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APPETITE FOR DISCUSSION
Welcome to Appetite for Discussion -- a Guns N' Roses fan forum!

Please feel free to look around the forum as a guest, I hope you will find something of interest. If you want to join the discussions or contribute in other ways then you need to become a member. We especially welcome anyone who wants to share documents for our archive or would be interested in translating or transcribing articles and interviews.

Registering is free and easy.

Cheers!
SoulMonster

2010.12.DD - PLSN - Guns N' Roses Tour Places Video Front & Center, and Director FOH

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2010.12.DD - PLSN - Guns N' Roses Tour Places Video Front & Center, and Director FOH Empty 2010.12.DD - PLSN - Guns N' Roses Tour Places Video Front & Center, and Director FOH

Post by Blackstar Thu Nov 04, 2021 6:26 am

Guns N' Roses Tour Places Video Front & Center, and Director FOH

While it's not surprising that the current Guns N' Roses world tour is a big old-fashioned three-guitar arena show with enough pyro to make you think you're in Boston on the Fourth of July, it's not the typical flash and trash lighting rig. And even though the increasing importance of video in rock shows is nothing new, this one stands out.

Greg Shipley goes by the title of "show designer," and his duties include production and lighting. But he's also largely responsible for just about everything else, including the video and the sets.

"It's definitely a big show," show programmer Chris Nathan says. Nathan drives the show using a Compulite Vector Red lighting console from his vantage point right beside Shipley at the FOH. "Sitting together allows for great timing, because both lighting and video cues can jump to beats and we can work offer each other," Shipley says. They have a total of four Vector Reds on the tour, two main and two backups. (Camera switching and I-Mag work is still done in video world, handled by Peter Moll.)

Big Vision, Big Budget

Shipley says the whole tour started with a designer's three favorite words: "Budget doesn't matter." "I was just told to design something really big," he says. "For me, being from the wrestling background, which is known for a lot of video showmanship, I decided to start with a lot of that." The extravaganza did initially feature 19 video surfaces, though time, logistics, and the economic realities of shipping overseas pared it down to 11. There's one center main wall, two side displays for I-Mag and content, and four other video walls, plus a few other smaller ones.

"Originally, the show had a moving motor system for the circle, and we were able to do creative designs with that," Shipley says. "We also had three center video surfaces in the middle and also downstage, so when the circle split and moved, we ran video on it so people could see that it was moving - and we moved it frequently."

The tour, named after the album Chinese Democracy, started appropriately in Asia and then moved to Canada. Those shows featured the "full design, all the bells and whistles."  Then they went to South America where the rig had to be cut down significantly. "And once you cut it down, it's hard to get it back!" But when they hit Europe they did exactly that, bringing back the circle elements and some of the video wall movement. But there were other challenges; sometimes they could bring their own gear to a gig (good!) and sometimes they had to grab what they could (not as good).

Still, there's no "A/B/C" show per se, but instead, Shipley pulls out his CAD and tweaks the drawing right there to fit the venue. "There are several different scenarios for different situations, but every show is unique. Some places we take out some video because of the restrictions to the roof. One time we cut all the video. Some other places had full high trim and we could see the moving motor system. We're all very flexible."

Teamwork

Shipley's journey to big rock icon shows is not typical. He started out handling lighting chores on cruise ships and then he did some corporate work before landing a gig as chief lighting programmer for WWE for three years. He has also done a little rock ‘n' roll work, but only two as the designer: Smashing Pumpkins and now Guns N' Roses.

Nathan has been around the business a long time. When he was a kid, his stepfather produced shows at a playhouse in New Fairfield, Conn. "When I was 17, I ran spots for different musicals," he says. By 1997 he was working professionally as a lighting tech. He worked his way up through festivals and corporate gigs and was lighting director for Queensrÿche and K.C. & the Sunshine Band, among others.

"I first hooked up with Greg and introduced him to the [Compulite] console during his time as lead programmer on WWE, sometime around summer of 2006," Nathan says. "When Greg secured the Guns N' Roses tour back in 2009, he asked me to join him on the road as a programmer and console operator for the media servers."

