Robbie Williams Close Encounters tour features video by XL Video and rigging by Summit Steel.

XL Video is supplying all production video equipment and a 14 person crew including chief engineer Stuart Heaney, project managed for XL by Phil Mercer.

The tour is under the artistic direction of Lee Lodge. The essential set aesthetics and visuality are structured around two 26m high "scorpion tails" and six curved architectural tusks. This super portrait format is based on the constant flow of visual information and on the scenic pieces acting as video surfaces.

XL purchased 125 square metres of new Mitsubishi OD8 LED screen specifically for the tour and is the first company to bring this particular resolution technology into Europe. The screen is configured as three portrait shaped screens – two 11x5 panel surfaces either side of the stage used primarily for IMAG, and one 9x5 panel center stage screen.

Embedded into the bellies of the tusks and rails are 6,500 Barco O-lite blocks. These set pieces, designed by Ray Winkler of Studio Fish, wrap the stage in a horseshoe shape, providing a highly provocative live 3D backdrop. Every surface facing the audience, apart from the floor and ramps, is video.

The O-lite panels are symbolically color coded in yellow, duck egg blue, pale gray, and black in keeping with some of the show’s deeper urban design and environmental visual themes.

XL is supplying one of its OB trucks for the PPU, and the six camera IMAG mix is directed by Ruary MacPhie, using a Sony 7250mixer/switcher. Employing the OB truck in this way is an extremely quick and efficient way to set up the PPU.

The cameras are six Sony E10s broadcast quality units with a selection of lenses. There’s one at FOH, one reversed from the upstage followspot bridge, one hand held patrolling the line behind the drum kit, two on track and dolly at the sides of the pit, and one on a specially made curved track that vertically tracks around the thrust contours and the spherical B-stage at the end of it.

The live mix feeds into an Encore system that is the hub of the video output operation. This controls the whole stage/set in terms of video and was programmed by Lodge and video programming guru Richard Turner for the show. The windows for when the live mix appears on whichever surface are all preprogrammed, along with the slots for playback, all of which is run via Barco’s Event Manager software.

Mostly the camera mix appears on the side screens via TX direct from the truck. When it appears on the centre screen it’s via manual cues, output from a switchable Aux button.

The show’s playback material was specially produced by design teams from Colonel Blimp, Intro, and Hello Charlie, overseen and coordinated by Lodge. It runs for 90% of the show and is stored on two GV Turbo high definition hard drive machines, running complete with "hot" backups. It’s sent exclusively to the O-Lite panels and the center LED screen, occasionally sharing the latter with IMAG images or a combination of the two.

There’s also a large video city backstage separate to the OB/PPU area to deal with all the screen processing and control and the Encore system . The signal between processors and screen surfaces is distributed via a fiber network, and three crew are dedicated exclusively to looking after the LED surfaces.

In the majority of venues a 48 plasma screen system is installed throughout the stadium concourse areas, coordinated with David Llewellyn of Blink TV, and complete with two dedicated XL crew members. Each station consists of a plug-and-go 42” plasma, DVD player, and a Bluetooth box, with regionalized custom content the audience can download free to mobile phones. XL is touring an edit suite and DVD burner rack to produce the DVDs for each venue. For the open air sites that have no concourse, two of XL’s brand new Barco B10 LED trailers are bought in for displaying the interactive content.

Phil Mercer says, “This is the most advanced screen configuration of any show we’re currently working on. It’s great to see a show where visuals – set (Ray Winkler of Studio Fisher), lighting (LD Al Gurdon) and video – have all been developed as one integrated medium rather than separate departments. The fact that this approach really works is seen in the stunning results.”

Summit Steel is supplying all production rigging equipment for the European stadium section and rigging consultancy and crew, under direction of head rigger Jez Craddick.

The first half of 2006 has been Summit’s busiest period ever, resulting in the purchase of over 70 new Lodestar hoists from Lift-Turn-Move, complete with customised rain covers, in order to supply the 110 hoists required to service Close Encounters. These are in addition to the 200 hoists that have been in action on Summit’s other work during this period.

Motor control throughout the rig is all standard fixed speed units. Summit commissioned Kinesys to design and build eight brand new customized four-way "briefcase" controllers and another four six-way modules to the same spec as Summit’s existing Ibex design for use on the tour, which is being project managed by Summit’s Chris Walker.

Walker has worked closely with Jeremy Lloyd, the tour’s technical design director and production manager Wob Roberts. With the set, staging, lighting, sound, and video systems all being so physically integrated, and virtually all of it custom built for the tour, large amounts of time were spent in advance doing test builds and establishing the best methods for rigging the various elements.

More off-beat rigging tasks include areas like the O-lite video panels, which are slid up into the tusks being pulled by hoists.

Devising and installing safety systems was an area of primary importance for the Summit team. With the set consisting of exposed metalwork needing to be accessed at any time, and also because it’s outdoors with no roof, standard fall arresters weren’t an option.

Instead, Summit has designed a system of static rope safety lines with inbuilt shock absorbers at the top. Walker also recommended that all personnel and crew needing to access any of the set or flown pieces use a Petzl ASAP, which clips around the rope and runs up and down as they climb.

In the tails, Summit has installed a series of Tirsafe safety lines, rated for having a number of people fall on them at any one time, and necessary because of the construction, nature, and accessibility of these set pieces. Linked to the safety systems, Summit also drew up a "Rescue at Height" policy and a set of safety procedures and risk assessments based on the new Working At Height regulations.

Touring crew were trained on rope rescue during the lengthy preproduction period at LiteStructures in Wakefield. Summit then supplied the tour with the same Rope Rescue kits for the universal and advanced touring systems.

Summit coordinated with The Event Safety Shop, the tour’s Health and Safety consultants throughout.

Walker says, Being brought in to the project at an early stage enabled us to get involved with a lot of the design details and to try to solve as many potential problems as possible before the tour started. It was great to be working with Wob Roberts and the Robbie Williams team again; it’s a pleasure to work with people who want everything to be done properly.”