Live Show Reel

Here’s a sampling of my animation and motion graphics work I’ve done for various live events. It’s different than some of my usual broadcast design stuff on my other reel.

It’s a process of design animation and motion that is mapped across a stage or an arena, so there’s different techniques used to make you graphics fit to something that size. Instead of preparing something to be viewed on a 50 inch TV, you are working on 30 foot screens and disjointed LED panels.

Last updated 5/1/2016

Music: Rataxes – Holding Hands – Creative Commons 3.0
soundcloud.com/rataxesuk/rataxes-holding-hands

Content © Univision Communications Inc

Getting Familiar with d3

My goal every year is to learn something new in terms of computer software, for two reasons:

  1. A popular application you use today may not be what everyone is using 5, 10, or 20 years later. If you don’t examine what other programs are capable of and be aware of complementary or replacement software, you might get left behind someday.
  2. Learning something new gives you more utility and makes you more versatile as a designer.

A couple years ago I learned X-Particles, last year I focused more on TurbulenceFD. This year I learned d3.

What is d3?
Great question!

According to the d3 Technologies website, d3 is:

The world’s first integrated video production suite, d3 is more than just a media server. Based around a real-time 3D stage simulator, it is the single solution needed to design, present, communicate, sequence and playback logoyour show. d3 lets you work with props, venues, LED screens, projection, lighting and moving stage elements, while being completely integrated into a single intuitive software solution that runs on your own laptop or dedicated d3 hardware.

To summarize their summary, basically d3 handles almost the entire process for designing and executing a live performance.


My experience with live performances mostly comes from doing the animation content for musical performances at award shows and some sales presentations. Prior to d3, I would create animations in Cinema 4D or After Effects and render it within a template that tells you what part of the image is sent to the different screens on a stage based on the X and Y position coordinates of pixels. Multiple screens get combined on to one template composition, which has gotten exceedingly high in resolution. Nothing slows you down more in After Effects than trying to do a RAM preview on a 14,000 x 4000 composition. The d3 blows that process out of the water and makes you never want to work that way again.

The advantages of d3:

1. It plays back in real time.

I pray to the animation gods that one day After Effects will be able to play a Quicktime movie without needing a RAM preview. Maybe it will happen before I die. Until then, d3 will pick up the slack. I can get 10 different Quicktime movies (HAP codec works well) looping back in real time without making a preview. It just… does it for you. It’s a huge timesaver to not have to wait for the computer to cook up a preview for you. It’s like the difference between developing film at a 1 hour photo versus looking at one instantly on a digital camera. Your hardware makes a difference, a good video card and a SSD drive are essential for reliable real time playback.

2. It maps your graphics to a stage where they belong.

The whole process can work like this: you can design stage layout in maybe a program like Vectorworks, bring it into a 3D application and build a model, and then export the screens in d3 and have their position and scale be accurate to the venue where you’ll be working in. Pixels aren’t a physical measurement. The same amount of pixels in your TV screen can be used to to fill a screen that’s 30 feet tall. Instead of seeing your images on a flat, one-size-fits all composition, you can see how they compliment each other inside an accurate model of the venue, telling you how well your graphics are fit the physical space of the screens.

 

3. No rendering!

Perhaps my favorite feature. Since it handles everything so well in real time, d3 is able to just play your timeline as it’s laid out without having to render a “final movie” like you would in After Effects. This prevents you from having to set your project up to maybe spend half a day rendering while you can’t work on your computer. It allows you to customize and adjust the individual clips on the fly, without ever committing to a final render. It is ultimately faster and more flexible, and that’s always a welcome combination.

