"Having all of you so close to me, to be in the round is so great," confesses pop superstar Celine Dion to a capacity audience at the Arrowhead Pond arena in Los Angeles, one foggy night last October. "This was both the first time that I designed the stage and our first time in the round together," explains Montreal-based production and lighting designer Yves Aucoin, who has been designing for Dion since 1989. Performed on a heart-shaped platform seen from all sides, the staging of the superstar's 1998-99 Let's Talk About Love tour presented a multitude of new challenges for Aucoin. "It's kind of a big puzzle--it loads in like a big show, but it doesn't look like one. It's more intimate than that."

With creative guidance from Dion and her husband Rene, Aucoin's stage design artfully conceals five separate, cable-driven lifts (four on the outside for the band and one in the center for the singer), a quick-change dressing area, and "a lot of electronics," Aucoin chuckles. In addition, nearly a dozen members of the crew work below the stage during the show to handle instruments, monitor sound systems, and assist in transitions onto the stage, rolling back and forth on office chairs and ducking their heads below platform supports and cabling.

Another first for Aucoin was the use of a Jumbotron video system which forms the floor of the stage, a technology which he equates to that of the SmartVision system previously used by U2. Covered in a Lexan-style surface manufactured by 3M, 59 individual floor sections each contain dozens of RGB video modules mounted to PC cards. "It was a technical challenge," says Aucoin. "But using gobos just didn't fit with Celine's image. Her music is mostly mainstream, and you can't go too far in being theatrical."

The entire system provides a colorful, scrolling mosaic of images that play beneath Dion and the band throughout the show. This effect, Aucoin says, "is so bright that I can even use it as a lighting instrument at times. We use computers to start with a four-piece screen, then blow up the picture two times and put it together into one final image. It sort of looks like a big, glowing aluminum plate with holes in it," he laughs.

"One thing about performing in the round, everyone always sees the same show and there are always lights looking in any direction," notes the LD. Aucoin designed four 12'x4' (3.6x1.2m) platforms in the house, each equipped with two Vari*Lite(R) VL7s(TM) and two Clay Paky Stage Scans specifically placed to "create depth and serve as a background. When we started, the VL7s were still very new and although we had some startup problems, they are one of the most powerful fixtures on the market." Antoine Malette, head electrician from Montreal-based Solotech (the show's supplier of lighting, sound, and rigging), is quick to add that "the Stage Scans are super, and very reliable also."

Four DMX-controlled MDG Max3000 foggers and four additional MDG Atmosphere haze machines fill the arena (see "Generating Atmosphere," page 54) using an oil-based neutral density fog fluid, "which is better on the equipment," says Malette. The show loads in typically at 9am, "which is when we start the Atmospheres. By noon the lighting rig is up and we roll the stage in underneath. It's really quite quick," he adds.

Two ETC Sensor rolling racks provide power for the dimmed lighting on the rig, fed alongside the automated lighting from a pair of truss booms using more than 350' (107m) of multi-conductor power and signal cable combined. The amount of cable needed to get to the truss and to limit the voltage drop was "tricky, and one of the hardest problems we had to solve," explains Malette. He also worked with his crew to develop a custom patch using small repeaters in groups of six, matching up the four different styles of Vari*Lites with Socapex connectors on the rig "to avoid even more cables," he adds with a smile.

The 100,000lb (45,000kg) rig is itself unique in design, sort of like an "ice cream sundae bowl," chuckles Aucoin. Built by Solotech based on his design, the LD first studied the rigging used in a recent Phil Collins tour, also done in the round. "The arenas are pretty steep in America, and you can't go with a flat rig or people up above will not be able to see the stage. The trick was to design the truss with no center point, yet strong enough and well-equalized to take the load."

As an added benefit, Aucoin also discovered that the rig fit snugly around the game clock in the center of some venues, concealing it from the audience quite neatly. "I really like the depth of the truss and the layering," he says, having modeled the rig in AutoCAD 3D to evaluate the design before it was built. At each of the rig's four corners, there is a custom-designed chair and built-in spot arm that holds a Robert Juliat 2.5kW HMI short-throw followspot, rotating together through 270 degrees on a well-balanced swivel joint. "There is a heavy need for followspots in this show; they are critical for the video," says the LD, who praises the Juliat spots for the "full-power beam and excellent color temperature control."

A variety of handheld and stationary video cameras scattered throughout the house are switched live backstage during the show and seen on four immense flat screens hanging over the stage. Each flat screen weighs over 5,000lb (2,250kg) and breaks apart into five sections for storage in the trucks. More than 60 CM Lodestar chain motors support the speaker clusters, videowalls, truss, and lighting. But despite the complexity of the rigging, "there have been no real problems to date," says Malette confidently.

