AC/DC's newest album, Black Ice, debuted at #1 in 29 countries when it was released globally on October 20, 2008, and in the US alone, the album sold more than 780,000 copies in just its first week of sales, marking the band's first ever chart-topping debut after over 30 years in the business. When it came time to design the Black Ice World Tour, the band that spent the last eight years off the road turned to another couple of veterans: lighting designer Patrick Woodroffe (who is actually creative director for this tour and co-designed the lighting with Dave Hill) and production designer Mark Fisher.

Woodroffe notes that the band brings a different perspective to the normal rock tour. “AC/DC is an interesting hybrid in that they are a very straightforward rock band, but they also have a real sense of theatre, and they always have,” he says. “Angus [Young] dresses like a schoolboy; they use cannons and bells and all these iconic effects that they have for years. So the idea has always been to give them a great opening to the show that then becomes the background to the rest of the performance. Once the look is there, we don't ask them to interact with it too much but simply give them a great space in which to perform.”

To accomplish what Woodroffe describes as a “tough, contemporary, simple, humorous” feel for the tour, he collaborated closely with Fisher to achieve scenic elements and themes, and he worked on the lighting design with Hill, with the goal of creating looks that are “not too busy but always big and spectacular and very much tied to the feel and lyric of each of the songs.”

Woodroffe was involved with all disciplines for this gig — video, pyro, special effects — to form a cohesive look for the show. This included integrating curved truss reminiscent of train tracks and a 13,000lb train, dubbed the “Rock ‘n’ Roll Train,” conceived by Stufish's Jeremy Lloyd and Fisher, and built by Brilliant Stages. Fisher has designed two previous AC/DC tours, Ballbreaker in 1996 and Stiff Upper Lip in 2001. “Patrick and I were looking to create maximum impact,” says Fisher. “The working title for the song was ‘Runaway Train,’ and the big scenic ideas all came from that.” The song title was eventually changed to “Rock ‘n’ Roll Train,” but, as Woodroffe notes, “The same look still applied, luckily.”

Woodroffe wanted to achieve a good deal of white light looks in varying color temperatures, also using strong saturated colors, noting that the tour uses “very little mixing of colors to keep the line of being strong and simple. ‘Tis not a subtle show,” he says. Hill, who also programmed the lighting for the tour, adds that Coemar Infinity Wash XLs are the main wash units used “predominantly for the split beam feature that allows us to create energy without movement or strobing, a huge selling point for me.”

Vari-Lite VL3000s are used as the hard-edge fixture, and Clay Paky Alpha Beam 300s are added into the mix “for ACL type effects,” adds Hill. “The Coemars are the workhorses in the show, but the Alpha Beam 300s are a huge part of the show as well and work very effectively as the perfect moving head color mixing ACL.” Elation Impression units are in place within the scenery for uplighting, and Woodroffe calls them “great for tucking away into small places but still giving some real intensity,” referring to lighting the locomotive in particular.

Martin Professional Stagebar 54s mounted horizontally on the top of each section of curved truss and Philips Solid-State Lighting Solutions/Color Kinetics ColorBlast 12s mounted vertically at each joint provide audience lighting along with Molefays. “These lights play a huge part in the show by shaping the rig, allowing the arch shapes to be clearly defined,” says Hill. “For some songs, I just use them at very low intensity for that very reason: it gives the system shape.”

Martin Atomic Strobes are used inside and around the train for what Hill calls “a good flicker effect,” while the 85,000W Hungaroflash T-Lights sit on the floor behind the train and set for lightning effects, especially effective during “Thunderstruck.” Panavision Maxi-Brutes affixed to the rear of some of the curved trusses are used for “bumps and swells, and they also give heat to the stage that moving heads don't, and the band still likes to feel the lights — the very same reason we have PARs in the system,” adds Hill.

Upstaging Lighting supplied all the lighting and trussing systems, including 59 sections of the company's own patented HUD Truss System for the tour. Upstaging also provided its facility outside Chicago to fly the lighting rig in advance for prepping, using the supplier's ESP Vision system in its visualization suite. Hill notes that he was able to check the system, set up the MA Lighting grandMA console, and put color and gobo palettes in place at Upstaging. “The set was ready for the production rehearsals, and with the advance work done at Upstaging, the system went up in a day, and I was left with the lights to do my work for the next week,” says Hill.

