Isadora in action
Insight and details about how top artists use Isadora to enhance theater, dance, interactive installations, and more
Filling the Stage at Berlin's Schaubühne
Profile: Jake Witlen, Video Designer and Lead Video TechnicianProfile: Jake Witlen
Head of the Video Department at the Schaubühne
Location: Berlin, Germany
Isadora user: 11 years
Patching Style: OCD perfect, especially for shared files
Fotos: (c) Arno Declair
Disconnected Child. Director: Falk Richter. Video Design: Christopher Kondek
Richard III. Director Thomas Ostermeier. Video Design: Sébastien Dupouey
Fear. Director: Falk Richter. Video Design: Bjørn Melhus
As head of video for three years at the Schaubühne, one of Germany’s preeminent theaters, Jake Witlen’s mantra is, “Workflow. Workflow. Workflow.” The venue premiers about 15 shows per year, on top of 52 existing shows in repertoire, and tours shows approximately 160 days per year visiting about 30 countries. 85% of all productions integrate video and thus Isadora, ten of which are premiers, many of which push the limits of video onstage. A show opening this April called, Borgen, created and directed by Nicolas Stemann, uses Isadora to operate a concept among seven projectors, three cameras, two iPhones, and subtitles. The Schaubühne is well-equipped, but given the scale and number of shows it produces, resources are limited. A lot of logistics go into preparing a show; simply knowing what piece of equipment is available and when can be a puzzle. If a show is going to China for example, Jake can lose gear for three to five months. But he enjoys the challenge: “The fun part is figuring out your game.”
Jake’s responsible for coming up with a plan to ensure that every show runs smoothly and is reproducible. Reproducible means being able to load in, calibrate, and fine tune in a new space in just under two days before opening. He directs a small team of three to program Isadora and execute designs, a team that is typically split between two shows at a time. To be clear, Jake isn’t designing the show himself but instead tackling the trickier and more nuanced challenge of building someone else’s design. Every director who comes through the Schaubühne brings their own designer, and that designer has their own unique vision, communication style, and set of expectations. Jake has chosen Isadora for the Schaubühne because the software can meet the demands of every designer and calibrate quickly. “It’s flexible. For any single problem, Isadora offers 800 solutions. It totally beats the giant servers, which are really just playback machines.”
But sitting down with the director and video designer early in production is essential. Jake negotiates every last detail of the video concept – what is possible based on resources, time, and scale and what the workflow will be. Jake’s team then collaborates in programming the show and builds an Isadora file together. “Anyone could be programming a patch at any given time.” Order is key, but order is easy with Isadora. In fact, it’s so easy, Jake is able to teach the program to the designer’s assistants, so they’re up and running and trying out patches in the space in a matter of hours. Despite Jake’s long history with Isadora, both as director and designer, its myriad solutions never cease to astound him. Because his team is sharing patches, he learns something new from his collaborators almost every show, something that he’s never even thought possible. Isadora can realize “whatever [they] need to do – the blank page is infinite.”
Isadora’s creative potential is attributed to how it’s developed as a piece of software. The program’s creator, Mark Conilgio, is “coming at it from a creative standpoint, asking the question: what do I want out of it? And you can clearly see how he’s influenced by users all over the world.” Jake is active on the TroikaTronix forum and is keenly aware of Isadora’s constant evolution. “You read a question, and four days later you have an update. Mark’s already taken a user’s question and built the answer. When you need something, he’ll be there.”
On top of Isadora’s proven power and Mark’s responsiveness, Jake chooses Isadora because of its reliability. He describes a critical divide between the video department and other departments in the theater that is not exclusive to the Schaubühne. “Video is the evil stepchild in theater.” Troubleshooting might be clear for lighting and sound departments – turn it on and off, unplug and plug, check the cable, check the lamp, but “that’s not part of the game of video design - which doesn’t work for centuries-old departments.” Notable directors, such as Peter Stein, Robert Wilson, Thomas Ostermeier, Falk Richter, Katie Mitchell, Simon McBurney, and Milo Rau have secured the Schaubühne worldwide fame and respect over the last 50 years. So there’s little room for error in designing and running a show, regardless of how misunderstood the technology. With the help of Isadora, Jake is able to achieve sterling precision, professionalism, and organization. Learn more
Mapping: From Glastonbury to Shakespeare
Profile: Dan Shorten, Video DesignerProfile: Dan Shorten
Profession: Video Designer // Lecturer at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama
Location: London, England
Isadora user: 13 years
Patching Style: Start straight at right angles but end up as spaghetti
“People can listen to a piece of music and tell you instantly if they like it or not, and they feel confident in saying so.” Award-winning video designer, Dan Shorten, wants his audience to be able do the same. Working under the moniker, Anomic Multimedia, he uses Isadora’s projection mapper for large-scale outdoor events and five-star touring productions, including the five-day Glastonbury Festival of performing arts and most recently, Shakespeare400, a series of public performances around London celebrating the 400-year legacy of The Bard. Running systems that can use up to 19 projectors, he transforms the facades of buildings and spaces into living entities and animated environments. An impressive 150,000 people a week can experience his work – that’s 8,000 pairs of eyes a night. With these kinds of numbers, success comes down to accessibility, as the larger the public, the wider range of responses. Some people might be attracted to the meaning, others the magic, and a few, the mechanics behind the mastery. But it’s this open invitation, one that trusts the audience’s sensibilities, that is part and parcel to Dan’s ethos of good art.
It’s also the reason why Dan has chosen Isadora as his primary control for video design. It’s “fast, logical and has a simple layout.” But it’s not as limited as even more widely known plug and play gadgets. “With Isadora, you have to ask questions: What do I want to do? How do I do it? What’s the outcome? How does this actor affect this actor?” Isadora is an open invitation, one that trusts the designer’s sensibilities. Dan admits to having been a skeptic at first – to having made the mistake of thinking Isadora was too open and therefore too complicated for what he wanted to do – which was to project some video and images on stage. But after sitting in on an Isadora workshop as a teacher, Dan realized the software not only offered cleaner solutions – such as using a mouse to move things around on screen instead of rendering things out in the studio and then fitting them to the space using a projector alone – it offered more solutions, which spurred his creativity.
Alongside his design work, Dan teaches at the prestigious Guildhall School Music and Drama, which recently launched a BA degree focused on video mapping in 2015. Most of Dan’s students land design gigs at high level, West End theaters upon graduation, and he uses Isadora to prime them. Isadora teaches his students how to think about video and how to create without running up against complexities in the design of the software itself. Dan owes this to Isadora being an artist-driven software. In fact, Isadora’s creator, Mark Coniglio worked closely with Dan in developing the software’s projection mapping tool before it was released so that it could meet his and other video mappers’ needs in building content.
Despite the scale of his projects, Dan strives for simplicity in both form and process, falling back on his first love of making music and music’s ability to invite an audience to render its own opinion, confidently. Dan embraces the fact that he can make his audience’s jaw drop with his video designs, but there’s a long road between learning a tool and being an artist with a tool. “If you can do something simple, do something simple.” New technology can dazzle, and who doesn’t want to be dazzled? A little rock and roll can inject a lot of energy into life. But there’s a delicate balance between the rockstar and the artist, the artist and the elitist. The benefit of Isadora is that it teaches you how to be an artist, or at least a better artist, while learning the tool. Isadora is Dan’s toolbox and a completely integrated part of his creative thinking. Learn more
Improvisation and Artistry bridge the Digital and the Organic
Profile: David Gumbs, Visual Media ArtistProfile: David Gumbs
Profession: Visual Media Artist
Using Isadora: about 15 years
Patching Style: Web of creative genius, i.e. an absolute mess
In 2001, media artist, David Gumbs, saw Isadora for the first time while a student in interactive multimedia at “Les Ateliers, L'ENSCI” in Paris. His eyes widened: Isadora was showing immediate results and instantly “rendering” its users choices. After years of exercising patience with Flash, After Effects, and other animation and video processing software, seeing Isadora was like peeking behind the magician’s curtain. He wanted to know its secrets - he asked the artist who introduced him to Isadora to teach him the software. The artist said, “no.” David was angry at first, but he soon realized this “no” would come to define his artistic career.
