House Of Worship

HOW: Technology: An Amazing Transition

NOW Church goes outside the box, within budget.

You’re in a non-denominational, contemporary church on a Sunday morning. For the past 23 years, the house of worship has been known as Spirit Life Church. Today, after weeks of buzz and a well-planned marketing campaign, the church will reveal, in a documentary projected across an entire wall of the sanctuary, its new name. You sit among local politicians and community leaders, as well as congregation members new and old.

In the loudspeaker behind you, helicopter blades make a telltale chopping sound and it soon sounds as if the helicopter is circling the room while a matching visual shows a chopper preparing to drop candy for children in a recording of one of the church’s biggest events each year: the Easter Helicopter Candy Drop. Tension builds as helicopter blades rotate: on screen, in patterns made by the intelligent lighting and audibly in 7.1 surround sound. The graphics on the screen change. Spirit Life Church has become NOW Church (www.nowchurch.com). But, as senior pastor and founder, Richard Perinchief, explains in the documentary, “This name change is not an announcement of more change. It’s simply a capsulizing of what God has done in us.”

In fact, the changes in the church have already taken place over the past 18 months. The documentary film showcases many of those changes. “All three of those elements (the sound of the helicopter seeming to circle the room, the lights that look like helicopter blades spinning and the video on the screen) used all the technology the church had just spent money implementing,” said Ricky Perinchief, who is the senior pastor’s son. As business manager of NOW Church in Ocala Fl and Vice President/General Manager of Ocala-based audiovisual integration and media consulting firm Proton Global Media Group, Inc. (www.proton global.com), Ricky Perinchief was at the center of the changes, and took time out of his busy schedule (both his position with the church and with Proton are full-time jobs) to speak with Sound & Communications about NOW Church’s transformation.

You might think having an audio/video integrator hold a key position in the church might be an advantage when it comes time to upgrade the church’s technology. That’s true to a degree but, as with most churches today, NOW Church still had a tight budget to work within and big visions to fulfill, many of them belonging to the younger Perinchief. “My overall goal is to have our church equal in all four faces of technology: sound, lighting, multimedia and video. If one suffers, they all suffer,” Perinchief said.

NOW Church’s advantages lie in a talented volunteer technical staff willing to learn, and an integrator with a keen business sense who is willing to experiment and innovate to spend less and accomplish more. It doesn’t hurt when the client’s dollars you’re saving are your own but, in talking with Perinchief, there’s the sense that Proton Global would do the same for any of its clients. In fact, NOW serves as a guinea pig for many of the integrator’s innovations. He said, “I like to try things out in my own church first before I’ll introduce it to clients.”

That’s why you’ll see such unique applications as a JBL 7.1 surround sound system in the sanctuary, an Avid Pro Tools system as a front-of-house mixer and a contraption that combines parts from a remote-control car with a Blackmagic camera mounted on it, an RF wireless transmitter and a track. A total of 12 cameras—a combination of Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Cameras and GoPro Hero 3 Blacks—feed into a Blackmagic 1/Me 4K ATEM switcher, displaying, through BenQ projectors, any number of camera angles onto the wall behind the stage.

To fully understand this amazing transformation of technology, we should first start with the construction and demolition that made the AV upgrades possible.

Since 1996, NOW Church (then Spirit Life Church) has held services in a prefabricated steel building originally designed for a walk-in medical facility. Despite its low ceilings, the space was purchased by the church to save money during its first building project. With drop ceilings installed, the original 15-foot-high ceilings fell to 10 feet at their highest point and eight feet at the edges, while large ductwork in the center of the room resembled the overhead storage bin of an airplane, according to Perinchief.

After years of worship in this confining space, the church finally found a contractor that could remove the drop ceiling and reposition the HVAC systems. To save money, church volunteers did the demolition work. With the drop ceiling removed, the 15-foot ceilings were then sprayed with black acoustical foam, giving the theatrical appearance the contemporary worship church wanted. “It transformed the auditorium,” Perinchief said.
Then came the addition of 7.1 surround sound. The church had previously closed a second location, and retained its JBL AM4212/95 speakers. While attending NAB in Las Vegas in 2012, Perinchief heard the effect of 7.1 surround in a theatrical environment with rock and hip-hop music playing. By the time he returned home to Florida, he had gotten the idea to use the pre-existing speakers, currently sitting unused in storage, to update the church’s mono sound system to 7.1 surround sound.

A Fulcrum Acoustics CX1295 was used for the center speaker, with JBL AM4212/95s in the front left and front right position. Two more AM4212195s midway back on the left and right walls offer left and right side surround. And the last two AM4212/95s provide rear surround left and rear surround right. Four 18-inch OAP LF-118 subs under the stage provide the low-end. A pre-existing Ashly 2424M matrix processor and Crown amplifiers are used, as well.

Perinchief noted that the biggest challenge to running 7.1 surround is getting the mix right, because mixing live surround sound is much more difficult than simply running a movie in surround. “We used divergence to make sure the sound waves from the right side are heard clearly on the left side. If you’re driving the speakers hard, you have to make sure people on the opposite side of the auditorium not only hear it, but think it’s coming from the other side of the room.”

