- by Debi Moen with Photos by Steve Jennings
in Cover Story
Cory FitzGerald Lights a 20-Truck Tour Featuring Skateboard Ramps, Trampolines and a Waterfall
Canadian singer Justin Bieber has a new Purpose. It’s the title of his new album and his world tour. It’s also the mantra he adopted to refocus on his music, apologize for his headline-making mistakes and to reinvent his image to make new waves in the world. With all that said, Justin Bieber desired “a new approach” to his third world tour.
The production is filled with new approaches. It opens with his symbolic, show-starting moment when he arrives trapped in a glass box. Another moment where he’s enveloped in a swirl of digital content, appearing and vanishing from view. There are intimate moments with the audience, such as the artist sitting solo on a red velvet couch with an acoustic guitar singing from the heart. Cages pop up and drop into the stage. He punctuates the production with his fun side, interacting with aerialists, choreographed dancers, and group play on a trampoline. It all ends with a dramatic, show-stopping shower of onstage rain.
Production designers Chris Gratton and Nick DeMoura teamed up to design the stealthy, modern stage set. The set is basically three separate tiers connected via ramps and a labyrinth of tunnels under the SPGS custom stage.
“The basic concept of the whole set started when I decided I didn’t want to see a single set of stairs anywhere on the set,” DeMoura declares. “I had an idea of what I wanted to see visually, and Chris has the know-how to understand my vision and get that on paper.”
Starting at the top is a semi-curved tier that is perhaps six feet off the main stage floor. This tier wraps around the upstage edge, with band members filling up the outside portion. In the center is a lift Bieber uses to enter and exit at select times. During one song, the artist is shown starting out up top, then through a flash of video and smoke he disappears, only to rise out of another hole on a lower level seconds later. The stage is equipped with 15 lifts from SPGS. They range from circular holes to rectangular platforms to an 8-by-8-foot drum riser on which Justin sings while extended 15 feet above the stage. “One of the things I love about SPGS is that a lot of our lifts out here double as toasters,” states Gratton, who also serves as the touring production manager.
Above the top tier is a jagged edge video wall resembling an iceberg or mountainscape, surrounded by sharp angles. “For this project, I wanted something different than a typical video wall. I drew this up not realizing that it was easier to draw than erect,” says DeMoura. Gratton backs him up. “I knew that a few of these 45-degree cut LED tiles did exist, but I wasn’t sure where we could go and was hesitant about the idea. But then VER, who once again have provided me an excellent package with video, lights and audio, assured me that they had such a product.” In the end, the decision was made to use masks on the video tiles.
The Main Stage resides under the tier. This 60-foot-wide area is accessible to the upper tier by a giant video wall ramp, which often acts as a slide. There are three sides to this video ramp that consist of more 9mm tiles in frames laid backward at a 60-degree rake, resembling skateboard ramps. They are covered with Plexiglas to protect them from the dancers.
The downstage edge is curved as it connects to three separate ramps lowering down onto thrusts that jet out into the audience. The outside ramps turn at what the crew calls “the knuckle” and head back toward center. All three ramps join together at an octagonal shaped B Stage surrounded by fans who can slap hands with the singer. The center ramp features a built-in conveyor belt for the artist to play with on one song where he seems to walk forever, but gets nowhere. As far as gags go, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
The show starts with a song called “Mark My Words.” A film plays across the video elements depicting the singer caught in a box, unable to express himself. Magically the stage opens up and a glass box is hoisted via four of the tour’s 22 wire drum winches SPGS provided. The artist is singing while writing on the walls in a symbolic gesture that epitomizes how the public wants to personify him as something other than who he really is.
DeMoura served as choreographer for the show. He and Gratton worked with the artist to achieve the show flow and direction. The 18 dancers shoot out of holes in the floor, lower from the ceiling on high-speed hoists, and appear to come from out of nowhere the entire performance. The stage set was clean, void of any single thing the dancers could trip on. From dancing on lifts to racing across the set and avoiding trap doors, this was a tough act to do without people getting hurt. According to DeMoura, “We had just one week in a dance studio with a marked floor and some lifts to practice. Full production rehearsals with the actual stage amounted to only six days on site in Seattle. They learned quick.” At a strategic point in the show, the massive trampoline structure is lowered down over the audience. This boxed truss grid serves as a front and audience light truss while in the air, but a structure that the dancers could bounce on as well as work the perimeter. Bieber himself does a few flips, and the crowd eats it up. “This idea was all Nick’s,” Gratton is quick to point out. “I thought he was crazy to put all these people on a trampoline over the audience. But I sat down with Eric [Pearce] at SPGS and we hammered at it until it was double- then triple-safe for everyone.”
Strictly FX provided most of the special effects, from the lasers and the pyro gerbs to the low lying fog and cryo guns that were mounted everywhere. The one effect they did not provide was the rain gag at the end of the show. Mirage Water Works, based in Anaheim, CA, provided a system to make it rain down in a straight line across the stage. There’s a story behind this gag and how they found a way to achieve it that differed from normal.
