Life On (Bruno) Mars

When Bruno Mars signed on for The Hooligans in Wondaland Tour, currently working its way around the US with Janelle Monae co-headlining, he knew he wanted video to be a large part of the design. Production and lighting designer Cory FitzGerald has given Mars just that but in a way that reflects the singer’s retro-soul image while modern.

"Bruno didn’t want to get stuck in the idea that he’s an old-school guy, but there are some key elements that feel like a ’60s TV set where you have an Ed Sullivan Show vibe," says FitzGerald. "He does a cover of the song ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’ where we use lighting and black-and-white I-Mag like it is an old James Brown concert."

FitzGerald, who was hired directly by Mars, worked closely with LeRoy Bennett, co-production designer on the show. "I’ve worked a lot with Roy over the years, and it is great to be expanding my role and taking on more responsibility," notes FitzGerald. "This is the first time we’ve worked on a project in this new capacity, and it’s gone very well.

"Bruno wanted to work a way into the design to play content throughout the show," continues FitzGerald. "We wanted to go beyond just a flat screen or a series of video walls—things that had been done before." The final design is the realization of one of FitzGerald’s early ideas. "I put a bunch of ideas together based on what Bruno and I had initially talked about, but one of the things that kept coming up in my head was a bandshell, with bandstands but more rock ‘n’ roll," he adds. "What it eventually ended up being was a series of square arches that evoke the look I was going for."

A key physical consideration of the design was that the tour would be playing venues ranging from large theatres to small arenas. "The set had to be flexible and able to change with the venue limitations," says FitzGerald. "We didn’t want it to look too big or too small for the room. We wanted a format that would be adaptable to shrink or grow as needed, something that would work everywhere."

Nocturne Productions provided the video tiles for the square archways: white 27mm LSI-Saco V-Lite tiles that can track left and right. "The show starts, and it looks like a square bandshell, and we can play content or I-Mag or whatever we want to on it," he says. "For certain songs, the panels move apart, and we create a very asymmetric geometric shape that changes the way the whole stage looks. We have content that spreads across it, and we can make some cool shapes out of the set. It’s very flexible; at first, it kind of looks square, and you can tell it’s a 3D shape. Then, all of a sudden, it moves."

Sometimes, the screens have no content and are simply lit. "The screen becomes a white set piece," says FitzGerald. "We’ve used V-Lite on Lady Gaga, Paul McCartney, and Madonna. It’s great—high enough res for I-Mag and low enough res where it’s very light, so you can fly it. You can also light it and see through it."

For content manipulation, FitzGerald has two active Green Hippo HD Hippotizers. "We’re using the beta version of the software used on the Academy Awards with the video mapper, so we can move content around the different screen formations without having to custom render it," he says. "We just change the output on a screen-by-screen basis. It’s very cool and very flexible."

To make the screens move and reshape, FitzGerald went old-school for the technology—ropes and pulleys. "Because of the time crunch to get everything put together, there really wasn’t time to create a proper automation system," says FitzGerald. "The easiest way to do it was to use rope and pulleys, and it’s worked out great. Tait Towers, who built the set and provided two Austrian curtains and several risers, handled the tracking scenery. It looks good every night in every venue." A white backdrop and black scrim can also fly in and out to vary depth behind the screens.

For the video content itself, FitzGerald worked with Syndrome out of Los Angeles, which created a lot of the animation. "Bruno was very involved," says FitzGerald. "A lot of the ideas came directly through him, and then we supervised the creation of it and gave notes and feedback." Working with lighting, scenic, and video allowed FitzGerald to make it all work cohesively. "It’s obviously very complementary; it’s really nice to have total control of it, where we can really incorporate changes with all elements," he says. "I really like how the color and content work together. I like that we can play with changing color, as needed, as well as take it off the stage and make it more black-and-white for parts."

This tour is on a very tight schedule, and everything has to load in and out extremely fast. "The lighting design itself is somewhat basic but has interesting elements," says FitzGerald. "I use some straight trusses mixed with diagonal trusses that work with the angle of the screen to make it look a lot wider than it really is. In the smaller rooms, it looks huge, and in the bigger rooms, it looks like an arena show."

FitzGerald notes he has packed a lot of punch into the lighting rig. "I have about 90 moving lights, including the Clay Paky Sharpy," he says. "We have 20 on this show, and they are great." He also has Philips Vari-Lite VLXs and VL3000 Spots; i-Pix BB4s; Martin Professional MAC III Performances, Atomic Strobes with color changers, and Stagebars; and Philips Color Kinetics ColorBlaze 72 units. "Just go big or go home, I say," jokes FitzGerald. For control, he is using an MA Lighting grandMA2 in grandMA2 mode. "I program, control everything, and run the show every night," he says. "It’s just easier to do it all through the one console." The lighting package for this tour packs into just under two trucks and was supplied by Upstaging.

While the show was being prepped, FitzGerald used Upstaging’s previsualization suite to write his cues. "We did a couple of days of previz using ESP Vision," he says. "That time was really helpful since they were prepping in the next room and could just come in and ask any questions."

FitzGerald comments that it has all been a pretty smooth process. "Bruno and everyone on this tour are amazing people to work with," he says. "I’m thrilled with the final results, and Bruno seems to be as well. He has been great to work with, and that’s the best part."

The tour kicked off in early May at the Roseland Ballroom in New York and tours the US in June, heading to Europe for some summer dates.

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