There's a first time for everything. And Gwen Stefani's first solo excursion around North America, The Harajuku Lovers Tour 2005 in support of multi-platinum album Love. Angel. Music. Baby., is also a first in visual design, with the largest use yet in the US — eight in all — of Coolux's Pandoras Box media servers. Add to that loads of Barco MiPIX panels, a bunch of Christie projectors, a full motion control screen system, a slew of moving lights, and performance environment design by Justin Collie, and you've got yourself an all-out spectacle, complete with full band, about a dozen costume changes, and a dance troupe of eight.

But what is all this Harajuku hullabaloo anyway? Harajuku is an area in Tokyo known for its eclectic shopping and the teens that hang out there. This district represents some of the most trendy youngsters in the world, usually sporting some fashion craze a year before we see it and donning a much cooler and more advanced cell/PDA well before you do. Stefani has embraced this style, helped bring it to Western pop culture, and used it to clearly redefine herself as something very different from the sporty-funky front woman of decade-long successful band No Doubt.

Ray Woodbury, creative and tour director, worked closely with Stefani to set the overall tone and look of the tour to communicate the artist's new style. They collaborated, Woodbury wrote a 25-page treatment addressing the overall look and flow of the show, reviewed it with Stefani, tweaked it, brought it to Collie and his team to get input, returned to Stefani, and the process continued (rinse, repeat).

“For this show, I really wanted new information and new concepts for people to see,” says Woodbury. “The creative goal was to make every song appear almost as a chapter in a book, with a clearly defined look for each segment. The appearance of a one-dimensional show is really not there, but the flow is there, catching the meaning of songs through digital images, while not over-stimulating the audience. You watch the screens and the entire show instead of just Gwen…it's an overwhelming visual and musical experience, and that was the goal.”

Collie felt that, if they were able to project different environments, they would be able to achieve the many looks Woodbury and Stefani wanted without having to spend an inordinate amount of money to stage so many scenes.

“Gwen has ideas based on the videos and the songs, so she's very involved,” says Collie. “As a designer, you have to go from Alice in Wonderland to pirate ships to a Japanese cartoon city, so you wonder, ‘How are we going to do that with a certain budget?’”

After attending a demo for the Pandoras Box media server, Collie knew he could achieve something he had been conceptualizing for quite some time with Artfag partner Spike Brant. “It occurred to me that something Spike and I have discussed often is not having a physical stage set creating your environment, but rather be able to create that environment with imagery, thereby being able to change the environment quite easily. Doing multiple large physical sets — even though they're just shapes of projections on them — I felt like we achieved quite a lot with a relatively small budget.”

Collie ended up using eight Pandoras Box media servers in pairs to project — via a combination of Christie Digital S12 12kW DLP Roadies and X10 10kW DLP Roadies — onto several curved and non-planar projection surfaces, giving the effect of wrapping around 3D images. Each image sequence is, therefore, generated from two sources, in many cases onto screens that yo-yo up and down at intervals via a motion control system provided by SGPS. The system for the screens — and the Austrian curtain from Superior Backing used to open the show — is run by Jessie Sugimoto.

Much of the video content development for the variety of screens and the 3'×3' panels of MiPIX — which line the fronts of two levels of decks on stage — was provided by Sophie Muller, who directs most of Stefani's music videos, including original footage of Stefani herself that was a combination of remixed music video content and some shot originally for the show. Additional content, such as animation sequences and cartoon bubbles, was created by UK-based Hello Charlie. Collie's own company executive produced some of the content, including a jumping car sequence that plays across all screens, which was shot by John Martinez of M-Designs in Palos Verdes, CA.

The eight Pandoras Boxes serve the screens on stage as well as the MiPIX. Some of the imagery is SMPTE to ProTools and triggered by Fast Forward hard disks, sent via the video director's switcher to act as a live input, and then to the Pandoras Box as a live input back onto the screens. In short, everything runs through the Boxes with the exception of the two IMAG screens that flank the stage.

Video programming on the media servers was done by Breck Haggerty, Pat Brannon, and Steve Gilbard, but even Coolux creator Jan Hüwel was present during rehearsals and was around to build some cues while training the crew on the server.

With media files coming in from different sources and as late as the third show, the programming team was often dealing with content that was being delivered in a variety of formats that didn't necessarily match, according to Gilbard. “Some came in with variations in frame rates and pixel size and aspect ratios, and there's a slight difference in the rate at which they refresh,” he says. “This causes a slight jitter on the screen — caused by little issues in how the encodes were originally done.”

With eight layers across eight servers and every server having two outputs, keeping track of what is doing what was no small challenge during rehearsals, according to Gilbard. Luckily, Coolux had just started to develop remote software that allows the operator to look at any of the servers and build dynamic views remotely. It also allows multiple viewers and lets the operator upload between different systems from one place.

There are four servers at midstage center directly over a center throne atop the MiPIX-lined decks where Stefani enters from a lift within. The other two stacks are right behind the PA. “The projectors are around 8' to 12', depending on the venue, above the top of the screens, which means the bottom of the screen is about 35' to 37' below it, which is a really long keystone,” says Gilbard.

