For gourmets worldwide, Emilia Romagna is an Italian region synonymous with Bologna, Parma ham, and Lambrusco wine, but for Italian rock fans, it's the home of two of the country's top rock stars, Vasco Rossi and Luciano Ligabue. Both artists are packing stadia on their 2008 tours, featuring original ideas on projection and lighting design.

Ligabue's Luster

Warner Music Italy recording artist Luciano Ligabue's 600-plus concerts over the years have included some unique events, such as when he played across Milan's San Siro soccer pitch, as his set was too wide to play down it, or at Verona Arena, with line arrays flown in over the wall from two truck cranes outside, and an airport show, where he performed on four stages positioned around the audience.

Up to the same high standards, Ligabue's 2008 tour, taking in stadia from northern Italy to Sicily, is directed by the artist and Paolo Gualdi of specialist projection company Le Grandi Immagini (LGI), and produced by Claudio Maioli. The set is the result of the combined creative talent of Gualdi (scenography and video design), Franco Comanducci (structural design), and Roberto Costantino (3D design).

The 25 videos screened during the show were produced at LGI's in-house studios by Gualdi, Costantino, and Francesco Giannini, and include 3D animations, original footage for the songs, and a combination of both. The main Komaden LED screens comprise 80sq-m. of 25mm pitch Image-Mesh, forming a single screen, and 180sq-m.of 100mm pitch Kapas, divided into seven panels, with an overall area of 12.60m × 14.40m.

The Komaden screens are mounted on a 26m high vertical Layher structure and can be raised and lowered separately, thanks to LGI's Accordion 2 Moving LED system. I-Mag coverage is screened by two Barco DLite 7 high-resolution LED displays measuring 3.60m × 4.05m, supplied by Milan's STS, who shoots the show with four digital cameras — two shoulder-mounted units in front of the stage and two in front of the catwalk — plus three micro-cameras (at the drums, keyboards, and behind the band). STS sends an SDI feed to a customized Catalyst system, enabling live shots to be shown on the Image-Mesh and, in four songs, mixed with the recorded material and played out on the Kapas. For some songs, the Image-Mesh definition is lowered to 100mm to be used as one huge screen with the Kapas. Instead of using a lighting console, Gualdi controls the Catalyst v4.2.02 (running in mirror mode to enable switchover between main and backup units in a tenth of a second in the event of a glitch) using a Mackie Control Universal Pro with a Control Extender. “This also enables us to handle 16 layers or presets simultaneously, manually or automatically,” he says. “I prefer the simplicity of a MIDI system, which is easy and intuitive to program. The setup is configured in an unusual manner, with cards with four 1024×800 video outputs, enabling complete control of all the LED screens with just one Catalyst.” For 15 songs, the videos run in sync, with a “click” provided by the keyboard player who triggers the musical sequences. For the ten songs without sequences, Gualdi manually controls the videos.

Lighting designer Billy Bigliardi has some new toys on the tour: 36 Zap Technology MiniBig compact 3kW Xenon searchlights (the one that won a 2007 LDI Best Debuting Lighting Product Award).

“I saw them on a Genesis show, and lighting contractor Agorà suggested them for Liga's tour,” Bigliardi says. “The product has incredible light power and a fantastic beam and movement. They exploit 100% of the lamp power — the first time I've seen that with a 3kW fixture. Considering they weigh over 100 kilos each, they're also wonderfully fast. I'd have liked to use more up on the grid, but we only put six of the 36 on the show up there; the rest are on the floor. I can't wait to use them on an indoor show with no wind load problems.” Dark colors can cause risks with burnt gel, but Bigliardi got around the problem by using a lot of white and primary colors, apart from a couple of pieces in which he uses Congo Blue.

Very much a hands-on LD, Bigliardi personally programs and operates the two Avolites consoles: a Diamond 3 and 4, also used to control the rig's 46 Coemar iSpot eXtremes and 52 Martin Professional MAC 2000 Washes, of which he says, “I've used both on countless shows, and they're ultra-reliable. I have a large number because, since the MiniBigs aren't waterproof, if it rains, I'll have to switch them off, so the show will rely entirely on the MACs and iSpots.”

Bigliardi worked for six months with Gualdi and his team on the preproduction to find the ideal balance between lighting and video. “It's a real pleasure to work with Paolo; a glance is sufficient for one to know what the other wants,” says Bigliardi. “In four or five songs, the artist gave me carte blanche to turn the venues into a big party with 45 four-lamp blinders and 37 Martin 3000 Atomic strobes with color changers, making the crowd part of the show. During these songs, I improvise a lot with the manual controls, as I don't think a rock ‘n’ roll show worth its name should be just a series of stored scenes called up by the press of a button or triggered via timecode.”

