By Claudia Cavallo
Photos: Florent Déchard / Peter Aquinde / Seven Design Works
Ilustration: Clara Porfirio
Whether you’re 8 or 80 years old, Bruno Mars’ new 24K Magic tour has something that is both familiar and innovative at the same time. The nostalgic look of PAR cans or colourful light panels brings a certain sensation of travelling back in time, only until we realize that the light sources are, in fact, LEDs and the last generation of moving lights integrated in automated systems which incorporate a series of scenic elements designed to impact audiences both live and through social media.
Photo: Florent Déchard
Concepts for the new tour began to be discussed in July last year, between the Up Town Funk star, Lighting Designer Cory FitzGerald and Production Manager Joel Forman. In December, the Production Designer LeRoy Bennett joined the team to create the final set design, which collected various ideas into a very concise look.
Photo: Florent Déchard
Both Bennett and FitzGerald agree that their client is the type of artist who knows what he wants and actively participates in the entire creative process of his shows. Initially, Mars intended to take care of the production himself, but decided to reconsider. ‘I was called to a meeting just before Christmas, when Bruno told me about the style he had in mind for the tour. At this stage of the process, it is important to listen to the artist, understand what he is seeking, scrap what is not necessary, zoom in what he is really trying to say and not to commit to doing exactly what he asks because many factors need to be taken into account. I heard Bruno, I understood what he wanted and proposed to do something in the same style, but cleaner and bolder‘, reveals Roy. ‘Bruno is super involved in the concept of his performances from start to finish. He has an amazing vision for what he wants to see and is always aware of what the show looks like from the audience’s perspective. We put together lots of references from shows that influenced him, which included aspects of the 80s, 90s and R&B style. Then, we upgraded the original aesthetic so that the end result represented the vision in his head‘, explains Cory.
Photo: Florent Déchard
Bennett and FitzGerald have been working together on presentations and tours of the Hawaiian performer since 2011, which contributed to the remarkable set design.
Rehearsals included three weeks in the state-of-the-art Rock Lititiz studio in Pennsylvania and three days in Antwerp, premiere city.
The stage was designed for large arenas, which creates the challenge of finding solutions to hide elements of great proportions until the very moment they need to be revealed to cause a striking impact. Having said that, although an opening band performs on the same stage, the set design remains a well-kept secret until the very first chords of Bruno Mars’ show. Even the latest adjustments are made in total secrecy, behind a curtain that lowers, covering not only the front but also the sides of the stage, as soon as the opening band finishes its performance. The audience is stirred up with a selection of well-known upbeat songs until screens above the stage display teasing messages indicating that it is now showtime. Suddenly, the curtain rises to reveal Bruno and four of his band members, individually positioned in five light panels of different colours, a reference to the ‘disco’ years. This is the only moment when the multi-awarded Grammy singer and his musicians stand still. From the beginning to the end of the show this new generation of multi-task artists don’t stop, and they seem to have been born mastering how to dance, sing and play, all together, at the same time.
Photo: Florent Déchard
Design for live performance and social media
The structure of the stage was developed by TAIT Towers. The upper and lower borders of the stage receive a long outline that enhances the audience light. Twenty over-stage light Pods remind us to the Queen’s lighting designs. Taking into consideration that the 24K Magic is a XXI century tour, the old PAR cans were replaced by 420 Robe Spikie. ‘These fixtures were chosen for their versatility, speed and compact size. I wanted to pack as many units as possible into the pods‘ says Roy. The wonders of modern technology enables automated control of the Pods, forming various designs in harmony with the dynamics of the show. LED light boxes illuminate the floor in sync with the rhythm of the songs.
Photo: Peter Aquinde
An originally simple but versatile and efficient feature is the group of five back columns that rotate. One side is covered with high contrast material that evenly reflects the light from LED stripes. The reverse side is loaded with 375 Robe Spikie (5 rows of 15 units per column).
The backlight is reinforced by 48 Philips Vari-Lite VL6000 distributed in six vertical grids and 53 VL4000 provide side lights and effects. ‘As for many young artists, it’s really important for Bruno how the show conveys in the social media. The bright light and vibrant colours of the VL6000 look great on phone cameras‘, says Roy Bennett. ‘The Vari-Lite VL4000 BeamWash is fast, brilliant and lets you create all kinds of textures,’ adds Cory FitzGerald.
An LED screen flies in unnoticeably in front of the columns. Suddenly, images of the singer and the band are projected in real time to the delight of the audience located in the most distant areas of the arena.
Photo: Peter Aquinde
Surprises do not stop there. Fifteen L-shaped columns supported by 72 engines float into the scene, giving an even more three-dimensional look to the scenery. The movement of these arches is controlled by a TAIT Navigator system, which centralises the automation of all moving parts of the stage set.
Speaking of automation, eight motors push up platforms at different heights, adding levels to the stage and revealing LED panels for image projection. This design took into account audience sight lines in all the different points of a stadium or arena and used the elevators to improve visibility. The lighting system is controlled by two MA2 Full Size consoles and one MA2 Light.
