Five time Grammy winner Shania Twain has embarked on her dynamic “Shania Now” 2018 tour, which will take the global superstar across North America, South America and Europe this autumn before culminating in a swing through Oceania prior to Christmas. Shania has sold over 100 million records making her the best-selling female artist in music history. Last year she released her fifth studio album, her first in 15 years, titled ‘Now.’
Complementing her high-energy presence is a video-intensive production design featuring moving video cubes powered by a disguise 4x4pro media server fully loaded with Q-SDI VFC cards. “The shows video canvas is based around five 12-foot moving video cubes covered with a total of 18 LED surfaces; a large header screen; five LX pods with seven surfaces on them; a projection scrim; and two portrait-mode IMAG screens. We have a total of 29 separate video surfaces,” says Tom Colbourne, owner of Blink, a content studio and production company based in Burbank. Blink designed and produced all of the screen content for the tour with Colbourne serving as Video Content Director.
“The brief was to make something that could be reconfigured,” says Creative Director and Production Designer Rob Sinclair. “Shania wanted the audience to not know what was coming next and for the band and dancers to continually appear in unexpected places. She often referenced ‘Jailhouse Rock.’”
During the show dancers are perched on the cubes, the cubes act as band risers and Shania rides high atop them. The five large cubes are covered with animal print graphics to match her gown, optical black-and-white Pop Art, candy-colored lips, and country landscapes. Contiguous cubes covered with road house imagery form the backdrop for a song.
“We took Rob’s initial references and developed them into screen content designs for all 22 songs,” says Tom. “For a video canvas like this, the formatting and mapping needs to be part of the design process, not an afterthought. So disguise was key to the design development as we refined the content with disguise Programmer and Notch Integrator Brian Spett during the programming phase.”
Tom explains that Technical Director Richard Cullen and Brian Spett “worked out a series of different output maps, and disguise allowed us to effectively choose which map worked best based on the creative needs of that song. It was refreshing to have the creative and practical needs lead the technical solutions rather than the output maps restrict what we were able to achieve.”
A disguise 4x4pro was chosen for two main reasons, according to Brian. “We needed realtime flexibility with different mapping presets. We knew there would be times when it would look best to ‘project’ the content across the entire canvas, and disguise has a great tool for this. Shania wanted the flexibility to sometimes embrace the cubes with meticulous mapping and clever formatting and other times treat the stage as one big canvas.”
Secondly, “disguise was a vital tool to help us ensure cohesive integration of IMAG looks and screen content,” says Tom. “We knew we wanted to layer in content background looks into the IMAG feed. So during the first section, which is a kind of Pop Art evolution, we rendered various layers from our main screen content looks and used them as ‘treatment layers’ for the IMAG… We teamed with Silent Partners Studio to create the Notch looks under Rob’s creative direction.”
Brian adds that the 4x4pro also has the ability “to easily output the four LED and six projector outputs plus Notch integration from a single machine.”
“I don’t think we had any other options except disguise,” notes Rob. “We had a lot of content and a lot of surfaces and needed speed and reliability.” Brian used disguise extensively during prepro, “the visualiser was a key tool in early discussions with content creator Blink,” he recalls. “It allowed us to help check test pieces of content and determine ideal workflows. There were a lot of different surfaces in the design, and it was helpful to see which songs might work well with a parallel map versus a feed map. Especially with the three-dimensional cubes, it was useful to be able to orbit around and see how things looked from various audience perspectives. Even beyond the preproduction phase, we were able to keep working during ‘house lights on, screens off’ daytime rehearsal periods.”
Brian relied on a number of disguise features for the show. “MultiTransport is invaluable in this production,” he declares. “We have different transports for Base IMAG Looks, LTC Triggered Content and SockPuppet layers that allow the main show to run in the background but permit override ability from FOH. Although most of the show runs to timecode and jumps tracks automatically, we keep a MultiTransport open that allows for interstitial looks and a kiss-cam segment to be controlled from the grandMA2 at FOH. Setlists are used in conjunction with the MutliTransport features to keep the list of tracks that any transport can go between, helping to keep the system locked down and very organised.”
Brian also gives kudos to Automation Integration with Parallel Maps. “We obtain PSN data from the automation controller and are able to track the cubes in real time through disguise’s Parallel Map feature,” he points out. “This is essential for a couple of songs where it would have taken many, many hours to replicate the movement of the cubes through bespoke pieces of content in the traditional content workflow.”
In addition, Brian found that Incremental File Naming “really helped us save time from manually having to assign the main versions of songs in the timeline, especially as we tended to have multiple tracks running at once. Frame Patches also were especially useful. They allowed us to get requested content changes placed in the show very quickly between runs without having to wait for large renders or perform tedious timeline ‘punch-ins.’”
Earlybird Visual handled the previs. Andre Petrus is the tour’s Lighting Programmer and Kirsten McFie and Rupa Rathod are the Video Content Producers.
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