Video plays a (very) large part of the U2 360° Tour both as a design aspect and a technical element. Show director/designer Willie Williams designed a large elliptically-shaped video screen that through clever engineering and construction can stretch and open up all the while offering a true 360° view of the band to everyone in the audience. When I spoke with video director Stefaan “Smasher” Desmedt, who has been with U2 since the Zoo TV tour, he walked me through the video system, talked about calling 12 cameras for every show and how he can remap the video to the screen no matter its size or position all with no delay. The video is a large part of bringing the audience right into the U2 experience in this massive show and there really is no bad seat in the house.
MSE: Tell me how video fits into the overall 360° Tour.
SD: The screen is used mostly as an IMAG screen. I am using 12 manned cameras that give me live feeds for the screen. The cameras are spread all over. We have two front of house on the followspot towers: one on each leg, one at the rear facing FOH, three rail cameras on the outside ring, two rail cameras on the mainstage, and one up at the drums.
MSE: What is split between live camera feeds and created content in the 360° show?
SD: In the end, there isn’t much created content; only about 3%. The rest is all from live camera feeds. The IMAG is beautiful on its own already. Willie tried very hard to not put much content in there. I don’t think that the show needs it. I think that we are in a new era, where all that content, it just doesn’t give you a message. If it doesn’t say anything, then it isn’t going to make the screen. On the last tour, Vertigo, we had four screens for IMAG and for effects we had the Barco MiSPHEREs. If you took the MiSPHEREs away you still had the four IMAG screens. On this show, if you put all effects on the screen, your IMAG is gone, which means your piece has to be really, really powerful. That is one of the reasons why the content is only 3% of the show.
MSE: What do you think of the large screen on this tour?
SD: I think that they did a great job with the screen. Frederic [Opsomer of Innovative Designs, Barco’s independent design consulting house] designed the screen, and I think that the 360° idea works well. They play quite a few songs in the middle section of the show that they play towards the back, away from the front of house. They use the stage and the video very well to play to all of the audience. I have three cameras in the back, so we can catch anything that they do on the rear side of the stage. I think that it all fits really, really well. I don’t think that anyone sitting in the back is disappointed. In Dublin, there was no rear; there was no audience in the back. I always find the shows even better when there are people in the back there.
MSE: One of the big features of this design is that the video screen flies up and down as well as stretches. How is the screen used in the show?
SD: It only gets opened once. We open the screen for the song “Unforgettable Fire.” We leave it open for the song “City of Blinding Light,” and then we close it up on “Vertigo.” That’s it; we only open it for three songs. We don’t overuse it. That is Willie Williams, of course; he is going to use it once and then make it go away again. It is a good idea. It is closed and is used as an IMAG screen again. Then when it opens, it stretches all the way down, going fully open. When we close it, we close it from the top and the bottom, squashing the whole screen. We then lower it for the next song and then we raise it to the top.
MSE: Tell me a little about the created content and how it is used in the show.
SD: There are a few bits and pieces here and there; there is really not that much actually. The song, “No Line on the Horizon” uses content created by Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto. He made the art for the album cover for No Line on the Horizon, which uses photographs showing sea, sky, and horizon. He gave artwork to us, and he created a video piece. He made a few and then came to Barcelona, and he selected one of them. Catherine [Owens] made some really cool stuff for the segue going from “I’ll Go Crazy” into “Sunday, Bloody Sunday.” For the opening of the screens for “Unforgettable Fire,” we are using a video of the lighting that Willie did with cake stands. Also, Luke Halls made content as well for “City of Blinding Light.” Luke works with video content producer Sam Pattinson.
MSE: How do you create a cohesive look between the created content and the live feeds from the cameras?
SD: There is one sequence with an eye and we zoom into the eye. With the use of alpha channels and clips of QuickTime movies, you can really punch a hole. Your black becomes transparent. I am using the black and putting my IMAG in there. It looks really cool. There is a design with an eye of a girl and the middle of her eye is IMAG. It looks really amazing. We zoom out, and it reveals the whole face of the girl. It is quite amazing. This is used for “Sunday Bloody Sunday.”
MSE: Walk me through your controls system and how you process the video.
SD: I am using a [Grass Valley] Kayak switcher with my 12 camera inputs. From the switcher I have four outputs that go into four input cards going into the d3 system from UnitedVisualArtists (UVA). I am using an Abekas DVE effects generator because I am splitting up a lot of the windows. Also to give some color treatment to it as well. I can treat some of the color correction in the video itself.
