Journey - Anyway They Want It
COW Library : Live & Stage Events : Bob Bonniol : Journey - Anyway They Want It
I stared at my watch... 2:30am. Could that be right? It felt like 9 or 10. 2:30 was bad. Not because I was up, but because there were so few hours left.
There were still 40 pieces of content that needed encoding to make it onto the media servers. We were working on moving light focus points and cues, rolling through songs and updating. In just 17 hours it would be show time, and come hell or high water, 12 cameras would roll. Or should I say "maybe" they'd roll?
For all of my problems, my partner Matt faced at least equal numbers of his own. Apparently everybody in North America was also doing live shoots this weekend - there were no HD control trucks available anywhere.
Matt, undaunted, was outside the Planet Hollywood Theater in Vegas building his own truck in an empty 53 foot trailer. Hundreds of cases were yielding up decks, monitors, switchers, shader controls, and everything in between.
EXCEPT those 12 Folsom format converters required to get the head feeds into the decks. Did I mention it was 2:30, Saturday morning, day of show?
It was another long day's journey into night for we the minions at MODE studios. This time literally. Not only was it a long day bleeding into night, but the show we were frantically assembling was an exclusive 30th anniversary DVD release for the legendary rock band, Journey.
Here in the lovely pastures of the Creative Cow, it is perhaps common to think of ourselves as POST production professionals. We are a legion of editors, compositors, animators, and media artists of every stripe. For most of us, this post production work has been preceded by actual production: writing, principal photography, etc.
But allow me now to offer a glimpse of a world where everything is backwards. Where the tasks we call post production are turned on their head and accomplished first. Video, motion graphics and animation are the beginning. The final assembled product is the actual production, experienced live.
Live performance has experienced a revolution lately - partly from the incredible proliferation of media display and playback products that has occurred. Also, advances in LED technology have led to astonishing new form factors for both display products and lighting fixtures.
There are the things you would expect: high resolution, super sized screens. But there is a much larger abundance of what we call low resolution displays. These products use LEDs in endless ways. From translucent tubes full of LEDs, to LED modules that can be clicked together to form any sort of shape, to fabric curtains perforated with LED, the modern Production Designer has more options than ever before.
This evolution of display tech is accompanied by an explosion of LED based lighting fixtures that provide extraordinary brightness with the ability to seamlessly create any visible color. Many lighting control consoles now have the inherent ability to use media files to drive light level and color values.
In other words, if you explode your idea of what a "pixel" is, it is now possible to use video files to create astonishing lighting effects, by mapping that media to vast arrays of lighting fixtures.
Coupled with this is the advent of the live performance, computer based, media server. Picture a real time compositing box that can take between 8 and 16 layers of high definition footage, mix it live, apply effects, and output it to multiple display devices.
Now imagine that these media servers can be triggered and programmed using a lighting control interface. Suddenly the deployment of media in production design is extremely malleable, and tightly woven with lighting and audio cues.
Dizzy yet ? I am, and I do this stuff every day. Most of the innovation I'm talking about has come to market in the last 2 to 3 years, and it has completely changed many aspects of the way that live performance happens.
In this technological roller coaster that is live production, we have come to rely heavily on our vendors. One of them, Nocturne, provides some of the most elaborate and amazing video scenery on the planet, enormous screens, vast arrays of LED stuff, backed by the best throbbing brains in the business.
Nocturne's owners, Bob Brigham, and Paul Becher to ask us to help them by producing, directing, and designing a very special Journey gig in Las Vegas.
In less than a month.
Typically, when we work on extremely media rich design, it requires at least 3 months to pull together all of the scenic content that will be required for playback during the show. This content can range from filmed pieces, to elaborate motion graphics, to animation.
Most of you know the time and rigorous process that goes into producing 90 minutes of high quality content. We would have to shrink this creation period to a scant 3 weeks.
Did I mention we had another gig in the middle? Producing and directing documentary and press footage for Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul's new single "Dance Like There's No Tomorrow"?
In addition to the content needed to drive the media devices, we would have to come up with a concept and schematic plan for the stage design for Journey - what kind of displays and where they would go. We would also need to design lighting for the 18 songs selected for the shoot. And be ready for that set list to change dramatically at any point.