4. Music becomes your timecode.

d3 uses an audio file for timing instead of more traditional, timecode based timelines. It times things out by bars, which can be color-coded and sectioned off to organize your edit. It was confusing to me at first; it helps to be more inclined and familiar with music because you can quantize audio to fit the timeline to the rhythm of the song. So every chorus, verse, bridge, intro, outro, etc. can be properly spaced out on your timeline, and the total length of your animations will sync up with the markers on your timeline. It makes total sense when you see it work within a song, where every 4 bars the music and lyrics change right on time. d3 makes changing and timing your graphics on to the beat approximately 100,000 times easier than in a program like After Effects.

5. The interface is RAW.

I love the raw, old school interface of d3 with absolutely zero bells and whistles. Keep it like that forever. I don’t care if it looks a GUI from the 1980s, it works very well and that’s what really matters. I choose functionality over gradients, bevels, customizable fonts and crap like that. The program itself is very light and doesn’t feel bloated from years of extra features trying to convince you to upgrade to the latest version. I hope it stays like that forever.

D3_interface


Here’s my most current example for Premios Juventud 2015 in July. I created this sort of Avatar Style/ Fern Gully forest in Cinema 4D and After Effects. Those programs (or their substitutes) will still be where you do the bulk of your designing. d3 has some capabilities for making adjustments, but it;s not a graphic design program.

I worked with regular sized HD comps in my design applications, and placed them on various screens of all different sizes in the arena via d3. Here’s a sample:

Here is a still render of the scene and the preview in Cinema 4D. I sculpted that stump and then worked it into a modified Landscape Primitive. I added Hair for the grass, gave it a little motion and ping-ponged it for looping purposes. The dandelions were also made in Cinema 4D, made with the Feather object. I took one little petal of it and used it as a particle for a Trapcode Particular emitter back inside After Effects.

For rendering I used the Physical Renderer in Cinema 4D. I wanted a shallow depth of field to make it feel like the forest was really large and the performance was just a tiny part inside the scene. It made render times skyrocket but it was worth it because I needed that lens effect. For compositing I really just layered some foreground grass and a main hero dandelion to emit my particles, some little dust, some light leaks, and gave it a sort of fantasy-style color treatment to make it not feel like a forest designed without so much realism.

tree_stump_scene

I still want to learn the ins and outs of the whole process of d3. I am just one part of the assembly line, I design the content and fit it to the song and the stage. But it contains more power that simply just designing, it actually runs the show behind the scenes involving other people who are smarter than me.

It’s a very young program, so young that I tried searching for help for a tech issue on it and all the results were from a video game forum. The name “d3” is too widely used, getting more information on it from a Google search can be tricky. Hell I was presenting at a conference called D3 that had nothing to do with it, they just called the organization D3 as well.

d3 was used during Katy Perry’s halftime show for the Super Bowl this year and I expected the program to blow up. But d3 is quietly going about their business behind the scenes, hovering with just 850ish Twitter followers as of today (Maxon has about 38K, Adobe has like 415K) and I’m totally good with that. I look forward to learning more about this great program, I hope I can become a near expert before everyone else figures out how awesome it is. I want to be a d3 hipster one day.

Live Performance Graphics: Jencarlos Canela

Besides Marc Anthony for Premios Juventud 2013, I did a song for Jencarlos Canela called “I Love It.” Our performance was tied to the music video which featured some paint effects. My general direction was just to feature bright, neon paint as many ways I could.

Paint is hard to simulate since it is a liquid that moves very organically. It’s also presents problems with loops, since once paint splatters, sprays, or drips it can’t really backup and drip back to the way it started. So I had to come up with some creative ways to make my content loops so it can be played constantly without jumping. Some of them were just stock clips that I had to hit with a few effects in After Effects. Usually it was just a Luma Key to put the paint off a black background and a effect like Hue/Saturation to colorize it a certain way.

But for the opening part of the song producers wanted the screens to have dripping paint and I couldn’t find any good stock for that. So I shot it myself, it looked like this:

paint_drips_camera_web

It was far from an ideal setup, just me slinging black paint on a poster board in a dimly lit warehouse for a couple hours. But I pulled a matte with the contrast between the paint and the board, then cleaned up the matte with a few tools and added a little but of glow, turbulence for the curve of the drips, and obviously some color to the plain black drips. It was a lot of work for something that was only going to be on the screens for 30 seconds.

