Eight-time Grammy winner, Usher has set a new tone for residencies at The Colosseum at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, where his show opened on July 16, 2021 and burned up the strip this summer, returning for a few dates around New Year’s Eve. Live Design chats with Jackson Gallagher of FragmentNine about the video design for Usher: The Las Vegas Residency (see full credit list below).
Live Design: What is the overall design concept for the show?
Jackson Gallagher: From the very beginning, the whole team knew this wouldn’t be a typical Las Vegas residency show—Usher had dreams of something greater. We had incredible diversity in backgrounds on the design team for this. Our combined work spans Broadway, opera, concerts, television, fashion, and much more. This brought a plethora of ideas to the table. The concept of the show was a trip through Usher’s mind and his life. Part of the show took place in an epic club, part of the show in a world inspired by Usher’s experiences in Atlanta, “Magic City,” inside the bedroom of his mind, and then finally off into outer space. These concepts drove everything from costumes, to scenic, to video, to lighting.
LD: Can you talk about the video design from two angles: the gear used and the new LED screen in the venue; and content creation.. how and what??
JG: From a technical perspective, the room is a monster to work in. It is one of the largest proscenium openings in North America and upstage is a massive (recently upgraded) 5K+ Daktronics LED screen. You can’t get away from scale in this venue, so filling the space is a daunting task. Coming out of the pandemic we had to get creative on how we filled 120’ of proscenium opening without overdoing it. We needed volume and scale to compliment the house screen. We added 12 towers of video and lighting suspended under TAIT automation. This gave us depth in the stage picture that we used in a myriad of different ways.
For servers, everything was on disguise, it’s the only system we were comfortable with at this point tackling the technical challenges of the show. The Daktronics screen is mainly designed for sport venues or outdoor advertising. At full brightness it looks great but we had many dark and moody elements of the show with plentiful negative space in the content. The wall struggled at low brightness levels. Using disguise and the NotchLC codec was the best way to combat banding in content and the brightness challenges with the wall.
When it comes to content creation, we often hit the problem we see anytime we build content for large screens. Motion on a 15” screen reads incredibly differently from a 120’ screen. We were constantly playing with speed to get the right motion so the content was not overly distracting at scale. We had several animators working on this. We had our two in-house animators, Ally Munro and Pablo Beckett. In addition to our core team we had Cody Samson and several animators through Cour Content.
LD: How did you collaborate with the production design and lighting designer... in terms of color, intensity, convergence, etc?
JG: Balancing all the disciplines is always the ultimate challenge. We had a lot going on in this show and we had to take turns being the marching beat. Sometimes we relied heavily on video to carry the visual weight, and sometimes we let other disciplines take it. For my tally, one of the most successful video aspects of the show is that we managed to turn the upstage LED screen off for about six songs. We leaned on the lighting heavily and I think it worked. Having that contrast gave us more punch when we brought it back in after giving the audience a break. Our favorite video content in the show was for “Climax,” where we used the whole wall as a textural strobe. Short of some brief TV static, we mostly used solid white and solid black for this song and it was an iconic moment of the show. At the end of the show, we all took a step back and let lasers take the load for the first time of the show. Oftentimes, the boldest decision you can make as a visual designer is to turn something off.
LD: Challenges of working in the pandemic environment?
JG: It’s always a challenge to be aware of social distancing and masking while doing our jobs. We all see the value and necessity of these precautions. Now with vaccines it is getting easier but we aren’t out of the woods. If we had anyone contract it in this time it could have been catastrophic so in that respect we were quite lucky.
LD: What do you like best about your work on this show, I hear it looks fantastic!
JG: The opening act of the show is basically exactly what we envisioned when the team came up with the design. We often have to make a lot of cuts on any show and things change, but here the magic that we had in our head really landed on stage. It was this infinite club filled with light and I don’t know if I’ll ever get bored of it.
USHER THE LAS VEGAS RESIDENCY
Direction: Simon Hammerstein & Richard Kimmel
Creative Direction: Aakomon Jones
Choreography: Rio Henderson
Production Design: Paul Tate dePoo III
Production Fabrication: TAIT Towers
Costume Design: Emilio Sosa
Lighting Design: Jeremy Lechterman & John Torres
Video Design: FragmentNine
Production Manager: Brian Southall
Technical Director: Jack Kenn
Production Stage Manager: Marci Skolnick
Take a peek: