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19 June 2019

Wondering how the brilliant projections in Armadillo came about and who’s behind them? Armadillo’s video designer Ash J Woodward gave us the lowdown on creating his “stunning” (Exeunt) video world.

Armadillo. Photograph by Oliver Bryant.    

In Armadillo, protagonist Sam obsessively watches the news about the abduction of a teenage girl in her small town. Within the show, the news and media both parallel and inform the live action on stage. The connection between Sam and the media was an essential tool to shift the video elements in Armadillo away from a naturalistic portrayal of news. Instead, video is implemented as its own defined character; at times an antagonist or an extension of the protagonist. It is also the catalyst that ignites Sam’s memories of past trauma and propels her behaviour.

Rough 3D render based on Designer Jasmine Swan’s set drawings for basic pre-visualization.

The most important aspect of designing this show was to allow the projection to be completely intertwined with the live performance. In moments when the video was driving the narrative forward, it was vital that there was a collaboration from all departments to engulf the space with sensory overload. Director Sara Joyce aimed for the audience to be conflicted between watching Sam’s live reaction in front of us and the inner workings of her mind on the back wall.

Filmed footage pre and post manipulation. Left shows RAW 4K, green screen camera footage. Right shows the first pass of manipulation before colour and distortion effects are applied.

The projections depict the 24-hour news media seen through Sam’s eyes. The images distort, focus, and continuously react to the information about a missing girl. Sam was abducted as a teenager, so the footage mirrors her childhood experience in a conscious and haunting way. Initially, the content projected onto the entire width and height of The Yard’s back wall is something recognizable to her and us. However, gradually, as we move deeper into the story, it becomes more chaotic, frantic, and fragmented. This fragmentation also aids in making the filmed footage and animation less flat, adding depth and making the content feel like it has a three-dimensional reprieve.

Top: The Double Secret, 1988 by René Magritte.
Bottom: A collection of digital distortion references.

Inspiration for the video aesthetic came from a mixture of analog and digital imagery, from the surrealist creations of René Magritte to visual synthesizers that distort video imagery live. It was clear both the natural world and the digital world should be reflected in the design. The digital world is acting as Sam’s oppressor and the natural world represents Sam’s fear. None of the design, however, would have been possible without the fantastic performances by nine incredibly talented actors. They were all individually recorded before rehearsals had started, with a four camera set up, to capture varying angles and perspectives and allow for considerable post-manipulation.

You’ve got til 28 June to see Ash’s brilliant designs in person. Tickets cheaper the sooner you book.