Photo: Peter Aquinde
Follow spots are focused on the artist all the time and 7 Robe BMFL Spots are used as key light for all musicians. Fireworks and lasers couldn’t be left out of the range of special effects.
Tickets for the 24K Magic tour are sold out wherever it goes, reinforcing Bruno Mars’ talent and competence. This young showman has dance moves and ‘the Motown sound’ in common with his idols, but there is something more: leadership and involvement in every detail of the production of his work. The show comes to Brazil in November and fun is guaranteed, whether you are an old-fashion fan who screams and dances throughout the show, or the new generation, who brings social media in tow.
Photo: Seven Design Works
LeRoy Bennett is one of the world’s greatest references in show production and lighting design. In addition to starting his career with the unforgettable Prince, he has been working with Paul McCartney for more than twelve years. At the end of 2015, he received two of the industry’s most prestigious awards: the ‘Knight of Illumination Award’, in the Concert Touring Arena category for Lady Gaga’s ‘Artrave: The Art Pop Ball’ in 2014; and the ‘Parnelli Awards’, in the ‘Set / Scenic Designer of the Year’ category, for the Maroon 5 group’s 2015 tour. His ability to combine efficiency with creativity led him to achieve a leading position in the international industry, but one just needs to talk to him to realise that his ability to remain calm under pressure is the secret behind the success of this charismatic professional.
I remember you in the Rock in Rio 2, in 1991, with Prince, George Michael and INXS. Your hair was long, you wore socks instead of shoes and you slipped back and forth whilst operating the lighting console. What remains the same and what has changed in your career over the years?
(Laughs) That was because I wore pedals under the console and I could control them better without shoes. With regards to what remains the same: my passion for what I do. That is probably the most important thing. As for what has changed: the technology, which increasingly allows me to carry out more faithfully what I create inside of my head.
In an interview for the TPi magazine you commented that Prince was the most challenging artist you worked with. Why?
Prince taught me was something that he taught himself: how to push the boundaries. He dropped me at these places and I just had to figure out what to do, find an immediate solution… I was extremely lucky to work with him. I had the freedom to do what I wanted.
Event production is a tense job. Time is short and, as the deadlines tighten, it is common for everyone to get on their nerves. How do you deal with the stress of rehearsals for example?
Stress? Stress? (laughs). I’ve been in this activity for more than half of my life. I learned early not to stress myself, just stay focused and keep going. We do entertainment; it’s supposed to be fun!
You have been working in China and are now starting a project to teach, develop and guide young professionals and companies to use technology in an efficient and creative way over there. How do you plan to do this?
I’ve always found that there is no right or wrong, you simply figure out new approaches. I cannot teach anyone to be creative, but I can explain why we choose to do something in a certain way, the efficiency of doing things in a particular way and how productions are put together. I can teach effective practices. When people go to the university to learn lighting, theatre etc, they come out quite technical, but in terms of freedom, this does not really happen. As a designer, the most important thing is to understand where the parameters are and to think about how you can extend them and not let the theory or technical pre-concepts park you down. I cannot teach anyone to be creative, but I can show creativity to people and give them an opportunity to absorb whatever they can.
What advice would you give to young professionals who are not lucky enough to be part of this group that can learn directly from you?
It is important to have an open mind, understand that sometimes you must ‘let go’. By letting it go you find something even more interesting. Over the years I have seen people who can’t do it because they are too precious about this or that. Letting it go doesn’t mean to be sloppy. It means making something out of anything.
Cory FitzGerald was only 12 years old when he ventured in the world of lighting, helping a friend with some light bulbs at a summer camp. ‘I’ve been there since,’ he reflects, with the enthusiasm of someone who has clearly made the right choice in life. Working primarily as a programmer and later as a lighting designer, FitzGerald started taking his own clients about 8 years ago. Bruno Mars entered his curriculum in 2011, when he began to accompany the artist in almost all his presentations. Cory’s website features a long list of names and events which include Beyoncé, Justin Bieber and Jennifer Lopez, among others.
What was the main challenge in modernizing, without distorting, the 80s or 90s style in the lighting design of the 24K Magic tour?
Trying to upgrade a classic look wasn’t that complicated with the modern technology we had to build off of. Interesting was trying to keep the looks consistent and massive, while emulating the older technology, and keep the show simple yet as musically dynamic as possible. The tendency is to over complicate because we can do far more, but we really wanted to give the show the look and feel of a classic R&B style.
How has the work with Bruno progressed over the years?
I realise that the work was getting more and more complex. Along with the development of the music, the shows have gotten far more dynamic and we are using more special effects as well as more complicated stage ‘gags’.
What contributed to the success of your career from the first small opportunities when you were only 12 until you reach out to big names?
I have been lucky enough to work with some artists who particularly like to get involved in designing their shows and have a special interest in creating something new and giving a dynamic look to their presentations. I would say it was luck, above all else.
What are the main skills a new generation of lighting designers need to grow in this profession?
I think it’s very much a question of being in the right place at the right time. Dedication also helps. In addition, the ability of having a good eye to visualise things both for the viewer in the crowd as well as the audience at home helps when it comes to the internet generation.
Matéria publicada na revista Backstage edição 271 – Junho de 2017
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