Tonight, Madonna plays her first gig in the UK in four years at London’s Hyde Park, part of her global MDNA tour. The Queen of Pop, the original Lady Gaga, the swastika-superimposing agent provocateur has always been able to deliver in her live shows, wowing the crowds with couture costumes, superhuman dance moves, and a dash of controversy. For her MDNA tour, she recruited the services of Canadian multimedia collective Moment Factory to help her with the stage designs and scenography, and to make sure people were getting a show they’d remember.
Moment Factory last worked with Madonna back in February for the Superbowl, and were given four months to come up with the goods for the MDNA tour. After receiving the 12 songs which they were to work with, they set about brainstorming ideas with the shows director Michel Laprise, with Madonna approving each stage herself. Each song carries with it a different emotion that Moment Factory had to extract and visually present on stage.
“For example, at the beginning of the show, we are in this photo realistic church” Johanna Marsal, a producer at Moment Factory, told me over the phone, “because she literally wanted to appear in this religious world. So we did a matte painting that was there in the background, then in the middle of the show we find ourselves surrounded by plenty of motion design, and then we have a 3D explosion at the end for a celebration.”
Concept-wise they were allowed a lot of flexibility and freedom while also having to coordinate with the rest of the stage team, the lighting and set designers. Madonna would give a hint, some intuition of what she wanted, and then they’d all bring their ideas to the table. These ideas were brought to life on stage using LEDs—from a 10 mm LED backdrop to LED cubes, which gave the team plenty of scope to work with.
“We had an extremely interesting element” said Marsal, “that allowed us to kind of evolve in every song—that was the 36 LED motorised cubes that were in the ground that you were able to see from the different points of view of the audience. So we would treat those cubes as an extension of the stage, we’d have a concept that was matching the back screen or we would do specific designs whenever Madonna would move through those cubes. That element was very interesting for us because for the audience there was a surprise every time they watched a song, every time there was something different and unexpected.”
A show like Madonna’s is at the high end of pop performance and entertainment, so it needs to thrill her mix of fans while also bringing something new to the live experience. These cubes allowed the performers and the video content to be dynamic and diverse, as the Moment Factory team was able to create many different sequences. The videos could be programmed according to Madonna’s moves and to the content.
With shows having to become increasingly bigger and better, creating a sense of excitement is not only key, but means designers like Moment Factory have to constantly come up with new and innovative ways to wow the audiences. “When we worked with Nine Inch Nails a couple of years ago, and this was like 4-5 years ago, the technology we used was an in house technology. It was simple and extremely efficient but the audience was overwhelmed and saying ‘Oh my God—did he just do that? Is it real? Is he faking it?’. And that’s what you want to bring to the audience as a multimedia company. For me, it’s just the ‘wow’ that the people are going to have.”
But as well as making the audience awestruck, they also have to remember who the main star is—nobody wants to upstage Madge—so the visuals have to be integrated into the environment in a seamless way. This means the concepts they come up with for the visuals will be influenced by what Madonna’s wearing, what the dancers are wearing, along with thinking about how the live audience will see it and also the audience online. Because with technology, the show lives on long after it’s finished in the stadium.
The 20,000 YouTube hits and the fact that people might take their phones out and film it, means this is another consideration to take in when designing the visuals. “If we know that there will be 80,000 people taking their cellphones out, then we know that this ‘light canvas’ is an extension of the scenography and it makes the audience part of the experience and not just someone who is watching the show. It’s little things like that will change the perspective of the experience and also the life of the event. Because an event nowadays, Superbowl, Madonna, or ”http://thecreatorsproject.com/blog/moment-factory-provide-virtual-dancers-and-live-tweeting-at-ushers-london-show-qa" target="_blank">Usher—any of the shows that we do, the show is there live but there is a whole experience after."
Image credits : Moment Factory