It is crucial for me to understand and establish the expectation and purpose of the projection design to the overall production. The next step is usually to find a visual language for the production. This will lead to a concept and samples of what the imagery in the show should resemble. This concept includes a plan demonstrating when, how and why the imagery moves. The demands on the imagery and its purpose will also inform my choices for the projection system design. This details what pieces of equipment I like to use where, how and why. This part of the design is usually well understood because it is a bit like submitting a lighting plot and equipment list. Together, the system design combined with the imagery design result in the projection design. What often leads to misunderstanding and head scratching is the production of imagery.
The production of imagery is not what I deliver as my design in the same way that the set designer does not build his or her set (even though they have undoubtedly designed it). Apart from mock-ups which show how the imagery will look when it is integrated into the set design, I also produce a list or spreadsheet of every item of imagery that has been either discussed or requested and what I think could potentially be needed. For complex sequences that involve projections, I create storyboards and sometimes animated mock-ups.
Once the design concept and visual language has been agreed to by the director and set designer (in most cases these are the two people who must endorse the projection design), an important step of the design process is complete. The process of designing the system delivering the imagery in the desired way will simultaneously be completed. Now the creation and production of the actual imagery to be used in the show can begin. This is analogous to the set designer handing over the technical drawings, the model box, a storyboard and the paint elevations. Somebody has to build the set and it is not the set designer.
I personally find it impractical not to be heavily involved in the image production process. The reasons are various and should be discussed elsewhere. What is important to understand is that the production of imagery is a separate process, much like building the set or sewing together costumes. It therefore requires its own budget and people to deal with the specific skills needed to realize the particular imagery.
Anyone who has paid close attention to movie credits will have observed the number of jobs and skills required to produce a motion picture. I use this example to highlight the vast number of jobs and possibilities that exist to realize the imagery for a given projection design.
The approach eventually chosen to produce the imagery may very well depend on the budget allocated to imagery production because making imagery requires people, hardware and software as well as a space where everyone involved can work together. The hardware utilized usually includes photography and filming equipment, lighting instruments and computer workstations. The software I use always includes the Adobe Creative Suite, specifically After Effects, Photoshop and Illustrator. I also employ many other pieces of software depending on the specific needs of the project such as 3d animation packages, 3d landscape software, stop-motion animation software and plug-ins for After Effects and Photoshop that are able to create specific stylistic treatments. The tasks a production company performs to produce a multitude of short animations, still images and moving sequences might be the best point of comparison because this is essentially what needs to happen at this stage.