Lighting Dimensions (212-229-2981), September 1994 issue:
Marc Brickman, Robbie Williams, and Mark Fisher Set The Stage For Pink Floyd's World Tour
by Catherine McHugh
With or without the benefit of mind-altering substances, even the most jaded modern concertgoer can expect Pink Floyd to put on a show that aims to rattle the senses. As the revered godfathers of the stadium spectacle, the band members have only themselves to blame for the standard they are now expected to uphold.
So, comparisons to past tours seem as natural as they are inevitable -- but show director Marc Brickman will have none of that.
"I don't do comparison shopping -- the last tour was what it was, and this tour, well ... I just wanted to carry on the legacy that people have come to expect over the past 29 years from Pink Floyd," Brickman says. "I very luckily inherited this legacy, and I wanted to carry it on and bring it to another generation. For so many years they've been successfully bringing their show to a stadium and really made it work for everybody in that stadium."
With that agenda in mind, Brickman began formulating a design plan in February 1993 with the band members, manager Steve O'Rourke, and production director Robbie Williams.
"I had some general parameters of what I didn't want," Brickman says. "I didn't want a McCartney show, I didn't want another Genesis show, I didn't want a huge steel show -- but that I have. It was to have been something a little bit more organic, for lack of any better term. I felt that audiences were tired of getting beaten over the head by all these huge stadium shows, and I couldn't possibly see what their interest would be in it anymore."
By June, the design team decided to enlist British set designer Mark Fisher, who had worked on the previous Pink Floyd tour and on The Wall. "Brickman had a very clear conception of what it was that he wanted to do, and then it was down to Robbie and myself to develop the eventual way in which the thing was done," Fisher explains. "In this particular triumvirate, I was the source of eyes and the sketch artist, and Robbie was the sounding board for the logistics, the practicality of it. Marc was the sounding board for saying, 'Yeah, that's what I want,' or 'No, that isn't what I want.' And he and O'Rourke had a very clear idea of producing what he described as, 'a gateway to another world at the end of the stadium.'"
Brickman originally envisioned that gateway as a big global structure that would open up like a spaceship and have projections thrown onto it and tracking lights going up the ribs. "That's when Robbie and Mark jumped in heavily," Brickman acknowledges. "Because I am not an engineer, and I am not very good at moving past the conceptual, and putting it into practice. There were some changes, obviously, some compromises, but overall Mark and Robbie definitely held to the original concept, and they did a wonderful job bringing the vision to life."
During the gestation period, the globe metamorphosed into a massive arch, which incorporates several tons of necessary steel. The first prototype was built in mid-September and other full-size models were built in practice construction runs that lasted until shortly after Christmas 1993. The fruit of their labors was then shipped over to America and put up in an airplance hangar in San Bernadino, California in February, where the production rehearsals -- and the real fun -- began in earnest.
"When we started rehearsals, Robbie and Mark handed the whole mess back to me and said, 'Now, make it look good,'" Brickman says. "So I come back into the picture at this point, and go into programming it second by second."
Although he describes himself as a non-technical designer, Brickman nonetheless has a reputation for consistently incorporating cutting-edge technology into his designs. Aside from the large numbers of lighting companies involved (Brickman jokes that when all the reps show up, he has an LDI convention and light show on the road), this show features equipment never before seen in a touring concert environment. Examples include: the much-touted, isotopesplitting, copper-vapor lasers (manufactured by London-based Oxford Lasers and distributed by Rocklite of Toronto), the Obie Company's brand-new Xescans, and Cameleon's latest Mark IV Telescans.
"I guess I have to take responsibility for the design and look of the show because what you see -- the choice of equipment -- was based on what I saw in my head all along," Brickman says. "But you can't do it without a team. They protect me. I take all the credit and they do all the work."
Brickman's foray into the laser arena began with a trip to Hughes Aircraft. "Being an American, I listen to all the propaganda that our news media puts out, so as they said something about how they were reducing the defense budget and trying to turn the defense into commercial applications, I figured maybe I could go out and buy some "Star Wars" lasers," Brickman says. "And at the time that I was doing that I got a call from Mark Loman at Rocklite describing this laser. So, I went out to Toronto and saw it, and thought it was great. And I have 2 complete, 50W, copper-vapor laser systems."