Placement was an issue almost from the beginning. The creative team went from the original design using a super grid to a modified version due to logistical issues with some of the venues. Production manager Jimmy Pettinato, who also has a lighting design background, helped come up with a lot of what Woodbury refers to as “the reality of what we can or can't do or a better way to do things to be able to perform it each night.”

Changing the grid to assure most of the gear would translate well to most of the venues — which vary in size from smaller theatres to arenas — meant modifying the video sources. “Our angles changed radically, by four or five percent,” says Gilbard. “We were already short on throw distances for projection, and that change meant we had to re-evaluate the way we were doing it…the angles of the projectors, especially to the side screens, are extremely severe, and the only way to keep in focus is to treat every projector as a completely separate device so they can dial them all in. By being able to do true 3D keystone correction and adjustment, we could dial it in on a dynamic basis on as many points as needed. That was a big challenge. The upstage center screen is almost a 45° angle from where the projectors sit to the bottom of the screen.”

In order to add some additional live punch to the show, video director Danny Whetstone jockeys a good deal of content via a combination of isocameras and other playback footage that is SMPTE time-coded from Stefani's music videos. Those images then go back to lighting director David “Fuji” Convertino at front of house, who delivers all the video streams to the various locations as he operates and calls the show from the MA Lighting grandMA console. Each server gets a separate SDI video feed, so anything can be routed to any server independently from the Ross Synergy4 broadcast digital SDI 64 input video switcher.

Each day, Convertino and Whetstone use two grandMA consoles independently to program and tweak both lighting and video. Come show time, the consoles go into a master-slave mode, run on one console in a grandMA network with three Network Signal Processor (NSPs). Convertino operates the entire show from one board, and the other is used for additional DMX universes.

“The grandMAs are set up with my views and Breck's,” says Convertino. “This made programming very easy for us since Justin and Breck dealt with the media server world, and I dealt with just lighting during programming.”

“The media server itself has a live input, and I send everything to that input during the show,” adds Whetstone. “When Fuji calls for the live input, that's when my feed comes in.”

As a video director, Whetstone has a vested interest in getting the perfect shot to feed to the live input to get regurgitated by the servers in some shape or form. It was important, therefore, that the lighting jibe not only with all the video going on, but also for the camera. “Justin insisted on using truss spots, and not a lot of designers do that,” says Whetstone. “But we have video screens, and we're using cameras, and Justin knew we needed spots. Something as simple as having four spots is a huge help for the video side. Lighting wise, I was concerned the MiPIX might pose a challenge for the camera, but it looks great on camera.”

Whetstone adds that they're using a 25% fill on the MiPIX, which seems to work well for both camera and audience viewing. Video for three songs is actually click-tracked to the band, using elements from the music videos directed by Muller. For others, Whetstone shoots via an isocamera, and that content is fed to various screens, depending on the song.

On the lighting side, Collie and his team kept the looks as tight as possible to integrate with the scale of video. “In approaching lighting, you have to really be aware of where your screens are and keep the lighting off them,” says Collie. “Because of all the dancers and movement on stage, I was forced to push the lighting out even further and watch levels more.”

Collie's first concept was to make many of the looks of the video — as opposed to the moving lights — mirror the beat of the music. “Originally, I actually tried to stylize it a little differently. I wanted to minimize the cliché lighting — the obvious flashing and sweeping,” he says. “I tried to do much more of that with the content, such as flashing the car video sequence on the screen — bumping on the imagery, rather than on the lights — but Gwen felt like she wanted to have a more dramatic, rock-n-roll style lighting. If an artist expects all that, and they don't get it, they have a certain discomfort level, where they feel like nothing visual is happening.”

And Collie was able to make the lighting more dramatic for this now-solo act. When the singer performs with No Doubt, the lighting design must maintain the equality of all band members, and it often “limited the drama levels,” according to Collie. This time around, Stefani preferred to use her solo status and the lighting to a dramatic advantage.

“The whole issue of projection being the very core of the show and with such a complex set up, we really had to figure out how we were going to do that first and make it work on a day-to-day basis,” adds Collie. “That way Fuji could just touch it up in the manner of a preset focus — pan and tilt type focus for the lights — so it became no more of a chore than that for him. We didn't get it right the first few times, but once we figured that out, we went on. And it did impact the amount of programming we did, but to use new stuff, we had to accept this.”

“With all the video, there was a lot of adding and deleting of looks, so that we didn't wash out the screens,” adds Convertino. “The integration of lighting and video artistically was mostly making the lighting looks match what was on the screens. Once the cue blocking was done, we started to get into what colors and looks would match the video content the best.”

Collie notes that serving as the designer for all visual elements of the tour provides a real advantage in creating a unified feel for the show. “Being able to create that look as one piece, I didn't have to fight with the lighting guy,” he says. “We're not coming in to light around the projections. We're coming in to set the scene — the lighting and the projection.

