It’s all fine and well to be an incredible musician with cooking chops, but what’s special about your show? Hi-tech rigs these days give performers that extra edge – well, if you can afford it I guess.
Gareth Hadden is from Formative, an ambitious production design studio that delivers bespoke event, stage and brand architecture. The skilled Formative team come with heaps of experience between them, with the creative director having previously worked on major international concerts that include Linkin Park, Jay-Z, Kasabian and Elton John, plus major European festivals such as Glastonbury, V-Festival, Isle of White and Rock Werchter, and TV shows like X-Factor UK, Britain’s Got Talent and the BAFTA’s. Their ambition is to keep pushing boundaries so they can take South African entertainment to the highest level. Their secret? Using world-class technology to translate their creative vision.
Gareth speaks to WS about how their concepts orchestrate scenic, lighting, video and motion into one epic experience.
What is d3 technology and how is it used in professional stage production?
We are the only stage and production agency in South Africa to utilise d3. Artwork, dimensions, time codes and specifications are directly fed into d3, and the programme then correlates all the information and queues the mechanical as well as visual elements into one continuous timeline, so in essence it can run automatically during a show, however, the full Formative contingent is always on hand to ensure that each facet of the production is carried out as initially visualised.
Last year, we produced a lot of smaller concerts, which allowed us to figure out an efficient workflow for combining lighting and video as one system, so by the time we got to the big gigs like the 2016 Fill Up Orlando Stadium with Cassper Nyovest, we were ready to merge lighting and video into one “canvas” by taking control of every fixture in the rig from d3, which allowed us to create a far more coherent design. Suspended, monolithic LED screens asymmetrically flanked a revolving, mirrored stage on which Cassper performed from throughout the concert. The results were both functional and captivating; the audience were never aware of actual set changes but rather emotive transitions from one song into the next.
How do you conceptualise and create a slick stage production?
There are many elements to one of our projects that we need to consider including stage design, lighting design, video design and then content design. We do a lot of research into not only the client, but the theme for the event as well. The actual process of designing starts the old-fashioned way: with pencil and paper. Once the basic idea is born this is then translated into 3D in its simplest form to see if it works visually. Once we are happy with the basic concept in 3D we start to think about the finishes, materials and technology that will need to be incorporated into the design such as video projection or LED display, any special lights we would like to use, etc. Once the staging concept is complete, with the correct technology specified, the design will be redrawn accurately in 3D Max so we can create photorealistic renders to present to client.
Above all, we believe in our process. We call it ‘creating a show within a show.’ Our concepts orchestrate scenic, lighting, video and motion graphics into a singular vision. By creating all the elements of a production in one environment – such as d3 – projects become seamless from start to finish. It not only saves on time and ensures the production has a uniform look and feel, but it also effectively utilises budget; deploying funds on actual deliverables as opposed to additional agency fees.
More on d3 and lighting
If you’re pixel mapping an entire rig, and have a non-lighting person who isn’t in that cue 1, 2, 3… ‘mindset’ to create video content that is applied to the lights, you create very different looks, effects and transitions. d3 allows you to do this with incredible ease and versatility, and in far less time than it takes to create a precise and exact cue list for a song on a lighting console. Lighting consoles create looks and effects in certain ways, and put you into a certain workflow.
Why are other South African and African production and design companies not using d3 technology?
d3 is a big investment, and since we are a design company, we use d3 creatively as a significant part of our process. Other production companies are usually equipment and rental companies, so they aren’t necessarily used for the same purposes.
What’s next for Formative with evolving technology -are there limits to what can be done?
I would say that there are no limits to what can be done on stage. There are loads of things we still want to try. One of them being motion tracking; projecting onto moving objects and people. This is going to take stage production to another level, and we are eagerly awaiting that one client who is keen to do something like this, as it would be a first in South Africa.
Summing up the level of productions in SA
You can’t put on an epic concert without an epic stage, look and visuals. When Kanye West had a floating stage at his Saint Pablo Tour Show in October last year, there was huge backlash with critics saying he ripped off the idea from South Africa’s Cassper Nyovest. Local and international communities recognised that this was something one of our own had done, which tells us of the impact our hip hop artist are making with their insane productions. If we can play any part in getting our artists recognised, especially on an international scale, then we have done our job.