When Bon Jovi started the second US leg of its massive Lost Highway Tour earlier this year, a completely new production design was unveiled along with the host of new dates. This time around, the tour has so many signature looks — a Venetian blind video screen system, elaborate track truss system, moving custom video deck panels — it's hard to know where to begin.
Performance environment designer Doug “Spike” Brant says his mission was to create the “best show ever,” with a look that is “evolving and transformative.” His company, Artfag, is no stranger to creating entire production designs incorporating video, sets, and lighting under one, unified design roof. “Artistically, the set is video, video is lighting, and lighting complements video in a similar way as PARs to moving lights,” the designer says.
Artfag's Justin Collie, show director and executive producer for video content, adds, “For a variety of reasons, we had a bit of a letdown on the previous leg in terms of the usual standard of show that Bon Jovi fans are used to, so this time we were told to just go for it.” This time was all about what he calls “just a clean look — Jon [Bon Jovi] wanted zero clutter on stage but something that would develop over the course of a two-plus hour show and remain interesting. We built big strong looks, with classic rock ‘n’ roll feel, where appropriate, and the flexibility to traverse the varying styles of Bon Jovi's repertoire.”
Creating a stage in the round was also a requirement from the band itself, and this pushed the design toward a solution to allow concertgoers in every seat to witness the performance and staging effects. “Our priority became making a show that worked for every seat in the building,” says Collie.
Adam Davis, vice president of Tait Towers, worked closely with the team at Artfag and with the band to come up with effective solutions for the overall stage design. “Jon Bon Jovi himself and the production identified that they wanted to do motion control video,” says Davis. “Spike and Justin drove the idea, and we were a part of brainstorming the ideas with them to bring it to reality and make it into something.”
Without doubt, the biggest spectacle of the show is the Venetian blind system built by Tait Towers. It's actually four video screens, each made of 28 smaller video slats of 1,570 Saco V9 high-resolution video tiles designed and supplied by Nocturne Productions. The slats open to 11" apart, creating the Venetian blind effect as just one of its many configurations.
Each has four axes of motion, comprising double-sided video monitors allowing concertgoers to see the projected images from every angle. The first axis is a horseshoe-shaped track truss on which the video screens track the perimeter of the stage. The second is rotation, rigged from a 360° rotator for the screens and allowing an opening/closing effect of the blinds. The third axis accommodates video content by allowing the system to move up and down as one unit, and the fourth axis moves the screens back into the blinds configuration.
The blinds start out as 10'×10' screens, expanding throughout the show to a 10'×30' showing the concert in the round. “It's an amazing transformation, and because of the lighting and the fog, it all literally looks like it's floating — like it's levitating,” says Davis. “All the audience sees for the first bit is the 10' screens, and then suddenly it becomes 35' tall, and then it starts splitting and screening and making so many looks. The number of looks you can make from these screens is incredible. It opens up right in front of your eyes, but you can't see all the linkages, so it's an eye-dropping moment.”
Davis also notes that the system tracks on proprietary chromalloy steel truss, “lighter than regular truss but much stiffer and stronger,” he says. “The load is spread out, and the truss needs to be stronger than the roof. We also have four tractors driving the screens around. All motion control is in the air.” The head rigger for the tour is Mike Farese. Eighteen two-ton chain motors hold the track truss along with 16,000lbs of automation and scenery, while 16 computers handle cable management alone via custom motion control run by Rob Deceglio. Fisher Technical Services created the motion control system.
“It's impressive what's happening in terms of technology — motion control, video, and lighting — where it's really becoming one thing,” adds Davis. “What would traditionally be considered stage decks is something different now; motion control is rigging, and you have carpenters involved in rigging. It's neat how much the technology has pushed the envelope for everyone. Rob's task is a great example. He needs to understand TCP/IP to run the motion every night.”
