One of Ghost Town Media's most satisfying projects has been a long-standing relationship with the band Linkin Park. In this short documentary, Brandon Parvini and his team walk us through the stage design for the Hunting Party tour, which builds on a visual language over 15 years in the making.
(zooming laser and synthesizer sounds) - Ghost Town Media is a interdisciplinary visual effects and design studio. We focus on everything from short form to live concert, experiential, and just about anything else in between. We're a digital house, we like to make pictures. (electronic dance music plays) For us we have a really loyal kind of central pack of freelancers that we kind of go to for most of our projects and try to find some way to include them in the process.
A big thing for us is trying to make sure that the artist who's working on it is finding some way to put themselves in it. Asking them to kind of negate themselves and just fall completely underneath of the initial creative, you aren't going to really guarantee that they're going to give you their best work, and that's a big chunk of it. We want you to be motivated, we want you to find something exciting, so for us, we try to focus on jobs that we feel like people are going to grow out of. The big thing for us is trying something different, trying something new.
If you're making something that you kind of already know what you're doing, then we've probably already seen it before, and we're not particularly interested in seeing it again. Experimentation with failure has to be part of it. Linkin Park's been the opportunity for us to really, I think, kind of hone, if not an actual tangible narrative for the band, there's been a visual narrative that's been going on now for a long period of time.
I've been really fortunate, and we have by proxy, to have been working for a long time with the band, and they've given us tremendous access and have been wildly supportive. I mean just about any piece of moving media you can imagine, they've asked us to work on. For The Hunting Party world tour, we were approached by Joe and Jim Digby, Jim Digby being the tour manager for Linkin Park, and Joe who is in charge of a lot of the visual content for the band.
We've been working with them now pretty consistently since 2009, I believe, having first worked with them on a music video that was in conjunction with Transformers, and we kind of hit it off, we kind of saw the world in a similar way, and this is now our third concert leg that we've been on with them. Now we've been working for long enough that we're at the point that we can kind of just share imagery back and forth, kind of get what the other one's trying to say. - So usually after we've met with Joe Hahn of Linkin Park, we put together a PDF for him to kind of visually understand what we're trying to convey.
So what we kind of did to help organize this big production is we figured, ok well, with talking with them, we can break it up into kind of acts like a opera or something of that nature. We can break it up and kind of do a narrative throughout. Act One was kind of the introduction. It kind of gets the audience prepared for what's to come, and I think we use a lot of lighting as reference I think in the first part, monochromatic, again we don't want to show off the full capacity. We want the audience to stay involved, and we don't want to overload them from the get go.
The second act we started to include a little bit more of people, live action. Eventually as the timeline goes on, more color, we get into sculptures, and again this is kind of based off of their music and their songs that they're selecting. Act Three, again, using a lot of light. This is where the screens came down, and we kind of talked about that with Joe. We don't want to show those off from the get go. I think we said Act One they'd be all the way at the top. Act Two they would be touching the back portions of the screens, and then Act Three they would be fully down, and we wanted to kind of not show off everything at first, so we only used a couple screens, then as the show kind of grew, we kind of used all the screens to our advantage.
- Generally speaking, we try to refresh the assets a little bit, and the stage design might get refreshed when you go in between album cycles. This time there was a new piece of technology called V-THRU that some of the production team had gotten pretty excited about, and we began to see drafts and kind of renderings of a stage design that included this ability to essentially have screens that you could have pretty high resolution visual on them that you could actually see through, and when the screens were fully lit, it would look like a screen, and when they weren't lit, you could still see the person behind the screen.
So once we started seeing these renderings come through, we began to realize that we're going to have to take a different approach to the concert visuals than we ever have before. We have 30 some odd years that have been working towards working for a rectangular surface. This one was going to be interesting because the fact that we were talking about not just having layers, but also having no real central screen for this. We were going to have this different kind of modular windows that were going to be placed all over the stage.
- So what we got from the lighting team basically are all the technical specs for the screens and for the layout. A lot of it looks like Greek, but that's where Brandon steps in and he kind of simplifies this for the artist. - When you're dealing with a concert asset, you have so many cuts and so many things that are happening. You have plugins, you have multiple layers that are being created, you have so much that's happening that trying to pipe it into a 3D world for us we found wildly inefficient.
