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Bobby Boyer • Designer InsightsMay 2021 • May 7, 2021

Photos courtesy Crt Birsa

Crt Birsa Lights “Livin’ on a Prayer” Music Video

The cello probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.” Could the raw energy of this rock anthem about a pair of young, hard pressed South Jersey lovers be captured by such a mellow instrument? We’re not certain if one cello could do it… but two cellos? Ahh, that’s quite a different story.

Luka Šulić and Stjepan Hauser, classically trained Croatian cellists, known professionally as 2Cellos, blew the lid of the multi-platinum Big Hair classic, taking it to novel musical places in an April video. Ferociously pushing themselves and their instruments to the limit, they unleashed a flurry of sounds that brought an unheard of level of intensity to the song.

Accentuating their performance and adding to its sheer force was a powerful lighting design by Crt Birsa. Working with video director Kristijan Burlovic, Birsa created a 33-meter long tunnel of light that continuously changed its configuration during the four-minute video. Supporting this captivating cylindrical design from behind was a brilliant wall of blinders.

LED pars colored the ceiling

‡‡         An Inspirational Setting

Birsa’s lighting played off the evocative architecture of an abandoned military warehouse in Pula, Croatia, site of the filming. Inspired by the cylindrical shape of the structure, he positioned his fixtures along its curved sides to create a tube-like sensation. At times it seemed as if viewers were hurtled through a tubular passage. Then to change the vibe of the video, he directed intense beams across the floor, creating a matrix effect.

“The venue is different from others I’ve worked at, so I wanted to give its something unique that would transport the audience,” said Birsa, who works for Slovenia-based Blackout Lighting Design. “The shape of the structure itself brought me to the idea of trying to enhance its qualities. The great length and circular shape of the site guided my ideas on where to put the lights and what to show at different times. I designed to the building to create an immersive experience.”

Designing to fit an unusual venue was a rewarding creative challenge, according to Birsa. His only other significant hurdle was figuring out how to put together a rig with no hang points.

“We had to work on positioning the fixtures, since with the exception of a few lights, we were not able to hang anything in the building,” he said. “The venue was old and no one could tell us how much weight the ceiling could safely support, so we had to use our imaginations.”

The tunnel of light

‡‡         A Tunnel of Light

The fixtures that Birsa and his team used to unleash their collective imagination numbered 126, all rented from IDD Production of Pula. Anchoring the rig were 38 Mega Pointes, 16 BMFLs, 16 Sun Strips, 40 LED pars that were used for lighting the ceiling, 10 Robe 600+ washes (five for key lights and five for floor back lights), three Robe 150 beams for backlighting the artists and eight LED strobes in the back.

Birsa positioned the MegaPointes evenly spaced on each side of the tunnel. “We had half of the MegaPointes on each side to enhance the length of the space,” he said. “The hall itself offered this position for the fixtures, so it was natural for me to put them there. This arrangement was very good for making tunnel-looking like effects and create a sense of infinite length.” The MegaPointes worked in pairs from either side, in a tight beam. Moving cameras caught them in all their splendor performing dazzling peels of artistic light moves.

The BMFLs were positioned at the very end of the hall, with eight arranged on the floor and an equal number on truss towers. From these positions, they were used to provide bigger kicks at key moments. They provided the back light with gobos blasting through the artists.

Between the BMFLs were the Sunstrips, stacked vertically, two each on eight towers. These fixtures provided a whiteout blast of light as well as running in chases to augment the chorus looks.

Stop cues were bright and short

‡‡         Controlling the Looks

Birsa ran his time coded, six-universe show with a ChamSys MagicQ MQ80, his go-to controller for years. “I like this console,” he said. “The MA80 is a compact unit, but it’s powerful enough for elaborate jobs, and it’s a straight forward console to run.

“For me, it’s a perfect console to take it on the field when I have a pre-programmed show and all I have to do is make some corrections,” he continued. “The MQ80 also has a UPS inside, which is most useful when you run the whole system by generator. If it runs out of fuel or something else happens, you have the chance to save the show and shut down securely. Really, this console has never let me down.”

Sunstrips back the band

The fast cue-editing of his MagicQ MQ80 was also critically important in this project for Birsa who pre-programmed the show with the WYSIWIG R45 visualizer software. His precisely timed cues accented moments in the video with dramatic blinding effects and darting aerial displays timed to coincide with musical crescendos.

At other times, Birsa pulled back on the intensity level. He described one of those moments: “I wanted to enhance the snare drum in the music and follow the rhythm with a softer touch than turning lights on and off. I was after something that would transform the place over and over again and would work good with the tunnel shaped space we were shooting in.”

Varying the configuration of his design by turning different lamps on and off, creating different overlapping patterns and altering back lighting patterns were the keys Birsa relied on to maintain fresh looks throughout the video. He deliberately kept his color scheme simple, often going with monochromatic looks, usually blue. As the song built to a peak at the end, pure white light replaced the colored beams.

BMFL Breakouts silhouette the band

‡‡         A Monochromatic Palette

“I didn’t want to go multicolor,” he said. “Homogenic palettes worked better for the song and the venue, so the decision regarding color choices was not a hard one for me to make. We used patterns and movement to visualize the music in a way that stood out.”

The striped hall shows parallel rows of fixtures

The 2Cellos “Livin’ on a Prayer” music video has indeed “stood out” to the point where it was already seen by close to a million people on YouTube only three weeks after its release. At the time, Bon Jovi’s official music video of the song had garnered over 775 million YouTube views.

This cello version of the rock hit will likely never reach that lofty number, but it’s a safe bet that it will be on a lot of play lists for many years to come.

The band is lit with simple key light from Robe LEDBeam 150

To view the video, go to

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