What led you to become a projection designer and why did you decide to work in theatre?

I started my career in broadcast design and animation for film title sequences and music videos so I had a solid training in content making then when I started to work in multi-screen environments, I realised I was really interested in spatial applications for video that interact with the environment in which they are viewed so I started to seek out opportunities to take visuals beyond the screen. I also love music and dance so the world of live video for shows really appealed to me.

Among other applications, I discovered a small group of people who were augmenting theatrical realities with video and got to know them and the world of theatre for the first time. Within two years I was working solely in the live sphere and had left broadcast and film behind. I’m actually celebrating 10 years since that move this year!

As a projection designer, could you briefly sum up what is involved in your job?

Broadly, I am responsible for the design, delivery and technical realisation of the integrated video aspect any show that I work on. When I say I am responsible, I want to emphasise that it’s always a team effort and I work with a fantastic group of technicians, animators, production managers and operators and assistants to see these projects through. I initiate the concept on both a technical and creative level and work closely with the other members of the creative team to make sure we present a united vision and narrative then I start the technical drawings and spec as well as creating a large proportion of all the content on most shows.

I attend rehearsals as much as I can and of course the technical rehearsals is where all the magic comes together. Sometimes I program the show like I did on Cookies, but more often than not I work alongside a programmer in tech. I think you need people working at the best of their ability when time is of the essence during a tech so it’s wise to spread the team wide at that crucial time.

What did the projections add to Cookies and why do you think they were particularly relevant to the play?

Frankie’s scenic design for cookies is really clever: it is at once grounded in a reality that we all know with tarmac and a telegraph pole but it also floats above this in a conceptual space that I could add to and take us into the digital world.

My work embellished the design and supports the script in a number of ways. Firstly, we use the language of the online world to give each character a different setting, whether it’s using imagery inspired by YouTube, gaming or social media networks like Facebook and Twitter. Each style is conceived to give us an abstracted spatial representation of their reality in which the character can inhabit. What’s more, when the characters paths start to cross, we can use distilled elements from each style to combine and intersect as the narratives do.

Secondly, I use visuals in a textural way to punctuate and give a visceral sense of the intense emotions that are being described on stage. For example, there is a harsh and percussive visual accompaniment to the verbatim chorus sections that take us right inside the screen, immersing the cast in the digital. I also use visual devices that represent the exponential spread of messages seeded online or the oppressive nature of the bullying messages online. This all works in close combination with kitting sound and choreography.

What was your favourite thing about designing the projections for Cookies?

The team! It's a great creative team dynamic and the cast are fantastic. The crew and production team were also incredibly helpful as we navigated playing our show on top of a longer running show in the theatre. Also, the script is really excellent and has inspired every one of us with really ambitious responses within the framework or presenting the show here. I tend to think that a good show always starts with a good narrative, told well.

What 3 character traits do you think are the most important to be a successful projection designer?

Collaboration is key in every aspect of what I do so the ability to dialogue productively and creatively with new teams of collaborators under time pressure is important.

Organisation. You have to be able to work fast and with confidence so preparation and organisation are crucial. You need to know where you are at with the technical and creative elements of the show in good time to hit the tech running.

You also need energy and tenacity to keep driving through the process and achieve the best result.

Do you have any advice for someone who is considering a career in projection design?

Go and train in content-making first. I was lucky and spent 6 years working as a professional content maker before I ever worked in a theatre. There are of course other approaches to using video and digital tools in design for live shows but invariably you will rely on good, fast content-making skills. Then play. Experiment - see what the tools do and go and shadow a designer on the job, making sure you ask lots of questions. There’s no such thing as a silly question when you are genuinely trying to learn.

If you were a biscuit, what biscuit would you be and why?

Eaten. And probably a Jaffa Cake - they contain a variety of means to please the palette and are great tech table food.

You can find out more about Nina’s work by following her on Twitter with @nina_pixelpixie or check out her website.

Want to see Nina’s work in action?
Watch Cookies here!

Image by Rah Petherbridge