Over the past decade, the Comix crew has been making such great content, it is almost comical. A multimedia company specializing in live events, interactive design, motion graphics & film, they have worked with almost everyone in the dance music industry.
From Avicii to Alesso to Kygo to DJ Snake to Axwell Ingrosso to Swedish House Mafia, the list is a bit endless.
I especially love all the different visual styles & looks they play with. It’s amazing how much variety there is. So, of course, we caught up with Comix to talk about their art, journey and other cool things.
Tell us how this journey began.
Harry Bird (Founder/Director):
Growing up my father owned a nightclub in the South of England, the way he used lighting and projectors always interested me. He got a lot of influence from the Velvet Underground, one of the first groups to use projectors at their shows, and I guess his interest rubbed off on me.
I did a foundation course in arts and design then followed on to do a Degree in Interactive Media at The Arts Institute at Bournemouth. While here I DJ’d for club nights and begun promoting my own nights. VJing caught my eye as it begun to slowly take off during these years and I decided to investigate this further and find out more.
I was on the same course with Sam Hodgkiss (Co-founder of Comix) and fortunate enough to meet the foundation of our talented team at University while studying Interactive Media, this combination and utilization of skill sets I believe was key to our success.
After University, and many VJ nights later, Sam and myself managed to get a gig going on a UK bus tour with Radio 1 DJ Kissy Sell Out. In 2010, We supported an act at Brixton Academy called “Swedish House Mafia” - after the show SHM contacted us and asked us to come along to VJ their headline EDC LA show, obviously we said yes!
And the rest is history, eh?
When I look at your work, what I love the most is how dark it is. You do a great job mixing that in with the EDM flavor. Would you say this is your style? Or are you just working at what feels right for the artist?
Tom Brightman (Comix Creative Director):
I would say that it’s a mix of the two. Our main goal when working with a client on new show content is to deliver them the show that they want, inevitably during the creative process some of our individual creative styles come out in the finished work.
A lot of people come to us as they’ve seen another show that we’ve produced and want something with a similar tone, which is great as it’s obviously a visual area we enjoy working in.
However, others approach us as they’ve heard we are good to work with, or trust in our professionalism given the number of high-end clients we have worked with, and they may want something totally different to our usual style, which is also great as it can present a bigger challenge and may result in us having to learn new techniques, software or hardware.
It’s the reason that we use specific designers for specific jobs, if we want to produce the best work it’s a good idea to utilize designer’s particular strengths.
Alongside a lot of our more well-known shows like Alesso and Avicii we have also produced more upbeat visuals, such as the love story we created for the recent Kygo’s Live ‘Kids in Love Tour’ or hand drawn animations we’ve previously made for The Chainsmokers.
It’s always great to work in these alternative styles as it keeps us on our toes!
With so many artists you cater to, how do you ensure something fresh for each one of them?
From the start of each project we aim to establish a unique visual language for each client independently from one another. Most of us in the studio know the main bulk of our content, which allows us to alter any ideas that may appear similar to another clients. It’s very important to us to not imitate work from another artist, or any other shows, especially as we have a large group of clients in a similar genre.
The creative process itself tends to do away with much need for that as we are creating unique projects for individual clients, based on their specific tastes, music styles, ideas and requirements.
On top of this process generally every client has their own visuals operator, usually provided by us, who will lend their own style to the show, especially as the show organically evolves on the road after rehearsals.
Tell us about your content creation process- from scratch to final render. What all software do you work with?
We are often as open-minded as possible when approaching a new project, never really having the final outcome or process in our head, to a degree. The exception to this rule may be a project that is extremely time or budget sensitive.
When designing a show, we usually begin thinking of the bigger picture; What’s the overall visual language (colours, textures, symbols, film/CGI/mixed, etc.)? What theme wants to be communicated and carried throughout the show? What restrictions do we have? And so on.
After we begin to get a sense of what’s working and what’s not, we will start to move on to individual looks for songs, forming a mood board with a few routes for the client to choose from which we can develop further on.
Alongside this process, we will begin to think a bit about how we are going to produce it, but the level of that thought process varies massively. It’s more important that the client is happy with the core ideas, and as long as we have a rough idea of how we may translate the looks from paper to screen, then we will figure the rest out later. It’s worked out well for us to let the creative evolve in its right and not be too restricted by process.
After that it’s probably a similar process to most productions, we work out if we need to film anything, if we need any research and development days, then we begin any CGI process.