With such short time, the schedule immediately shifted to 16-20 hour days. The band would be going to South America for the interim to play a series of festivals. It was therefore critical that I be able to work with their Lighting Director, Kevin `Deuce' Pierson to define the lighting design before he left.
Kevin joined me and our company's superstar programmer Sean Cagney for an intense 2 weeks developing lighting and video cues. We also used this time to develop 4 completely custom video and animation pieces for songs in the show that I would then create.
The massive Journey hit "Faithfully" would be transformed into a travelogue featuring documentary footage of the band traveling over the years, interspersed with shot footage of a hand writing the lyrics as if they were a letter home to a loved one.
"Wheel In the Sky" would feature cosmic, almost scientific imagery, evoking Copernicus, and large swiveling astrolabes. "Lights" would feature stylized illustrative footage of the bands home-town of San Francisco. And "Escape" would feature a futuristic vibe, anchored by the classic Journey winged scarab logo.
All of these relied on extensive treatment in After Effects to generate motion graphics, multi-plane animation, and color treatments. The After Effects render "ding" was a welcome sound during these weeks, indicating that animations were coming together.
SAY HELLO TO MURPHY
While we were in design preparation, Matt was joined by Line Producer Scott Bokowski in the task of putting together the shooting element.
Their puzzle was quite complex. The venue had not planned this gig as a shoot -consequentially we had no opportunities for seat kills to accommodate camera placement. Also, there was the aforementioned lack of any broadcast HD trucks to serve as the nerve center of the shoot.
Matt applied a lot of imagination to this puzzle, opting to give the shoot a very `live' kinetic feel via many hand (or shoulder) held cameras. We managed to cram a 35' crane into the mix position front of house, as well as a 25' crane on stage.
The budget ruled out HD heads, but Matt was adamant in wanting to iso their output to progressive HD decks to ensure the highest possible quality in editorial. Ultimately these decks were spec'd as Panasonic DVCPRO HD. All of the camera, utility, and recording support gear would come from VER, Video Equipment Rentals.
Now, finally in the venue, the schedule had stacked up against us. Matt had run into his curious lack of format converters to get the SD camera heads into the DVCPRO HD decks, but the problem was solved when Nocturne LED tech (and general Jedi) Eric Geiger located the requisite Folsom Format Converters in San Francisco. One very tired shop manager retrieved them at 3 AM and promptly hopped the next flight to Vegas.
In the meantime the media servers were finally loaded, and we began to go through the cues one more time, integrating media playback to the SACO 10mm HD LED screen that dominated center stage, as well as the distributed BARCO MiTRIX LED panels that adorned trusses all over the stage.
At 1pm, show day, Journey joined us for a sound check. Circumstances precluded them from being able to give us a full run through, so they cranked through about 6 tunes.
We all are well acquainted with Murphy I bet, and his Law was in full effect. First he screwed up power to our newly constructed broadcast truck, causing panic, as well as a certain darkness.
That meant the lighting rehearsal was a wash. We weren't going to see it until we saw it with 7000 screaming Journey fans that night. We bravely rolled through as much as we could, tweaking, re-timing, prepping, and getting ready for anything.
THE JOURNEY ENDS
At 8 PM, Journey took the stage at Planet Hollywood and ripped it up. We rolled throughout, miraculously (in retrospect) getting it all on tape.
Without the benefit of rehearsal, some of the lighting levels looked a bit out of whack, and color saturation verged on blow-out in spots. We made the decision to do some DI (Digital Intermediate) on some songs to retrieve the original look and feel of the show.
Barely 3 months after our March 2008 shoot, the concert was set to be released as part of 3-disk set called "Revelation." The time for disk mastering, duplication and packaging left only 2 weeks to finish the edit. While the rest of us had turned in weeks of 20 hour days getting ready for the shoot, Matt now faced 2 weeks of more of the same for editing.
All told, it was quite a journey: design; "pre-show" post-production of the video, graphics and animation to support the show; the post-show edit; all of it. Six months from the day we got the call to the day you could buy the set at Wal-Mart.
By the time our work on "Revelation" ended, we were well into concert designs for Nickelback's European Tour, an opera with the MIT Media Lab, a tour of the Wizard of Oz, and a PBS Special called Metal Messiah, all landing within weeks of each other.
What time is it? No rest yet.
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