"When I was out on wrestling, I was trying to find consoles to ramp up that show. I needed more console to do more things," Shipley says. "Well, lo and behold, when I found the Compulite Vector Red and I was interested in trying it out, who brought it out to me? Nathan."

The team's approach to creating the concert follows no formula. "I don't follow the start-small-and-build scenario," Shipley says. "The audience gets 90 percent of what we have for them right off the bat. The first four songs are full throttle. Then we hit a slow song and dial it back, but it all goes from top to bottom. I would like to think it's entertaining from start to finish."

"But this approach has a lot to do with the band we're dealing with," Nathan adds. "That's how they do the show - they hit it hard right off the bat, so the visuals follow suit."

The band is built around Axl Rose plus three guitars, two keyboards, bass and drummer. All but Rose pretty much stick to their places on stage, though Rose makes up for it. He's a non-stop speeding bullet, ricocheting around the stage so much that keeping the focus on him keeps everyone on their toes.

"I designed the set so the drums sit on top of the riser, with a piano that rolls out underneath for certain songs," Shipley says. "Stairs rise up and down around the drummer and there's a lot of running area for Axl. He likes to run, and we've created space for him to do that."

For lighting the band, there's a lot of backlight, plus a total of six followspots. Because of all the action, they light the whole stage, though there are specific moments, like during "November Rain," when the piano comes out and there are very specific lighting cues. Otherwise, they go with what's happening at the moment.

"It's a big, spectacular show, and it all moves according to what the song does," Nathan says. He adds that, while it's a bit of a Catch-22, because of all the video, it's actually lit more for television. "He's got a big look all over the place, but he'll pull back for a bass intro or keyboard break and then push it back in." And on big moments like "Sweet Child O' Mine," the guitarists doing the solos tend to end up in the same spot and "we like those!"

The set was built by Accurate Staging based on Shipley's CAD drawings using Vectorworks. He had never built a set before and says he just visualized it and drew it up. "All of the show is based on circles - truss, sets, video - all based on a curve."

There's a mix of Martin MAC 2000 Wash fixtures and Vari-Lite VL3000 Spots, which they both like working with.  "Even though they aren't the newest fixtures out there, MAC 2k washes are still one of the best if not the best," Nathan points out, adding that they're ubiquitous, which is certainly an advantage when you're playing countries like Slovakia. Strictly FX handles the heavy pyro duties.

Content for video came from several sources. For the songs on the new album there was a great deal of content created for videos that the team had access to. They had specific songs with built-in movies, and they used different elements for different screens. "For the rest of the show, Chris took elements already in the Catalyst (media server), tweaked it and made it great," Shipley says. "I never have to say anything about his creative work with video."

Nathan says they rely on a Catalyst V4 media server and have three on this tour. He runs the video elements much as Shipley runs the lights. "That's the beauty of running video from a Compulite console," he says. "It does all the things that the lighting rig can do, fading content in and out, bumping the faders, creating white flashes for cymbal crashes - that's what makes it really cool.

"I think a lot of the show's success has to do with the big looks that are being produced from lighting and video," Nathan continues. For him, largely because of the Compulite board, it's different in that he's programming a lighting console to do video cues and lights and "really enjoying the hell out of it. In the past, you could do some awesome stuff with video, but it's a lot faster to do with this console." Both Shipley and Nathan appreciated that the Compulite board allowed him to be his "strong button pusher programmer kind of guy" as opposed to the touch screen aspect.

"I personally like the ‘Live and Let Die' moment," Shipley says. "Not just because it's a cool song, but it's all white - a big, fast, moving white song." Video director Moll uses color in the I-Mag until it kicks in, then goes to black and white and then red when the pyro goes, transitioning back to color for the calm part.

"This is one of those shows where all the songs are good," Nathan adds. "There are times when you're working on this side of the business and you get tired of the music quickly. We've been doing this for a year and I still really enjoy it."  

