justin Harrison explains how the stunning images of the Coorong were captured and manipulated to evoke the wild beauty of coastal South Australia in Storm Boy.
What is the world of this play that you’re creating through projections?
The work that I am doing is really three-fold - the first is the most literal, where I am simply extending the stage world that the actors and puppets inhabit, in a mostly naturalistic way. That means matching in with the beautiful set design, but extending that world further, and also giving a sense of the time of day, which the lighting design also helps with. This isn’t necessarily real-time, as we have some scenes progressing through a couple of hours within minutes, but it’s not presented in a time-lapse fashion. Everything in the world still moves at real speed, except the time of day.
The second aspect is the creation of magical moments, mostly to do with our puppets. They have to grow, they have to fly, we have to feel like our Storm Boy has spent hours and days with his pelicans, and we have to do it in a lyrical way.
The third aspect is almost purely technical (but we do try and fold in the first two styles), where we are giving a sense of the much wider world through projected video content, but using it to hide the fact that we’re hurriedly changing the set behind the curtain. There’s a few cute puppet-actor interaction moments, and a few beautiful landscape videos to watch. The show is really about the interplay of the minuscule and the massive, and we’re using every medium at our disposal to show that.
How do you create the media that is used in the projection design? What kind of equipment/software?
The majority of the media for the show was filmed on location in The Coorong in South Australia. I was fortunate enough to be sent there as part of the show, so 95% of the imagery seen is from the actual place. There’s a little bit of work done on changing colour palettes, adjusting the skies and time-of-day, making things a little more vibrant than they are etc., but it’s a beautiful place and all I really had to do was point the camera at anything!
Everything was shot on a Sony A7Rii and a DJI Mavic Platinum. For post-production, I’m mostly working in Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe AfterEffects. There’s some minor 3D work in the show, handled by Element 3D and Blender
John Batchelor, Tony Briggs and Conor Lowe. Photo by Jeff Busby.
What are some of the challenges you’ve enjoyed solving in your projection design?
The main challenge was work out where everything is set - what can we see in the set backgrounds? Where is their shack located? Where’s the Pelican Sanctuary in relation to their home? What time of day is this scene? - and then find those locations in The Coorong and capture them. The Coorong is a wild place, the weather turns on a dime so it was a bit of a scramble to get everything captured in time. Then it’s a case of going through all that imagery and working out what suits our scene/characters the best.
How do you work with the other Creatives to realise/execute your design?
I’m working with the Darrin Verhagen (Composer & Sound Designer) a lot, we can create some really special moments when video and music work in harmony. There’s also a lot of back and forth between the puppeteers and myself, making sure we can make the pelicans look as amazing as possible as they fly about the stage, and making sure they have a world to inhabit when we have to close down and change the set. Obviously there’s a lot of early conversations between Anna Cordingley (Set & Costume Designer) early on about the style, location and presentation of these virtual sets as well. I’m also trying to match in with Matt Scott (Lighting Designer) so that our big moments time up really well, and we both present a unified vision of the world in terms of light and colour.
Storm Boy plays at Southbank Theatre from 17 June. Book now.
Published on 12 June 2019