Hill started the more hands-on programming sessions in Wilkes Barre, PA, with lighting director Charlie “Cosmo” Wilson “sitting close by helping me with his intimate knowledge of the band and the necessary parameters I needed to stay within on certain songs.” Wilson, who has toured with AC/DC extensively and knows the band well, calls the lighting cues and runs the console. “Cosmo has great timing and knows the material really well,” says Woodroffe, “so as Dave programmed a number, Cosmo was already planning how he would run it.” Woodroffe adds that, while there is a carefully programmed progression of cues for each song, they left “some leeway for Cosmo to play the console, where appropriate.”

MAKING THE VIDEO

Woodroffe's domain, as mentioned, wasn't just restricted to the lighting rig. He created the opening video as well, working with onedotzero on the content and basing it loosely on manga, or Japanese comics and cartoons, “with humor but also some sort of narrative drama — a runaway train, mad Angus at the controls, and so on,” he says. “The video runs up to the big spectacular opening where the real train busts through the video screens in an explosion of pyro.” Those video screens are modular panels of Daktronics PST-10 SMD, provided by video vendor Screenworks and the first use of the product. The panels divide to form two smaller displays, making way for the locomotive that emerges as the band strikes up “Rock ‘n’ Roll Train.”

Jeff Claire of Backstage One has been the band's video director for nine years and worked as cameraman on Razor's Edge and Ballbreaker tours. With a background that includes creating custom media content for artists such as Aerosmith, Andrea Bocelli, and Usher, he also serves as director/producer of the custom media content for this tour alongside partner Wayne Stovall. Part of that content includes a montage of AC/DC album covers that plays during “Let There Be Rock” as a reminder of the band's heritage and as a break from I-Mag.

There are no media servers on this tour. The system features a QuickTime-based media controller by Virtual VTR, run via two Macintosh Pro 2.8GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon processors. Glyph Technologies GT103 FireWire 800 hard drives record and archive the show for future use. Claire notes that, on the video side, “everything has gone very smoothly thanks to the support from Danny O'Bryen from Screenworks.”

“Jeff worked closely with us in terms of how the pace of the show works,” says Woodroffe, “with faster cuts for more frenetic numbers, building the way that the video works throughout the show, with careful use of some prepared images. Lighting fixtures built into and around the set need a lot of attention, so they feel part of the composition as opposed to a last minute add.” Tait Towers built the stage, and Woodroffe adds that the company was “very helpful in building places for the lighting into their beautifully-designed and built stage.”

THE CRAZY TRAIN

For the locomotive to come “crashing” dramatically through the Daktronics screens onto the stage, various effects are incorporated, including lighting, pyrotechnics, haze, CO2, and deployable, lit devil horns. Fisher says that his first sketches from June were almost exactly what were delivered to rehearsals in September. “Working from my sketches, we created full color animation of the scenery moves in my studio,” says Fisher. “The project, from that point onward, was managed by Jeremy Lloyd.”

Fisher worked with UK-based sculptor Jacqui Pyle to create a 1:10 scale model of the wrecked locomotive, while Lloyd worked with Tait Towers to coordinate the stage construction and the locomotive tracking machinery. The locomotive was scaled to full size by UK-based scenery company 2D:3D and mounted onto tracking frames built by Brilliant Stages, where the team had to integrate it into a suitable rolling and slewing sub-structure. The sub-structure is based around a high, steel base turret with two cantilever arms, supported by a reinforced section of the main performer stage. The stage section acts as a rolling support that integrates with the main stage, enabling the locomotive to be built remotely from the main stage and then rolled into place. The locomotive, still on hoists, is then tilted to its 23° show position and attached to the central turret, after which the hoists are detached, leaving it freestanding.

To put the finishing touch on an already dominant set piece, a huge inflatable “Engine Driver Rosie,” also sculpted by Pyle from Fisher's sketches and built by Rob Harries of UK-based Air Artists, perches atop the locomotive during the song, “Whole Lotta Rosie.” The team at Stufish uses Lightwave for color renderings and animations. On this project, the color renderings were created by Ric Lipson, and the technical CAD models were built by Lloyd using AutoCAD.

When it came to challenges, or lack thereof, Woodroffe admits it was one of the easiest shows he has ever done, with lots of prep time and cooperation among the creative team members and crew, referring to production manager Dale “Opie” Skjerseth as “one of the best production managers I've ever worked with.” The one issue he mentions: “as ever, just finding the right vocabulary that suits the band. Every show should start from the performance, and the technology comes afterwards,” he says.