Big Guns in Pyro, Video Brought Out for GNR Tour

When Reid Nofsinger of Strictly FX started working with Axl Rose's right hand man, Del James, to update the pyro looks that had been part of Guns N' Roses' touring shows for 15 years, he began with a completely blank slate. "I didn't even want to see what they did before."

The album's title song, "Chinese Democracy," which opened the show, also gave Nofsinger inspiration for something completely new.  "We did a pyro chase that runs around the three runways, and all the sparks coming straight down masks the stage," he explains. "Then there are some concussion drops, and right there Axl appears and starts singing. Every night the cue had to be dead-on, and it was. It really excited the audience. Axl loved it."

Another signature moment happened during "November Rain." Instead of going with the whole waterfall idea, Nofsinger chose a series of 20 by 20 gerbs placed around the curving staircase. "Instead of firing all at once, individual gerbs went off to the beat of the music in half-second intervals, and the guitarist standing there became wrapped in sparks."

Once the new pyro design was set, few things changed during the tour, with the notable exception being Japan. "There, you can only shoot 100 pieces of product total, and in the opening we shoot 120 chase pieces alone." But the crew made it work so that audience got a great show like everyone else.

John Wiseman of Chaos Visual Productions was called on to supply the complicated video elements to the Chinese Democracy tour. He's had a relationship with the band going back to his early days with Vari-Lite. Long-time GNR production manager Tom Mayhue said that he trusts him and his team completely.

"Greg [Shipley, show designer] put together a really cool design; Axl saw it and loved it, picking him to work on the show out of a blind group," Wiseman says. "He just knocked it out of the park, and we brought his vision to life."

Wiseman and his team worked on the rehearsals in Los Angeles, and seven crew members went to Canada, Asia, and South America with the tour. Once in Europe, Alex Leinster, who runs Chaos' new U.K. office, got involved to oversee the shows.

Among the video package supplied by Chaos was an Element Labs Stealth LED low-res video curtain, PPU HD camera system, and a group of "Super Catalyst" media servers.

From Wiseman's perspective, the video aspect of the show "stayed big the whole time. Axl wants to do the full show every time he can." He complimented Shipley on his ability to make that happen. "There was really no ‘B' show - just ‘A' and maybe ‘A minus.'"

Wiseman has a definite opinion and Rose, to. "The guy has balls, and you can quote me on that. He spent the money to go large. He's out there singing his head off for three and a half hours every night. He's a mad genius."

Original Crew List:

Production Manager: Chris Gratton
Stage Manager/Production Manager (Europe): Tom Mayhue
Production Designer: Greg Shipley
Video Programmer: Chris Nathan
Video Director: Peter Moll
Video Engineer: Josh Alberts
Catalyst Engineer: James De Stefano
Control Freak System Technician: Josh Levin
Lighting Crew Chief: Steve Roman (Epic Lighting); Glen Power (PRG Europe)
Head Rigger: Ryan Murphy; Charles Terrell (Europe)
SGPS Crew Chief: John Purciful
Automation Programmer: Brian Lolly
Video Company: Chaos Visual Productions

Gear

432 Element Labs Stealth tiles (110,600 pixels)
540 Philips/Color Kinetics iColor Flex Strings (27,000 pixels)
99 Winvision 8mm tiles (405,500 pixels)
4 Barco R20 20k projectors
4 Catalyst Media Servers
1 Control Freak System
4 Compulite Vector Red lighting consoles
4 Compulite E- Ports
98 Martin MAC 2000 Wash fixtures with narrow lens
30 Vari*Lite VL3000 Spots with custom gobos
19 Martin Atomic Strobe 3000s with Atomic color scrollers
17 Martin Stagebar LED fixtures
6 9-way Mole Fays
24 PixelRange PixelLines 1044s
2 Lycian M2 Followspots
6 Strong Gladiator 3 followspots
2 Reel EFX DF-50 hazers
2 High End Systems F-100 smoke machines
1 SGPS moving motor/tracking system

https://web.archive.org/web/20101230100758/http://www.plsn.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=6670&Itemid=40
Blackstar
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