The U2 360° Tour, one of the largest tours ever, required a power and data network of equal scale. It needed to be quick and efficient to install and set up, have high network speed with absolutely no lag in cue reaction time, and it had to be rock-solid and flexible. Systems crew chief Craig Hancock worked with show director/designer Willie Williams from the early design phases of this production, and he engineered a power and data network that would satisfy all of the requirements of a tour of this magnitude.
The PRG Concert Touring group supplied the entire lighting package for the tour. The data and control system includes MA Lighting grandMA consoles and NSPs, Avolites dimmers and relays, City Theatrical SHoW DMX wireless DMX system, and as the backbone of it all the PRG Series 400™ Power and Data Distribution System. There are a total of 25 universes of DMX with custom dimmer carts at the bottom of each leg of the structure. These contain Series 400 racks, S400 main breaker racks, the Avo Art 2000 dimmer and relay racks, strobe distribution racks, communications, etc. There are a total of four carts up on the catwalk in the roof structure that handle the power and data for the lights in the roof as well as on the pylon. Using the Show DMX system, wireless DMX is sent from the top of the pylon (the central vertical element) out to the seven satellite lighting positions that are around the top of the stadium.
Controlling all of the lighting as well as the smoke and haze are two grandMA consoles. Associate lighting designer Alex Murphy operates a grandMA light that controls the PRG Mbox Extreme media server that feeds content to the LEDs in the stage floor and the LEDs in the set and roof structure. It was simpler than trying to run all of the LEDs via DMX. Murphy also shares control of the smoke with lighting director Ethan Weber runs a full grandMA console. One universe of DMX is fed from the grandMA light to the full grandMA so they can share control of the smoke effects. Weber then has control of all of the automated lights. (Murphy also calls all the cues for the 25 followspots.)
I got to spend some time with Hancock, who worked to engineer the lighting network, during the rehearsals and set up in Barcelona, Spain for the U2 360° Tour. Hancock, who has been working on U2 tours since the 2001 Elevation Tour, started in December working with Williams on the layout of the lighting and with Mark Fisher’s Stufish on the integration of the lighting systems with the structural systems. I spoke with Hancock about the challenges, the choice of equipment, and working on a tour of this unprecedented scale.
MSE: Tell me about the approach to the networking system.
CH: I started working on the lighting system and layout of the power and data network about seven months ago with Willie and Studio Fisher. I worked closely with Jeremy Lloyd and Nick Evans of Studio Fisher. They are the ones that I essentially put this together with…I liaised with PRG to get where we are, especially Chris Conti, who brought in the wireless SHoW DMX. Overall this power and data network is really simple. I am not trying to push the envelope at all. I knew what and how I wanted it, and Chris made it into reality with what they do with Series 400. Between us, we ironed out the creases and ended up with the network that we have today. It is just Virtuoso fiber optic cables between the legs and one fiber optic cable up into the roof structure. That is the great thing about having the PRG Virtuoso Node Plusses and the S400 Fiber Switches; they all work in line with the Series 400 system…I can almost do anything with it and use external equipment like dimmer racks and stuff with no headaches at all.
MSE: How did you choose to use the PRG Series 400 Power and Data Distribution System?
CH: With the sheer scale of the structure and having the satellite lighting positions around the stadium, we were very concerned about the network speed and the cue reaction time. I had used Series 400 on Madonna’s Sticky and Sweet tour last year. The Series 400 system moves Art-Net around which allowed us to keep cue reaction time as we wanted it, which was one of Willie’s criteria…I really like the Series 400 system for being able to put any universe of DMX at any point. The 240V version stems from a meeting in January at Studio Fisher where we talked about the U2 360° Tour and the best approach. For example, the pylon has 498 DWE lamps around it on the different levels. We realized then to do that at 110V power would be so over the top. The system does exactly what we wanted it to do.
MSE: What else was a key component of the network you used? You mentioned the wireless DMX?
CH: When Chris Conti came onboard in March, it was invaluable because he brought in the SHoW DMX…it has been absolutely brilliant. When we turned it on, I had my fingers crossed when they hit the first cue, and everything moved together. This is my first attempt to go with wireless DMX. I can remember in December saying to Willie when we looked at the plans that we should attempt wireless, which he thought was very exciting. Having the pylon really gave us clear line-of-sight where we wanted to go with it. The system absolutely worked first time, out of the box. I think that the wireless DMX solved a big issue and has worked well. I didn’t really see how we were going to be run cabling through the crowd every night.
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