Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em It's got a 750lb, 16'-tall skull that opens its articulating jaw and asks for a smoke. It's got a vintage 68 passion-purple Impala low rider that arcs across the stage on three wheels. It's the Up in Smoke tour, starring Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, and Eminem, and it's a production that takes rap concerts to a new level.
The headliners of the tour are Dre and Snoop, who perform together on a set based on a previous design. "We took the ideas that we used in the Dr. Dre Chronic tour in 91 and scaled it up to a new level," says scenic designer John Troxtel of Troxtel Design in Los Angeles. There's a liquor store on stage left, and a garage, which opens to reveal Dre and Snoop onstage in the low rider. "We took the original pieces from a 68 Impala and hung those off a frame that we built, and put four hydraulic cylinders in each corner of the vehicle," Troxtel says. "That enables each corner of the vehicle to move up and down independently." Consequently the wheels can lift up off the ground about 30", and the Impala can drive on three wheels.
The massive talking skull, which is almost 8' wide and 6' deep in addition to being 16' tall, uses a specialized fly rig provided by Branam Enterprises of Chatsworth, CA. "The skull starts in an upstage position and moves downstage and into the house," reports Branam senior production manager Randy Beckman. "It flies on a four-point Branam rig that has the ability to rotate 360øcontinuously, although the skull actually only rotates 90ø in each direction."
About the skull 's articulating jaw, Troxtel says, "The mouth mechanism is incredible. We ended up using these new high-rpm linear actuators that run off of 220 volts that are amazing." To construct the fiberglass skull, which travels in one piece on the truck, Troxtel used 11/48" wire rods welded together. "We've made quite a few skulls over the years, and we've developed this rod-welding technique that actually comes from the Rose Bowl Parade floats," he reports. "We adapted that technology into ways to make the big, oversized sculptures lightweight enough to fly around on a daily basis."
Dre and Snoop perform in front of a 68' x 30' cityscape drop, painted by Frank Pera Continental Scenery of Sun Valley, CA. "For the last Dre tour, we had a black backdrop; my idea was that if we were going to have a street scene on the stage, we should put it into the city," Troxtel says. To get the right urban flavor for the drop, Troxtel used a variety of night shots from several California cities. "We created a composite piece of computer artwork in Adobe Photoshop," he explains. "Then we simply took that piece of artwork over to Frank Pera and had him reproduce it."
The Dre show isn't the only one that sports a spectacular set. Ice Cube enters the stage from the skull's fly rig in a 40"-diameter, 7'-tall cryogenic tube, in an illusion inspired by the world's best magicians. "I've done a lot of work over the years with magicians, and I love magic tricks as part of a concert," Troxtel says. For the illusion, Troxtel had Michael Burnett Productions of Sun Valley create a vacuform plastic sculpture of Cube that fits inside the cryogenic tube. "The sculpture makes it look like he's been cryogenically frozen," he explains. To complete the illusion, Troxtel turned to Pyrotek and a product called Flame Dragon. "It's a computer-controlled, propane-based system that will shoot these amazing 4' to 6'-diameter balls of fire into the air," he notes. "It looks incredible, it's very safe, and you can only get it from Pyrotek."
But for Troxtel, the show isn't only about aesthetics. His concerns are somewhat more practical. "For us, it's all about packaging," he says. "It's all about how great a look you can fit into the tiniest amount of truck space, then have it unfold into big, amazing pieces of scenery that everyone is going to remember." The certainly memorable Up in Smoke tour completed its US portion in late August.