Making The Mountain Craft Video Selector

On May 31st and June 1st Mountain Craft Productions was in Lewisburg, WV for the New Story Conference where we were pleased to be a main sponsor as well as participants in a panel discussion about storytelling through filmmaking. Thanks to The Hub for putting on the event! It's important for West Virginians to come together to work on improving our state and the stories we choose to tell about it, and events like New Story are a vital step to making that happen. 

In addition to all of the other exciting opportunities that the conference afforded, it also gave us a chance to design and set up a display table in an exhibition hall for the first time. As we were designing it there was one thing that was abundantly clear: video needed to be the centerpiece. The problem... we had so many videos. Which ones should we feature? The solution came with a little bit of ingenuity and creative problem solving. Our table, we decided, was to feature two displays. On one display, we'd connect a Raspberry Pi that would loop our showreel endlessly so that anyone quickly passing by the table would be able to take in a scene or two from our productions. For anyone who lingered, however, we created The Mountain Craft Video Selector. 

The concept was simple. Create a "menu" of buttons on an iPad that a user can touch to trigger videos on another display. In our case, we used a 27" iMac. While our reel was looping on the other side of the table, anyone who wanted to watch any of our videos in its entirety was now able to do so with our interactive display. In the end we chose sixteen of our videos to feature on the Video Selector. 

It took days of research to find a workable solution to making this setup work. In the end the solution came down to two unique pieces of software: VDMX and Lemur. Lemur is an iOS application that allows you to create customizable interfaces for controlling software synthesizers and other aspects of live music production. VDMX, on the other hand, is a robust piece of VJ software that is able to do just about anything that you can dream up. It's used primarily by VJs who create, distort, and mix live visuals for concerts and art installations. Neither of these two pieces of software might seem like a natural fit for our Video Selector idea, but they worked beautifully. VDMX is made for playing and manipulating videos, so setting it up to play videos triggered from an external source was a piece of cake. It even allowed for volume and transport control via external sources. Lemur, on the other hand, allows you to assign buttons and controls to MIDI notes and send them wirelessly through a wifi network. Together, VDMX and Lemur made our idea possible.

Here's a basic overview of the setup.

In the Lemur app, we created a control panel that looked like this:

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All of the buttons triggered MIDI notes on channel 0. Inside the Lemur preferences, we set the control surface to send the MIDI signals from channel 0 to the daemon output 0, which was sent via wifi to the iMac. 

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On the iMac, the Lemur Daemon app was installed and running. It just needed to be configured and checked to make sure it was listening for the incoming MIDI signals. 

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With the Daemon correctly listening for MIDI notes being wirelessly sent from the Lemur iPad app, it was time to launch VDMX and make sure that the software was listening for MIDI signals on the right inputs:

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Then, all we had to do was use a basic video player template within VDMX and configure it to our needs. We loaded our sixteen videos onto a thumb drive, connected that drive to the iMac, and dragged the folder containing the video into the VDMX Media Bin. Then, one by one, we selected each video and clicked "detect" in the Boolean Data Receiver to make the software listen for incoming signals. After pressing the button on the iPad that corresponded with the selected video, the MIDI note for that button was linked in VDMX. Clicking "Val from input" was the last step before moving on to the next button. This process was repeated until all sixteen videos were programmed to the buttons on the iPad. VDMX was then programmed to repeat each video continuously until a new button was pressed. Lastly, the play/pause button and volume slider on our Video Selector were linked to the corresponding controls in VDMX. 

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The final steps to make the setup foolproof was to fullscreen the VDMX output back to the main display of the iMac (therefore hiding the VDMX interface) and hiding the mouse and keyboard so that the iPad was the only control interface left for passing people to interact with. Additionally, we used the "guided access mode" on the iPad to lock out all of the unnecessary iPad controls so that nobody could use the home button to close the app or turn the iPad off. We also restricted touch controls on any part of the screen not meant to be manipulated by viewers. 

And... it worked like a charm. Totally worth the effort! Some might say that our use of VDMX was overkill (the software is capable of doing so much more than what we were using it for) but it worked with zero issues and zero lag, which looked professional and matched the quality we expect of ourselves. All in all, we were proud to think a bit outside the box and to display content in a way that was more than what was expected of us. Thanks to everyone who came out, and maybe we'll see you again at another conference or event sometime this year!

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