Rossi's Radiance

Although Italian EMI recording artist Vasco Rossi is over 50 years old, he's still Italian rock's “enfant terrible,” and his huge popularity with fans is once again being confirmed by the packed crowds attending his latest stadium tour, Vasco.08, a show with the customary high visual and sonic impact, following up on his new chart-topping album.

Rossi's lighting designer, Giovanni Pinna, is also wearing his video designer hat on this tour and came up with a totally new format. “We decided to use Barco's MiStrip LEDs again this year after the successful experience on the last tour, on which we had no less than 10 screens with various resolutions,” he says. “We use live coverage on those with the highest resolution — from 11 to 13 bars per module — and the results, particularly at a distance of over 40 meters, are more than satisfactory. Having a MiStrip screen with a higher definition than normal and convincing the artist's management to use it instead of a conventional screen was an exciting challenge.”

The setup had to have big impact, especially considering sheer scale, and having the bars a certain distance apart meant Pinna could think big. “For each side of the stage, we designed three 16:9 screens, 8 meters wide by 4.5 meters high, one above each other, forming a single screen — a huge vertical 16:9. The middle screen has twice the resolution of the other two, which comprises 12 bars per module — 1.5 by 1.5 — whereas the middle one has 24 bars per module.” The screens can thus be used in various ways: live coverage on the middle screen in high-definition with Catalyst graphics on the top and bottom ones; full-screen live coverage with 12-bar resolution; or full-screen graphics with same resolution.

The center screen has to be cabled, as if two screens, each with 12 bars per module, in order to be combined (doubling the resolution), or used full-screen with the lower resolution. Since the screens, built by Limelite, are curved, the bars are positioned vertically, instead of in a traditional horizontal position.

The tour uses an MA Lighting grandMA console, with a spare for backup, as well as three Catalyst systems. “Each of the side screens and the center ring above the stage is fed by its own Catalyst,” says Pinna. “The whole system is filtered by an FOH Folsom switcher, enabling us to switch between configurations in realtime.” The Folsom is operated by a technician from Euphon, the rental firm responsible for screen cabling and calibration, and who works alongside Limelite's video team, responsible for screen mounting.

Almost all of the footage shown on the center section of the screen is live coverage of the show. Since no I-Mag screens were specified, the MiStrips also had to enable the crowd at every level of the stadium shows to see the artist, so after testing image quality at the lower resolution, Pinna decided to sacrifice some of the graphics and now uses the entire screen for live coverage.

Video content and control are entrusted to Jo Campana, assisted by programmer Marco De Nardi and two additional graphics experts/content creators who were put at Pinna's disposal by set designer GioForma and lighting/video contractor Limelite. “A lot of animated graphics were created for the show, trying to limit the use of the Catalyst's existing content,” says Pinna. “We obviously also use the libraries of the Catalyst but always with a lot of processing, always trying create something new and different. The live coverage was courtesy of four cameras, fielded by Twentystudio of Modena.”

Since Pinna and Campana worked together on the end results, there is no risk of lighting getting the better of video, or vice versa. “While we programmed the lights, Jo and I looked at what had been prepared as far as video content was concerned and fine-tuned both to ensure the utmost impact and effect,” Pinna says. “Since we've worked together on Vasco's shows for years, there's a great understanding between us, and the results are appreciated by the artist and the thousands of fans that pack every gig on the tour.”

Although the automated fixtures for the tour are pretty standard fare for many large rock concerts worldwide — Martin MAC 700 Profile and Wash units, Coemar CF Spots, Vari-Lite VL5Bs — there are several others in the rig. These include 45 Clay Paky Alpha Beam 300s that Pinna describes as “innovative, versatile, and with an unimaginable power for 300W units.” There are also 32 High Ground 2kW and seven Novalight Nova Flowers. Pinna was struck by the former when he first used them at the Turin Winter Olympics Medals Plaza, and he uses the latter's flower effect sparingly, ensuring its results are noted. Twelve SGM Giotto Spot 400 CMY are positioned on the external catwalks, and Pinna also specified 78 Martin Stagebar 54Ls and 22 Stagebar 54S units. “These are really innovative and in a class of their own, particularly thanks to their color system.”

The effect of the large rig is multiplied incredibly by an ingenious “invention” by GioForma: almost 900 convex “blind spot” safety mirrors mounted with automobile safety belts on the set's trussing, forming a truly impressive unique backdrop.