Back In Black: The Black Eye Peas E.N.D. World Tour

The Black Eyed Peas have certainly reached pop-icon status, demonstrated on the E.N.D. World Tour, with a creative team that includes creative director and choreographer Fatima Robinson, production designer Bruce Rodgers, LD Marc Brickman, video designers Ian McDaniel and Mark Argenti of Gen2Media, and an intricate set and stage built by Tait Towers, all under the watchful eye of production manager Tim Miller.

Rodgers, president of Tribe, Inc., was one of the first designers on board, working from a show outline provided by Robinson, whom he calls “a great director and choreographer who has worked with the Peas for many years and has been friends with them since they were club kids back in the day.” Robinson’s creative brief was a series of moments and costume changes, but primarily, she and the group had already determined that the look and feel of the tour was to be very futuristic in theme, “like a cyber-tron music experience from the future,” says Rodgers. “They wanted to have a design that matched the intensity and energy of the music. It was a great way to start a design process, so I went about sketching and came up with a design fully inspired by the Peas’ music and ended with a concept that looked like a cross between an alien insect exoskeleton and a time machine.”

Rodgers’ production design established placement of lighting, effects, and video, creating a full book of storyboard sketches for Robinson and the band to preview. He also enthusiastically recommended Brickman as LD, as well as McDaniel and Argenti from Gen2Media as video designers. “These are great visual designers that understood the layered design approach we were after and executed everything perfectly, and the Peas were there every step of the way, constantly throwing in ideas,” Rodgers says, noting that having a head start and an approved fully integrated design really made it a smooth process.

Brickman’s lighting includes 110 Philips Vari-Lite fixtures—VL3000 Spots and VL3500 Wash units—six PRG Bad Boys, 80 Philips Color Kinetics ColorBlasts built into pods of four by Tait Towers, as well as Martin Professional Atomic 3000 strobes with color changers and Lycian M2 short-throw followspots. Effects are via MDG Max 5000 smoke machines and MDG Atmosphere Hazers.

Brickman humbly notes that his goal for the tour was merely “to illuminate Bruce Rodgers’ brilliant design. As always, the job of the lighting designer is to complement and illuminate all other departments and the artists.” Lighting was provided by PRG. Brickman’s associate LD for the tour is Elisha L. Griego, and the lighting was programmed by Demfis Fyssicopulos.

The video-heavy show features a back wall comprising 896 sticks of Hibino LED panels (192mm horizontal by 64mm vertical) with 636 modules of 22"-square WinVision 8.75mm high-res screens layered in front, on the band risers, and for the medallion that crowns the set. The setup is run via a Gen2Media Green HD playback system that syncs video with audio coming from MOTU Digital Performer software. “Two HD servers are used to drive the LED walls and projectors,” says McDaniel. The projectors are Barco FLM R20+ units, four on stage and two per side converged on 12'x16' rear-projection surfaces and used for I-Mag content from five Ikegami HL-45 (16:9) cameras. A Pinnacle PDS 9000 digital production switcher is also on board. Screenworks/NEP supplied the video gear.

“Content was mostly done on a series of [Apple] Mac Pro towers using [Apple] Final Cut Studio, [Adobe] After Effects, and Cinema 4D,” says McDaniel. “We designed the video in a large 3,000x4,000 pixel comp and cut it up to fit inside of the 1,080p HD signals coming from the Green HD. Most of the work was done onsite during rehearsals, with touch-ups ongoing from our Orlando studio.”

As for building the massive set, Tait Towers’ James “Winky” Fairorth and Adam Davis went to work early to make Rodgers’ vision come to life, including engineering and construction of the stage, runways, elevators, and Flagg-a-paults (air-assisted and servo-controlled elevators that can catapult—or slowly raise—the performers out from under the stage. They were also to be part of Michael Jackson’s last tour and can be seen in This is It).

“I think Bruce did a great job with scale and size on this tour, and there’s a very iconic ‘Bruce Rodgers’ style to it,” says Fairorth. “The shape is very clean, elegant, and sleek—very futuristic. The illumination inside the decks is all beautiful. Everything has a place.”

Tait’s centerpiece of the show is a DJ platform that emerges and rises out of the center runway, atop which Will.I.Am performs a DJ set. “The design and engineering of building it was very complex,” say Fairorth. “It has to perform certain operations in a certain order, and you have a guy standing on that who’s scared of heights, but he’s wonderful—so genuine. The pop star has to feel comfortable, we have to feel comfortable, and it had to all be built very quickly.”

The beginning of the tour only included the band risers and a thrust, but once the arena-sized shows were being planned, the tour was enhanced with rolling stage, the elevators, etc.—“virtually a second round of design to get a playing surface with more continuity,” says Fairorth. “It needed a rolling stage. Challenges for us were obviously highly innovative mechanics and the timing. The gags in the show and the dressing rooms underneath the stage all add to the show technically and allow it to load in and out quicker. It’s all about continuity every day. It’s like an underworld under that stage.”

Mark Grega and Ted Maccabee of Strictly FX added punch to the design with lasers, pyro, and cryo, including several Arctos White Light Laser Diode systems and a Blitz Green Light Laser Diode system. Other vendors include All Access Staging & Productions, which provided additional staging and band risers, SGPS providing rigging, and ShowFX for props.

Rodgers’ art directors from Tribe included Mai Sakai and Sean Dougall, whom he says were involved in the early design discussions, “which allowed us to generate the design package, not only in color sketch form but also in CAD form, easier to share, therefore making the integration phase all the more doable.”

Check out video clips, interviews, sketches, and plots from E. N.D. World Tour.

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