The loop I liked the most came during the instrumental bridge of the song. As is a theme with my performance content, I try to keep things simple but have them stand out. I was running out of paint video so I decided to make some movement…without any actual movement. My favorite textures site is CGTextures, I use them all the time and they have saved my butt many times. And they certainly came in handy here:

paint_splats

I grabbed a bunch of high resolution stills of paint splats, then I lined them up on my After Effects timeline and cropped them after 10 frames, then went to the top menu to Animation -> Keyframe Assistant -> Sequence Layers which lined up my layers one after another. Then I set an Adjustment Layer above the paint splats with Hue/Saturation to shift the color every 10 frames as well, using the Wiggler. If you set these keyframes to be hold keyframes, the color will randomly jump every 10 frames without any easing between keyframes. The result is a cycling animation of paint splats jumping at a pace, and it really fit with the rhythm of the song. I shifted the colors and sequence of the splats to get different patterns going across all the screens. This is an example of what kind of motion you can create…without any actual motion.

The goal of these shows is to create memorable acts that look unique and different from each other. It seems like I did the job if you compare my Marc Anthony content with my Jencarlos Canela content.

jencarlos1_web

Live Performance Graphics: Marc Anthony

Here’s a sample for my graphics for a live performance of Marc Anthony’s Vivir Mi Vida at Premios Juventud 2012 in Miami, FL.

So when I ask what the theme for the act is and it’s just “umbrellas” that doesn’t sound terribly exciting. The producers tried to tie together the performance with umbrellas by handing them out to twirl for the fans and make it appear on the broadcast as if it was raining, there’s a line in the beginning of the song that talks about rain. Of course I would like to forgo any focus on the audience and instead focus on the projection screens I made graphics for.

I picked a set of colors to stick with ranging from like teal and blue paired with orange and yellow, those are Florida colors all the way. I designed a few elements in Cinema 4D like an umbrella, sunglasses, a beachball to kind build up a whole beach theme. Designing a 3D funtioning umbrella was actually pretty tough, so I took a few shortcuts since nobody is going to be very critical as to how the umbrella looks or opens up.

From there I threw the umbrellas in a few Radial Cloners in MoGraph and spun them around to create that sort of hypnotizing, spinning motion, or maybe something that reminds you of synchronized swimming. I supplemented the graphics with a still of beach sand and some water I made using Trapcode Form, which was key because you could make the water loop easily.

sidebyside1

I always like to throw some simple patterns in there and I actually really liked how the ones I made for this loop turned out. I made these vertical stripes that were kind of twitching and fading in and out between teal, white and orange. I used a great setup in Cinema 4D and MoGraph for this to program that randomness. I had a Random Effector that would switch seeds every 10 frames, and the interpolation between keyframes was set to Step, so that would switch abruptly. And on top that I applied a Formula Effector with the Color mode active, and that applied a cascading grayscale color over my stripes. From there I took it into After Effects and layer a couple different instances of these renders on top of each other. Then I tinted the layers white, teal, and orange, and the blending between them creates a lot of motion with minimal effort. I really liked how this one simple loop turned out, I’ll probably recycle the project files down the road for a different act.

marc_anthony1_web

All in all I like how it turned out. The song is very catchy and the loops blended well together and with the beach themed set design and broadcast.

Live Performance Graphics: Upfront 2013

I had to create graphics for a segment of Univison’s 2013 Upfront presentation in New York City at the New Amsterdam Theater. An Upfront is basically a fancy powerpoint presentation touting a networks past accomplishments for the year while demonstrating what else is coming on the horizon, and it gets exceedingly more elaborate each year. My animation was supposed to be a weather alert that interrupts the show because it’s snowing outside, which was a themed segue to the debut of a new show.

