Designing for a Virtual WGI Season: Part One

On Monday, September 28, 2020, WGI announced that their 2021 season would be conducted virtually in light of the restrictions on national events and travel for many teams as we continue to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. While we, like you, are sad to lose another season of in-person marching arts, the virtual season gives performers a chance to shine on a national level through WGI’s competitive and non-competitive group divisions, small ensemble division, and solo division. So, let’s talk about some of the ways you can design an effective and fun show for your team in this new virtual environment. We’ll be looking at all of the kinds of performances open to your team through WGI this season, but let’s start with the virtual group competition division.

2021 Virtual WGI Season

Check out the WGI website for more information on your options for a virtual season.

Virtual Group Competition

If you’re thinking of participating in the competitive (or even non-competitive) virtual group events, there are some things you need to start thinking about. The rules are DIFFERENT! Be sure you take a look at the comprehensive rules for the group competitive division. You can check them out here, but let’s talk about some that will impact your design choices.

New Classes

There are some new divisions to accommodate younger teams, and those who may not traditionally participate in WGI Regional and Championships events. One change in the number of personnel this year is that you have to have at least ten performers. Don’t worry though! If you have less, you can participate in the small ensemble events, but check back later for more on that in another blog! Let’s dig into the Group Competitive Division.

Rule Changes

So, what has changed that needs to be considered in your design plan, you might ask? The changes to the competition area are a big consideration. Virtual Season Rule 5.1 states that there are no space restrictions on the performance area to allow for maximum social distancing. This means that your performance space is no longer confined to a conventional gym. In the virtual competition, there’s no front boundary line or five-foot safety zone to be concerned with. You can be as creative as you’d like with that space, or you can use a traditional gym.

Additionally, Virtual Season Rule 5.2 states the performance space can be indoors or outdoors. So, if getting gym time will be a problem, you can use whatever space is regularly available to you for rehearsals and recording your performances. For our friends in warmer climates, that may mean your stadium, your courtyard, or some other outdoor space that you can rehearse and record your performances in. For those confined by the cold, think about indoor lobbies, cafeterias, your band room (looking at you, Texas), and other places with high ceilings.  Keep an open mind and do what will be best for your team.

The lack of traditional space restrictions can bring out your creative side, but it can also be a little overwhelming. The rules on video, however, will help reign you in and give you a little structure. Virtual Season Rule 7.1 says that all of your uploaded videos must be one take- you can’t splice or edit your footage, and Virtual Season Rule 7.2 says that the viewpoint should be from an elevated perspective. Zooming or moving the camera is not allowed in your Group Competitive Division virtual submission.

To Recap:

  • There are no space restrictions or boundaries for the Virtual Season.
  • You can record indoors or outdoors, and you do not need to use a traditional gym.
  • The video must be recorded from a fixed point that includes a view of the entire production.
  • You may not zoom in or edit your footage. Your performance must happen in one take.
  • There are a number of choices for the virtual season, including group competition, small ensembles, and solos.
  • Check back for a discussion on sound!

Designing with the New Rules in Mind

So, what does that mean for your design? Think of the video viewpoint as that of an upstairs judge. They will be viewing the full picture for the entirety of your show, so there will be no close-up view throughout your production. It’s more like the perspective of a marching band judge than we’re typically used to inside.

Before you start designing, think about the space you might you want to use, as it could be a huge factor in your design. While you’re not limited to space, you are limited to the viewfinder of your camera. If your space is too large, you will inevitably lose detail in the wide angle shot. Also remember that your gym or courtyard or wherever you perform will likely not look like the UD Arena, so get that picture out of your head now!

Test your recording space with the cameras you have available to you. While a wide angle lens might work, it might distort the performance area.

Paris High School from Paris, TX 2020

Floors Can Pack a Visual Punch on Camera

The most visually impactful thing you can put in a space is a floor. If you choose to use a floor for your virtual show, think about the space you will use. Maybe your floor needs to be smaller than normal. If your courtyard space has benches in the way and a 60’x90’ floor won’t fit, but a 40’x60’ one will, that’s something to consider. If you’re using your gym to record, think about its height. We’re so used to designing floors for an arena, that we might miss the mark based on the size of the space we are actually recording in this year.