He explained that lead vocal and drums are mixed through the center speakers, with guitars and keyboards panned at different spots throughout the room. Background vocals are spread out toward left and right, with the effects of those vocals to the side and rear surround. “It was an amazing transition, to go from our mono system to 7.1 Surround Sound,” Perinchief said. “Churchgoers experience worship like never before. Sound literally encircles them!”

A few years ago, the church upgraded its analog mixer to Avid Pro Tools 10 as a front-of-house console, giving them 48 channels in and 28 channels out. This is an unusual use for software typically used for post-production, but the team makes it work. “It’s a little unconventional,” Perinchief agreed. “But we realized we’d rather have the power of Pro Tools and not have to invest additional money in a conventional digital front-of-house console right now. We’re getting full use out of Pro Tools at front-of-house, and we still use it during the week for production, too.”

Unlike a conventional digital mixer, he stated, Pro Tools doesn’t offer the capability to load scenes for each song. “We have to load all the effects for the whole service onto Pro Tools, and then turn on each specific fader during each song.” The sound engineer can’t make changes on the fly during the service, which means more preparation goes into every service.

There is a “Sunday” template, which will get the program back to its starting point in one step. “The volunteers can always reload that if they need to,” Perinchief said.

During the audio system upgrades, Proton Global provided the band and vocalists with Aviom in-ear monitors. Putting drums and percussion in an enclosed room with Plexiglas windows and eliminating live guitar amps on the stage reduced stage noise for a cleaner mix. “Having Pro Tools for FOH also makes for a killer live broadcast mix, as well,” Perinchief stated with enthusiasm.

His enthusiasm doesn’t wane when describing the church’s new video system, which uses three BenQ MW712 projectors displaying high definition images on the painted silver wall behind the stage. “We can create one seamless image using ProPresenter software on our Mac. It allows us to have a motion background. Because we shoot church news and other packages on Blackmagic Cinema Cameras and output all graphics and content in our custom native screen resolution of 2839×800, we get the full-frame feel of the images, and we don’t have to stretch the images or put graphics on the side.”

Proton Global employed a Blackmagic Production Studio 4K 1/ME switcher running on a Mac mini to switch between camera sources. “We have 12 cameras, and the switcher gives us 10 inputs, so we added three 2×1 SDI switchers, giving camera inputs 7 through 9 A and B cameras,” Perinchief explained.

Specifying 12 cameras for a small (500-seat) church on a budget proved to be a challenge Proton Global was prepared to meet. The integrator turned to a well-known consumer brand, GoPro, to get the functionality required at a fraction of the price, saving even more money by buying the cameras used. A collection of GoPro Hero 3 Blacks and Black +s reside at the rear of the stage, at the pulpit and as point-of-view cameras on the drummer, the bass player, the guitarist and the choir.

In addition to the GoPros, Proton Global specified one Blackmagic Cinema Camera and four Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Cameras. Perinchief cited the 24P capture of both the Blackmagic cameras and the GoPros as a key selling point. “When we begin live streaming this month, the 24P gives us the cool look we want. Because worship is one of our strengths, whether we’re streaming or projecting in the auditorium, it looks more like a concert or music video, which our congregation loves,” he said.

The Cinema Camera is placed at rear center, “with a long zoom lens for that all-important tight shot of the pastor,” Perinchief said. Camera two resides in the middle of the left side. Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Cameras are employed on a wireless handheld camera stabilizer and on a 12-foot Jimmy Jib.

Finally, the fifth camera is mounted to a remote-control car chassis, and moves on a track from the back of the sanctuary to the front. All but the camera in this set-up is custom-designed by Proton Global, along with a church member who used to be a professional RC car racer.

Originally, Proton Global ordered a track camera and dolly system through a Kickstarter campaign. After it was installed, Perinchief realized that it used a slow-moving motor, better for time-lapse applications. “You can’t cut to a camera going really slow, especially when your music is upbeat and contemporary,” he said. In addition, the wires running from the camera to controller would get in the way of congregation members in the seats. “We tried everything, including retractable dog leashes, and couldn’t find a way to hide the wire,” he says.

But the rig gave Perinchief the idea that it could be done, and he and his technical director, Ryan Wiebe, began thinking about solutions. It occurred to him that remote-control cars can run for great distances through wireless RF transmission. Why not mount a camera on an RC car on a track?

“After a few weeks, we had live wireless video transmitted from the car to the broadcast booth about 100 feet away,” Perinchief said. “A volunteer in the back of the room on comms was controlling the rig.” The track starts at the back of the auditorium and travels to the front to provide a variety of camera angles of the congregation, worship team and pastor. The next logical step would be computer, tablet or smartphone control so the camera and mount could detect the end of the track, slow down and reverse just in time.

Is NOW Church truly the first in the world employing Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Cameras and Go Pro Hero 3 Blacks in a live multi-switch environment? It may be. But one thing is certain. As Perinchief stated, “The design is totally outside the box, utilizing some innovative technology in a way that no one has ever seen before.”

The technology, broadcast and videography are designed to appeal to the church’s Generation X and Generation Y demographic, positioning NOW Church for greater growth. “We strive for excellence across the board and this new setup is creating quite the buzz,” Perinchief concluded.

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