IMG_3288

Basically received the direction to try to make it look like a news broadcast, just a quick bump that wipes to an exterior snow shot of Central Park. They were also going to pump fake wind and snow into the theater to sell the the effect some more.

We are currently redesigning the graphics for one of our news shows, and my producers referred me towards that. The graphics involve a lot of rings so I started adding all sorts of Tube primitives, Torus primitives, Sweep NURBS, and Radial Cloners just to create this elaborate looking ring design. I moved the camera and the object, trying to make this a complex looking shape. When all else fails and you have like 2 or 3 days to model, light, texture, and animate something that needs to look like it could belong on broadcast TV, you don’t get too picky or philosophical with questions like WHAT DOES THIS SHAPE MEAN MAN?

weatheralert

In After Effects I brought in the camera from Cinema 4D, so I could composite in some wind and snow that looks like it belongs with the ring. These weren’t 3D particles, just 2D clips I put in there pretty quickly, but they work well in the scene. I added some camera shake too which I tend to like, it makes the camera feel like it’s being affected by the motion design.

So that was the piece for the main screen, but I also had to create complimentary graphics that go along with the rest of the stage. There were secondary screens throughout the theater that needed to be tied together with the big screen on stage. I composed a bunch of tech overlays and scanline objects together, with some text that read “Weather Alert” all in red to contrast sharply with the cool blue look in the center. The final result was kind of cool and kind of cheesy in the delivery, but I still like how it came out.

Live Performance Graphics: Pitbull

Pitbull was the opening act for the Latin Grammys in 2012 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. When you have the opening act for the show, they tell you to take your graphics an double the energy for it. So I had to create something very exciting to start the show. His song “Don’t Stop the Party” is about a noble quest for one man to not stop the party, regardless of the circumstances.

The set for the act was all gold everything, so I made a lot of my graphics metal and shiny and also paired it with red colors as well, which tend to compliment gold. Usually this is the case, they set the parameters for your design through the set design and the props, and you kind of build your work off of that. Initially they wanted me to build a sort of structural design with like this golden palace, but eventually it shifted to a more graphical look with me doing my own thing.

This stage happened to be covered in zig-zagging LED screens, which are much brighter than the projection screens in the back. Usually the stages I’ve done are fairly balanced between LED screens and projection screens, but this time the stage design was leaning heavily on the use of LED screens. I designed my animations to work well in very long, skinny sections to better fit the LED stripes.

gold_bars_c4d

The first sample seems incredibly simple… because it is. It’s just a Linear Cloner of a tapered Cube in Cinema 4D, with some lights flashing on a shiny gold material. The cubes are spinning in a pattern that is not totally uniform, which is just a touch of randomness I always try to use in my designs. With this very wide aspect ratio I could position these all along the LED stripes and have this shiny gold texture moving spinning differently on various screens.

particle_precomp

I also used the motion graphics lynchpin Trapcode Particular to do a series of defocused dancing particles. Particles are always good because they can be worked into just about anything and can be colorized or styled in a variety of ways. I could easily take these particles and change them to be like a dark blue or purple and slow them down and used them for a slower, more dramatic song. I probably will in another show and hope you don’t call me out on it.

After doing enough of these shows I figured out ways to get more motion out of your graphics, rather than strictly animating everything by hand. I like to use expressions in After Effects to block out certain screens with different timing patterns. I’ll divide up my composition with masks, in a way that corresponds to the layout of the LED screens fed into the media server at the venue. Then I will place black solids or adjustment layers on top of them, and use my trusty companion, the Wiggle expression. By placing the “Wiggle(F,A)” expression inside a layer’s Transparency setting, where F stands for the frequency and A stands for the amplitude, you’ll get a random fading in and out of the black solid, which will make the screens flicker on and off during the song. It’s incredibly easy to do just to get some random, simulated movement without using any keyframes.

