As founding member and chief sonic architect of Pink Floyd, the sky has always been the limit for Roger Waters; certainly in the realm of touring production. In addition to musically, he is an artist continually innovating and evolving. With his latest “Dark Side Of The Moon” touring run, Waters has pushed the creative limits to the moon and back. Roger’s lighting designer, Marc Brickman, has worked closely with the artist since Pink Floyd’s historic The Wall tour over 25 years ago, and always takes his performance visuals to new levels with cutting-edge technology. On this tour, Brickman iced the cake with solid-state lasers.
This latest tool—a mid-tour addition—in Brickman’s visual bag of tricks is a high-powered solid-state laser system provided by Lightwave International and Excitement Technologies Group (ETG). In addition to tremendous output and beautifully saturated colors, the system operates without any of the power and water limitations of older technology. The lasers are used specifically to reproduce the cover artwork of Dark Side Of The Moon, an iconic effect that truly tops off an already incredible show. With this effect, Brickman brought Waters his artistic vision of Storm Thorgerson’s original album cover artwork. Now lasers form the prism, as well as the trademark look of a single bright beam entering the prism, and the prismatic fan exiting the other side.
The effect was conceptualized by Marc Brickman, ETG’s Kelly Sticksel, and Lightwave International’s George Dodworth. Design was executed by Chris Nyfield of Hindsight Studios and Brickman, along with Sticksel and Dodworth. George says that Hindsight's amazing talent at visualization was one crucial element that made the project possible in such a short time period – just three weeks from contract to delivered product. The base structure was fabricated by ShowRig, headed by Eric Pierce. Final assembly was a joint effort between ShowRig, ETG, Lightwave International, Hindsight Studios, Stack Technical Services, and GCN Technologies.
Leading Roger Waters’ production team are tour director Andrew Zweck and manager Mark Fenwick; also on the tour are production manager Chris Kansy, tour manager/FOH engineer Trip Khalaf, stage manager Mark “Kahuna” Candelario, and lighting board operator Mark “Sparky” Risk. Key vendors involved in production include SGPS, lighting vendor PRG (Production Resource Group), audio supplier Clair Brothers, and XL Video, with pyro supplied by Strictly FX.
The high-power laser concept sprang to life when Brickman contacted ETG’s Kelly Sticksel, as Marc knew ETG had access to the newest solid-state laser technology; in turn, Sticksel called on production partner George Dodworth of Lightwave International to provide the necessary equipment. The laser effect was implemented during the Mexico show dates, with Lightwave International’s Dodworth and ETG’s Sticksel working with Brickman, Chris Nyfield and SGPS at final construction. Eric Pierce of SGPS explains, “When SGPS, Inc's. ShowFab division was initially approached by Marc Brickman to help with the mechanical design and construction on a multifaceted rotating prism concept for the tour starting in South America, the initial plan called for a mechanical device including 12 independently rotating and telescoping triangular panels that transformed from an abstract effects structure into the recognizable prism from the Dark Side Of The Moon album cover. After building a small scale Styrofoam® model, it was decided that we needed to build a full-scale structural frame. But Marc had moved forward with the concept from that of a mechanical system to a more ethereal one done almost entirely with lasers.”
With this new approach, Brickman brought Waters his artistic vision of Storm Thorgerson’s original album cover artwork. Pierce concludes, “When the lasers arrived, and we were able to assemble and test the system in our Los Angeles facility, everyone was blown away with the strength of the beams and the overall effect of the system.”
Dodworth says the prism effect is created by five custom-built solid-state lasers, producing an awesome 100+ watts of total power. The three dimensional rotating tetrahedron is created by 2" diameter white beams, and sculpted by a precisely aligned mirror array. The massive scanning lasers produce an assortment of effects in addition to the iconic white beam and rainbow fan. These lasers output over 34 watts each, and are likely the most powerful full color lasers in the world. “This is huge. The industry used to measure laser power where it entered the projector, and real output power could be 50% or less for some models – especially when inefficient fibers were used. These lasers are rated at the projector output, so these power levels are truly monumental,” Dodworth adds.
