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Arcade Fire performs in Toronto, Thursday March 13, 2014. (Mark Blinch For The Globe and Mail)
Arcade Fire performs in Toronto, Thursday March 13, 2014. (Mark Blinch For The Globe and Mail)

Smoke and mirrors, meet multimedia Add to ...

Extravagance and magic have become the hard currency of big music tours, whether the songs are pop, rock or rap. It seems every big tour director wants to wow the crowd with explosions of video, freaky lighting effects, crazy mechanical devices or, preferably, all three at once.

Montreal’s Moment Factory (MF) has become a major player in providing these multisensory thrills. The multimedia design studio blanketed the Super Bowl stage and field with animated visuals during Madonna’s half-time show in 2012, and provided dazzling architectural videos to surround Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake during their tour last summer. Right now, MF’s stand-out effects are accompanying three very different touring shows by Miley Cyrus, Arcade Fire and Childish Gambino.

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MF’s concert escapades represent only a quarter of its business – it also designs multimedia for the likes of Toyota, Sony and the Los Angeles International Airport. “Emotional impact is important for us, whether it’s for a band or an airport,” says Sakchin Bessette, who co-founded the company in 2001. MF’s approach embraces the latest video technology as well as decidedly low-tech manoeuvres – whatever the situation demands, says Bessette. Here’s a brief rundown of what his production teams devised for three marquee music tours.

MILEY CYRUS: THE BANGERZ TOUR

Opened at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Feb. 14, plays Montreal’s Bell Centre on March 29 and Toronto’s Air Canada Centre on March 31.

Miley Cyrus’s penchant for animal imagery reaches new heights when a 12-metre-high inflatable dog appears during her performances of Can’t Be Tamed. Show director Diane Martel didn’t want to just plop the enormous hound on the stage, so she asked MF to help transform its arrival into a mysterious coup de théatre. The MF solution: bathe large dividing screens with monochrome geometric LED animations, to distract the eye as rigging carries the dog between the screens while inflating. Skillful lighting changes by designer Rob Sinclair, and MF’s video mapping of the dog’s reflective surface, also contribute to the sleight of hand. “This massive, 40-foot dog looks like it’s coming out of nowhere,” says Adam Hummell, an MF multimedia director who worked on the effect. For the start of the show, the company animated a giant Cyrus face whose projected mouth opens in sync with a “guillotine door,” through which the star slides down to the stage on a big pink tongue. MF also engineered a virtual cat puppet that appears to sing along with Cyrus in We Can’t Stop, and a multicoloured video extravaganza for the finale, Party in the USA.

ARCADE FIRE: THE REFLEKTOR TOUR

Opened March 6 at Louisville’s KFC Yum! Centre, played two shows at Toronto’s ACC this week, returns to Canada for a six-stop tour in August.

Arcade Fire worked up a rotating list of cover tunes for this show, including songs by Prince and Stevie Wonder, and they wanted to look the part. So MF created a cube-shaped helmet for singer Win Butler, and video content that turns the cube into a four-sided portrait display, with Stevie Wonder’s image appearing for Uptight (Everything’s Alright), and Prince’s for Controversy. (During Thursday’s show in Toronto, the helmet was used to project an image of Mayor Rob Ford, see review on this page.) For a few other songs, MF produced a heavily patterned printed backcloth that drastically changes its appearance depending on how it’s lit. “With white light, you see the whole composition as it is,” says MF’s Tarik Mikou, “but if you apply a specific colour, like red or green, you might see only palm trees.” The visual layers remain concealed in the overall pattern until a single-colour light draws out one layer and suppresses the others. “It’s a really low-tech optical illusion,” says Bessette. MF also produced video for the Arcade Fire song Haiti.

CHILDISH GAMBINO: THE DEEP WEB TOUR

Opened Feb. 28 in Santa Barbara, plays Toronto’s Sound Academy on March 24-25, Montreal’s Metropolis on March 26.

Unusually, Childish Gambino (Donald Glover) presented his production manager Chad Taylor and MF with a full narrative script for a show that’s about the nature of reality and society in the Internet age. “It’s a linear story that works with each song,” says Mikou, and it required live-action video as well as computer-generated simulations of what it might look or feel like to be inside a computer system. The timing and co-ordination between multimedia and onstage movement by people and things was tricky, says Mikou. “Something can look great on your computer screen, but when it’s super-huge and on the stage, it may be way too fast,” he says. As ever in its show-biz work, MF wanted to create something that would make people gasp but that is completely controlled. “There’s a balance between pushing the limits and making it tight,” says Bessette.

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