At first glance, the design for the Bon Jovi Because We Can World Tour looks extremely simple. When the show opens, there is no video screen, just a wide-open stage and not a lot of lights. On the surface, it seems that Performance Environment Designer Doug “Spike” Brant has taken a severely minimalistic design approach. Nothing could be further from the truth; rather the environment reveals itself, literally at the cue of the video. Building on their dynamic visuals for the last few Bon Jovi tours, Performance Environment Design Group (PEDG) and Brant have taken advantage of a convergence of new technologies and a few innovative companies to realize their most ambitious design to date.
Transforming around the band like a kinetic sculpture, 40 independently driven, hex-shaped columns rise up from the floor and descend from the grid to create an ever-changing configuration of video surfaces and scenic elements while half of the automated lighting positions actually lower and rise on towers and winches in a constantly morphing plot. No two songs are on the same set or share the same light plot. And just to raise the bar that much more, the scenic automation is controlled either by positioning embedded in the video content itself or from cueing triggered through the video console. This complex and technically innovative kinetic environment wonderfully reflects the energy of Bon Jovi’s music and the aptly named tour.
PEDG has been designing for Bon Jovi since 2000. Spike feels that this tour’s performance environment is the culmination of a design concept that was first weaved into earlier tours.
“Two Bon Jovi tours ago, we came up with the Venetian design; where it’s all about transformation and evolution throughout the night’s performance,” describes Spike. “The idea of coming into the venue to just a band on a blank stage, and then the show reveals itself as it happens.” On both The Circle Tour and the following year’s Bon Jovi-Live 2011 PEDG had some LED video screen elements and automation that played off the Venetian idea. This tour Spike felt the timing was right to completely embrace the idea. “I asked ‘How do we take it to the next level?’ I felt that we couldn’t get any more dynamic with LED, so we looked at projection. What we wanted to create was something that was almost entirely kinetic.”
As PEDG began to look into the tangible possibilities for what the ‘next level’ of their Venetian concept was, they found some innovative companies that were also moving to the next level. Spike recalls, “It was an alignment of technology; the timing of it all. We now had the ability to create the hyper-fast automation plus the technology was there with the projection mapping; the video/ automation control, and the 40K projectors that were just coming on the market as well. It was this convergence of all these things resulting in this design. It’s a very, very dynamic show.”
The set and scenic automation was engineered, constructed, and is supported on the tour by Tait, a company adept at solving complex scenic technology challenges.“Jon Bon Jovi is someone who continues to push the artistic envelope,” states Adam Davis, Partner, Tait, “and the same is true of Spike.” The project offered Tait plenty of opportunity to push the scenic technology envelope themselves with projection surface comprised of 40 individual columns, 32 lighting winches, 10 automated lighting towers, and five projector pods with integrated alignment devices.
“The telescoping hexagonal columns were definitely the most challenging aspects of the design,” comments Davis. The custom columns all move independently and serve as the projection surface—21 floor hex lifts coming up from the stage and 19 flown hex winches that descend from the truss above. The lower hexagonal column lifts can rise upwards at 2.5’ per second, from 6.5’ to 29.5’ and carry up to 300lbs. of weight. They move through the show to numerous positions—at one point they even act as a staircase for Jon Bon Jovi. The 19 upper hexagonal columns from above are a mirror to the columns from below and can extend down 31’ at an incredible 5’ per second. All of the columns can meet to form a three-dimensional wall projection surface but are more often used in unique individual positions creating visually unique shapes. The columns consist of hard polycarbonate inserts and are covered with Trapeze Plus stretch material.
Each column is made up of a Hex Winch and Hex Tower—stacking like Dixie cups when closed. The exterior polycarbonate inserts and fabric have just enough give to allow the sections to stack shut but when opened restore to shape so the columns appear visually straight from top to bottom. “Sourcing the right material for the columns was paramount,” describes Davis. “The material had to be flexible, but also have the right amount of gain to get the maximum out of the projection. With the precise alignment of gears and servomotors, the inside of each column is like a fine German car. It’s a beautiful machine. The overhead columns are in tension and the ground-based columns are in compression; each set bringing their own unique design challenges. The individual columns actuate at the same time within the dynamic system. It’s a pretty remarkable feat.” To make it tourable much of the automation is pre-rigged. The moving light winches ride in the PRG BAT Truss and the columns travel all together with everything onboard. As much of the automation elements as possible are plug and play.