The Venetian blind system is just one of many visual elements pushing the 360° feel and getting the show to every seat in the house. Working in tandem with the blinds/screens is a hydraulically actuated servo-controlled video stage, also built by Tait Towers. Controlled by a hydraulic proportional valve, 30 tons of servo-controlled force, linked by one Ethernet cable, tilts the stage.
The tilt, however, isn't the whole gag. The tilt reveals the upstage side of 62 custom decks filled with Martin LC 1140 LED panels covering the 60'×25' stage that not only runs more content but also pivots from 180° to 90°. “It has see-through video in it, and the top of it can either always remain parallel to the ground, so you can ride it up, or it can flip up and always stay straight like a screen. You can actuate it either way,” says Davis.
Tait Towers also created and supplied the stage and all band risers, an additional static V9 screen, and the lighting pods. Nocturne also supplied the new V-Brite from LSI Saco — a bright, independent pixel product at very low resolution — for the stadium shows, and this tour is the first use of the product.
To fill all these video elements with images, content is created “with cameras and lots of computers,” says Collie. Marcia Kapustin and Marcus Lyall from Kosher Pixels did original treatments for the band to select, and Collie calls the duo “instrumental in the development of all the video looks. Basically, we — Artfag and Kosher Pixels — put together several ideas and proposed them to the artist. He then approved or dismissed those ideas, and we developed a show from there.”
The end result is a combination of live and prefabricated content. Collie notes that the average fan is really there to see the band, so I-Mag was important, especially for those seated at the back of arenas and in the nosebleed sections. Tour video director, Tony Bongiovi, also creates daily footage for the screens and supplies the camera shots that are the main thrust of the show. “Each day, we create an intro tape that is based on footage that is gathered that day by Tony,” continues Collie. “There is also a piece used during the song ‘I Love This Town,’ created by footage gathered from fans around the world, in an Internet-based competition, trying to promote their cities.”
Controlling and playing this all back takes an army of video gear: Green Hippo Hippotizer 3 media servers, a Grass Valley Turbo digital disk recorder triggered by the video department, and a Control Freak Systems (CFS) custom Auto Tracker HD server for HD footage and specifically for situations where the Venetian screens are in full motion. The CFS software allows two layers of HD video to be played back while accepting realtime feedback from the motion control system. That feedback is then translated toward either skewing the video output into maintaining proper aspect ratio or allowing video elements to become windows of a large video image. During the song “Runaway,” for example, several solid 1:1 video walls move around the stage revealing a background image.
The entire control system is bound by an Ethernet backbone. Three MA Lighting grandMA consoles — one running the show, one full tracking backup, and another backup — with six MA Lighting NSPs are networked via MA-Net protocol. The Hippotizers are networked together for easy data management, and the CFS system takes its motion control feedback from an Ethernet network, as well. Additional video gear includes Barco Folsom Image Pro-HDs, Barco Encore Video Processors, and a CFS Encore-DMX Bridge that manipulates the size and position of the Encore's windows.
LIGHTING IT ALL
Lighting and video are what Collie describes as “born from the same place — it is not that they integrate, but that they are part of the same thing from the artistic standpoint. Technically, it's another matter!” he says. “The set is a part of that same process. We used the ramp at the back as a way to transport the performers to the audience seated in back, as a way to alter the lighting positions on the floor, and as a video element.”
For the rig comprising Vari-Lite VL3000s and VL500Ts, Elation Impressions, and High End Systems Showguns for the bulk of the lighting looks, Brant notes that efficiency was a big factor. “VL5s and Moles were chosen to contrast all the arc and LED sources,” says Brant. “I also believe in a touring application, they are more efficient than arc fixtures because they are up at full for less than two hours, and the arc lamps are on from midday when they are struck until load out. This is my green little mind in one case that tungsten is more efficient than an arc source. LED is not yet a real option to light an audience, so we used the DWE/ACL combo of the Moles.”
Lighting and truss for the lighting rig was supplied by Ed & Ted's Excellent Lighting. As for particular color choices, Brant notes, “business as usual…not too many crayons.” Storm Sollars is the lighting crew chief on the tour.