I included an After Effects project here which is a simple setup showing some of the same expressions I’ve used before for shows. I use it to make screens, flicker, cascade, or kind of pulse with varying frequencies and rhythms. You can check it out and see how math can be your friend when you have to a deadline to meet for a live show happening in a couple hours.

Cascade_1 Cascade_1 Cascade_1 Cascade_1

The final result had a lot of energy and set the stage for a great show. I think this one turned out well and looked great on the wide shots.

Designing Live Performance Content

A few years ago I started designing graphics for a medium that I never had any experience with: live events. All my experience was with straight up broadcast design, so it was a new discipline to learn and now I feel like I can understand it enough to write a little bit about it. I now approach these designs completely different than my standard broadcast work, and I particularly enjoy seeing how my animation comes out when presented across a big stage for a large audience.

Most of this experience I have gained relates to content for musical performances at award shows. It presents all sorts of new challenges when you are designing for complex stages with screens scattered throughout big venues. My content is usually just a small piece of the whole puzzle, and the folks at home really have no idea how much prep goes into these shows that they check out while channel surfing. Television may seem saturated with an alphabet soup of awards shows that are constantly coming out giving kudos to the same artists over and over again, but I’m always checking them out just to see what the show amounts to. My behind the scenes experience gives me a better perspective and appreciation for the end result. The number of people involved with preparing the music, dances, costumes, the set design, securing the props, finding a way to ship and transport huge pieces of the set around the country, preparing the venue for broadcast, etc. is simply staggering. I’ve seen some of it first hand and when everyone works together you can put on a great event, and the viewer at home has no chance of realizing how much work goes into it all and how many people are involved with every little detail.

generic1_web

The main difference you experience when designing a live stage performance is that your animation work is no longer the main focus of the broadcast. You have to think of it as content within content. Usually I would just design a TV commercial or some sort of animation that takes up the entire TV screen and is solely what the viewer absorbs and focuses on. With a live performance the viewer is mostly focusing on the performer, and absorbing your content kind of in their periphery. So I try to find a way to come up with ideas that are new and fresh but end up being pretty simple.

Simplicity is the key, your content can’t be too complex for a number of reasons:

  1. It will clash with everything else

  2. Sometimes a live performance can have everything going on stage, featuring an artist (or artists), a band, dancers, props, pyro, cryo, lasers, lights, smoke, etc. You can create some really sophisticated animation and have it get totally lost on stage. It could end up being totally obscured very easily. I’ve had this happen to me before.

  3. You have no control over how people will see it

  4. The performance is being filmed through cameras at every angle, and the director of the show is going to be switching around constantly. Some nice wide shots will show off your animation, but closeups on the artist will make you feel fortunate if you can see a handful of pixels. Also the pace in which the cameras switch may be pretty fast, so you’ll be lucky if you can a nice clean glimpse of the work for more than a couple seconds.

  5. It’s not a music video

  6. This was hard for me to fully grasp at first, but now I get it. You are not creating a music video. You’re not making something the sole focus as to why people are watching the artist perform. They want to see the artist sing (or at least pretend as if they are singing) and enjoy the show, but there not watching your work with a critical eye like they would with a straight up music video.

  7. Time constraints

  8. Most times for the music awards shows I’ve done, I’ve juggled multiple acts for a couple weeks. Sometimes the artists are not confirmed until the last minute, they can’t decided what song to do, or they kick around a bunch of different concepts for what the performance should be like. On top of formatting your content to fit a custom stage, rendering, transferring files in time for rehearsals in the days before the show, you tend to have a very small window to work with. Sometimes simple animation is by design, but it can be out of necessity just so you can meet your deadline.

    I think it’s harder to showcase these kinds of animation examples because without any context it may not seem overly impressive. So I’ll be trying to post my examples periodically and explain the process behind the production.I use a boatload of plugins for Cinema 4D and After effects, like MoGraph, X Particles, the Trapcode Suite and more. ALl of my live performance content will be chronicled under this location on my site.

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