The projector carriages from Tait also directly responded to saving time during loading-in. Davis describes the solution. “We built five projector tubs or pods that are basically automated X, Y, and Z assemblies to hold the ten 40K projectors. Each tub has a laser on them that gives you a pure vertical beam, so you can align it to where you want; in addition there is an integrated distance measuring device. The operator below can jog it around and see the exact distance between the lens and the screen within a 1/16th of an inch. The assemblies hook up to the truss, fly up, plug in, and boom there is all the information the operator needs and they are in complete control.”
Davis feels that the entire teams’ biggest achievement is the nontraditional automation control. “The real innovation is that we have no automation cues for the columns. All the automation is being driven by the mapping pixels within the video content; which determines the position of the columns. TAIT/FTSI’s Navigator Control System takes the actual position and provides a feedback loop through the video server, which dynamically masks the content and it matches perfectly. It allows you to have the screen anywhere you want; whenever you want it. The image can appear and disappear right in front of your eyes.” Davis continues, “We have broken away from LED and achieved real motion-controlled projection. It’s an interwoven control system that’s on the cutting edge of technology.”
All of the video content is fed to the projectors via eight Avolites Media Ai Infinity servers [four main with four back-up] and controlled via a MA Lighting grandMA console. While the columns movement can be controlled via the Navigator console, PEDG wanted to have the ability to have control over the columns and lighting automation from the video or lighting console as well as from the actual content itself. PEDG brought in Control Freak Systems (CFS) to help develop and layout the control system solution that would be needed to realize PEDG’s dynamic content and automation integration..
Stuart White, senior solutions designer for CFS, found the idea of the video itself actually controlling the automation an exciting challenge. He felt he could advance on the early steps that others had taken to do something similar; that this tour could really integrate the systems together. To make the columns move smoothly and accurately, White explains that the key was the approach to the displacement mapping embedded into the content. “I knew how it was done on another tour with a grayscale movie to offset where the image is. That’s okay, but that only gives you 256 steps of movement, which can look steppy. My idea was to make 16-bit values so we used two colors, a red and blue, in our displacement map. Those two colors were basically like course and fine control on a lighting console. The red was the course channel for DMX; blue was the fine channel. Using this level of control gave us 65,536 steps of control which was embedded into the content from Moment Factory.”
CFS collaborated on the video mapping with the primary content creator Moment Factory who embedded the show control displacement map within the content for a seamless presentation. The Montreal-based Moment Factory created almost all of the content for the tour. “I had not worked with Moment Factory before,” says Spike. “I talked to [producer] Daniel Jean; and we ended up having them be the primary content creators. I had never done it that way before, but because of the time constraints it made sense to having Moment Factory put together one cohesive package.” PEDG also brought in Lancaster, PA-based content creators Meteor Tower for content on a couple of songs and to deal with content management.
CFS worked closely with Immersive Ltd., who developed the main software solution, the Avolites Media Ai Infinity media server. Immersive’s Dave Green worked as a technical consultant on the project. White explains, “The Ai media server is a really great system. Dave Green, the developer of the program, built the elaborate project file. I put in the DMX to column movement as well as the color conversion to column movement on top of that project file. We work a lot alike so it was really cool.” Green, Immersive’s technical director, says, “I felt the Ai server could handle the dynamic mapping they wanted as long as the data it got was accurate and at a good, fast frame-rate. The Ai server is looking at the displacement map in the content, sending the data of where it wants the columns to be and then it also listens at a very high frequency back from the Navigator as to where the columns actually are at any point in time. It then uses that data to dynamically map the moving columns.”
