Alice in Chains recently wrapped the second leg of their 2016 North American tour, with Production Designer Marty Postma at the visual helm. To help achieve his uncluttered vision for the tour, Postma specified 14 High End Systems SHAPESHIFTER C1’s along with a full Hog4 console. Marty explains, “Last year we toured with a similar design, based around a ‘clean stage’ look that was achieved in part with two sets of neutral gray shaded legs and borders, and a semi-translucent textured backdrop. For this tour, we wanted to expand on that without losing our overall clean look.  Economy of design is critical to maintaining this, since having too much gear all over the stage and around it quickly ruins the look. The trick here is to create enough dynamic and unique looks with a small rig, and SHAPESHIFTER is the perfect choice to meet all of these requirements. They are effectively seven units as a single fixture.  We can easily create looks with ten fixtures that look as if there are 70 or more fixtures in the rig.”

Marty continues, ”The SHAPESHIFTERs are a big part of the overall design. Instead of simply washing the drapes and backdrops with 2D looking colors and patterns via more conventional fixture types, we are able to create a huge range of extremely dynamic looks on the scenic elements. At the same time we are able to achieve aerial effects and highlights on the band members themselves.  No other unit I have come across is able to fill all the roles the SHAPESHIFTER does for this design. Initially I was concerned at not having any gobos or patterns to project onto the drapes, but I did not miss them at all in the end with all the many options using SHAPESHIFTERs.  Even though the rig is numerically small, the brightness of these fixtures cannot be overstated. They hold up extremely well in daylight.  Even in some of the large festival rigs we encountered, our 14 SHAPESHIFTERs easily kept up with (and in some cases out-gunned) dozens of more typical 1200-1500 watt type spots and washes.”

Eight C1’s are positioned atop vertical truss towers that frame out the stage and scenic drapes. Two of the units are on the floor at the base of the upstage drapes, and four units sit on top of empty cases behind the backdrop. He says, “Having units in front of and behind the semi-translucent textured backdrop aids in our ability to create a large range of very dynamic looks without it looking 2D or flat. We can create the illusion of depth and change the perception of the stage space very easily this way.”

Marty points out that “Alice In Chains is a band of such astounding talent alone that they don't need any special tricks or gags to compensate for weaknesses in the performance. This leaves me completely free to highlight and enhance all the little individual layers and details within the music. Having all the individual cells within SHAPESHIFTER is a very natural and easy way to apply visual enhancements to these, and they are simply a lot of fun to work with and program!  We do make use of the excellent pixel-mapping features on the Hog4, but also make quite a bit of the looks more traditionally with effects, chases, and cue crossfades.  The Hog4 pixel-mapping features are unmatched in my experience.  Being able to smoothly cross from a pixel-mapped look to a solid color or drive intensity separately played a large role in making the design a success. The indigo highlighter is probably one of the most underrated features of the SHAPESHIFTER.  Not only do they play into the ability to create depth and change spacial perceptions, but even more simply they make a great way to give a dark glow to the stage between songs, without having to give other elements away.

Having worked on many versions of the desk, Postma’s preferred console is now the flagship Hog4. “Having the full hardware set, including rate wheel and buttons above and below the screens are an integral part of my workflow.  Additionally, I find the third smaller screen in the middle very useful. I have two main layouts for this tour. The primary one is a very typical ‘Page-per-song’ layout with base looks combined with bumps and overrides on each Page.  A second ‘busking’ layout is used when the band decides to throw something new in or make the occasional audible change to the set list mid-show.”

In closing, Marty also gives kudos to his crew and vendors. “See Factor have been our lighting equipment supplier for the past two years, and have done an outstanding job on the prep as well as with support along the way. Sew What? supplied our rental drapes and custom backdrop. They have a great team and continue to be a strong partner in our productions.”