Live Design: How did you get involved in the building of the U2 360° video screen?

Frederic Opsomer: It all started in the production office during the Tokyo concert of U2’s Vertigo tour. Willie Williams showed me some very conceptual drawings of what would become the 360° stage and said, "Think about how we can integrate video into this!" That was it until the phone rings a bit more than a year later.

In the meantime, Mark Fisher was telling me about this guy in New York he worked with for a project in Vegas, and who specializes in expandable structures. I was at that time already dreaming of expandable video screens but had not encountered anybody who could help me with the mathematics of such a thing. So Mark tells me about Chuck Hoberman. A couple of weeks later, I am in Chuck’s office, and we start discussing the development of a standard product for Barco. During one of those meetings, I make a very rough drawing of the stage on the whiteboard, and we start discussing different possibilities of expandable structures into the stage.

The key for me was to have a video screen that could be high resolution at some point and become a much bigger sculpture at another point, without obstructing the transparent look of the stage. Assisted by Chuck, I did some proposals for Willie and Mark. One of the proposals was retained: The one that would become known as the “Frietzak” because of its very recognizable shape, for Belgians at least.

Willie and Mark went off and did an excellent job in convincing the band that this stage was made for them, and finally in September 2008 we got the go ahead.

LD: How did the screen actually get designed and built from that point on?

FO: We set up the different R&D teams:

- Hoberman for conceptual design and geometrical models
- Buro Happold for engineering calculations and support
- Barco for development of the electronics and processing
- Innovative Designs for the overall engineering of the system and manufacturing of the entire screen.

Innovative Designs was the manufacturer, and the other companies were sub contractors to ID. A separate deal was made with XL Video. They would invest in the electronics and rent them to production. They would also deliver cameras and crew. By the end of November, the conceptual design was finished and final production drawings were being made. We had the first prototype pieces ready by the end of February. The assembly of the screen started by the end of March.

Halfway through May, we started the private technical setup in the Sportpaleis in Antwerp. It took us about five days to install the screen for the first time. But everything was very promising, as it was all behaving as expected. By the end of May, five trucks of equipment left for rehearsals in Barcelona.

LD: What was the biggest challenge from your point of view in the design of this screen?

FO: The video screen is a nice piece of engineering, and I really admire and thank all the people that worked together to get it done. However, it only performs 100% of its impact thanks to the entire structure or stage it is living in. It is the entire show—the entire stage—that makes the separate elements into the fantastic pieces they are. The biggest challenge was how to make something transportable and fit for touring which is in its nature an undividable piece. The available amount of time of course didn't help. But in everything we design and build, transport and installation damage is always a consideration.

LD: What is the best way to describe the visual impact of the screen in motion?

FO: When Bono saw the screen opening for the first time during rehearsals in Barcelona, he was singing a song at the B-stage, looking at the screen in motion. When the song was finished and the screen was deployed 100%, it was quiet for 15 seconds, and then Bono said, “holy shit.”