Currently one of the world’s biggest music artists, Drake is selling-out arenas around the globe. Following a hugely successful tour of North America, the show was brought to Europe.
Tour Director and Designer, Steve Kidd, and Lighting Director and Designer, Guy Pavelo, have both worked with Drake for more than five years, providing the designs for multiple tours, and use PRG to supply lighting and video technology for the tour worldwide, working with Curry Grant in North America, and Yvonne Donnelly Smith and Stefaan Michels for Europe.
The design incorporates multiple elements of lighting and video technology including a kinetic LED lighting system; a curved video wall; an array of lighting fixtures from high brightness beams to remote followspots; and video projection.
Guy Pavelo explains their approach to the design for the tour: “This was our fourth master rendition of the design. It was a conglomeration of different elements Drake liked. We spent five months on the design from the first plan. We would show Drake different elements and he would pick and choose what he liked most.
“One of his team found a stop-motion video of an art installation in Japan which was similar to our ball and winch set-up, and had little baseball-sized things which moved in one pattern over the course of about six hours, but since it was stop motion it looked like it took 20 seconds. They wanted us to recreate that.
“In order to accomplish this, we determined that we needed to make a gridwork for the spheres and not spread them out across the whole venue otherwise it wouldn’t make sense to anyone except in the last row.
The design started with a curved video wall built from 9mm LED. Guy explains: “We started with the curved wall, and then we created the set with the lifts and all of that stuff that Drake liked, and added the overhead structure which encompassed some of the house rig. With the kinetic addition, that’s what finally tied all the last pieces together and created the system over the deck.”
Steve Kidd continues: “That’s kind of our relationship with Drake. We come to him with our ideas, what we believe would be great concepts, he then takes those ideas and bends them a little, as all great artists do, and then we create a reality, knowing what our vendors are capable of, but we also have to be realistic about how we can actually tour it.”
Steve and Guy’s main consideration is making a design which can be easily toured around the world, packed into trucks and into venues quickly and easily. Guy explains: “A good part of that is how we worked with SGPS to build some of the elements, from the curved framework for the LED wall to the fact that every piece of truss up there which isn’t a cable bridge is custom made. We moved from 24 to 32 to 48-inch double-bay truss with a shorter leg set and cast assembly so that almost every lighting fixture on the show stays in the truss.
“The truss stacks three high in Europe in the trucks and four high in the States. It’s a time saver, personnel saver, and truck space saver. Yes, it’s big and consumes a little more floor space, but there are 700-800 winches up there that never need to be touched again.
“If we went with anything thinner to save on truck space, we would have a cart with pipes and poles, and we’d have to hang everything each day, which encompasses the potential for more failure, so this saves that.”
Steve agrees: “When building a new production, we’re always up against time. Time and space are the two things which we consider – particularly how much time we have to build the show and what it’s going to take space-wise to actually put it inside the venue.”
When planning shows, smaller venues or those with weight restrictions have to be taken into consideration. Guy Pavelo elaborates: “We’re up to the limit of the venue capacity in terms of what we can actually rig, but the guys aren’t killing themselves to load it in. We’re fortunate that a little extra money was able to be spent on custom truss so we could save the guys a little.”
A notable part of the show is the kinetic moving spheres which wow the audience at multiple points during Drake’s set. Guy explains how the system was developed: “The kinetic spheres are a collaborative project. Glow Motion Technologies gave us all the pieces - it’s actually two different components; the sphere, the physical plastic ball, and the LED chip inside all developed by Glow Motion Technologies. The winch itself is from Stage Kinetik, the hard-powered winch, data, and control, but Glow Motion handled acquiring all the necessary stuff to put it together.”
Steve Kidd continues: “The winch from Stage Kinetik does all the work. Initially when Guy and I first started talking about this design it wasn’t a sphere, but by luck we got these spheres from a mutual friend of ours. They were used on an auto show in Germany, and were sitting in storage. The spheres are what they are, but without the winch it simply doesn’t work.”
Guy explains: “Without the winch, it’s similar to an art installation where the lights just go on and off, but after a few seconds, you’re done looking at it. With this people watch it, and then there’s another number and it looks different, and people don’t stop watching it.”
A major addition to the show design for the European leg was the projection globe. Drake was keen to give everyone in Europe a different show to the one which had been seen in North America.
The addition of a B-stage and the globe with projection meant some adjustments to the kinetic system. There had been a fly rail as Drake flew for one song, but with that removed, the winch system could be tightened up.
Guy explains the inspiration for the new projection globe: “That was from an art installation that happened in Toronto this past season. It was called Death of the Sun and it was a 45ft round sphere on top of a pedestal which was projection mapped. It was a 12-15 minute progression which had the different stages of the sun – from the birth of the star, through the nebula, until it finally burns out.
“The guys who created that had dealt with Drake in the past, so we were fortunate that with one phone call we were able to secure the ideas and the original and get the ball rolling. Two days later we had an object to start playing with here in Europe.