Warren "Wiggy" Toll, the tour's laser operator, says, "These lasers have never been used in this application before; they're used mainly for high-speed photography and nuclear research. Marc was most intrigued with the power output, which is substantially more than a standard argon laser system that is primarily used in this application. Also, the colors that we could achieve from this laser are a yellow-gold line and also a green. The raw power of it, the size of the beam, and the colors are different from those in an argon system. We have 2 complete systems, but if Brickman had it his way, we'd have 6 or more. They're really expensive lasers, about $120,000 apiece, and that's just for the laser and the power supply, not including all the other electronics and hardware that we require to run a creative-looking show."
The laser team's initial challenge was to design a new projector that would accommodate the beam's diameter of almost 2". "Although we've had quite a lot of laser experience, we weren't used to using a laser that put out a beam of that thickness," Toll explains. "In and before rehearsals, we had to design a new style of projector and a new way of actuating the beam or switching it into different channels."
Toll operates the laser cues from a simple 36-channel preset analog lighting board. "It's very low-tech compared to the lighting boards I'm sitting next to, but that's what we need, something that's very hands-on, Toll says. "we're in about half of the songs, in two sets. Laser effects are a special effect, and they're used accordingly, but you can spend eight hours doing a set-up for a 15-second effect. And each time we use an effect, we try to use a different one to keep the variety going."
The two other Rocklite crew members, Al Bomanski and Dave Jerrett, monitor the laser systems from on-stage positions during the show. Rather than use the conventional hardware that the company uses on most of its laser projectors, the engineers instead came up with new effects and then outfitted the old projector with larger pieces of glass, larger pieces of hardware, and larger adjustments.
"We had a brilliant light source, but we couldn't do anything with it unless we found out a new way to switch it," Toll says. "Rocklite is the first laser company to use these lasers and Pink Floyd is the first tour to ever incorporate these types of lasers into a show. They've really just been used for lab research in the past -- they've certainly never been used in rock and roll, but I guess Pink Floyd is a good place to start."
The Obie Company certainly felt the same way about their new product, the Xescans. "The Xescans came out of the fact that I love Xenon sources, but they're very, very large and heavy," Brickman says. "I was walking around Hughes Aircraft with [Obie vice-president of sales] Mike Keeling and they had this light that actually doubles as a sun for their satellites to be tested on. I saw this light off their helicopters, and the Xescan came out of my wanting to use the helicopter search lights.
"Keeling was very much involved in putting it together for me," Brickman continues. "And then Obie decided they would rather go with something with a mirror on it, rather than trying to use the joystick helicopter light. So they showed me this light that had a Telescan mirror on it, which blew my mind, because suddenly we had this huge, bright, 2kW source that snapped around and did things. It was a searchlight, basically. I was originally going to use them as followspots, but the beam doesn't lend itself to that. But it's a beautiful light. I'm real happy with it.
Yet Brickman saves most of his praise for Cameleon's new Mark IV 2500W Telescans. "These new Telescans weren't available until January , so originally, we only had 300 Vari*Lites, and I was still playing around with the projection at that time," Brickman says. "When I saw the 2500W Telescans, I fell in love with them. I have to say it's probably the greatest light on the market now. There's nothing else that comes close to it at 90' in the air. It's just unbelievably clean and bright, and the color is just stunning."
Some of the patterns in the Telescan scroller come from the patterns in the projectors, but Brickman let Telescan programmer/operator Gilbert Azzam choose many of them. "I let my guys have what they like," Brickman says. "I look at each one of them as an individual artist, so I try to give them as much freedom as possible as far as what they have in their equipment and the fun they could have. Because ultimately, everyone has got to have fun, or it's not going to work."
No worries there, because Azzam, who has been associated with Cameleon for the past 11 years, is a decidedly enthusiastic operator of the 36 powerful HMI fixtures. [HMI probably refers to high-pressure mercury-vapor incandescent lamps. --mb] "There are 38 different gobo patterns and they are all strong enough to hit the musician from the top of the stage, which is about 75' tall," Azzam says. [A gobo is a movable shield, used for example to provide sharp cutoff of a stage light's field of illumination. -- mb] "The new scrollers can withstand the 2500 HMI of heat -- most others would melt. A brand-new feature is the colored gobos in the scroll. They have been holding up even better than I expected on this tour -- and right now Pink Floyd has the only fixtures that are in existence."
It's probably safe to say that Stagecraft built the largest mirror ball in existence for this tour. With a diameter of 16', the mirror ball rises up from the middle of the stadium field this time, to a final height of 70'. When it's finished its ascent, it bursts open, becomes about 24' wide, and reveals the 12000W Phoebus HMI fixture inside. The ball is also hit from both sides of the stadium by the tour's 4 Gladiator spotlights and by 12 VL2C automated luminaires, which are positioned underneath it.
