Red Hot Chili Peppers “I’m With You” World Tour

in Production Profile

Red Hot Chili Peppers 2012 tour photo by Steve JenningsThe Red Hot Chili Peppers are in the midst of their I’m With You world tour, currently in North America before heading down under in early 2013. The band is bringing their iconic style and sound to audiences in a show that is visual and energetic; capturing their punk roots and off-the-cuff spontaneity in an effortless manner. That “kinetic effortlessness” is, of course, anything but effortless. But the creative team has crafted a stage set, video environment and lighting approach that fits the band perfectly. The team includes United Visual Artists, with Chris Bird taking the lead as the production designer and  Scott Holthaus of Happy Machine as the lighting designer. Leif Dixon is the screen director/operator, and the video director is George Elizondo of PRG Nocturne.

Louvered LEDs rise from the asterisk shape on the stage floorAn Asterisk in 3D

The stage set takes off from the band’s own iconic asterisk logo, explains London-based United Visual Artists’ Bird. “We took the asterisk logo and brought it visually up from the floor into an exploded and expanding ‘chandelier’ of LED screens and lights with an LED backdrop. We start with the Tait LED decks, which are really awesome floors with LED panels integrated into them. Then they are covered with an off-black speckled Marley flooring, which was cut away over the LED elements to reveal the LED through the Chili Pepper’s asterisk, so the floor can play video and effects, which underlight the band. Because they are playing in arenas, the large majority of people in the audience can see the floor quite clearly, and it is quite a nice effect.”

The chandelier is surrouned by six verticle hangs of truss-supported lighting fixturesFrom the floor, the design moves visually up to the “chandelier.” Bird describes the design of the piece. “Each of the eight faces of the asterisk on the floor have a reflection of that moving upwards above the stage with a series of eight Venetian LED blinds, which can elongate or collapse vertically as well as rotate, which allows them to change shape and form during the show. This means we have changing directions of video surfaces and vertical movement. There are ACLs on backside letting you get this really nice old school club/disco feel, or strobing effects blasting lighting into the audience.”

James Erwin, project manager with Tait, explains how the chandelier panels work. “The chandelier was created out of eight large panels arranged in a octagon over the center of the stage. Each panel could expand like a Venetian blind — either raise the top or lower the bottom,” he explains. “The panels could be a solid-looking square; mixed solid and open louvers; or all open louvers. One side of each panel was covered with PRG Nocturne V-9 modules for LED video and the other with 196 lamps, 14 on a louver. Each panel measures 10’-6” wide; when closed, each panel measures 9 feet, 11 inches high; if the panels were fully opened up they measure 33 feet, 7inches, with the bottom louver 12 feet 7 inches above the floor. Each of the panels could also be rotated 180°; the automation was controlled by a FTSI Navigator system.” At the back of the stage was a 60-by-22-foot (W x H) wall that consisted of PRG Nocturne V-28 LED modules. The 28mm resolution modules have a 30 percent transparency allowing Holthaus to bring light through from behind as well.

“Tait was fantastic; they built a great set and know how to engineer the concept into the actual pieces that can then be packed and toured,” comments Bird. “The set really has a wonderful sculptural form, which is really dynamic and reflects this great band.”

Red Hot Chili Peppers 2012 tour photo by Steve JenningsFluid Visuals

Screens director/operator Leif Dixon notes that, since the video elements are tied so closely with the scenic automation, it was important that video director Elizondo and automation operator “Motion Rob” DeCeglio coordinate their efforts. Having worked with the band previously, Dixon knows that it’s always best to be prepared to follow the band wherever they might go. “This band has a set list that is always evolving, often during the show itself,” Dixon explains. “Unlike a polished pop tour, where you’ve built a show that is going to be repeated every day, we don’t have that luxury. Certainly, Motion Rob would like to pull his hair out because he doesn’t have that luxury; things aren’t the same everyday, and often don’t follow the set list. He has one of hardest jobs on this tour because automation systems like to go from position A to position B; not A to F and back to B. Here things are all over the place and we have to adjust as things are happening with the band live onstage. Rob handles the audibles really well.”

The team has come up with a system to respond to the fluid nature of the shows that maintains the visual integrity of the overall production design and the content itself. “Scott is incredibly flexible with his lighting positions since many of the cues are audience focuses,” notes Dixon, “so it doesn’t matter if a particular truss is at 40’ in the air or 28’. This lets us arrive at a solution where we have given Rob the flexibility to put stuff where he needs to, position-wise. Some songs in the show need the video screens to hit a certain mark in order for the content to play correctly, so if Rob can’t hit all those marks we have different screen configuration playbacks ready. In other words, if the screens are in a diamond configuration I have one set of cues, but if the screens are in, say, a circle, I have a different set of cues. It’s the same content but we have an alternative playback configuration.

Red Hot Chili Peppers 2012 tour photo by Steve Jennings“It’s a very flexible system, and it makes it easier for all of us to make it look right and work for the show,” Dixon continues. “There are also times where I can punt and throw-up some I-Mag and wait until the screens get into a certain configuration, and then run the content. That is possible because of George [Video Director Elizondo] and his great camera team as well.” When things change—change being the only predictable element—Dixon and Elizondo go with the flow and make it work. “There’s a core set of songs that change daily,” says Elizondo. “They like to toss out a new song, and we all have a plan to punt.”

There are a total of seven cameras used for this tour—three handheld cameras in the pit; one robotic camera on the drummer along with two lipstick cameras; and then one camera mounted up in the rig over the center of the stage. Elizondo feels that a key solution on this tour is “the overall style of shooting the show. The handheld cameras lend itself to this band; everyone is working with a handheld camera. The band—Anthony, Flea, and Josh—are everywhere on the stage. There are four different cameras that are live at once; and it’s easily at times multiple songs in a row. There is no downtime; there are a number of songs where we’ll have each of the band members on the screen with no cutting; no time to reposition. The cameramen are isolated and hot for the entire song. We have to stick with them for two or three songs in a row.”

Red Hot Chili Peppers 2012 tour photo by Steve JenningsElizondo handles program cuts from his base backstage and for switching uses a Grass Valley Kayak. “The Kayak is second nature for me,” he says. Dixon is using a grandMA console controlling a SAMSC Designs Ltd. Catalyst media server, which is integrated into the video system as a part of the PRG Nocturne engineering suite. Dixon explains the flow of the shots to the screens: “George’s line cut with the four main cameras comes to me in the Catalyst. I then do all the image blending, whether it’s cameras straight to the wall or camera treatments, including some crazy color treatments that are complementary to the lighting as well as all the content playback. We do a lot of isolated shots to the Venetian screens at the same time. I can have content going to the wall, but then on our individual Venetian screens we’ll have different-treated camera shots at the same time. That is why the camera crew has to be on and really know the show. It matters what they are shooting because they are part of the show. We are lucky to have a really good crew from Nocturne.” PRG Nocturne supplied the camera and video package.

Red Hot Chili Peppers 2012 tour photo by Steve JenningsA Glowing Core

Since the center octagonal trusses are a major part of the design, this is where most of the lighting is hung, so Holthaus, who has a long tenure with the band, took a new view for his design. “It’s the first time I ever had to consider the entire show emanating from the center of the stage,” says Holthaus. “A majority of the visuals come right down the center. Working with the octagonal screens was different, because a majority of the lighting is inside the screens; so we chose our fixtures to be things that could poke between those slats of the screens and be hidden by them,” he explains. “There are also three trusses behind the main video screen. There are 60 moving heads that are hidden by the main screen the whole night; you never see any of the sources. We wanted the lights to be peeking around something architectural as opposed to a light out in the open. We wanted shadow and beam, but to have it reflected off things; that was the cool part of the set. There wasn’t any downstage truss; those just separate the audience from the artists. I wanted to connect the lighting with the band; the lighting comes out through the band into the audience.”

Red Hot Chili Peppers 2012 tour photo by Steve JenningsHolthaus played up the verticality of the set by placing six vertical tormentor positions. “The lighting was hung more vertically; the lighting rig was 40 to 50 feet tall,” says Holthaus. “I have torms with 108 GLP impression fixtures; they went up instead of across. No horizontal trusses were used.” The impressions are in addition to more than 200 moving lights he has in the octagon truss. When it comes to gear, Holthaus has some favorites that he relies on. “I’m a Clay Paky fan,” he notes. “We have the Alpha Beam 1500s, and they are just incredible. At times they are just too damn powerful and bright, which is something I’ve never said in my life. We have 40 of those and a 100 Sharpys. Also, the impressions are great; a great workhorse LED fixture.” Premier Global Production out of Nashville, TN supplied the entire lighting package, including all the MA Lighting grandMA 1 consoles.

Red Hot Chili Peppers 2012 tour photo by Steve JenningsWhen it comes to followspots, Holthaus has an interesting solution that he’s been perfecting over time. “I’ve been doing this for a decade; I control the keylighting, the truss spots with my fingers,” describes Holthaus. “I went with old school 2.5kw Xenon spots with a Wybron dowser and a Wybron color changer. Then I control levels and color from the console. This system gives me total control with total ease. If the guys are just jamming between songs with a little riff, I can pick them out a bit. The spot ops just have to follow their assigned band member and not worry about the dowser and color; it works every time. I basically use three of the colors on a stock Wybron changer and a CTO to warm it up, because we have so many tungsten lamps on the backs of the video chandeliers. It is nice to make the guys a similar temperature. For color overall in the show, Leif and I work closely together to use the same palette between the video and the lighting — it looks great that way.”

When it all comes together, and lighting, video, and music all blend seamlessly together, that is when Holthaus knows it’s all worth it. “Some of the bands iconic songs get big and are the highlight of the show. That’s because the band wrote a really cool song; but if the audience goes crazy at the crescendo of the song because of the lighting and the video at that point of the song—we all love that.”

Red Hot Chili Peppers 2012 tour photo by Steve JenningsCrew

Production Manager: Narci Martinez

Lighting Designer/Director: Scott Holthaus/Happy Machine

Production Designer: Chris Bird/United Visual Artists

Screens Director/Operator: Leif Dixon

Automation Operator: Rob DeCeglio

Lighting Co: Premier Global Production

Scenic/Automation: Tait Towers

Video, Cameras, Switching: PRG Nocturne

PRG Nocturne Crew: George Elizondo (video director), Graham Holwill (engineer), Mark Woody (crew chief/LED), Ben Rader, Scott Lutton, Steve Bone Gray (camera/LED techs)

Red Hot Chili Peppers 2012 tour photo by Steve JenningsGear


MA Lighting grandMA 1 console

Clay Paky Sharpy fixtures

Clay Paky Alpha Beam 1500s

Martin MAC IIIs

Martin MAC 2000s

Martin Atomic strobes

Martin Atomic Colors color changers

Red Hot Chili Peppers 2012 tour photo by Steve JenningsVideo:

600 PRG Nocturne V-28 28mm LED modules (15H x 40W/22’ x 60’)

392 PRG Nocturne V-9 9mm LED Modules (7H x 7W/10’-5” x 10’-5”, for the Venetians)

1 Grass Valley Kayak switcher

1 4-camera SDI System

1 AJA/Ki - ISO record rack

2 Barco DCS-200 switcher scalers

2 Barco Matrix Pro DVI routers

1 HD-SDI Router

3 Magenta Lab DVI fiber link extenders

3 Barco Folsom Image Pro scalers

4 Video monitors

1 MA Lighting grandMA 1 Console

1 SAMSC Design Ltd Catalyst Media Server

Red Hot Chili Peppers 2012 tour photo by Steve JenningsFor more of Steve Jennings’ photos of the Red Hot Chili Peppers current tour, go to