While you can record off-center, you may want to consider a smaller floor, or a wider angle so that your forms aren't distorted to the viewer.

Cypress Creek HS from Orlando, FL (2020)

Before you start on artwork, go into the space and take some pictures and video from the vantage point you intend to use. Think about how your design will look if your vantage point isn’t as high as you’d like. If you’re using a space without bleachers to work from, consider a large stage ladder to get you above the action and still provide a view of the entire production. Be thoughtful about your color and pattern choices for floors. Subtle may not be the answer you’re looking for this year. Look through some pictures of your teams from previous years and think about which floors were most readable and effective, regardless of the size of the gym.

The angle you are videoing from will have a huge impact on this as well. For example, a photo-realistic dark floor may not look as you’d envisioned from the top of a gym with 8 rows of bleachers, so think about designs that will best fit your space constraints. If your previous floor design didn’t have its full visual impact until Dayton, it might not be your best design choice this year. Remember that your mini-floor is a good tool for this as well. Try to put it in the lighting you’ll be using and look at it from different angles. Keep in mind that you will never see it from directly overhead, so don’t view it that way. Take some pictures and video of it from different angles as well.

Your floor will look different in different lighting and from different angles. Be sure to take your space into consideration as you plan for your virtual season.

Timber Creek HS from Orlando, FL (2017)

Props Can be Impactful with the Right Planning.

Props and your total set design are also a consideration in your new space. We all know from the experience of walking into a small gym that there are some angles where set pieces will not look like you wanted them to. You can see over them, around them, or they block events you didn’t plan for them to block. The good news here is that you are controlling that environment from the beginning. Before you design props, think about their height and potential placement on the floor. Use folding tables or marching band props to get a feel for how they will be viewed on camera before you invest time and money on your build. If you’re using a stage or other set piece that you’d typically see the top of in the arena, try it in your recording space and see how it photographs. You may need to adjust its placement to accommodate your new space. Props can also make the atmosphere feel more intimate but be sure before you record that your shot is cropped appropriately.

Look at the Whole Picture

Think about how costumes, props, and flags will function within the design of your floor. This is a consideration we have every year, but this year, some designs could be either too overwhelming or too subtle in your recording space.

The further away your camera viewpoint is, the more detail you will lose in costumes, flags, and other small-scale items. Be sure to think about what you want your audience to see.

Reverie Open from Atlanta, GA (2020)

Pointers for Designing for a Successful Virtual Season

Designing for a virtual WGI Season

Download a copy: Designing for a Virtual WGI Season

Circuit Considerations

Many circuits are going ahead with in-person events based on the conditions in their region. If you’ll be doing both, think about ways you can record successfully for your virtual WGI events, and still have a viable gym-based production. And remember, just because it will go in a gym one weekend, doesn’t mean you have to record your WGI entry in a gym if you’d rather not. A floor can help build those boundaries for you either way. Be sure to check with your local circuit for any rule changes this year as well.

We’re Here to Help!

Our account executives, art team, and customer service representatives are here to help you make the best of the 2021 season, whether you’re competing virtually, in-person, or both! Check out our new website for inspiration, and don’t be afraid to have a conversation with us about your goals and ideas for 2021. We produce everything you need for your show- floors, uniforms, props, flyovers, flags, face masks, bell covers, and more- under one roof at our facility in Conroe, Texas. Get everything you need designed at once, with one bill- your bookkeeper will love you, and your designs will be flawlessly matched. Reach out today!

Don’t forget about our Fall Sale, happening now through November 30, 2020! Save 15% on all custom-printed floors, uniforms, face masks, bell covers, props, flyovers, flags, and so much more!

DPG is a proud sponsor of Winter Guard International! Thank you to Bart Woodley, Randy Nelson, Michael Raiford, and Noah Bellamy for providing feedback & comments on this post. If you would like to share your team’s plans for a virtual season, we’d love to talk with you! Email us at marketing@digitalperformancegear.com