Pat Brannon, lighting/visual director for the tour — who has been working with Bon Jovi, as well as Brant and Collie, for many years and also calls the show each night — says the experience is “like doing a major project with your best friend where you are an asset and also the worst critic. I have been working with the band for 20 years, and that's a lot of information to bring to the table. When one can read the artist just by body language during a performance — to know when to light them subtly or with the bang of a rock show — is handy.”
Brannon worked on a pre-viz system from Tom Thompson at Prelite, creating lighting and video cues before any content was finished or rehearsals began. “Currently, I have 53 songs programmed in the console,” he says. “That's not including shooting from the hip, when Jon pulls out something they haven't played in 10 years. So when we got to the first production rehearsals, I was free to work with the other two programmers in a more efficient way.” Those other two programmers were Cory FitzGerald and Patrick Dierson.
Once Brannon was done with his preprogramming, FitzGerald joined the Prelite sessions, taking over Brannon's show disk to work on the lighting cues and build presets for the video system using the Hippotizers and CFS software. ESP Vision software was used extensively. Prelite created ESP Vision files of the lighting rig and developed a way to pre-visualize the custom video system within ESP Vision itself. Stuart White and Dirk Sanders from Control Freak Systems helped to fine tune the default settings of the video system control to facilitate the onsite programming sessions that used the actual gear.
Going into tech rehearsals, FitzGerald took on lighting programming, while Dierson handled video programming, allowing Brannon to concentrate on playback and fine-tuning. Programming simultaneously, the three made what Dierson calls, “judicious use of the grandMA's ‘Worlds’ feature.” This allowed all three to work completely independently and speed up the programming process.
The system is a complex one, though, and speedy programming didn't make it all a walk in the park. “Personally, this was the most difficult system I have ever programmed in terms of video,” says Dierson. “I haven't been challenged like that in quite some time, and it was due in large part to the 24 layers of Encore processing that we were controlling across 10 visual surfaces with any possibility of 13 separate video inputs. This was made all the more challenging by the fact that we were technically only sending separate Encore outputs to three visual elements: the main video wall, the Venetian panels, and the stage ramp.”
That's a Wrap
Brannon notes that Brant and Collie have a knack for this sort of gig, especially for helping the artist to visualize their design intentions. “They are very gifted in being able to put ideas in a workbook for the artist to review,” he says. “This really helps lock in looks and song-specific ideas with content to the client that ensures everyone is on the right track with show objective.”
He also notes that a show of this scale is becoming a necessity, as opposed to a luxury. “With the public being so well educated in HD and video concepts, incorporating simple video design into your overall production design is obsolete,” says Brannon. “If you don't show up and wow them, they seem to not get it. At the same time, it sure keeps the designers on their toes.”
As for what works well overall, Collie adds, “The networked consoles are invaluable — three people programming at the same time can't be beat! The Fisher tracking control was also able to do some very clever things for us, particularly in conjunction with the CFS server, so that it was actually manipulating images on the screens.”
3 MA Lighting grandMA Console
6 MA Lighting NSP
40 Vari-Lite VL3000
48 Vari-Lite VL500T
18 High End Systems Showgun
25 Elation Impression
18 Martin Professional Stagebar 54
16 Color Kinetics ColorBlast 12
36 Mole Richardson Nine-Light
36 Morpheus 8 Fader ColorFader
10 ETC Source Four 5° Ellipsoidal
7 Quazar 15kW Strobe
20 Martin Professional 3kW Strobe
3 Lycian M2 Long Throw Truss Spot
2 Green Hippo Hippotizer V3 Media Server
1 Control Freak Systems Auto Tracker Media Server
2 Control Freak Systems Encore-DMX Bridge
3 Barco Folsom ImagePRO-HD
5 Barco Encore Video Processor
1 Grass Valley Kalypso HD Switcher
1 Grass Valley Router
3 Grass Valley Turbo iDDR
1,570 LSI Saco V9 Video Tile
Martin LC 1140 LED Panels