In addition to the mirror ball, there are also quite a few purposefully familiar touches: the circular screen ringed with Vari*Lite automated luminaires, the inflatable pigs -- and the reappearance of original Floyd LD Peter Wynne Willson's liquid light show and spinning color-generators, the "Daleks." Yet as familiar as each detail may be, all of them have been altered to blend in with the new show.
Wynne Willson joined up with the design team at LDI 93 in Orlando last November, where he heard that Pink Floyd was planning a tour. He also heard that David Gilmour wanted the Daleks back in the show. The name Daleks comes from the robot extraterrestrials in the English TV program, Dr. Who; the actual fixtures are high-powered, four-sided rectangular spinning color boxes that come up out of the stage floor.
According to Wynne Willson, the devices are meant to be a high-speed color effect. "It's more of a subjective effect than an image on the screen. Each person has their own sort of internal images when they see it. Unfortunately, the screen they've got on the Floyd tour is 70% gray, and so the high-speed effect is lost on the gray screen."
Nonetheless, the Daleks, which can operate at low speeds or at very high speeds, add a touch of nostalgia to the high-tech tour. Yet they too have been touched with the magic of '90s technology: the original circa-1968 Daleks were 1k incandescents -- today's are 4k HMIs. "So they're a bit brighter -- and with dichroic colors, they're obviously transmitting many times the amount of light that I was using," Wynne Willson says. [Dichroic filters allow the absorption of one wavelength of light to stimulate emission of a different one, for example to get natural colors from a normally bluish mercury-vapor light. --mb] "For color I used to use transparent lacquer on glass and they would often shatter, which would create quite a dramatic effect in the evening -- but they were alway reasonably enclosed so the band wasn't affected. The only people making dichroics large enough for this effect were at Lightwave Research, and they did really well at providing us with the colors and the speed that we needed."
The Daleks are controlled through the Wholehog board, and they also have internal programming. "The Wholehog is basically selecting cues," Wynne Willson says. "We tried to make the operation as robust as possible so that the DMX is triggering preset programs rather than relying on the MX levels."
The control circuitry was done by David Morrell, a longtime collaborator of Wynne Willson's who is associated with Andromeda, a lighting company in Northern Ireland and also a consultant for Avolites in the UK.
"So we got the Daleks and also the liquid light show from Peter," Brickman says. "And both of his contributions to the show are brilliant. The liquid light show is the same principle as how it worked in the '60s, except that it's on a very bright projector now. In the '60s they only had a 1000W carousel projector. The method is the same, the coloring is better, the projection is better."
The control is also better. "Around 1967, my wife, Susie and I used to do a lot of liquid lighting effects for Pink Floyd -- it was a heated liquid slide style," Wynne Willson explains. "For this tour, I've recreated that effect onscreen to a certain extent -- but now I've made it so it could be controlled with a good operator, which there is. It enhances the music -- it's not an automatic sound to light sequence, but it also isn't random -- it does work with the music."
Although Wynne Willson will say that the processes for achieving these effects are not particularly complicated, he has no intention of divulging his secrets in any detail.
"There are basically three liquid light effects: one recreation, one enhanced, and one done with the projector in overhead mode, which is no mean feat because thse are 6k HMI projectors -- so between the two numbers, they have to reorientate the projector and set it to predetermined stops," Wynne Willson says. "The operator has to set it with split levels so that when the projection comes on, it is spot on."
This very much hands-on system is operated by Laurence Duhamel. Wynne Willson worked on the actual looks in rehearsals and taught her to take over for him when the tour began. Olivier Payen, who controls all of the Cameleon teleprojectors, controls the board that switches the projectors and operates their scrolls and color changers.
Payen explains that the Cameleon Teleprojectors are basically the same as the Telescans, but there is different software for the projection machines. "We have four projectors and one special oil machine," Payen says. "The double scroller features the power of the image onscreen. The color changer is the same as the Telescan and it and the two scrollers can move up and down and can change the length of the 6k HMI special optic. Cameleon had them specially made for this tour."
Jean-Yves Moran from Cameleon worked with Mark Norden and Alex Quintero from the London-based company Four-Eye to create the visuals Brickman specified. "In the first part of the show we have everything from Peter Wynne Willson's liquid toys on a specially souped-up Telescan projector," Brickman says. "Then we have actual 70mm film in the second part of the show."