Gratton explains, “Before the tour, we had a lot of promo shows, like the various awards spectacles. Justin wanted to do the water gag, where he stood in the rain and sang. Normally when an artist involves rain in their show, they need a special stage with a trough for the water to collect and escape without everything getting drenched. I sat in at all these meetings and everyone just kept saying they couldn’t do it. I was just perplexed, because it’s my job to get whatever the artist wants done. Finally I said, ‘Why can’t we just get a kiddie pool?’ It got very quiet. Nobody said no. They started brainstorming, and we got it done.” But the challenge was getting a kiddie pool big enough for a dozen or so grown-ups to slosh around in.
“I went straight to Strictly FX,” says Gratton. “I said, ‘Hey, you guys do effects. That means all effects, right?’ They assured me they did. So I told them what I needed, and boy, did they step it up. Did a great job building us the pool. This thing can be set up during a one-minute video roll. It takes 20 seconds to blow up. After the show, it takes us eight minutes to get the water back into the tank, and it’s gone.”
Logistically, Gratton swears, “this is the best crew I’ve ever had. We have 20 trucks and 178 rigging points. A total of 157,000 pounds worth of gear hang from the ceiling. We chalk the floor at 7 a.m. and dump the trucks at 10. We are show-ready by 4 p.m. And did I tell you we got Cory FitzGerald to do the lighting? He did an amazing job.”
Armed with a completed set design and video panels layout, it was time for a lunch meeting with lighting designer Cory FitzGerald of Seven Design Works.
Says FitzGerald, “Nick had a clear vision with Justin Bieber about what they wanted to do. He and Justin crafted the show, combining his new songs and the way he wanted to be viewed. From the beginning, he wanted to reinvent how his shows looked and take on a new approach. There are many components in the overall set, from toasters, lifts conveyor belts and ramps. Most of these concepts were in motion when I was brought on board.”
FitzGerald listened to — and looked at — the new album. His uniform color washes , like all magenta or indigo with bursts from the LED fixtures, pervade the entire show. “A lot of the base looks for me came from the monochromatic feel of the Purpose album art, which is black and white, so by keeping it simple and clean, it blends with the stage structures and video content as much as possible.”
He also referred to the video content to help guide the distinctive lighting looks for each song. “Every song has content, it makes the set feel three-dimensional, like you are looking into or through the video screen. The fact that they had the video content and screen placement worked out helped me work on which fixtures to use and the color palette for each song.”
FitzGerald brought LED technology into the rig with the Ayrton MagicBlade fixtures and MagicDots. The newest product is the Ayrton VersaPix RS. “The VersaPix are similar to the Ayrton Intellipix, a single cell pin spot-type LED, but are arrayed five on a unit, like a five-finger beam,” he explains. These are built into a bracket for overhead trusses.
The LD had seen the VersaPix in a demo and at LDI and “liked the idea of them,” he says. “This show has a lot of 45-degree right triangle angles as far as the LED screen and runway sets. This was the perfect opportunity to use a fixed static light at a fixed angle with beams to be used in a variety of ways. The way they work and the way we set them up, they almost look like they are physically moving themselves.”
He’s also spec’d Clay Paky Mythos and B-Eyes, GLP impression X4 Bars, Robe Pointes, Solaris LED Flare strobes and Vari*Lite VL4000 BeamWash fixtures, using MA Lighting’s grandMA2 for control. “It’s the best console out there. It is incredibly powerful, flexible, and uniquely tailored to handle a show this size,” he says. “We use a lot of the console’s timecode abilities — which are the most powerful I’ve found. It has the best editing ability in that regard.”
After a short rehearsal period, FitzGerald stayed the first nine shows and has handed it over to lighting director Nick van Nostrand. “He makes sure it is perfect every night. We built a lot in previz, we did some tweaking in rehearsals, made some changes, and we were off and running!”
FitzGerald’s favorite lighting moment is during the song “I’ll Show You,” he says. “I like the mixture of lasers, video and lighting. It combines the use of the three mediums as well as using the stage, lifts and dancers in a harmonious and aesthetically pleasing way.”
As mentioned, many of the gags include cages ascending and descending through the stage with SGPS stage lifts. Of course those pieces are embellished with lighting elements as well, such the cages lit with SPGS LED tape.
One of the iconic looks of the show is the free floating trampoline, a 40-by-20-foot structure that flies down from the ceiling on eight SPGS winches for the song “Company.” MagicDots are built into the frame of the trampoline, while other lighting above it and offstage light the dancers bouncing and playing with Bieber. The ramps have Robe Pointes built into them.
FitzGerald says it wasn’t necessarily a challenge to light a trampoline, but of course something that had to be planned for. “We had an entirely unique ‘stage’ that flew in for one song that had to have a unique look as well as light for all the dancers in motion around and on the trampoline. It required a good think to figure out how to best light them and not obstruct sight lines or tie up too many resources for the rest of the show.”
The show’s ending — the waterfall — is located downstage of the winches, mid-stage. It has its own truss, equipped with GLP X4 Bars. Together with the VL4000 BeamWashes shining from upstage, these fixtures provide the liquid illumination. “The lights are actually hung above the waterfall part of the truss so they don’t get wet — hopefully,” FitzGerald adds. “They seem to be doing well so far!”
