Projection design is concerned with the creation and integration of film, motion graphics and video technology, such as cameras, projectors, LED walls or monitors into the fields of theatre, opera, dance, fashion shows, concerts and other live events.
The imagery production process usually includes the following activities: Research, story boarding or sketching of ideas, acquiring of images or moving footage, editing, manipulating and compositing. The specifics of each activity are very diverse and differ from project to project. The same is true of the installation component of the design with the use of playback euipment, projectors, LED screens, monitors and cameras.
About the credit
I got used to calling the work "video design" because that credit had alreday been in use when I started in 2000. Alternatives ranged from 'Animations' to 'Visuals' and even 'VTR operator'. Some of the credits are a symptom of a lack of understandingof what the job entails. Theatres in the UK eventually embraced the 'video design' credit. In North-America "Projection Design" is more common, but neither title really fully describes what I really do.
Projection Design is an older title which used to be applied to individuals or companies that realize or design different forms of slide projections. This commonly required the strategic placement of projectors and the skillful pre-distortion of the slides to compensate for unusual projection angles, which were dictated by the architecture of the buildings the projections were going to be employed in.
With the advancements in computer, projector and display technology which went hand in hand with changes in the way we communicate and are exposed to displays and screens in our everyday life the term "projection designer" has lost some of it's descriptive power.
I approach a design as a combination of creation of artwork and the way that artwork is delivered or displayed. I believe that it is essential to the success of design to understand and specify the tools that will be used: For example, even for a single image to be visible, bright and crisp to the satisfaction of the audience, creative team and producers, it may be necessary to employ a multitude of computers, projectors and control equipment. I like to be the person that chooses these components because they directly effect the resulting projections.
As a projection designer I need to know how to choose the tools that help me realize my and the creative team's vision.
In my opinion the process of designing the system that delivers the imagery with the use modern display technologies is only a successor of the older slide projection process, which is one reason why I still call it "Projection Design".
It is common for sound or lighting designers to choose their tools or design their "system", but that is not always the case for video designers. The reason for that lies partly in the fact that a lot of "video designers" have not necessarily a theatre background, but come from other fields such as film making, post production or graphic design. In those fields only the content or the imagery is produced as part of the job. It's also a new field of work and standards are set only by the people who practice the profession.
To highlight the fact that there is another important creative component necessary to the successful realization of a video design I have in the past additionally used the credit "projection design". However with the United Scenic Artist's Union Local 829's embrace of "Projection Design" as its youngest membership category in 2007 I have started to drop the video design credit again. Also I have moved from UK to the USA and nobody uses 'video design' as credit here.
I think as my profession has matured one credit will suffice and I chose 'projection designer'.
A brief historical note:
I often read about how "video" or "digital projection" is the lastest fad in contemporary theatre. However the first example of projections being used in theatre I know of is from the 1920s: The German Director Erwin Piscator frequently used movie projectors to enhance his productions. Josef Svoboda's applications are also astounding, but in the 1950s.