Aucoin and his assistant Gatien Ouellet each operate one of the two lighting desks on the tour, twin Compulite Sabre consoles linked together by MIDI "just in case one fails. I don't really like risky business," says the LD. With Ouellet managing the Vari*Lites, Aucoin operates the Stage Scans and other fixtures during the show, which he says "allows me the perspective of how the audience reacts. I prefer to be closer to people, that's for me. It's tough to wear the lighting designer hat and still have to look at the overall picture.

"Some people tell me that I'm not hanging enough equipment and that I must come from the poor school of lighting designers," Aucoin laughs. "I have over 120 moving lights in this show, so I'm not too poor, I think. So many toys and still not enough time."

Principal of Los Angeles-based City Design Group, Ted Ferreira is a lighting and show systems consultant specializing in themed facilities.

Just as lighting designer Yves Aucoin has been with Celine Dion since the early days, Montreal-based MDG has supplied Aucoin with fog generators for nearly a decade. On the Let's Talk About Love tour, MDG provided Aucoin with four DMX-controlled Max3000 foggers and four Atmosphere haze machines.

"Yves has always worked with our products," notes MDG principal Martin Michaud. "I think he's one of the best LDs working with fog production, at least when it comes to getting the fog at the right place at the right time. He knows that if he's got a certain cue coming up three songs later, you'll see production of fog in the ceiling of the arena. Never do you see it on the stage or in the audience; it's up and it gradually comes down. It's a natural thing for him. He should do seminars on fog dispersion."

This tour provides its own set of challenges for fog use, with its in-the-round configuration. According to Michaud, a number of factors determine the use of fog or haze in such a situation: the timing, the air flow, and the air pattern of the arena. Also, the production of haze and fog must come from all angles--left, center, right, back, front, top, and bottom--to achieve the correct balance. For this tour, Aucoin placed the Max 3000s on the rig above, and two of the four Atmospheres in the ground.

"The central stage affects everything," Michaud says, "not only the haze, but the sound and the lighting as well. You have to cover the full arena, so you have to place all the equipment differently. There's usually double the amount of equipment as well. There are twice the number of followspots, for instance, because there's no backlight. And that affects the use of the haze."

The use of a videowall (or more precisely, the video floor) is another factor in creating fog dispersion on this tour, even though Aucoin essentially used videoscreens as another light source. "Fog reflects light, and a videoscreen is a kind of light, especially when it's used to such an extent," says Michaud. "I just saw the show the other night, and there was a certain cue I really liked: The whole heart-shaped stage turns blue, and you see a blue glow over the entire stage, because of the haze. It's all a question of refraction."

The Celine Dion tour was one of MDG's biggest touring projects in 1998, and the show will tour into this year as well, making stops in Hong Kong, China, and Japan before returning to the US for additional dates. Some outdoor shows are planned as well; if that happens, MDG will be providing the UltraMax 25,000 to Aucoin, a fog generator that creates 25,000 cu. ft. (750 cu. m) of fog. The year will remain a busy one for MDG; the company plans to unveil new versions of the Atmosphere and its fog generators, and some new tours are expected to be announced as well, though Michaud cautions that it is premature to discuss those plans. "There's an old Canadian saying that translates roughly from the French as 'Don't sell the fur of the bear until you've killed it.' But there are some good things coming up for us this year."

LIGHTING AND PRODUCTION DESIGNER Yves Aucoin

LD ASSISTANT/VARI*LITE OPERATOR Gatien Ouellet

LIGHTING CREW CHIEF Jean-Pierre Smith

HEAD ELECTRICIAN Antoine Malette

LIGHTING CREW Denis Ayotte, Eric Bouchard, Claude Plante, Pierre St-Mars

LIGHTING, SOUND, AND RIGGING SUPPLIER Solotech Inc.

EQUIPMENT LIST (12) Vari*Lite VL7s (24) Vari*Lite VL6s (28) Vari*Lite VL5s (16) Vari*Lite VL5Arcs (32) Clay Paky Stage Scans (8) Solotech bars of five ETC Source Four PARs with Compulite 1k Whisper color changers (16) MR-16 1,500W snow blinders (16) ETC Source Fours (12) Altman 300W fresnels (4) Robert Juliat Ivanhoe 2500 HMI truss followspots (4) Robert Juliat Aramis 2500 HMI followspots (4) MDG Max3000 fog generators (4) MDG Atmosphere haze machines (1) 48" mirror ball (2) Compulite Sabre consoles (2) ETC 48-way 2.4kW touring dimmer racks (3) Solotech 36-way scan distros (32) Solotech 8' folding truss (8) Solotech 4' folding truss (8) Solotech 22.5-degree sections (8) Solotech hub sections (8) Columbus McKinnon Lodestar 1-ton chain motors (1) Columbus McKinnon Lodestar 1/2-ton chain motor (1) Solotech motor control system (20) Solotech 8' motor truss (8) Solotech 4' motor truss (4) Solotech motor truss corners (20) Solotech 8' folding truss (22) Columbus McKinnon Lodestar 2-ton chain motors (30) Columbus McKinnon Lodestar 1-ton chain motors (3) Solotech motor control systems