AC/DC currently has US dates booked until the end of January, and the tour then plays dates in Europe into April.

AC/DC BLACK ICE WORLD TOUR
PRODUCTION CREDITS

CREATIVE TEAM/PRODUCTION CREW

Creative Director/Co-Lighting Designer: Patrick Woodroffe

Production Designer: Mark Fisher

Co-Lighting Designer/Programmer: Dave Hill

Lighting Director: Charlie “Cosmo” Wilson

Video Director: Jeff Claire

Technical Designer: Jeremy Lloyd

Production Manager: Dale “Opie” Skjerseth

Production Coordinator: Alexis Wadley

Stage Manager: Chris “Super” Deters

Locomotive Sculpture: Jacqui Pyle

Locomotive Full Size Sculpture: 2D:3D

Locomotive Technical Director: Richard Hartman

Head Rigger: Chad Koehler

Rigger: Aaron Alfaro

Lighting Crew Chief: Ron Schilling

Lighting Crew: Mark Weil, JD White, Mike Ryder, Kendra Sandoval, Brian Kasten, George Hill, Steve Richards

Pryo Crew Chief: Casey Lake

Pyro Crew: Chris Davis

Video Engineer: Bob Larkin

LED Technician/Camera Operator: Michael Duque

Projectionist/Camera Op: Greg Santos

LED Technician: Angelo Bartolome

Head Carpenter: Denny Rich

Carpenters: Mo Hale, Mike Kinard, Alex Blais, Jeremy Miget

Power: Arturo Martinez

Amp Tech: Rick St. Pierre

VENDORS

Main Stage Construction: Tait Towers

Locomotive Structure and Tracking: Brilliant Stages

Lighting: Upstaging Lighting

Video: Screenworks

Inflatable: Air Artists

Pyro: Stage & Effects Engineering Inc

Sound: Clair ShowCo Chicago

LIGHTING GEAR

2 MA Lighting grandMA Console

120 Coemar Infinity Wash XL

36 Vari-Lite VL000 Spot

24 Elation Impression

48 Clay Paky Alpha Beam Wash 300

11 Zap Technology Big Lite 4.5

12 Zap Technology Little Big Lite 3.0

63 Martin Stagebar 54

7 Hungaroflash T-Light 85,000W

10 Martin Professional Atomic Strobe

45 Philips Solid-Stage Lighting Solutions/Color Kinetics ColorBlast 12

4 Lycian 1271 Followspot

12 4-Lite Molefays

9 12-Lite PAR56 Molefays

24 Six-Lamp PAR64 Bar

9 Panavision Maxi-Brute

59 10' Sections Upstaging HUD Truss

84 Hoist

Video Gear

1 Virtual VTR Software

1 32' ×24' Daktronics PST-10 SMD Modular Panel

3 Barco FLM-R20K DLP Projector (one as backup)

2 Da-Lite 16'×12' RP Screens with EFII Frame

1 Ross Synergy 2.5 MD-X SDI Production Switcher

2 Macintosh Pro 2.8GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon Processor

2 Glyph Technologies GT103 FireWire 800 Hard Drive

1 Tektronix SPG422 Digital Component Sync Generator With Bars

1 Folsom ImagePro HD

1 Ross Synergy Video DA Tray

4 EQ Cards

1 1740 Waveform/Vectorscope

1 Sierra Video 3232 Lassen HD 32×32 HD-SDI Router

1 Doremi Dual Hard-Drives

1 Sony DVD Record Deck

1 Sony LMD-4420 Quad 4" B/W LCD Monitor

1 PS-31 RTS Power Supply

7 RTS Drops

2 Sony BVP 900 Hand Cameras

2 Sony BVP-950 Digital Head Handheld Cameras

2 Canon 20×1 Camera Lenses

1 Canon 70×1 Camera Lens

1 Canon 55×1 Camera Lens

3 Sachtler V-20 Head & Sticks

1 Sachtler V-30 Head & Sticks

1 Sony 14" Hi-Res Color Monitor

2 Sony Quad 4" B/W Monitors

2 Sony 14" LCD Color Monitors For Program/Preview

8 Sony 8" LCD Color Monitors