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Deadmau5 Cube V3 Tour

Steve Jennings (Photos and Text) • Designer InsightsFebruary 2020 • February 9, 2020

DEADMAU5 © Steve Jennings

We caught the final tour date for Deadmau5 (AKA Joel Zimmerman); electronic music producer, EDM DJ and musician on the CUBE V3 Tour on New Years’ Eve in San Francisco, making for a great way to close out the year and start for 2020. We spoke with the tour’s lighting designer/lighting director Collyns Stenzel and tour production manager Chris Schroeder about this inventive tour design.

DEADMAU5 © Steve Jennings

Collyns Stenzel
Lighting Designer & Director

Collyns Stenzel hopped on the Deadmau5 team midway though the Cube 2.1 Tour. After being on the road with someone else’s design, Stenzel got a feel for where things were and then a better notion of where things needed to be, design wise. “The music is very intricate and detailed, and I thought the lighting design needed to have as many facets as the music. The range of movement of the cube greatly dictated what was possible to achieve with the lighting design and ultimately became a main focus point of what the lighting rig would become, a complementary piece to the newly revamped Cube V3.”

DEADMAU5 © Steve Jennings

At the time of its conception, Joel Zimmerman (Deadmau5), Dean Wilson (Joel’s manager), Chris Schroeder and Stenzel were having a creative meeting in a jet over Europe when Joel stated he wanted to be inside the cube. Stenzel pulled out his laptop and made some quick geometry in Vectorworks. “The concept was crude, but the point was received well, but it was just Joel inside of a semi-transparent video cube. Without thinking of the ramifications to my next statement, I blurted out, ‘We also can make it rotate and tilt.’ There was a moment of silence as I glanced towards Dean’s direction, and his normally easy-going disposition was now a sight of anger. I finished my thought — ‘for cheap!’ These are the types of things that we need to cost-evaluate before presenting to Joel, and I had just skipped over the entire chain of command. The next three to four months, it became my challenge to live up to my words, and the final outcome was the on-budget, automated Cube V3, and I got to keep my job.”

DEADMAU5 © Steve Jennings

The show uses SMPTE timecode to stay aligned, but not all of the triggers are SMPTE-based. Jason Giaffo and Stenzel developed an OSC packet decoder for the MA2 so they could receive string names and other packet data into the console. “This allows us to know what songs are coming, current BPM, current bar position in the show, and what is current and what has passed. More importantly, it allows Joel to change the set overnight and come in the next day and have a complete working show without all the hassle of dealing with Timecode pool offsets or re-programming anything on the console. The Cube V3 automation plays a huge part in why the Cube V3 visuals are so mesmerizing. The automation system is constantly relaying its position information to the TouchDesigner System and the MA2 Consoles via UDP Art-Net. This allows the video to be tracked live, so when the Cube V3 changes position, the video will remain still so the perspective is always held true. It’s really something you have to see in person to really appreciate.”

DEADMAU5 © Steve Jennings

The lighting design went through several iterations and ultimately ended up at the visual expanse you see on tour. Stenzel wanted to make sure that Cube V3 was complemented by the same aggressive angles in the lighting design and that’s where what they call the “spines” came in. “The spines are the 12 flown and 12 ground-supported trusses loaded with eye candy,” Stenzel says. “The angles of the rig allow the cube to spin freely within the design, free from obstruction in even the smallest of venues, all the while making sure that all of the lighting can have its full range of motion. In fact, even with the Sharpy fixtures, the rig is flat, even when the truss is raked at 35 degrees, so there is no loss in the range of motion they can achieve since they are the main work-horse of the lighting rig. It’s the small details that really make this design so versatile.”

DEADMAU5 © Steve Jennings

When it came to lighting fixtures, Stenzel says he definitely played favorites. “The Martin [MAC] Viper has some of the best optics in a hard edge fixture I have seen and is always a staple in my designs so it was only natural to include them. They are placed upstage of the flown spins on the up lighting support arch between the hoists that support the spine as well as on the deck behind the ground support spine carts. They have the ability to cut through the rig and deliver this additional depth to the rig that is unexpected. The [Ayrton] MagicPanel 602 was second choice for my pixel fixture to the Magic Panel FX, which were unobtainable at the time we started touring. The 602 is a great pixel fixture and really holds its own though the tour in songs like ‘Maths’, where we can display numbers, ‘Raise Your Weapon’ and ‘Monophobia,’ where we took full advantage of pixels.

DEADMAU5 © Steve Jennings

“The [Claypaky] Sharpys became the main work horse of the show during programming. Their speed and brightness is still at the top of its class after so many years. This really came through in ‘Saturn,’ where the beams are at top speed creating this movement and dimmer effect that can only be described as mind bending. The [GLP] JDC1’s are my favorite strobe. It complements the 602 with its pixel capabilities, and it’s able to punch through the Sharpys with its aggressive mode brightness. Lastly, there are the VER Blade HD’s. These originally started out being controlled via DMX to pixels via TouchDesigner. However, after the Ultra Miami show debut, we decided that the 30 fps of DMX was not going to cut it in our 60 fps world. The Blades were adopted into the TouchDesigner video system shortly after, and the result is vividly eye catching.

