BlackTrax flies high for Muse worldwide arena tour

Rock trio's 'Drones' tour sees largest-ever installation of BlackTrax for arena concerts
Muse 'Drones' O2 Arena concert in full swing (Image © Hans-Peter van Velthoven)
Muse 'Drones' O2 Arena concert in full swing (Image © Hans-Peter van Velthoven)
Drones tour wyg realtime rendering (Image © Oli Metcalfe Design Ltd.)
Drones tour wyg realtime rendering (Image © Oli Metcalfe Design Ltd.)
BlackTraxBeacon (Image © Oli Metcalfe Design Ltd.)
BlackTraxBeacon (Image © Oli Metcalfe Design Ltd.)


Rock band Muse made history on April 15th, 2016, when they played to a record-breaking 21,000 fans at The O2 Arena, London.

UK-based artistic design firm, Oli Metcalfe Design Ltd., working with entertainment studio Moment Factory, applied an unprecedented combination of interactive technology for the worldwide arena tour of the British rock trio and their new album 'Drones', which is the band's seventh studio record.

The Drones tour combines tracking, lighting, videos, flying elements and a lot of creativity, to create visuals and spontaneous interactivity never seen before in a live rock concert like this one.

BlackTrax real-time motion tracking solution from CAST was used to track and manage three technical elements, from the band members themselves to massive drones that fly above the audience, as well as for projection-based storytelling. The area tracked was BlackTrax’s largest to date.

Drones warns of Orwellian dangers and choices in modern life threatening to turn people into robots. With an underlying sci-fi feel, the audience revolts and takes a thrilling journey throughout the concert both musically and visually.

“We’ve worked with Muse for sixteen years and push pioneering technology to its limits at each arena, in front of around 24,000 people each time,” says Oli Metcalfe, who also designs lighting and stage concepts for a number of international artists.

Moment Factory co-founder and chief of innovation, Dominic Audet, added: “BlackTrax is the only solution that was out there that could reliably be used to track new interactive 3D technology on an unprecedented scale. The immersive interactive and pre-rendered video content experience we provided is one of the most ambitious and innovative concert projects Moment Factory has ever undertaken.”

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“Drones took a year to design and test,” continues Metcalfe. “We conduct a laser scan of each venue and created workflows of video, lighting, and actors using wysiwyg lightingdesign and pre-visualisation software. This gave us accurate data for placement of BlackTrax tracking cameras showing how the system would work before we even got there. Running BlackTrax with wysiwyg is critical.”

The stage set splits the arena floor in half, creating a theatre in the round experience, and focus on a large drone-like structure. As the concert starts, twelve clear spherical drones with glowing lights float down above the band. Then, four drones each are launched, from the North and South platforms above the stage, with two drones each being launched from East and West platforms above the stage.

During the show, larger ‘Reaper’ aircraft-like drones with glowing LEDs are launched into the audience and are tracked alongside lighting fixtures while flying through the arena. All drones in the production are completely autonomous.

A large, cylindrical LED video screen is hung at centre. Content is managed using Catalyst media servers, and within it LED video strips come cascading out. The large LED wall comprises 85sqm and is used for content as well as IMAG camera shots. In addition to the wall, semi-transparent projection screens (voiles) run all the way through the North and South sections of the stage in the middle of each catwalk, which rolls in from above as needed. These voiles also form a cylindrical column around the main center stage. Here a holographic video effect is created using a hidden projection surface.

In total, 38 BlackTrax cameras are used for tracking of drones and performers. The tracking system includes fourteen drone trackables and three artist trackables. The system runs on an active server with backup / slave system and integrates with twenty-four Mac Viper Air FX, and six Clay Paky Mythos lighting fixtures. Positional information is sent to Barco’s XPR media servers, which manage content across twelve Barco HDF-W30 FLEX projectors. Each projector is fitted with custom-made moving mirrors to focus on either the 200 square meters of projection voile or to be used as area effects around the arena.

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Fourteen BlackTrax cameras are positioned in the roof structure of each arena, focused on performance areas and audience. Twenty-four BlackTrax cameras are mounted onto the Muse stage structure and rigged for purposes either covering the stage, or out into the audience.

Each drone is piloted by the Dutch company Path65 and their proprietary motion control system, which performs remote control the drones through a pre-designed flight path. BlackTrax is also used to send the drones positional data in real-time to Path65’s controller system and warns it in case a wind gust moves the drones away from the flight path or if there is a potential risk of collision.

The three band members wear one trackable beacon each, but each beacon uses three tiny LEDs that are recognised by the BlackTrax cameras as tracking points, no matter where the band members go on stage, where they turn or how fast they run.

For the interactive video projection elements, Metcalfe explains: “We created specific looks that rely on tracking information to know the band member’s position. One of the looks is a set of cables or ‘strings’ that comes down from a master puppeteer’s hands to create an interactive effect. If the band member moves around, the wires attached to them also move so they are always connected to the strings. Another look to the show is a rocket which is fired down on the stage using a silhouette effect.”

The tour's combination of tracking, lighting, videos, flying elements has resulted in visuals and spintaneous interactivity that paves the way for future rock acts and concerts to follow. Metcalfe adds: “BlackTrax will go down in history as a disruptive stage tool that breaks all boundaries in terms of creativity."

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