Universal Pixels (UP) recently provided kit and crew for Robbie Williams’ 25 Years of Hits tour, which visited arenas across the UK and Ireland in autumn 2022, including a 25m wide x 8m high video wall comprising 270sqm of Leyard CLM10 displays.
UP also provided a camera package based around a Grass Valley Kula 2ME 3G PPU, 5 x Sony 4300 Camera Channels, and 4 x Panasonic HE145 Robocams, while the video screens were fed by a pair of disguise GX2C media servers.
Williams’ high-profile run, which opened with two nights at London’s O2 Arena, showcased the charismatic artist’s latest album, XXV, which features many of his greatest hits re-recorded and newly orchestrated courtesy of Dutch pop and jazz orchestra, the Metropole Orkest.
In order to match Williams’ famously entertaining live show, tour director Ade Bullock and production manager John Lafferty brought in UP to provide an eye-catching and dynamic video setup; renewing a relationship that has also been tried and tested in the past with show designer, Paul Normandale.
“UP always provide excellent service, which is why I’ve used them on numerous projects for many years now,” said Normandale. “We wanted to reflect Robbie’s 25-year career as a solo artist in a simple yet effective way, which would work across a world tour campaign encompassing a multitude of venues from arenas to festivals and stadiums, over the next few years.”
Normandale began with the idea of Williams taking control of his career and music, which was translated via the use many of the artist’s own paintings and artwork for some of the visual content.
“I also thought it was important to provide Robbie with some access via the central walkway to the heart of the crowd, and have a clean, uncluttered stage,” he continued. “We used an 25m wide rear video screen at the upstage edge and provided clear sightlines. In a move away from the conventional IMAG screen approach, it meant that both the artist and the band could become more visually integrated into the screen content.”
UP provided 270sqm of Leyard CLM10, which was configured as a 25m wide x 8m high upstage screen. A key piece of the elegant video design was the transparent screen on the risers, which, thanks to Kinesys motors, could move and provide moments of separation and depth, as well as an interplay with the visuals on the other screens.
“UP engineered the moving aspect to be as devoid of infrastructure as possible, and commissioned some clever custom metal work from Metal Man. In association with All Access Staging, a further 25sqm of Leyard CLM6 was built into the risers to produce a neat solution with frosted panels diffusing the Leyard 6mm LED product,” said Normandale. “The rear screen was lightweight and quick to assemble, while the tech access via the moving trusses allowed lights to be added and kept the whole rear stage free of fixtures.”
With such a video-heavy stage design and multiple cameras in play, video director, Jon Shrimpton had his work cut out to ensure that even those at the very back of each arena felt as if they were part of the same intimate, energetic show as those at the front.
“We’ve got two lenses at FOH, which is a little bit unusual, but they’re mostly chasing different framings of our pop star,” he explained. “Then we have a couple of handheld cams in the pit for him to interact with as if they were an audience member.”
This live footage was interspersed and overlaid with stellar visual content created by The Shop, which has collaborated with Williams since 2014.
“It’s not your traditional left and right IMAG screen,” Shrimpton continued. “It’s all mixed in together. It takes a bit of agonising over to ensure that the visual fits these different shapes, but what they’ve managed to achieve is really amazing.”
Despite the array of video technology at his disposal, Shrimpton was also keen to ensure he pared back the visuals at times, in order to ensure that the audience spent time looking at the stage production. “We have one song called Feel where we don’t have anything on any of the screens. It becomes this big laser song and it’s one of the most striking looks in the whole show.”
As well as the impressive video inventory, UP also provided the hand-picked touring crew of seven to assist Shrimpton, including vision engineer Dicky Burford and crew chief Steve Jones.
“It’s so great when you get to work with your friends and create something that looks amazing at the same time,” said Shrimpton. “I like things a certain way, and I know that UP will create it for me in the perfect bespoke package. I’m very specific about my video crew too, and they always give me brilliant people who are very clever at what they do; I like to surround myself with people who are on top of their game!”
Production manager John Lafferty agreed: “UP are my video vendor because they’re very flexible and adaptable to the tour’s needs. They’re also my vendor on Radiohead, which is another complex set up, and so I know what their team can do. After Robbie’s initial London opening, we had to make some quick changes to make the show flow better, video wise. It was a tight turn around, but UP came through for us, without hesitation.”
The tour continues in 2023 with concerts due to take place across major European cities including Bologna, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin and Barcelona.