The English singer-songwriter and musician began his worldwide tour last summer in support of his second album by the name of X (pronounced multiply); the tour continues through December visiting stadiums as well as arenas. His creative team has turned IMAG on its head bringing it front and center with ten differently-sized screens in five columns, which display innovative content to engage fans without detracting from Sheeran’s strong stage presence. Using disguise famed software suite and two 4×2pro media servers have enabled the team to craft unique, multi-layered looks for each set in the show.
The creative concept behind Ed Sheeran’s Live Production was driven by Lighting & Production Designer Mark Cunniffe & Production Manager Chris Marsh. Cunniffe’s brief to content creators, The Third Company, was to move away from traditional I-mag and wherever possible immerse the Artist within the visuals created. No small task considering that Sheeran was the only person present on stage.
“It was clear that IMAG would be a big part of the show with Ed being the only person on stage,” says Damian Hale, a creative director at London’s Treatment/The Third Company; (Content Creation for Sheeran’s “X Tour” was a Third Company project.) “But I was determined that [IMAG] could not compromise the design or distract from the content, so from the very beginning my aim was that the audience should not be able to see the line between live imagery and content. Using IMAG as such an integral part of the design meant that the screen content, like the sound, would be unique in each show.”
When lighting and production designer Mark Cunniffe commissioned The Third Company to create the content for the tour Mark was introduced to Matt Swoboda, creator of the revolutionary real-time effects generator, Notch. Notch can be used on request exclusively with disguise media servers.
Swoboda says, “What I like so much about this show is that it’s not dominated by video: It’s dominated by the artist. To have a vision like Mark had and to be able to carry it out with the right people like The Third Company, that’s something you really don’t see that often. The result is so much more than ‘just video’: It’s all these different visual effects coming together, and becoming something more than the sum of its parts.”
Swoboda calls this technical concept “very brave” and says “not all designers and content creators would go this far in using new technology. But both Mark and Damian really understood the power of what we could do.”
“Notch, in conjunction with disguise, allowed me more creative freedom than any other approach I know of,” says Hale. “They work together so smoothly and allow for a very fluid workflow. Looks and effects can be tweaked and updated all the way through the process without holding things up or disrupting the flow of ideas.”
Rowan Pitts, a freelance disguise specialist, handled the previs and preproduction programming for Sheeran, including three sold-out dates at Wembley Stadium in July where a tour documentary was shot. “Ed Sheeran’s tour really breaks down the boundaries of video content and IMAG,” says Pitts. “IMAG is now part of the overall aesthetics of the stage.”
“Previs is a massive help for short time frames [like Wembley], especially when we were able to work within the disguise 3D virtual simulator. In rehearsal we only had two of the ten screens rigged, but it was important to see what the other screens were doing and we could simulate that. When all the screens were plugged in at Wembley we didn’t have a massive amount of tweaking to do.”