I can place any of those inputs that I get from the switcher to anywhere on the screen. I can split the screen into quads. I can trade out the quads seamlessly with the d3. When the screen opens, the d3 is getting a signal from the Kinesys winch controls that open the screen, so it automatically remaps the image in realtime to the whole screen. I do a lot with the d3 system. The d3 is the last unit in the chain and then I am going to the screen. It does all of the magic.
MSE: Explain a little about the d3 system from UVA and how you use it in the 360° show.
SD: d3 is a three-dimensional visual playback system where you layer content onto a timeline for playback. With it I can instantly output my feeds to the screen, no matter the shape or size. Most importantly, I can make rapid changes to content and configuration without rendering. I sync everything up with MIDI. I use Medialon’s Manager V5 to preset the d3 tracks.
The d3 system deals with the video processing; it acts as a screen processor as well. I called Ash [Nehru of UVA] and sat down with him. This was even before the screen was even agreed upon for the tour. We had to know if it was even possible to remap everything and how it would all work. I went to Ash, and we did a study on it for a couple of weeks and then we came out with the solution, sent it to Frederic at Innovative Designs; then it was all a go.
The whole video and camera package came through XL Video UK with Chris Monsour as the account executive. XL Video supplied the Barco video screen as well.
MSE: What kind of resolutions are you working with? Are you dealing with high-definition cameras?
SD: For the screen, my resolution is 2,348x260 in the closed position, and when it opens, it goes to 800 pixels vertically. The d3 system is handling all of the graphics and the content as well as the live feed. My cameras are standard definition. I did not want to take high definition cameras because I am splitting it up into quads, and each quadrant is only about 530-some pixels, so if you took a high-def camera, you would have to squeeze 1,920 pixels into that much smaller frame. You would lose a lot of resolution.
MSE: What were some of the challenges for you on this project?
SD: For me, my biggest challenge was that I had never directed a show this size before with 12 cameras and a 360° screen. My advantage was that I pretty much know the band. I have been working with them since Zoo TV. Another challenge was all of the d3 stuff, of course—the remapping and how it was all going to work with the expanding screen and how it would all fit together. We did our homework. I went to Innovative Designs and set up a few cameras and saw the mathematics were correct. I was quite happy then.
Another issue was the delay on the whole system—going through a video processor, then a Barco processor, and then going through my switcher. It even has to go through a DVE effects generator, as well. Using that added a lot of delay. Ash and I had to re-write the code for the input cards. The biggest challenge was to minimize the whole delay. I believe that we are quite good on the delay. I think that we are down to a delay of three frames, which is perfect for front of house. We are spot on at the front of house, and then you go to the back of the rig—it is always going to be a bit off. We use fiber optic to transfer the video signals; it is all of the equipment that is processing the signal that causes the delay. The delay is a bit more than normal. If we went into arenas, we would have to redo the settings. But you make it perfect for the front of house; that is your default position.
MSE: Does the show change during the run that affects the cueing and content?
SD: Yes, it does change. When you have a second or a third show in the same city, that is pretty much when we change up what we are doing. Like in Dublin, the third show looked nothing like the first show. They know that a lot of the audience will come back, so they change the show quite substantially actually. There is also the live aspect with the camera feeds as well.
MSE: What was your working process with Willie for this tour?
SD: I did about a week with Willie in previsualization in London as well as a week with Catherine in New York working on content. Working in New York was very handy with XL Video’s LED Lab; I could use the d3 system as a visualization tool as well. You hook it up to a projector, and there you go; you can program your timelines, and you can get a good feel for how it is going to look and work. Then in London, one room had a lighting previz system, and I was sitting in the next room with a content creator and my d3 system. Willie would go back and forth between the rooms. Luke Halls was with me, so we could work out a number of things. It felt really good when we left London and moved to Barcelona.
MSE: I understand that there is another video director on the show, Tom Krueger. Talk about how you work with Tom.
SD: For the keylight of the show, Willie brought in Tom Krueger, who essentially acts as the director of photography on the tour. [Krueger was the director of photography for the U2 3D movie.] I thought that Tom was going to be the video director, and I would be the video technical director doing the d3 control, programming and the technical systems integration aspects like I have done on previous tours, but Willie said that for this tour that I would be cutting the cameras. I got a bit bumped up for this show, and I am the video director now, so I am calling the shots and calling the cameras; Tom makes sure that the lighting is correct on the band. It is not an easy task—believe me— especially in a 360° environment to make sure that the keylight is right and comes from the right side. I have been working together with him now on most of this stuff.