In keeping with the blend of old and new, the lighting crew includes both familiar and fresh faces. Vari*Lite programmer and operator Mike "Oz" Owen worked with Brickman on the 1989 Pink Floyd tour, and they have had an extensive working relationship since then. During the show, Owen's job is to run the upgraded Artisan console which controls the 92 VL2C automated luminaires, the 88 VL4s and the 150 VL5s, which are positioned in varied setups around the arch, ringing the screen, onstage, under the stage and on the mirror ball.
"We still have the circle screen, they're just not VL3s this time," Owen says. "Now we have '4s, which I like better. They are hung accurately, and the lights themselves are very accurate. So I don't have to work as hard as the other guys do on that, so it's kind of a luxury. It's also not my job to light people during the show -- it's not a priority."
Owen spent some time programming the show with Brickman in rehearsals and then he was left to his own devices. "Marc's not very specific in his instructions -- it's just our job to do what he wants," Owen says. "If we can't do it -- if it's not possible -- he wants it anyway. It's good to have that extreme influence, because otherwise we might not even try. And he certainly gives us all a reasonable amount of freedom. Pink Floyd's music is mainly just a series of big cues, although there is some specific wobbly stuff. I've certainly used all the cues allowed to me."
The process was certainly aided by Owen's prior knowledge of many of the song cues. "A lot of cues come from building on cues from the last tour because Marc believes that people like to see that -- lighting cues are part of the music," Owen explains. "I like it because when something really works, it's good to build on it."
Naturally, all of the new songs from "The Division Bell" were programmed from scratch and some of the old songs were completely redone. "And looks continue to change throughout the course of the tour. If it's crap, he'll be the first one to tell you; but it's a very creative and fast-moving process," Owen says. "It's developing all the time."
Wholehog operator Gareth Williams has also worked with Brickman for the last five years on such tours as Genesis, Paul McCartney, and Yumi Matsutoya. Brought on only about a month before the tour began, Williams had never run a Wholehog board before, so he took a two-day crash course at AC Lighting. "A board is a board, once you learn the basic premise behind creating a cue, and it's very easy with the Wholehog, I must admit," Williams says. "It's very similar to a Vari*Lite board, which I've dabbled with."
The equipment run directly off the Wholehog includes: 12 Obie Xescans, 6 HMI shutter/dousers, 6 Le Maitre processor/smoke machines, 3 Jem Roadies, and three Lightning Strikes strobes. The Wholehog also sends MIDI commands to two other computers, one of which drives the 600 channels of aircraft lights on the front panels of the stage (each one is an individual channel), and the other which does the rotation of the periactoi and the spinners that come up out of the stage and rotate. [A periactoi is a prism tower. -- mb] "So I have my hands full," Williams says. "My role during the show is just to operate all the cues on all the things that are attached. The hardest part is not getting absorbed in all that's going on."
The lighting that was built into the set was done by London-based Brilliant Stages in conjunction with the control and dimming systems that were done by Artistic License, also in London.
The job of coordinating all the different lighting companies and equipment on the tour was awarded to lighting stage manager Bill Martin. "During the show I don't do very much, it's more making sure that everybody has the hands they need -- basically in the lighting department -- making the load-ins and the load-outs as smooth as possible," Martin says. "We've got load-ins down to about eight hours; on the out, we've done anywhere between four and six hours. Our only major problems have been weather. We've all gotten really used to rain -- but we've had no major equipment problems."
Production manager Williams took care of the only real equipment problem: telling Brickman how much of what he specified that he could keep. "The relationship that I have with Pink Floyd and with most people that I work with, is that they let me design something, and then we try to fit it into their budget, or they'll tell me what they can't afford and we keep cutting back," Brickman says. "When we got to the point where we had to get serious about it, Robbie would tell me what my choices were and what things cost, and ask me what I wanted to get rid of. And I would go, whack-whack-whack-whack. It's simpler that way. But it's good that they let me go as far out as I want to begin with.
"So this show really is a collaboration, and in its purest form," Brickman continues. "I do call the followspots and I try to keep everybody going at the same time, rather than everybody being maybe a beat off. If I weren't there, I don't think it would be quite as smooth. At least I keep telling myself that."
Brickman credits the band and his crew with the production's success. "The band really are unbelievably secure in themselves by allowing us maniacs to do this to them," Brickman says. "And the music is the motivation. Without that music, none of this would be possible. We mustn't forget that."
That the 200-plus crew members milling about reflect their employers' confidence in their jobs is evident in the remarkable lack of tension and panic backstage. "Yeah, everybody's on Prozac," Brickman laughs. "No, nobody is on drugs, but everyone is congenial and happy. Everyone knows their job, does their job, and enjoys their job. And what I do is just my job also. I do my part."