DEADMAU5 © Steve Jennings

“The show couldn’t have been the same without our amazing team,” Stenzel says. “Jason Haag from F5D and I were able to put our heads together and design a system that was able to allow the cube to be controlled via Art-Net with some C++ code and relays. We were then able to implement an internal safety system which would return the Cube to its ‘home’ position in the event of fault along with e-stops in all the pertinent locations, even one in Joel’s booth. It was a really awesome learning experience in coding for myself, and a great way to start off our automation career with something so iconic as Deadmau5’s Cube V3. I would also like to mention how amazingly helpful my co-programmer and L2, Connor Sullivan, was in rehearsals. As I was dealing with Cube code, packet collisions and all the other curve balls that a system designer deals with, he was able to finish programming the lighting for many of the songs as well as the entirety of ‘Drama Free.’ I couldn’t be more pleased with the result. Truly a great programmer.”

DEADMAU5 © Steve Jennings

Chris Schroeder
Production Manager

Chris Schroeder notes that it was a collective effort, with their entire core team to develop this CubeV3 design. “We took in consideration all engineering and logistic challenges of the previous Cube designs and wanted to make this Cube as impactful from a visual perspective, but also wanted it to be easy and quick to assemble. Managing the entire process from concept to fabrication and then of course taking it on a domestic tour was challenging, but extremely full-filling.”

DEADMAU5 © Steve Jennings

The artist (Joel Zimmerman) directly designed every single asset on this show from a video content perspective, Schroeder notes. He developed live generative content instead of having a rendered content show, so that saved on budget. “Joel wrote and developed GLSL Shaders for the majority of the show and interlaced them with some previously rendered content from past tours for the hits (‘Strobe,’ ‘Monophobia,’ ‘Ghosts N Stuff,’ etc.). “He created and developed the show at home and during our rehearsals in Toronto in February and July of 2019.”

DEADMAU5 © Steve Jennings

The Cube’s structure, with the heaviest, most important part being the slewing ring cart and the base of the entire Cube, weighs around 3,500 pounds but it can also fit through a standard-size door, notes Schroeder. “This was extremely important when you’re going into older venues. We have four other Cube carts that carry the structure of the Cube support, and then one final cart with the static deck and desk that supports Joel’s performance area and backline.

DEADMAU5 © Steve Jennings

“The CubeV3 weighs a total of 7,000 pounds, not including the 16-by-16-foot custom build riser below it. Joel’s show file runs off a BOXX Tower computer system run with Touch Designer and Ableton Live. A Model One Mixer controls audio coming out of the BOXX computer in correlation with a Microsoft Surface Studio 2 with proprietary software Joel has developed over the years, where he can manipulate the stems in real time throughout the entire performance.”

DEADMAU5 © Steve Jennings

Deadmau5 Cube V3 Tour

Crew

  • Lighting Designer & Director: Collyns Stenzel
  • Lighting Programmers: Collyns Stenzel, Connor Sullivan
  • Touch Designer Technician: Connor Sullivan
  • Lighting Co: PRG
  • Lighting Crew Chief: Jerry Vierna
  • PRG Account Rep: Julian Edwards
  • Production Manager: Chris Schroeder (Chris Schroeder Prod.)
  • Tour Manager: Ashley Brown (Chris Schroeder Prod.)
  • Stage Manager / LED Technician: Sam Boucher
  • Video Content / Creator: Joel Zimmerman (AKA Deadmau5)
  • Video Co: Innovative Event Productions (IEP)
  • Audio Monitor Provider: Chris Schroeder Productions
  • Trucking: On Tour Logistics
  • Automation: Jason Haag, Collyns Stenzel
  • Riggers: Chris Iovino, Patrick Roll

DEADMAU5 © Steve Jennings

Gear

Lighting:

  • 2       grandMA2 Lighting Consoles
  • 36     Ayrton MagicPanel 602’s
  • 34     Chauvet Nexus 4×4’s
  • 48     Claypaky Sharpys
  • 48     GLP JDC1’s
  • 5       Martin MAC Viper Performances
  • 22     Martin MAC Viper Profiles
  • 4       DF50 Hazers

DEADMAU5 © Steve Jennings

Video:

  • 114  WinVision Air 9mm LV9 panels
  • 1       Barco Folsom 4K switcher
  • 2       BOXX Tower computer systems w/ Touch Designer
  • 1       Custom server for Resolume (support acts) and PTZ camera management system

DEADMAU5 © Steve Jennings

More Deadmau5 Cube V3 tour photos by Steve Jennings:

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