There’s always some technique, hardware or software that we need to learn to complete a job (in the office or on the road), but for us it’s not only interesting but rewarding to be able to learn something new, and as a company we’re lucky to have a team of friendly, clever and competent people capable of standing up to that challenge.
Software wise the list could be endless! Pre- production often involves a lot of drawing, post-it notes and Adobe InDesign for mood boarding.
During production we mostly use Cinema 4D, X-Particles, Octane Renderer, Houdini and Adobe After Effects.
Then for touring live we obviously use Resolume, which takes care of pixel-mapping, inputs, outputs and playback.
Alongside After Effects, Resolume really has been the tool that we have used and loved since day 1 of Comix and I couldn’t see us changing that any time soon, especially with some of the great features that came out in version 6 and the support you guys give to the community.
Cheers to that!
Tell us a bit about the kind of prep that goes into playing massive stages.
Every show is different, but I’ll talk about a show like Ultra Miami.
This show is unique in that a lot of our clients like to use it to launch their new visual and lighting show here which will normally be toured throughout the festival season in the summer, sometimes with a few additional updates.
We would start by looking back over the previous show with the client and working out how much new content they would like to add. This can range from a few updates if the content is fairly new, to an entirely new show and direction.
If everything goes well, and there’s always a few complications, we will get a stage design and pixel map in advance of the show. At this point depending on time and budget, we would look at creating custom content specifically designed to take advantage of the stage design, add any unique moments and do what we can to make this show feel different.
Once all that is complete, minus the usual last-minute amendments, we head into rehearsals. That’s when the fun part begins, sitting with the client and lighting operator and building the show.
Again, depending on time and budget this can vary from a small previz studio to having the entire stage built in a rehearsal warehouse.
This is where Resolume Arena can shine.
It allows us to keep the show organized, make changes quickly, drag and drop clips, add effects and colour corrections right in front of the client. And if there are any last-minute changes to the stage design or pixel map, Advance Mapper makes it easy to fix and adapt the final output with minimal re-rendering.
And, what hardware do you guys work with?
Unlike traditional touring, with most DJs we don’t have trucks to transport large case’s, and sometimes fly in hot straight to stage at shows ranging from small clubs to large arenas. So, in that respect everything needs to be as portable as possible and with no compromise. Below is a list of essentials:
● High end show laptop with a minimum Nvidia 1070. A lot of new festivals now have dual 4k outputs and the 1070 allows playback at 60fps with no frame drops.
● A second identical laptop as a backup, also used to create content on the road.
● Midi controller of choice with backup, this is always personal preference
● Every video adapter under the planet with spares, these things always seem to go missing.
As every show is different, we also have some more specialized equipment for example:
● Datapath Fx4’s for those shows that love 4+ outputs
● Multi-camera rigs. A few of our clients incorporate live cameras into their set to add an extra layer to the live show
● And the camera rig is accompanied by Capture cards, Roland video mixers and preview monitors among other things.
● External Sound cards if audio input or output is needed
A new addition the some of our shows is a Notch Rig. This allows is to incorporate some really cool camera overlays and generative content live into the show.
When we are lucky enough to have a truck tour or we need the extra power at larger show, Coachella main stage for example, we have video server racks that can really push those extra pixels and outputs.
Tell us about your studio- where all that Comix magic is created.
We have recently expanded our studio to accommodate for the greater variety in work we now produce and to accommodate our growing list of talented employees. Now, with one studio concentrating on post production and CGI, and the other as a live film, rehearsal space and test area for interactive work.
Rig wise in the studio we all use PC towers running Windows with at least two graphics cards (NVidia 1080ti + Titan’s), a decent amount of ram (32-64GB) and a good processor (Intel i7/i9), then tonnes of storage on a server for resources and backups. We also have render node’s with NVidia 1080ti graphics cards for when the 3D work needs extra muscle thrown at it. It’s also great if you need an extra heater in the office!
Haha! What are your favorite bit of content/ shows that you’ve created?
Harry: Every Avicii show I VJ’d over 6 years touring with him is now a memory I’ll never forget.
Sam: Swedish House Mafia’s One Last Tour. After being on the road for 6 months with the guys and a really amazing crew it felt like a family. Being lucky enough to travel around the world getting up every day to perform this massive show will never be forgotten. It was a truly great send off.
And finally, any words of advice for budding visual artists out there?
LOL. Thanks for the great interview and work, guys.
You are quite the c̶o̶m̶i̶c̶s̶ comix, yourselves