Over the course of 15 years, David figured out how Isadora could work for him, developing a distinct process and voice as a result. He found the program easy to learn, despite loathing coding, as it complemented his more organic disposition to making work, the interactivity between artist and tool being one of Isadora’s most compelling attributes. His process is all about “searching but staying open to what happens, even though [he] might deviate from [his] original idea.” He’s always preferred visual art and more tactile mediums – painting, photography, drawing. But making a living in these disciplines is challenging at best. His original turn to video was merely an attempt to learn skills that would allow him to support himself financially while making art in other mediums. Isadora conveniently bridges two minds and two worlds.
David’s video work explores a tension between the organic and the digital, which reflects his own tension between his Caribbean identity and forging a career defined by technology. Even while a student in Paris, he missed the nature of the French West Indies, its “trees curved by the ocean wind and broken down walls lacerated by salt from the sea.” The concrete and the vertical trees of Europe simply didn’t inspire him. He uses Isadora to manipulate his drawings and photographs that typically depict natural objects, such as seashells, flowers, and his favorite – anthropomorphic trees, and builds interactive video installations for both audience and dancer.
The video artist’s most innovative application of Isadora however is his light work as part of his “Perception Offscreen” series. He digitally engraves Rorschach-like impressions created in Isadora onto large sheets of acrylic or glass, which are lit by white LED lights. The sculptures challenge the viewer to find the “nature within” and to illuminate “parts of their psychology that they don’t normally see”. In April and May of this year, David plans to push this digital sculpture work even further while in residency in Beijing. He will be molding his creations in Isadora into three-dimensional objects. He wants to generate digital art that people not only experience but also possess.
Video art is relatively new to the Caribbean, and on his island of Saint-Martin, colleagues have gone so far as to say video art is “repelling”. That said, David has been able come up with solutions in Isadora time and time again to make his community think otherwise, to counter their “no”. David attributes his success in part to the Isadora community, both on and offline. It’s “very welcoming, very open.” He’s on the TroikaTronix forum at least once a week, sharing and receiving knowledge. An infinite number of “hidden treasures” exist within Isadora, “really simple things the community can teach you.” David’s persistence has made an impact. Since 2009, Gumbs has taught multimedia and motion design at the Visual Arts School in Fort-de-France, Martinique. There, he teaches his students Isadora, giving them the benefit of direct guidance that he was originally denied. But this guidance comes with a caveat: He advises his students to “go outside on the streets, in the nature” to gather source material to put into Isadora. It’s “a powerful tool, but it’s just like a paint brush – and you need to find your paint.” Learn more
Making Video More Human
Profile: Jared Mezzocchi, Designer, Director & EducatorProfile: Jared Mezzocchi
Profession: Multimedia Director and Designer for Regional Theater // Professor at the University of Maryland
Location: Washington, D.C.
Isadora User: 7 years
Patching Style: Cobweb of lines, despite what he teaches
BFG. Text, Director, Media Design: Jared Mezzocchi. Photo (c) Michael Portrie.
The Nether. Projection Design: Jared Mezzocchi. Photo (c) Sibyl Wickersheimer.
The Lost World. Text, Director: Jared Mezzocchi. Projection Design: Ian McClain and Hannah Marsh. Photo (c) Stan Barough.
Making video more human is the cornerstone of Jared Mezzocchi’s work, both in product and in process, as video designer, educator, and theater director. Having studied both theater and filmmaking as an undergrad, Jared had always questioned how video and theater mix. He grew curious about how to tell a story as an actor and how to tell a story visually as a filmmaker. The answer to his question was character. Jared regards video as a character, an inspired entity, that “connects itself to the dramaturgy of the piece and propels the story forward in unexpected ways.” It “arrives on its own; it leaves on its own.” In other words, it wants something, the same thing that live theater in its most successful but rarest moments can achieve – a shared psychic experience.
