Q+A: Trans Siberian Orchestra's Designer Bryan Hartley, Part 1

A true holiday tradition, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s annual country-crossing tour has grown not just in popularity but also in technical scale. Lighting designer Bryan Hartley notes that the show has always had lighting at the core of its visual design, but he has, over the years, added more and more technology, including laser work and over the last four years video.

LD: Tell us about the move to more video work in the TSO tour and your design approach to balance all the technical elements.
BH: In the past four years, the tour has almost tripled in size. We are into 20 trucks, and we just have a huge, huge production with tons of video and all kinds of moving elements. It’s quite spectacular.

Two years ago, I had a small, tiny amount of video; last year I had a little bit more. This year, I really wanted to make it a video spectacular, but also I wanted to keep the whole show cohesive. I wanted to lead with the lighting. I want it to look like a show designed by the lighting designer with video and all of the effects as opposed to it looking like a light show with a screen there for video. That’s what I tried to create: something a little bit different, but have a big video element on there, because that’s really what I like. I run all of it through the Barco High End Systems Wholehog 3, including all of the video. All of the video is created content; there is no IMAG at all.

LD: Do you create all the content?
BH: With a show this big, you really have to have a vision when you are dealing with video content. I farm out a little bit of our content creation. I worked with Nick Militello and his company It Factor. He has been doing my content for quite a few of my other tours, like Aerosmith for a couple of years. He does all the TSO work. We also bought a lot of stock content. The TSO producer, Paul O’Neil, had some items that he wanted and he found some high-quality stock content to pick from for us. Nick will sit with Paul and work on a couple of songs. He will do a couple of songs from beginning to end. I will come in and work with the other songs and pull their content together. If there is something that I want custom, I will ask Nick to create that. He does a great job.

LD: What gear are you using for the video and content management?
BH: For content management I use the Catalyst as my media server. The Catalyst rocks, that’s why I use it. I’ve used other media servers, but I am so comfortable with Catalyst. It’s so simple; it’s just like a VCR.

For the video playback, I am using all WinVision, the 18mm product. It’s just awesome because you can see through it. If I don’t have video on it, you can see right through it and see all of the lights behind it. It’s really a nice product. I find that the 18mm product gives me the resolution that I need and I don’t want to make the sacrifice of getting higher res but having it block all of the spacing. I like the transparency and the resolution; it looks amazing in the show.

I have five pieces that are like vertical trusses with video on them. They are one panel wide, so they are about 2’ wide by about 20’ high. I have custom video chandeliers, which have video panels mounted on them. There are five video panels mounted across the top, four on the next row, and three panels on the next row and then one panel on the bottom of the unit. It makes it look like a chandelier, but it’s just video panels. They hang above and move up and down. They also have some pyro on them as well.

I have four more 8’x8’ squares of video panels that are in the back that move up and down. At the different arenas I also use the LED ribbon boards in arenas a lot. I give the house AV crew my content and have it cued to tie into my video looks. I have a bunch of content that I can use. This just doubles my show in size when I put fire and lightning on the ribbons as well as my screens. It really looks spectacular. During the show, I just call the ribbons as cues, just like a spotlight cue. It’s simple but effective.

Coming in Part 2: Hartley discusses flying the video chandeliers and catwalk trusses over the audience and the lighting design.

Michael S. Eddy owns Eddy Marketing & Consulting, which handles marketing, media relations, and events. He also freelances as a writer on design and technology, and can be reached at [email protected]. He has worked in the entertainment technology industry for over 25 years with ETC, Rosco, Barbizon, and Kliegl Bros., and as a lighting designer and technical editor.

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