In the final moments of Webstock, a tremendous show was projected onto the end wall of the Wellington Town Hall. It not only encompassed (indeed, used) the massive Wellington Town Hall pipe organ, it was tailored to fit every alcove in the wall behind as well.

The Onyas' awards attendees were wowed. As was I. At the Onyas, someone said this was the work of someone from Pitch Black. It was awesome, and stunned everyone.

I had to know more – but I was lucky. There was more of a story than I even knew, because the people responsible turned out to be not far from me in Auckland, and better still, belong to a little Mac-based enterprise.

NZer Bruce Ferguson of darkroom.tv lives in London these days, but turned out to be in Auckland when I went looking. I met him close to the Newton office of the globe-spanning company.

Ferguson set the company up in 2004, after a couple of years of sole trading. Before that, he'd been working as part of the independent Kog Transmissions record and multimedia label.

After Kog disintegrated, Bruce got more involved with video, and did the Louis Vuitton 150th Anniversary Parties with Inside Up Productions, involving Mike Hodgson of Pitch Black.

"For this [Webstock] job we brought in Mike to produce the show, because I'm actually based in London and for it to happen we needed someone here on the ground. Mike and I have a good understanding."

Mac Planet: How do you do what you do?

Bruce Ferguson: "It's a pretty simple concept. We basically projected the Town Hall back onto itself. We took a photograph of the back wall from where the projectors sit, and then projected that photograph back onto itself. And once you can get that, then you can do anything you want, using that photo template.

It gets a bit trickier when you have multiple projectors, blends, curved surfaces and stuff. For that job it was Mike's idea to bring in the Addict Media Server, which is this piece of kit these guys the Pixel Addicts in London designed.

"Basically it has a 3D model of the building inside the server and you can assign video to different parts of the model at your whim, and you can also control the lights. You have a complete environment. It's like WYSIWYG – you can see the whole thing before you even get to the venue, and when you do get there, you can plug in the projectors and lights and off you go, and you can do all your tweaking at that stage.

"It was a combination of that and taking a photograph, as we wanted to do something slightly different to what the Addict Server is designed do. The Addict Server is very good at taking a room and mapping video so it's square no matter where you look, but we wanted to create a show that was a bit of a perspective illusion from down in the audience. To do that we made all our content from a low camera angle, to make it look like the whole end of the hall disappeared from part of the show."

(Indeed, at one point it looked like a huge tank filling up with water.)

Mac Planet: How long did it take to create the Webstock show?

Bruce Ferguson: "The animation crew of four took about ten days, but there was a lot of preproduction [before that]. The testing was down to the wire, as it is with these shows. You can't really do much of a test until you're there. We just had the night before the show. We go on our experience and what we know from other jobs about what it takes to make the illusions work. So the more jobs we do, the better we get at that.

"The preproduction involved storyboarding. The team is studio manager Mike Dean, head animator Shaun Madgwick, and production person Emma Wolf, who works with me in the UK. And she's also my wife. We're actually an animator down at the moment. We're looking for a new animator. Shaun and I did most of the work, and we had an intern come in and help out a bit, and also we had Chris MacMillan, who did some 3D work for us.

Mac Planet: Where do your staff gain their experience?

Bruce Ferguson: "They come out of motion graphic design courses. Media Design School in Auckland – both Shaun and Mike came out of that course, and Sky before then. But it's very oriented towards broadcast, so I like to take people straight out of the courses before they get corrupted by the broadcast industry."

Mac Planet: What about hardware and software?

Bruce Ferguson: "I started with PCs back at Kog, but that's because Pete and Chris who started Kog were pretty computer literate, which I wasn't. But I gravitated to Macs for video editing, with Final Cut Pro back in 2000.

"I don't think it would have been possible to go off and build my own company using PCs. The Macs had enough, and really good, online support. The Mac community made it possible for a person with only a few years computer experience set up a network and stuff like that.

Software

"We don't really use Final Cut much. We mainly use Adobe CS4 – After Effects, Illustrator and Photoshop, plus Cinema 4D for the 3D stuff, bringing it all in and editing it in After Effects. Then we render it and bring it into Final Cut, cut up the show and put a soundtrack on it."

London and New Zealand

"I moved over there with Emma to start a European office, because we weren't getting any work over there. We were getting NZ work, and Australia and Asia, and a little bit in the US. Of course, we got over there just as the recession kicked in. So last year was really slow, but we're building relationships the whole time. Now people know who we are. We did a really successful mapping projection in the [UK] last year, which you can see on YouTube. It's had over 600,000 hits so that's created a whole lot of interest, mostly in London but also in Auckland.

"The idea is to farm the work back to New Zealand to get made, until we get our process sorted out. We started using Google Apps to collaborate online, after trying a few other systems. Google Apps seem quite reliable, and not so glitchy."

Hardware

"We have six Mac Pros, a couple of which are G5s. Mike's just replaced his G5 tower with a 27-inch Intel iMac. That G5 we had for seven years – they're good, they just keep going.

"Files ... we try to use FTP as much as possible. We are with Orcon, and we had really good download-upload speeds, but our connection has really slowed down of late, so we're looking at that.

What next?

At Webstock, most of the crowd was wowed by what they saw.

"Yeah, but it's getting more common. There's a lot of people doing this kind of mapping stuff in Europe. We are looking at how move it on. I like the idea of using performers as well as backdrops, and to tell more of a story. A lot of the mapping you see is a bit of a disjointed narrative – it's more of a journey than a story, and there's a gimmick aspect as well."

The darkroom team played up to the gimmick aspect at Webstock because they figured that's what they would like, and it paid off.

For myself, I'm looking forward to seeing more, that's for sure.

(The full transcript of this interview is published at mac-nz.com)

- Mark Webster