Few events in British musical history can have been more eagerly welcomed by more female fans than the reuniting of the iconic and prototypical boy band Take That. The band’s Progress Live 2011 Tour reunited its five original performers – including Robbie Williams – for the first time in over 15 years as they played to packed stadiums in the band’s biggest tour to date: over 1.34 million tickets sold out in less than 24 hours.
Central to much of the show’s action was the giant figure of ‘Om’, a 20 metre high animated man, brought to ‘life’ as a primitive god-like figure during the on-stage action. In reality Om was designed and engineered by Brilliant Stages with the expert help of Andy Edwards.
Om was first revealed to the audience as he slid out in a sitting position through the central performer stage which split in two to allow his entrance. Brilliant Stages created the dividing stage along with two band pods which rolled off-stage on tracks and were sited on hydraulic scissor lifts (two under each pod) to give them vertical movement.
As the show progressed, Om performed moves that including a sweeping motion of the arms, nodding the head, raising each of the singers in the palm of his hands, until eventually moving out in a recumbent position into the middle of the arena. As he did so, he carried the band members on each hand and on platforms located within the abdomen until he finally stood up to reveal his full height and spread his arms wide in a stunning final image.
Om was clad in translucent fibreglass panels into which Brilliant Stages embedded bracketry for LED lighting which formed points of light over the whole body. Working in conjunction with Neg Earth, Brilliant Stages also supplied LED clusters in the palm of each hand and two points for eyes and heart.
The six show positions, which saw Om horizontal, seated and upright, with head raised and lowered, arms outstretched and sweeping, required twenty axes of movement throughout his jointed limbs.
The arms were articulated at principal joints with a hydraulic slew ring and pivot to enable all required show moves, including rotational movement at each wrist. This enabled the hands to be positioned in ‘stowed show mode’ and in the correct orientation to allow performer support. An additional rotary joint was incorporated at the elbow end of each upper arm to provide the necessary horizontal sweep movement of the lower arms and hands. A further slew ring and pivot in the neck allowed the head to rotate and nod.
A two-stage telescopic ‘spine mast’ formed the main component of the structure, providing both support and lift to raise Om to sitting and standing positions. The outer section of the mast effectively acted as the spine, while two extending inner sections acted as a lifting ‘prop’.
The mast was attached at its base to a heavy duty pivot mechanism giving approximately 100° of movement and was articulated by a pair of double acting hydraulic actuators. The powered hips, shoulders and neck were attached to the outer section of the main mast whilst the shoulder and head assembly, formed by a steel truss, were attached to the end. The lift into standing position was provided entirely by the main mast to upper part of the body. The legs incorporated no mechanics or power for the show moves but were pulled into place by gravity as the torso lifted, articulated to provide the required dexterity for life-like movement.
The whole figure was mounted on a 1.5m high, mobile, self-propelled base located on a 35-ton modified articulated trailer. In show mode, the trailer extended to 12.8m, which stretched Om’s legs out in front of him and contracted to 8.8m to draw his legs up into a crouched position before standing.
The move to full height was not achieved until Om had tracked to the B-Stage. Brilliant Stages created a linking walkway from twenty 2.5m by 4m sections of staging that collapsed from stage- to floor-level on hinging parallelograms to form the track along which OM’s trailer ran. A system of outriggers incorporated into the trailer chassis provided a stable base while the figure was tracking, while all hydraulic and electronic componentry to power the figure were contained within the chassis itself.
Two show operators, positioned either side of the trackway, controlled the traction drive of the main ‘figure vehicle’ and the extendable element of the trailer that drove the feet forwards to straighten the legs. An additional operator was located within the abdomen to act as a safety ‘spotter’ and was in possession of a manual override for safety or in the event of remote control failure. An efficient system of E-stops was embedded throughout which could be activated by any of the operators.
Between shows, the figure of Om was fully incorporated into the base unit for efficient transportation, show installation and disassembly. His 6 metre wide articulated shoulders had to fold down to 2 metres and his body contract to fit into the base unit which was only 11.3 metres in transit mode. Additional joints with hydraulic actuators were located between the shoulders and neck to allow compression of this width.
Brilliant Stages worked with creative director, Kim Gavin, show designer, Es Devlin, and technical designer, Malcolm Birkett, in consultation with production manager, Chris Vaughan, to create Om and several other aspects of the staging including the screamers and the 7 metre by 3.5 metre boom arm on which Robbie Williams skimmed above the heads of the audience.
“I am so grateful to Brilliant Stages for their extraordinary commitment to this project,” said Devlin. “I really don’t know any other company on the planet who could have pulled this off.”
The success of the show meant that extra UK dates were added along the way with Om receiving applause almost as rapturous as the boyband members themselves. Om then travelled to mainland Europe for the final six dates which drew the tour to a close.