Theater has been built and budgeted the same way for hundreds of years, so a relatively new piece of technology such as video could jeopardize its integrity. “It can either squelch the existing magic or enhance it.” While theater directors want to experiment with video, they still have a difficult time understanding it. However, Jared believes “Isadora makes video/media accessible to most theatres in the U.S.” He designs video for regional theater, including Woolly Mammoth in D.C., Milwaukee Rep, South Coast Rep, Cleveland Playhouse, and Manhattan Theater Company, while pushing the limits of video design for more experimental companies such as New York City’s 3-Legged Dog, Big Art Group, New Georges and HERE Arts Center. Regional theater requires that Jared generates content in the space and quickly – typically with only a few days of tech. In that short time, Jared finds himself not only designing but also teaching the room about his process, so that the director can come to trust the technology. Isadora helps bring people together, builds trust, and makes the process more human.
Jared describes Isadora as “flexible as an actor and as quick as a lighting designer.” If a director wants to change anything, Jared can make that change immediately. In fact, they can work together, experiment in the space, and move forward swiftly. This kind of collaboration builds relationships, which means working together on future shows and more importantly, homing in on their unique visions as director and video designer. Magic only happens when everyone in the room is on the same page – Isadora encourages this.
If the time constraints of regional theater can inspire creativity, then the flexibility and reliability of Isadora can ensure that this creativity thrives in the space. For the last eight years, Jared has also been directing at Andy’s Summer Playhouse, a summer youth theater in southern New Hampshire or as Jared describes, “a multimedia incubator for kids”. This summer, he has taken over as Producing Artistic Director of the Playhouse, where he works with 25 to 30 kids per production, between 8 and 18 years old, to stage 3-4 brand new multimedia pieces every summer. The kids perform and operate the show with Isadora, which they find easy to learn, in part, because it operates sequentially like the cues in theater. In 2012, they staged The BFG, the play based on Roald Dahl’s beloved novel by the same name. Jared wanted to project several images in glass jars onstage, but it wasn’t working - the images were indecipherable and clearly digital. But when one of the kids accidentally shifted their jar out of position, something better than originally intended happened: the image fell off of the frosted portion of the jar and the interior began to glow with the image passing through the glass and landing within. Because of Isadora’s flexibility, Jared was able to program “the mistake” instantly. If he had needed to leave the space, he wouldn’t have been able to duplicate it.
Jared credits his career to Isadora. The program has given him “the permission to have a voice in his field,” a voice that has earned him the Princess Grace Award in 2012 as well as the prestige of having been the first projection designer to be honored with this national theater award. In addition to his regional theater design, Jared leads the projection design track in the MFA Design program at University of Maryland. He strongly emphasizes his curriculum towards Isadora. “The way that Isadora forces you to think about video design in flexible and organic ways is a great curriculum.” Instead of hiding behind the computer, feeling like they’re simply tinkering with code, Isadora moves designers’ eyes “away from the monitor and onto the stage.” The design can live organically and move fluidly in the space, so everyone in the theater can enjoy a shared experience. Learn more
Troika Ranch & The Origins of Isadora
- 8 Channels of HD Video Playback on an SSD Equipped i7 Laptop
- Unlimited Video Layers
- Integrated Projection Mapping Tool
- 6 Independent Video Projector Outputs
- 4 Live Camera Feeds
- Fast, GPU Based Video Effects including FreeFrameGL
- Custom Effects via OpenGL Shader Language (GLSL)
- Syphon & Spout Integration
- Professional Video Codec Support including HAP
- Real Time Control of Everything
- Input and Output via OSC, MIDI, Serial, TCP/IP and More
- Low Latency Response to Real-Time Input
- Built-In Video Tracking Support
- Arduino I/O via Built-In Serial Input/Output
- Detailed tutorials for Xbox 360, TouchOSC and many others
Workflow / Usability
- Intuitive & Friendly User Interface
- Familiar Scene Based Structure
- Video Tutorials Bring You Up To Speed Quickly
- Gentle Learning Curve
- Node-Based Programming Offers Deep Customization
- Drag & Drop Media for Rapid Prototyping
- Responsive and Knowledgeable Tech Support
- An Active and Generous User Community