XL Video supplied a projection system, Catalyst media servers and control, cameras and crew to the latest Florence + The Machine UK tour, once again working with visuals designer and video director, Richard Stembridge.
Stembridge was asked to present ideas for the influential and critically acclaimed band's live show video early this year after they were impressed with his work on Arcade Fire. He collaborated very closely with Florence's set and lighting designer Chris Bushell, and together they evolved a fresh, interesting live visuality for the show combining both mediums to great effect.
Stembridge has worked with XL Video on many previous projects and they are his first choice of supplier.
He comments, “I've always used XL as their level of support is unsurpassable! Their approach to, and their ability to provide for the most unconventional of touring situations puts them way ahead in my opinion”.
Stembridge had only a week to create the video elements of the show, which meant a lot of additions and support from XL, where the tour was project managed by Jo Beirne and Phil Mercer. “They came through every time,” he says.
Both Beirne and Mercer commented on how enjoyable it is to work with artists using video in more unusual and inventive contexts.
The flown set was 40 ft wide and 16 ft high. It comprised seven conjoined trapezoidal panels and was constructed by Hangman / Metalman from frosted polycarbonate material. It resembled a series of large Art Deco style glass mirrors with a milky-white finish. These were carefully edged in chrome to allow them to be joined together to form the overall backdrop and split into tour-able sections.
The idea was the panels could be lit from behind or projected on to from the front or the two different types of illumination could be merged and work together seamlessly.
To fit the video – playback and IMAG - content to the panels precisely, Stembridge created some very detailed, millimetre accurate masking in the Catalyst .. so much so that it actually resembled rear projection at times and also bounced its own very unique quality of light back onto the stage.
Central to Stembridge's aesthetic goal was wanting the projections to have their own mystique and sense of magic.
The projectors were five Barco FLM R22s. Three were rigged on a downstage truss above the audience, trimmed at around 35 ft high - so well out of sight - and these fed images to the main set screen, with one focused on the centre and the other two corresponding to the stage left and right sections.
The other two projectors feeding two IMAG side screens were flown another 20ft out to the sides on separate trusses.
These side screens were also specially shaped and hung at a five degree angle to mimic the style and shape of the centre of the main set. Stembridge worked with Hangman / Metalman to design a lightweight frame to support the 18 x 12 ft surfaces which were covered in a â€˜Translight Midnight' rear projection surface made by Harkness. This allowed them to almost disappear when not in use.
The control system comprised three Catalyst v4 media servers operated via a Hog PC console.
Eight Sony robo-cams positioned all over the stage were fed into this picking up the action, together with an operated broadcast quality camera at FOH with a 50mm lens, which was focused on Florence Welch. All nine were all routed into the Catalyst system via an SDI matrix switcher and directed by Stembridge for the show.
In addition to this, Stembridge created all the playback media for the show. He was given an open brief, and used imagery from the previous and current albums (â€˜Lungs' and â€˜Ceremonials') and as his starting points for some clips, along with a number of other inspirations.
He ensured that the band's original and newer materials received completely different visual treatments to differentiate it as appropriate – more floral and organic for the older, and straighter, cleaner and more defined for the newer, as the projection surfaces took on an almost â€˜stained glass' role in the narrative experience.
The set screen panels received camera and playback footage in various combinations, with projection for each of the seven set panels controlled individually using 11 Mix Windows and 32 Catalyst layers.
Due to the angle of the three front truss projectors, he had to apply a transparent background and heavily keystoned Mix Window technique in the Catalyst to all the projected images and material. This avoided overspill between the surface areas across a single 1920 x 1080 output.
The feed was distributed to three Folsom ImagePRO HD machines used to scale and position the output respectively, ensuring that only the relevant portion of the output was sent to each of the three set projectors.
The keystoning of the Mix Windows was so extreme that the Catalyst layer keystone function could not un-stretch the content! Instead, Stembridge created a custom After-Effects Project to reverse the keystoning on any of the content he made before adding it to the Catalyst's Library.
For the camera shots, this wasn't possible, so he used a fusion of the Keystone function, scaling and X-Y-Z rotation on the camera layers to achieve the smallest possible amount of stretch, which fortuitously also fitted the overall look and design of the projection extremely well.
In some songs, the projection was precision masked to fill just the chrome detail edging of the set panels or just a circular section at the top centre of the set â€˜wall', leaving the main surfaces to be illuminated with lights.
All of this careful planning and meticulously imagineering combined to produce the distinctive, innovative and more provocative stage appearance that Stembridge and Bushell wanted.
The fantastic results were also due to the efforts of Stembridge's hard-working XL Video projection crew – Toby Vogel and Kevin Parry – who additionally operated the eight robo-cams during the shows!
Video content ran for most of the performance, starting by subtly highlighting the chrome set elements and the circle. The full screen burst into life every night with massive impact in the fourth number “Cosmic Love” ….. greeted by an enormous and rapturous response from the audience …. and the visual trip expanded and invigorated from there.
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