The heart of the control system is the Lightwave Laser Server, which is powered by Pangolin software. Cues are programmed in the style of any other media server, and live control is handed over to a grandMA via DMX for showtime execution. This gives the LD complete control over the laser effects. An important feature of the effect is the ability to rotate. A military grade slipring passes power and data to the 2500lb structure, allowing for continuous rotation. The overhead rotational housing also features a climate control system assembled by ETG. George explains, “Air temperature is correctly regulated, whether 40ºF at night in the deserts of Mexico, or 100ºF during the day in the equatorial regions of South America. This allowed the entire effect to be weatherproof, which was important when suspended from cranes in venues throughout the world; Kelly’s approach worked brilliantly.”
Asked about the integration of the laser system during the tour, Production Manager Chris Kansy comments, “I was amazed to learn that this bright and powerful unit wasn't water-cooled; we are using the effect in a very interesting way, flying it over the audience. That certainly would have been a challenge with older technology! It has added greatly to the vibe factor of the show, as we now have that ‘wow’ effect to finish the Dark Side Of The Moon set.”
Touring lighting director Mark “Sparky” Risk details the balance of Brickman’s lighting package for the tour. “Control is via a Vari-Lite Virtuoso VX Console, and we use 30 VL3000 spots arranged across three straight trusses, together with nine Syncrolite MX1000’s for top light,” he says. “Eighteen VL3000 washes hang horizontally on six torms for cross washing the stage, while 16 VL2000 washes are used as floor lights together with 12 Thomas Pixelines and 16 Martin Atomic 3000 strobes with color scrollers.” Also highly notable are the 19 smoke machines consisting of predominantly MDG Hazers and JEM ZR33 smoke machines, many controlled from the desk.
Risk says he particularly enjoys the way the lighting works in tandem with the video; the result forms the centerpiece of Waters’ show. “It was vital to treat the two elements as one facet,” he says. “Blending the two was integral to Roger's vision of the show.” Sparky continues, “The prism is a magical moment, as are a lot of the smaller, subtle cues. Another favorite moment for me personally was in Monterey, where the sprinkler system went off at FOH at 2am!”
Martin Potoczny of Lightwave International is the laser board programmer/operator, and has road managed the new effect since its insertion in Mexico, through South America, Europe, and into the US and Canada. Martin explains, “The lasers themselves are fully sealed from dust and grit, which is great for me! Through the sprinkler storm we experienced in Mexico to the dust fields in Peru, this system can stand up to the worst of touring conditions. Programming with the grandMA is a fantastic way to top off this project full of new and exciting technology; not only does it allow for accurate programming of the laser media server, it provides a consistent cue stack style playback that older laser control systems just could not offer!”
Dodworth points out, “The direct diode technology has performed superbly. There are no optical elements subject to misalignment such as found in the older DPSS solid state systems, so the lasers were able to ride inside the projectors on standard steel carts without any worries.“
ILDA (International Laser Display Association) executive director Patrick Murphy says, "Solid-state lasers are revolutionizing laser effects, making them much easier to use in high-profile, high-impact shows. For laserists, it is like moving from vacuum tubes to integrated circuits. An outstanding example of this technology is the impressive laser effects used on Roger Waters' tour. This is something that would have been virtually impossible just a few short years ago."
Kelly Sticksel, CEO of Excitement Technologies Group, comments that this touring effect represents a memorable milestone in his company’s career. “It has been incredibly gratifying to have talent of this magnitude involved in this voyage of touring with full color solid-state laser technology. Also, we’re very proud to have helped Marc Brickman achieve Roger Waters’ vision of this prism effect, and to have worked alongside the talent of George and his team. Marc’s designs have always been at the bleeding edge, and this tour is absolutely no exception. It’s been great to work with a designer of his caliber. Furthermore, everyone on Roger’s team, from Andrew to Chris and beyond, have supported this concept and helped make things happen night after night. Similarly, Chris Nyfield’s contribution to this project has been immeasurable. Thanks to all involved, now the touring world gets to see what high-power solid state laser technology can achieve, and it’s spectacular to behold.”