With automation control possible from the lighting, the video as well as the automation consoles, there was potential for data confusion—or worse—unsafe conditions caused by a data or column crash. To avoid that, White created a custom software solution that sits outside of the media server, managing all of the control data and giving the data prioritization to the Navigator. “I wrote a program called [CFS] TraffikCONTROL, that listens to all the different control data coming in from all of the different sources and evaluates it,” explains White. “Between the two consoles—the video and lighting console—we came up with a pretty cool paradigm where we can, column by column, say which source it’s going to be coming from and both have to agree even at a heartbeat level coming from each console. With all of these conditions met, then we tell the Tait motion control system to do this move, or not to do this move.” There is also built in redundancy of data flow to Navigator for safety purposes that allow ‘Motion’ Rob DeCeglio, the Navigator operator to take override control.
Spike is very pleased with the final control system. “The Ai Infinity server is very good. It has huge potential. And the CFS TraffikCONTROL means everything has to agree who is in charge; there’s a handshake and a handoff. This whole system let us skip programming on the Navigator. We ended up previzing all of that—the motion control of the lighting and columns in MA 3D, we pre-programmed it all.” Moment Factory used an Ai server to previz the content. Immersive Programmer Martin Harvey worked with the CFS team. Kirk J. Miller of CFS is operating the media servers and the grandMA control console on tour.
True Moving Lights
Spike’s lighting rig appears very minimal when you look at the equipment list—80 PRG Best Boy 4000 Spot luminaires, 103 GLP Impression X4 LEDs, 20 Clay Paky Sharpys, and 20 Philips Color Kinetics ColorBlast LEDs. “It’s very simple, but the design is very dynamic,” points out Spike. “Also it’s less than 400-amps for the whole thing. That’s it; probably the least amount of power draw that Bon Jovi has ever had for lighting on any show since playing in a bar years ago.”
Choosing energy efficient lights for his design was a key priority for Spike and is a core philosophy of his firm PEDG. “Sustainability is something that I’ve always pursued; that includes in the choices that we make in design,” continues Spike. “The low power draw is just one of the things I love about the Best Boy; which is my favorite light. I knew I wanted a light with shutters in it, plus they’re so bright, don’t draw much power, and they do things that no other light does. It’s amazing how much of a Swiss Army knife light that it is; I have them each doing a lot of things. Also, they aesthetically look good.”
At the core of his lighting design are 32 unique automated individual lighting arrays from Tait each consisting of a Best Boy mounted on RSC Lightlock stabilizers, Tait’s new custom cable management system, and a high-speed hex winch. The lights can move at a rate of five-feet per second, creating an extraordinary amount of possibilities and turning the lighting rig into part of the overall visual kinetic sculpture. Spike states, “The light lifts are a slam-dunk home run. Lights on winches are something that I’ve always wanted to do and with the invention of the Lightlock, that made it possible. When we did it last year with Syncrolites on Vario motors, it was very primitive. It was okay and it was cool, but the Best Boys on the winches and custom lifts from Tait are the successful elements which support the kinetic nature of the design.” Adding even more movement on the stage level, Tait also created 10 light lift towers that can rise to 7.5’ to 29.5’, which sit across the back of the stage. Each tower is topped with one Best Boy and two GLP impression X4 LED units.
Lighting director Sooner Routhier, who’s been out with Bon Jovi on previous tours, handles the lighting control. She operates a grandMA2 console with a grandMA2 light for backup. “I’ve worked with Sooner as lighting director before,” Spike says. “It’s always great; she’s fun to work with and she’s a designer herself.” Programming and previsualization were done at Tait during construction and at Hershey, PA during rehearsals. The team only had the rig for five days so they did almost everything in previsualization. Spike hired Felix Peralta to be the director of programming. “I’ve had a long relationship with Felix; we talked a lot and he has an amazing eye,” Spike explains. PEDG also brought in Eric Marchwinski as the lighting programmer to work with Peralta. Spike continues, “They just did an amazing job of cueing and programming the show.” The complete lighting package was provided by PRG, who Spike says, “was nothing but a pleasure to work with. No drama; no issues. It has been awhile since PRG was out with Bon Jovi and it’s great to have them on this one.”