Tom works with associate lighting designer Alex Murphy, who is calling the followspots. Tom set up all of the spotlight positions and specified the camera positions. The followspots are set; I don’t deal with Alex that much during the show. I pretty much know his cues, so I am following the followspots with my cameras.
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MSE: Tell me about working during the run of the show?
SD: During the day, before the show, I work with Willie on the visual and graphics side. I make sure that the segues are okay and all of the little details are correct; it is a fun job.
During the show, I gave my d3 work to Stefaan Venbesien, who is acting as assistant director now, because I couldn’t do both. When I was cutting a 12-camera show and trying to do all of the d3 work at the same time, it just created chaos in Barcelona during rehearsals. So, I got him on board and showed him how it all works and to do all of the d3 cues; it is quite pleasant. He is from Belgium, as well. He had not worked with d3 before this show, but he picked it up in no time. I trained him for a week in Barcelona, and he dived right into it with no problems. The video crew chief is Patrick Vansteelant from XL Video.
MSE: How are you enjoying your new responsibilities as the video director for the U2 360° Tour?
SD: It is quite fun actually. Once we got rolling, you deal with the daily changes, which are not too big. For me, it is rolling well. I am glad that they cut off a lot of the load-out time. I am quite happy with that.
U2 360 Tour Video Personnel
Video Director: Stefaan “Smasher” Desmedt
Video Director: Tom Krueger
Video Assistant Director: Stefaan Venbesien
Video Content Producer: Sam Pattinson
Video Content: Catherine Owens
Video Content: Hiroshi Sugimoto
Chris Mounsor: XL Managing Director
Paul Wood: XL Project Manager
Richard Burford: Technical Director
Alan Drake: Installations Engineer
LED Tech/Crew Chief: Patrick Vansteelant
Video Engineer: Bob Larkin
Video Engineer: Myway Marain
LED Tech: Jan Bonny
LED Tech: Jeroen “Myway” Marain
Camera Operator: Mark Cruikshank
Camera Operator: Gordon Davies
Camera Operator: Luke Levitt
Camera Operator: Eoin McLoughlin
Video: Oliver Clybouw
Video: Tobias Kokemper
Video: Frederik Goemaere, Barco
Video: Jan Paulsen
U2 360° Tour Selected Equipment List
Barco Video Screen
It totals around 500,000 Barco FLX 24 pixels, controlled by DX700s with signal routing over 8 fiber optic links
32 Dolly with 3 Screen Panels of Barco FLX Pixel
8 Dolly with 6 FLX Controllers and 3 Power Units
1 Flight Case with 2 DX700 Processors, 8 Fiber Optics Transmitters
2 Flight Case with 4 Fiber Optics 150m
2 Flight Case with Power Distro 400A to 32A out
1 Flight Case with 25,000 Pixel spares
2 Steel Cart with Tools, Steel, Drills, etc.
5 Flight Case with Spare LED Boards
5 Flight Case with Spare LED Cables
5 Tool Case (LED techs)
Cameras and Control
12 Sony DXC-D55WSPL Cameras
2 Canon HJ-86x Lens with Stabilization
7 Canon HJ-22x Lens
2 Canon HJ-11x Lens
2 Vinten Vector 90s
6 Vinten 250s
2 Kenyon KS-8 Gyro Stabilizers
1 Grass Valley Kayak 200c SD/HD Vision Mixer
1 Grass Valley Kayak 200 Panel
1 Grass Valley Kayak 100 panel
1 Abekas Deveous MX SD/HD DVE
2 UVA d3 Media Servers
1 Medialon Manager V5
1 64x64 Leitch SDI Router
1 Zandar Predator II 24way Multi-Viewer
1 TSL Tallyman Tally/UMD Processor
2 Barco LCN-47 LCD Monitors
3 JVC 17" SD/HD Glass Reference Monitors
5 JVC SR-DVM700 DVD Recorders
1 Trilogy Mentor XL Sync Pulse Generator
2 Stratos DVI Fiber Systems
3 Telemetrics Extended Televator Systems
3 Telemetrics High Performance Robotic Heads
5 Grass Valley 8900 Gecko Frames
1 Toshiba Laptop
2 Grass Valley 8964DEC+FS Analog to Digital Cards
1 RTS/Telex BTR-800 Radio Communication System for Cameras and Directors
3 Drake Joystick Override Box
1 Sonifex 4way Matrix Mixer