“We have eight Panasonic 30k laser projectors which are what’s driving the globe itself – four double-stacks in quadrant, and the guys are using d3 and Blacktrax to map and track the ball as its inflated during the show, so we can realign and hit it completely.”
The addition of the globe meant a quick change to the set up in Europe, for which PRG needed to add projectors and media servers to the setup. Guy explains the fast response to their request: “We called up Yvonne Donnelly Smith (Director of Music, PRG XL Video) and said, ‘we have a situation where we’re going to need a substantial amount of adjustment to the design’. They opened the shop back up at the weekend, and got personnel back in for loading the truck on a Sunday, which I know doesn’t usually happen, and we had the equipment on the Monday. It was a rush, but every single fixture worked and every one of them was clean, and they were sitting there Monday morning waiting for us to show up. It was fantastic. It was no problem, they said ‘just give us the list and we’ll figure out how to deliver it’.”
Another addition for Europe was the use of Barco projectors and their moving mirror system. Guy explains how they’re used: “They are a concept which High End came up with originally in lieu of lasers. They’re not laser projectors, but you can put content into them which makes them look like a regular laser. You can broadcast out over the audience with no regulations, or health and safety restrictions, and it gives a different look and colour. You don’t get the super-vivid green laser beam but, past that, you get its own type of effect which works really well towards the end of the show.”
The lighting for the tour was designed to complement the kinetic sphere system with many fixtures chosen for their compact size, energy consumption, and high brightness and impact.
Guy Pavelo explains the choice of the lighting fixtures: “We have a range of fixtures – PRG’s Best Boy Spot HP and Best Boy Washes, a small boat load of the Icon Beam; plus Clay Paky Sharpy and Stormy; SGM P5 and Q7 LED fixtures; a quantity of the new High End Solaspot 1500 and LED Solawash 37, with Martin Atomics and GLP XBar 20 fixtures.
“The spots and washes are used for overhead coverage – the trick being the size of the units. We had a very specific size range as we didn’t want to take the fixtures out of the truss every day, and if they were any bigger, they wouldn’t fit in order to stack it and fit in the truck. The overheads needed to fire through the winch and spheres to cover the deck.
“We went with the Icon Beam because the beam that comes out of it is a step forward. Drake wanted a different look and the beam is bigger than a Sharpy. Having the beam with some width, but coming out of a small compact head really worked out.
“For Europe we added the P5 and Q7 to give different mood coverage and house coverage elements as well. For followspots, the team chose the use of PRG’s GroundControl remote followspot system which situates the fixture on the truss, but with the control unit on the ground. They have two operators out at front of house and four backstage because the show is built in two halves – a forward U which includes the B-stage and then the main stage package.
Guy found several benefits in using GroundControl for this tour: “We have the GroundControl Bad Boy Followspot – six of those. We always usually have truss spots up top but with pyros and having people up there kicking their feet around, that’s a problem when mixed with the kinetic, so the GroundControl is a saving grace in that regard.
“When we made the shift to Europe and having the B stage all we had to do was take two of the lights down, move them over 10 feet, plug them back in and we were done. It didn’t turn into a six hour process to move two truss spots with trees and flight lifelines.
“We’re already rigging close to max capacity in most of the venues. The fact that we would have to have six more guys up there with an extra 5000-6000lb overhead for safety was saved.”
Steve and Guy have worked with PRG globally for a number of years to supply tours they design. For them service and support is the key. Steve elaborates: “We find that PRG has been an excellent provider of every aspect of all our designs. What I love about them is that the support is there, not only from the sales side so that Guy can achieve his dream of what he’s trying to deliver to the artist, but also where I have to come in on a budget number. We can say ‘what do you have that nobody else has used yet or that has just come out and looks amazing’, and we also get the crew support which comes along with such a great product.
Steve continues: “PRG has been great for us both domestically in North America, and worldwide. PRG has been a great supporter of Drake, and now with them purchasing video companies, that has escalated our relationship because we can now get lighting and video all in one. One of the hardest things in touring is getting different vendors to blend together. They have a cohesive team which all works together.
“It was important for us to work with people who wanted to be partners, and I know with both Curry Grant and Yvonne Donnelly Smith that the partnership worldwide means a lot to them, but it means a huge amount to us because we can count on them.
“Our client is one of the biggest in music right now – selling more albums and selling-out more venues than any other artist currently, so his expectation is high, and as the designers, our expectation of our vendors is also high.”
PRG XL Video’s Yvonne Donnelly Smith comments: “We have worked with Steve and Guy for a while now and their designs always push the boundaries of creativity. We’re proud to be able to support them on a global basis, working with our colleagues in North America, across Europe and beyond. The current tour looks amazing and audiences are giving it a fantastic reaction wherever it goes!”
More information on Guy and Steve's work: www.gp-sk.com
Photo credits: Brian Friedman and PRG XL Video/Alison Barclay