We had to be able to give people back After Effects and give it to them in a way which they're used to doing. So we had to basically find a way to take the world of depth and strip that back out and kind of press it back down to a single flat plane with the understanding that on this plane are portals that we're dealing with, and so if I go to this portal, I know this is going to go somewhere. I could be in a comp 16 panels away, essentially, and as I'm moving it around, I'm seeing how its alignment is adjusting on the actual previs, and so all of the sudden that hand-eye coordination starts getting quicker and quicker and quicker, but they're not having to think in 3D.
We've thought in 3D for them, they just have to basically almost play an elegant game of Simon. - So it'll make more sense if I drag in an asset. For example, if I just drag in this QuickTime, and if I just plop this on top. So you could see I have this QuickTime here. It doesn't populate all the panels, but just to show you kind of how this shows up, if I just kind of lay it over the entire work source like that, if I come back out one comp, so you could see how now all the panels are populated, but they're sitting in 3D space.
(rock music) Once you really just break it down, it really is just looking at one flattened work source, and then that just being duplicated and masked off per panel and having that as separate pre-comps. And so this is really cool because what they were able to look at as far as the creative were all the screens that were kind of put back into 3D space. It was great to be able to send this off to the band, and then have notes based on what they would actually look like on stage rather than giving them this, this final deliverable, and having them try to imagine what the boxes would look like.
(rock music) As the show progressed, we wanted to show off all the different screens and what we could do with them, and so this is one of the ones that I created where some of the elements in the front of the screen were more important than what was behind, so we could really kind of play around with that. Joe Hahn was in one of the boxes, and this is where the front scrim's all the way down.
This is a little cool section where I, you know, just using some cloth in C4D, I just made a solid and had it rip, but what you can do is you put it on the front scrim, and you can't see Joe, and then it rips and all of the sudden he's behind it, so it really has a lot of dimension when you start thinking of it that way, and a lot of the stuff that I kind of built was to kind of really sell that idea and really get the audience to understand like, "Whoa, there's a screen in front of him and behind him." It's a lot of, you know, trickery with the eyes.
(rock music) And again because he's performing, we kind of have the other part of the stage kind of dimly lit, and we really sell his section. (heavy rock music) - So you have like VJs, right, that'll work with certain EDM acts, and they're there, and they're mixing things, and they're tossing things up and down, but for the band, we work to a certain degree on rails, and then we end up getting kind of complemented by the actual lighting team and lighting director who will end up going through then afterwards because they have the ability to also turn screens on and off.
So let's say we're in an area that I cannot predict what the audio's going to be like. Let's say that we have a section that's a drum solo. The drum solo on Tuesday versus Friday might be different, and if it's different, if I'm doing 1:1 sound ratio kind of on off activations to just one recording, it's going to be off half the time, so then those are areas in which you have to have kind of a really open and clean dialogue with the lighting team to say look, we have this thing just running full bore, so you can have it on and be working that there on stage, you can turn it off, but I want to give you the option to do it.
A lot of this is trying to give everyone ammunition to do the best job that they can do because that's the point is just to make some cool stuff. (EDM music) - One of the assets I created in C4D is this particle kind of simulation, and what I wanted it to do was to bounce off the lower risers and kind of interact with the other elements.
And, you know, this is a really simple build. I just have a cylinder in the center and particles are being emitted from it, and I just put out five or six different versions that I could use, that I could kind of fade in between. Because we laid everything flat I could take this one render and use it five or six different times and just mask it out. And then what I did in After Effects is I just kind of timed out, you know, first it would be raining in and we see the two screens get activated, and then this is actually down here, and so this kind of was this like starburst effect.
And again, as it progresses, there's more and more particles that sort of come as the song kind of swells and really interacts on all the different ones, but really it's just one asset that I kind of moved around, masked out, slid to a different location, masked out, and it really worked well without me having to go back and re-render a 4,500 frame sequence of particles. (EDM music) - You look at like a commercial or a music video, and you have this aspect where you can get really, you know, really lush visuals, but the complexity level are confined because it's going to be a single-serving item, and so it has to just work on its own.
Having been able to work with the band for such a long period of time has been this idea of constantly refining what you're trying to execute. You work with the same person for a long period of time, it asks you to hit a different portion of your creativity. You have to kind of try to evolve what you're trying to do, and not be going back to the same well, not the same approaches. But you at least still have the benefit of knowing what someone likes. It's our job to execute an enjoyable show for the fans and to execute the will and wishes of the band, and much of the time that requires using a set of visual linguistics that the band's been supplying over the past 15 years.
It's our job to be able to kind of execute that same set of linguistics and speak it as if it's our own.
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