“What we're doing on the show is pretty unique, and it's the first time I think it's been attempted — the ability to project onto any area or any zone on the stage, multiple screens, three dimensional screens,” he adds. “I don't think it was possible until now to be able to manipulate projected images to this degree.”

The tour is set to finish this month in Florida.

CREDIT LIST

Video Equipment

(provided by Delicate Productions)

8 Coolux Pandoras Box media server
40 Barco MiPIX 3'×3' display panel
11 Christie Digital S12 12kW DLP Roadie projector
10 Christie Digital X10 10kW DLP Roadie projector
1 Ross Synergy4 broadcast digital SDI 64-input video switcher
1 Ross 12×64 router system
4 Sony DXC-D35WS 16:9 broadcast camera with triax kit
1 Canon 70x field lens kit
1 Canon 45x field lens kit
2 Fujinon 19×8.9 HH lens
1 25' Triangle full servo boom, dolly
3 Fast Forward Video (FFV) Omega digital video recorder
1 36'× 19' 6" screen, custom
2 Side image magnification screen
2 Ethernet gigabit video network
1 Custom screen motion control (provided by SGPS)

Lighting Equipment

(provided by Ed & Ted's Excellent Lighting)

40 Martin MAC 2000 Wash
16 VARI*LITE VL3000 Spot
6 Fagpods
10 James Thomas Engineering 9-Lite
1 Lycian ME II 2500W Medium Throw Followspot
2 Lycian HMI 1200 Medium Throw Followspot
23 Martin Atomic 3000 Strobe
20 Wybron CXI Color Fader [5kW Size]
5 Wybron 24-way PSU
2 MA Lighting grandMA Console
3 MA Lighting Network Signal Processor
1 ETC Sensor 48-way 2.4kW Dimmer
1 ETC Sensor 12-way 2.4kW Dimmer
1 TMB Pro Power 48-way 208V Distribution
5 TMB Pro Power 17-way MCB 20A Breaker Module
3 TMB Pro Power 5-way Socapex Module
1 TMB Pro Power Edison 6-way Module
1 TMB Pro Power Cam-Lok Module
6 Doug Fleenor Design 5-way Opto Splitter
2 Doug Fleenor Design 6-way 30A DMX Relay Module
1 Furman Power Conditioner
4 Littlites

Effects

4 Reel EFX DF-50 Diffusion Hazer
4 Sahara Pro Snail Fan
8 Le Maitre High-Output bubble machine

Intercom

2 Clear-Com CS-222 PSU
20 Clear-Com RS501 beltpack single channel
3 Clear-Com double muff headset
17 Beyerdynamic DT-109 double muff headset

Scenic Equipment and Props

(provided by Accuate Staging)

8 Scenic screens, custom shape

Additional Equipment Vendors:

All Access (built decks for MiPIX and lifts)

SGPS (screen motion control, rigging, trussing)

Superior backing (austrian curtain)

Crew:

Performance environment design: Justin Collie (Artfag)

Creative and tour director: Ray Woodbury

Video content design: Sophie Muller, Hello Charlie, John Martinez

Production manager: Jimmy Pettinado

Tour manager: Fitzjoy Hellin

Stage manager: Steve Roman

Video director/crew chief: Danny Whetstone

Lighting director: David “Fuji” Convertino

Video programming: Breck Haggerty, Pat Brannon, Steve Gilbard

Engineer/LED: Adam Brown

Projectionist: Curtis Miller

Camera lead: Kristene Sulem

Camera/boom operator: Andrew Welker

Camera tech: Alan Cosgrove

Lighting Crew: Trevitt Cromwell, Robert DeCeglio, Terry Smith

Rigger: Mark Ward

Carpenters: Bob Reid, Steve Murillo

Assistant rigger/carpenter: Benjamin Bickel

Motion control: Jesse Sugimoto, Niall “Nellii” Gibbons

Assistant tour manager: Jonie Conaty

SELECTED RESOURCES

Accurate Staging: www.accuratestaging.com
All Access: www.allaccessinc.com
Barco: www.barco.com
Beyerdynamic: www.beyerdynamic.com
Canon, Inc.: www.canon.com
Christie Digital: www.christiedigital.com
Clear-Com: www.clearcom.com
Coolux: www.coolux.de
Delicate Productions: www.delicate.com
Doug Fleenor Design: www.dfd.com
Ed & Ted: www.edandted.com
ETC: www.etcconnect.com
Fast Forward Video: www.ffv.com
Fujinon: www.fujinon.com
Furman: www.furmansound.com
James Thomas Engineering: www.jthomaseng.com
Le Maitre: www.lemaitrefx.com
Littlite: www.littlite.com
Lycian: www.lycian.com
MA Lighting: www.actlighting.com; www.malighting.com
Martin Professional: www.martin.com
Reel EFX: www.reelefx.com
Ross Video: www.rossvideo.com
SGPS: www.sgps.net
Sony: www.sony.com
TMB: www.tmb.com
Vari-Lite: www.vari-lite.com
Wybron: www.wybron.com