In the creative hub of Arizona State University, where imagination meets learning, the university takes pride in fostering talents that go beyond traditional limits. One standout among its accomplished alumni is Daniel Brodie.
Graduating in 2006 with a degree in theater and media design from the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at ASU, Brodie's journey unfolds like a script on the stage he now graces as the projection designer for the highly anticipated pre-Broadway production of "The Wiz," which is on tour and set to make its way to the ASU Gammage stage Jan. 2–7, 2024.
Brodie’s journey into the world of theater began at the Arizona School for the Arts, where he immersed himself in performing arts. After a year at the University of Arizona, he transferred to ASU, where he mainly focused on directing at the Herberger Institute. It was during this time that he had an "aha" moment, realizing the potential of projection design as a fully realized discipline in the arts.
Brodie was introduced to projection design during his junior year at ASU. He credits an interview lecture taught by Jake Pinholster, the now executive dean for enterprise design in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, as the catalyst that sent him down a path toward projection design.
“I took all the classes I could with him in my senior year. Then I went on to assist him on a few shows in New York. It was there that I met some people who would become really formative and important directors and designers in my career through Jake. From there, I just kind of cobbled together a career,” Brodie said.
Brodie's career extends far beyond university stages. His diverse portfolio includes collaborations with renowned artists and blockbuster Broadway productions. Brodie’s Broadway credits include "Motown: The Musical," "Hairspray" and Disney's "Aladdin." He also designed the projections for ballet in Christopher Wheeldon’s "Cinderella," as well as large-scale video designs for Kanye West, Mariah Carey and the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.
Whether collaborating with musical icons, contributing to classical ballets or enhancing the Broadway experience with Disney magic, Brodie's career reflects a unique synthesis of art and technology. His ability to seamlessly integrate projections into various artistic realms speaks to his dedication to pushing the boundaries of visual storytelling.
Brodie describes being a projection designer as a multifaceted role: "In essence, it's a person who is creating the visual effects or some visual scene or digital scenery, or any of those components — as well as figuring out what machines are going to do it, what equipment is going to do it and the team that's needed to make the content.”
Projection design has been integral to theater since the invention of film, and Brodie sees it as a discipline as old as film itself. He highlights its role in storytelling, special effects and creating immersive environments on stage.
"It's a lot of working with the director, set designer, costume designer and the other designers on the team to flesh out these ideas," he said. "It's essentially world-building, and once we create these images, we ask back and forth, give notes and refine the process, similar to any other design."
For "The Wiz," Brodie uses a combination of a large LED wall and high-end projectors to create a visually stunning experience. In this show, he emphasizes the importance of respecting and representing Black culture, evident in such design elements as hairstyles on houses, which reflect the diversity and richness of Black hairstyles.
"Each house has a hairstyle on it that is referential to Black hairstyles and Black culture. ... As a white person visiting Black culture, it was important to give the research and the design the respect and care needed to develop those ideas,” Brodie said.
Brodie credits ASU's student production board program for preparing him for the real-world challenges of theater. The program allowed students to curate their own shows, teaching valuable skills in negotiation, collaboration and problem-solving.
Reflecting on the program, Brodie said, "I think that was a formative experience in understanding how theater works in the real world. ... You have to get along with people, you have to understand how to advocate for your ideas, how to discuss ideas that aren't working or how to move forward when different interests are in play."
Brodie hopes that the audience appreciates the seamless integration of projection design into "The Wiz" and acknowledges the hard work of the entire team. He hopes that the show resonates with people and serves as a testament to the dedication and talent behind the scenes.
"I hope that people like it and I hope that everyone can take something away from it. It means a lot to me that some work that I'm extremely proud of and that is near and dear to me is getting back home,” Brodie said.
Brodie encourages aspiring designers not to give up, emphasizing that success is achievable regardless of background or financial means. He shares his personal story of moving to New York with minimal resources, proving that passion, determination and hard work can open doors in the competitive world of theater.
Brodie's journey from an ASU graduate to a prominent projection designer exemplifies the university's commitment to fostering creativity, innovation and excellence in the arts.
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