Bon Jovi’s Because We Can Tour is perhaps one of the most prophetically named tours as PEDG and the entire technology team took it to heart resulting in a visual feast for the audience and a big step forward for entertainment technology. “Typically, I always want to do what hasn’t been done before by nature,” Spike says. “My method is to push something beyond the limits, that’s how you find out what the real limits are. Then you pull it back to what reality allows you to do. That applies to lighting, video, motion, human resources, etc., because the thing about the design is that it’s just the canvas; it’s what you do with it.”
The Bon Jovi Because We Can Tour continues to play arenas in the U.S. before switching over to a radically different stadium design in Europe later this Spring. The groundbreaking arena production will be back on tour in September.
Bon Jovi Because We Can World Tour
Performance Environment Designer: Doug “Spike” Brant/PEDG
Director of Programming: Felix Peralta
Lighting Programmer: Eric Marchwinski
Lighting Director: Sooner Routhier
Crew Chief: Andy Mitchinson
Lighting Techs: Chris Shaffer (Dimmer Tech); Greg Gore, James Jones, Jason Hicks, Jeremy Knight (Moving Light Techs)
Lighting Co: PRG
Video Co: PRG/Nocturne
Video Directors: Andy Bramley; George Elizondo
Video Crew Chief: Carson Austin
Systems Engineer: Jason Lipton
Lead Projectionists: Simon Schofield, Brian Bateman
Projection/Cameras: Drew Welker, Steve Tomaneck
Camera/Utility: Cliff Hannon, Josh Morano, Josh Phoebus
Media Control/Mapping: Control Freak Systems
Content and Mapping: Moment Factory, Meteor Tower
Content Producer: Daniel Jean/Moment Factory
Technical Director: Andy Babin/Meteor Tower
CFS Tour Operator/Screens Director: Kirk J. Miller
CFS Technician/Engineer: Troy Giddens
CFS Senior Solutions Designer: Stuart White
CFS Technical Designer: Dirk Sanders
CFS Graphic Programming Artist: George Toledo
Immersive, Ai Software Author: David Green
Immersive, Ai Programmer: Martin Harvey
Scenic Design/Automation: Tait
Tait Vice President: Adam Davis
Tait Project Manager: Pat Seeley
1 MA Lighting grandMA2 Control Console
1 MA Lighting grandMA2 light Control Console
4 MA Lighting grandMA2 Network Processing Units
6 PRG Series 400 Power and Data Distribution Racks
2 PRG Series 400 Ethernet Switches
1 PRG Node Plus, Series 400 Mode
80 PRG Best Boy 4000 Spot Luminaires
103 GLP impression X4 LED Luminaires
20 Clay Paky Sharpy Luminaires
20 Philips Color Kinetics ColorBlast 12 TRX Luminaires
5 Brite Box Flame Followspots
6 Reel EFX DF-50 Hazers
4 Jem AF-1 DMX Fans
2 Ultratec Versa DMX Fans
19 PRG BAT Truss, 10’ 15”x30”
1 PRG BAT Truss, 10’ 15”x24”
1 Clear-Com Headset System 4 Channels, 32 Stations
10 Barco HDQ-2K40 40K Projectors (Column Fronts)
13 Barco FLM-R22+ 22K Projectors (6 for Column Backs / 7 for I-Mag)
4 Grass Valley Thomson LDK 6000 WorldCam HD Cameras
6 Ikegami HL-45 HD Cameras
1 Grass Valley HD Kayak 2 M/E Switcher
1 32x32 Router Matrix
1 Fiber Distribution System
8 Avolites Media Ai Infinity Servers (4 main, 4 backup)
1 CFS Traffic Control Custom Software
2 CFS Hex Freak Servers
1 CFS Router Bridge
1 MA Lighting grandMA2 Control Console
Floor Hex Towers
Flown Hex Towers
Flying Light Mechanisms
Control & Power Distribution
Rolling Band Risers
Double Decker US Landing
Mainstage Monitor Shelves
Runway & Bridges
Projector Pods and Decks