Excision. The man who has taken over the interwebz along with his mean machine: The Paradox.
For those living under a rock, Excision dropped some gigantic virtual bombs with his latest live experience “The Paradox”, on tour since Jan 2017. Forget at an actual gig, even if you’re at home looking at some videos on your phone, it is guaranteed to make your jaw drop. The rig looks deceptively simple. In reality, far, far from it. Deliciously seamless LED, a mobile DJ fascia, brilliant lighting, and slamming special effects- The Paradox is truly one of a kind. And we must say, has Excision written all over it.
All The Paradox shows are run by visual moguls Beama. We caught up with Brady Villadsen and Butz to understand what goes down in creating & running this monster, day after day.
Thanks much for doing this, guys! *tips hat
To start off, lets get the guys to give us some background about Beama.
BUTZ: "We got started by being inspired at Shambhala. The Fractal Forrest at Shambhala had a huge video system 10 years ago. I had the opportunity to volunteer under Gordon Blunt from Blunt Factory visuals and he got me started."
"There was very little visual arts in our home town of Calgary so we picked up a few projectors, a triplehead2go and a Mac Pro Running Modul8. Our first big gig was the Pagoda Stage at Shambhala, there we met Ben Leonard who is now one of our main Animators. After he joined the team we started doing video Mapping gigs with pixel perfect content. We started doing mapping before Mapping software was available and it was much more difficult back then to map a building. We used to take the projectors onsite and map the buildings through the projector using illustrator. Then we would go home make the content and come back and try to set the projector up in the exact same place."
"In 2012 two weeks after Mad Mapper came out I hit the road with Excision with our first touring stage called X Vision and ever since we have been working year-round on Excision tours and festival shows."
"The Executioner was our first time- coded show using the D3 and Resolume. We used the D3 for its auto calibration features which became very valuable at Coachella in 2013. At Coachella we had a 15 minute change over to focus, map and blend two Christie Hd35K projectors. Vello Virkhaus was the house VJ and was very skeptical of Beama’s claims but later did a series of speeches which praised our setup. To date the Paradox is our flagship tour and employs our animators Ben Leonard and Noah Freeman full time for a year leading up to the tour. Along with other tours such as Seven lions and Datsik."[/i]
Brady: "I’m a recent addition to the Beama team, I’ve known everyone through the Shambhala music festival for years. I was hired for the paradox after DJ Shadow's the mountain will fall tour. I really enjoy how diverse Beama is with their wide range of clients. It was a natural fit but still allowed me to work with friendly companies such as V-Squared labs and VJCLA."
Brady believes that the content of the Paradox tries to fit a large production rock show more than a standard loop based EDM event. He affirms that the level of excellence required by Beama and Jeff (Excision) are the highest of any tour that he has worked on.
Let’s find out why.
The Paradox is a modular set with 110 meters of 5 mm LED. Straight up, the first question that jumps to our mind is how the crew manages so many back to back tours- From load in to out.
Turns out, there are 5-6 variations of the Paradox, with some basic equations. It has been specifically engineered with a self-climbing truss system over motors, so that twice as many fixtures & video panels can be crammed into a venue.
Says Brady,“The Paradox is an experience that has overwhelming properties to our audience. It's a very demanding tour with multiple 12 show runs. On the 2017 tour, we loaded in and out 360 semi trucks of equipment over 10 weeks. Everyone on this tour is multi-disciplined and wears several hats. You're expected to be up, building truss, hanging panels and wiring systems with all the other crew. I was actually the LED tech as well as media server/digital systems tech. Personally, I spend a lot of time eating healthy and not drinking. That being said several crew members have the most impressive liquor constitutions I have ever seen.”
Aren’t we surprised?
The next thing that struck us about this monster is the content. From robots shooting flames, to rampaging dinosaurs, to angry gorillas- it is a mech geek’s wildest dreams come true. It’s oh so cool.
All of this has been developed by longtime Beama & Excision Animator Ben Leonard. Also, the man behind the robotic T-rex & Robo Kitty fame.
“I've been working with Jeff for a long time now, and he pretty much trusts me to do whatever I want when it comes to content. Most of the time when given a song to animate, I'll just listen to it several times on headphones with my eyes closed, and whatever pops into my head is what I'll run with.
After a lifetime of saturating my brain with comics, anime, graffiti, video games and cheesy horror movies, my mind can wander into some weird places. I love making robots, aliens and heavy mecha inspired designs so a lot of that goes into the Paradox. Sometimes I will base my animations around a specific movement, like the camera moving up and down. Then I will build a scene around that movement, like an elevator dropping or a spaceship blasting off. But really, when making the content, it comes down to the music and what jumps into my head while I listen to it.”