It’s a visual feast in video production world. Eyes are drawn to the jagged “mountain range” of LED video tiles, created, as noted earlier, with a mask to create a look similar to what the designers might have achieved with VER’s 45-degree-angle LED products. “VER does have those products, but we went in an easier rigging direction,” video director Mike Drew notes. The main wall is using 417 WinVision 9375 panels with a 9mm pixel pitch, stretching out at 81 feet across, with the highest point at a little over 24 feet. To further bolster the illusion of the jagged mountain peaks or icebergs, the content is masked in a pixel-specific way, based on that wall’s geometry. Content creator Figgy ensured that no light or content spillage would be visible beyond the peaks to spoil the effect. Figgy worked hand in hand with DeMoura, constructing media from DeMoura’s ideas.
Perhaps one of the most enthralling moments involves The Octagon. Justin centers himself in the center of an octagon shape mapped out on the floor of the stage. He is talking to the audience, diverting attention while suddenly digital content swirls around him. He is encased in a whirlwind of media, appearing and then disappearing from view.
The see-through effect is achieved using 16 PRG-supplied V-Thru panels, Drew explains. “The V-Thru panels are lowered using wire drum automation. As Justin is talking and walking around the octagon, the panels lower over him, and it settles as he starts the song.”
A d3 Technologies media server is processing all the content, while Pro Tools is triggering the timecode.
The video director is using a Ross Vision 3-ME HD switcher to cut cameras live on the I-Mag screens on either side of the production. The AV Stumpfl side screens each measure 24 by 13 feet (WxH), each lit with two Barco HDX-20K projectors (four total).
“I am not always looking at the big picture,” Drew says. “I am following Justin, so, later, when I look at the wide shots, I see how it all looks in one big frame.” What he sees and what the audience sees is a refreshing new way to use technology, he explains. “It is taking a base product and making something new and different, doing something cool with it,” he says. “For example, using the skateboard ramp LEDs at an angle. Making a triangulated video screen or in circles. The tops of the triangles on the main video wall are surrounded by MagicBlades, so it creates a cool effect having those dynamic lights at those angles. They follow the angles, so it adds to another level of the dynamics, to the overall look. New media servers, new lights — now we can take an out-of-the-box thing and make it better.”
Justin Bieber’s Purpose World Tour started March 9 in Seattle and runs to Nov. 29 in London.
Justin Bieber Purpose World Tour
- Co-Production Designers: Chris Gratton and Nick DeMoura
- Tour Director/Production Manager: Chris Gratton
- Choreographer and Show Design: Nick DeMoura
- Lighting Designer/Programmer: Cory FitzGerald
- Lighting Director: Nick van Nostrand
- Associate Programmer: Davey Martinez
- Lighting & Video Vendor: VER, Los Angeles/Kevin Forster
- Lighting Crew: Kevin Parsley (Crew Chief), Jessica LaPoint, Matthew Butler, David Callan, Edgardo Serrano, Matthew Levine, Eric Marshall, Ty Brooks
- Stage Manager: Timmy Doyle
- Accountant: Bill Thompson
- Production Coordinators: Jessica Sheehan, Alicia Geist
- Staging: SPGS, Los Angeles & Las Vegas
- Video Crew Chief: Sean Harper
- Video Director: Mike Drew
- Video Engineer: Dave Vegas
- Video Crew Chief: Sean Harper
- LED/Camera Operators: Colton Carroll, Kyle Brinkmann Projection/Camera Operators: Austin Wavra, Chris Campbell Utility/Camera Operator: Jerry Rodgers
- PRG LED/Camera Operator: Dylan Taylor
- Pyro/Lasers/FX: Strictly FX
- 2 grandMA2 full consoles
- 66 Clay Paky Aleda B-EYE K20s
- 66 Clay Paky Mythos
- 60 Robe Pointes
- 36 Vari*Lite VL4000 BeamWashes
- 52 GLP impression X4 Bar 20s
- 61 Solaris LED Flares
- 50 Solaris Mozarts
- 103 Ayrton MagicBlade-R fixtures
- 40 Ayrton MagicDots
- 122 Ayrton VersaPix-RS
- 12 Robe BMFLs (used as followspots)
- 4 MDG theOne fogger/hazers
- 8 Jem ZR44 foggers
- 12 ProFan DMX fans
- 417 WinVision 9375 Panels (Main Wall)
- 165 WinVision 9375 Panels (Stage LEDs)
- 16 PRG V-Thru panels (Cylinder)
- 6 Sony HXC-100 cameras
- 3 Fujinon 99 lenses
- 3 Fujinon 13.4 wide-angle lenses
- 3 Panasonic HE-120K robo-cams
- 1 Ross Vision 3-ME HD switcher
- 4 Barco HDX-20K projectors
- 2 AV Stumpfl side screens (24’ x 13’)
For more Justin Bieber 'Purpose' World Tour photos by Steve Jennings, go to www.plsn.me/PLSN-Bieber-2016