Dirk Sanders, technical designer for Control Freak Systems (CFS), worked on both the arena and the stadium versions of Bon Jovi’s Because We Can Tour, putting together the complex video control systems. On the arena tour, CFS worked with the lighting, video, and automation teams to configure a groundbreaking control system that redefined integration for video control. As Bon Jovi now drives into the stadium leg of the tour, Sanders explains that, though the two designs are vastly different, the integration of the control systems—this time between the lighting and the video—are no less complex.
The performance itself is still the same tour, but it is now presented within an entirely different production design for the stadiums. Gone are the automated columns and kinetic movement of the arena design. Instead Performance Environment Design Group’s Doug “Spike” Brant has created an enormous 1950s automobile that literally envelops the stage with the front grille being the primary performance area and a massive windshield above it all.
Live Design: Tell us a little about how you approach the same show with such a radically different configuration.
Dirk Sanders: It was very different; we didn’t have all the automation complexities that we had on the arena show. This was more of a traditional system design that boiled down to flexibility. We do, however, continue to build on the integration between the lighting and the video. Throughout the show, we blur the lines continually between the lighting and the video control. One big difference between the arena and the stadium shows is the amount of content. During the arena show, there were parts where video played a very big part, and then there were parts where the columns went away, and it was really lighting-driven. In the stadium, it is 100% using video; every single song has a video element.
We wanted the video to be tight with lighting, really kick that up a notch. One song that is a great example of that is “Wanted Dead or Alive.” Meteor Tower handled the content for that song, and they really bring the whole car design alive. They created an arc from sunrise to sunset. You see it in the windshield video screen. There are reflections and movement; it’s really great. Then the lighting totally hooks into that and moves the sunlight across the hood of the car. There are some really wonderful moments throughout the show when the lighting is an extension of the video and when the video is an extension of the lighting.
The Media Server System
LD: What are some of your key equipment choices?
DS: We used the CFS Freakulizer for visualization, which was really handy to let us work before the screens were up during load-in. Then the control system itself uses some of the core CFS tools, including the Encore DMX Bridge, our Multi Tap Server, and an ADAMS [Audio Driven Awesome Media Server] as well as four [PRG] Mbox Extreme servers. The Mbox is really the workhorse server for this show.
LD: The ADAMS is a music visualizer that controls the content via the audio waveforms of the performer’s instruments. Explain about how ADAMS is used in the show.
DS: Right, ADAMS allows generative content, and that was something that we wanted to get folded into this design. We have oscilloscopes and VU meters, content that is generated by the band’s playing, making the set and LED elements react to the live audio. Also in ADAMS, we have what Stuart [White, founder and senior solutions designer of CFS] calls the PIPulizer, which is a look in the show were we populate all the tiles in the grille with camera images, each of which we control the delay. You combine that with doing multiple PIPs [Picture in Picture] and camera isos with the Barco Encore; it looks amazing because we have lots of cameras happening. We use ADAMS in the numbers “Livin’ on a Prayer” as well as “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead.”
LD: You mentioned the Mbox media server was a real workhorse for this system. Talk about how you used it for the stadium leg of the tour.
DS: The Mbox is our de facto media server tool. At CFS, we are very much about the right tool for the right artistic idea. Often we will use multiple layers of different software and hardware tools. There are times were the Mboxes are being used to spread the content, and there is a high level of connectivity between all the tools because we use the Mbox’s MultiScreen Gobo feature to map the wall. It was about the right tool for the right job, but also Mbox gives us the right paintbrushes to route video effectively. Overwhelmingly the Mbox is used as a traditional media server, but there are times we are using it almost as a screen -mapping processor where it’s being used to manipulate live input coming in, in order to make it work for the uniqueness of the grille wall.
LD: The grille refers to the PRG Nocturne V-9 Lite tiles behind the band’s performance area that create the impression of a huge front grille of the car.
DS: The grille element of the set is essentially a 4,186-pixel wide 9mm screen, and we needed an efficient way to deal with that and Mbox’s MultiScreen Gobo feature allowed us to do that. The grille is made up of 102 different groups of tiles, essentially 102 blocks, if you lay all that out in real space, accounting for the gaps, it is 4,186-pixels wide. Our whole system is running 720p, so we needed a way to remove the gaps for the output to the wall. What MultiScreen Gobo allows you to do is work with this big texture size, have content created 4,186-pixels wide but then remove all the spaces and then remap it on the output so that everything condenses togetheryou can use 720p to deliver the signal to the LED wall processors. We also wanted a solution that let us see the grille as one big screen but still isolate out individual tiles. Mbox really helped solve quite a few challenges.