So, how much studio time did Ben spend creating this stuff, you ask?
“I'm afraid to tell you how many hours it takes to make the Paradox content each year. Mostly I'm afraid to count that high. Let's put it this way, I'm working on next years content right now.”
Whew. As you let that sink in, we’re going to opt for a cure for our next itch- The dinosaurs. Were our eyes fooling us or does the Fascia LED actually rise for the CO2 fumes?
“Yes you are correct, our DJ booth is motorized and actually controlled by Jeff(Excision). We make sure to have different animation looks set for each song depending upon the booth state. This is a custom stage piece that was created when the Paradox was first designed. Everything of the set has been custom designed down to the mounting system for our LED panels. Our specifics are so rigid that Dave Hauss of the Hauss collective had to engineer everything down to the nuts and bolts.
The DJ booth was separate to this design but our specifications usually can’t be replicated by the average rental house. Because of this Jeff actually owns and had everything created for the Paradox. Jeff’s dedication to the show and bringing the best experience possible means he actually owns everything but the light fixtures.”
What a guy!
Cheggit, Beama actually flew out to China and worked with a manufacturer to refine the LED wall to their touring standards and build requirements. They stuck with a 5mm panel because of the clarity it gives the crowd from a standard stage distance. Their new 4k processors certainly helped when syncing the signal sent out.
And oh, the sync is spot on. It isn’t as simple as running a SMPTE time-code, though. The whole show is created with several different systems working together. Jeff (Excision) actually controls most elements of the show. The Cryo, DJ booth, visuals, lasers and lights all run off an intricate system with Resolume at the center.
Brady says, “Resolume does an excellent job of taking multiple protocols and being able to route it to multiple sources. We run a custom DVS system that feeds out to Resolume and then to a custom program I created in Touchdesigner that parses required data. The GrandMA2 has a dedicated SMPTE AUX but our LD Chris Pekar still runs various elements depending on the rig and what we have patched in from the house.”
“The custom program shows me the state of Jeff’s faders, song position and the deck currently controlling the rig. Behind the interface this program controls the timecode being sent out to the laser and lighting desks. It controls several pieces of audio gear and actually will run macros on the light desk. So, Jeff's faders will actually change laser or lighting settings along with audio/video.”
So, Jeff is in control of it all?
“Yep! This level of precision allowed our lights, lasers, cryo, automation, video and music to be coming from a single control surface. We frequently had whole shows being controlled by Jeff alone. A major requirement for the Paradox is the need of a true sync system that allows Jeff to properly DJ and mix while controlling everything.
On stage, Jeff has your standard CDJ/DJM setup with a control panel for cryo/automation and monitors. The monitors show the video for each track, master output and a dedicated camera feed. Jeff will frequently jump between cue points when setting up a track to mix in so we couldn’t use traditional timecode for our video system. Because he frequently needs to see the video as he scrubs through audio, which makes SMPTE impractical for our video system.”
Some more interesting trivia: ‘The Paradox’ doesn’t have a single loop based visual. Every song has a video custom made for it, timed exactly for it.
Brady explains this further, “Jeff is just Djing as he normally would, if a fan at a meet and greet has mentioned an obscure song you can damn well expect it to suddenly just be in the set. There isn’t any loop based songs, each one has been created and edited to fit each auditory element. We’re bringing in new animations mid tour, switching animations for songs if we’re in cities multiple days and making edits based on Jeff’s mid tour changes. Each video is cued by Jeff, he picks the song on the CDJ and whatever song he picks is loaded automatically. Some days I don't touch the video machines after programming. Sometimes Jeff just randomly picks whatever song he wants. We have specifically designed the system like this.”
Finally, we ask Brady about Resolume.
“We made some huge changes to our video architecture this year, Resolume was part of that foundation upgrade. Last year Beama stuck with Resolume 4 and madmapper until Resolume 5 had matured past its initial stages. I was extremely happy with the performance and framerate gains that came from moving to R5. Resolume itself had zero issues this tour and it was fun looking at how much the Resolume team has built.
I’m a frequent contributor to the Resolume forums and feel like the layer router feature in the advanced output is completely overlooked. This allowed us to easily map decks to Jeff’s monitors, but also do some impressive bits of mapping during festivals.
Because of the changes made at the start of the tour we have already shifted to a new custom system that allows major elements of the Paradox control system to be used at festivals. The Paradox in a small way is just becoming the Excision experience. Resolume is a central part with small obscure needs being filled by Touchdesigner and D3.”
That’s always so satisfying to hear
Thanks Brady, Butz & Ben for talking us through this epic show. Cheers to the hard working, crazy crew at Beama. We can hardly wait for the next visual monstrosity.
Brace yourselves. It’s coming.
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