No Business Like Snow Business

Kanye West brought the Arctic to the desert at his Abu Dhabi show.
Kanye West
Kanye West


Kanye West brought the Artic to the desert for his second Abu Dhabi performance. S&S chats with Susan Muirhead from FLASH Entertainment to discuss the creation of such a chilling show.

Following Kanye West’s 2010 F1 performance, here at Sound & Stage, we were intrigued to see what ‘Yeezy’ had in store for his fans this year. The theme, seemingly taken directly from the weather many North Americans had been experiencing throughout most of January, was the Arctic.

As if listening to West perform some of his best known tracks wasn’t enough, he decided to bring the Arctic to the desert. We were certainly interested to know more. How was FLASH going to pull off creating a blizzard in the middle of Abu Dhabi? Of course, stranger things have happened--though not many.

Susan Muirhead, FLASH Entertainment’s operations manager (for this event), begins by explaining, “Attempting to create an Arctic blizzard in the middle of the desert was always going to be tricky and Stage FX worked hard to ensure the stunning visual of cold weather landscapes created on stage were felt as widely as possible throughout the arena.”

She continues, “Ultimately, despite using everything we could locally, a significant number of machines were still imported from the States.”

According to Muirhead, potentially the most difficult aspect of the Arctic theme was ensuring widespread and even coverage of the arena audience across four different ticket categories and several platforms.

“We needed to ensure placement of structures, in order to support the projection and special effects without compromising site-line or footprint within the audience,” she explains.

“In addition, clear and uninterrupted communication within the special effects team to ensure synchronised co-ordination of the machines was key.”

To create such a spectacle, the Kanye West Tour provided 14 overhead snow machines imported from the US and mounted in the roof of the arena stage. “These used liquid to produce foam snow,” explains Muirhead.

STAGEFX was responsible for covering the rest of the arena with snow, using several techniques to achieve the effect, including 10 powerful electric FAN machines, which were installed on three levels of the VIP grandstand using paper snow.

In addition, four powerful electric FAN overhead machines were installed on three projection towers using paper snow and six state of the art SNOW BOY machines were installed on three projection towers using special foam liquid. Furthermore, StageFX used over 100Kg paper biodegradable snow and over 60L of special snow liquid to achieve this effect.

Maintaining a seemingly real arctic blizzard in the middle of the desert was never going to be an easy task for Muirhead and her crew. But if that was the case for the show alone, we wondered what the initial setup process of the show looked like.

“Following a number of initial conference calls to fine-tune the rider and establish the expectation of tour in full, our first step was in contracting the local suppliers we knew would best help us deliver this event,” Muirhead explains.

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“It was clear from the outset that special effects were key and we started work on this early,” she continues. “The focus then turned to staging and how to best replicate the stage set required by the artist and cater for the multiple projection and special effects platforms needed, both on stage and throughout the arena.”

Muirhead adds, “On discussion and clarification of these two key elements, we were able to schedule the time we needed on site to build and prepare the event site.”

As with any large scale event, with or without the need to create an arctic landscape, obstacles are inevitable. Muirhead explains that there were indeed obstacles encountered, both during the setup process and the event itself.

“The concept of this particular show is still very new and Abu Dhabi was actually only its second outing,” Muirhead reveals. “Because of this, the Kanye West Tour was still working on perfecting the design and were keen to involve us in what would work best. Discussion on stage set, for example, took place well into the eleventh hour.

“Placement of equipment within the arena also had to be carefully considered. The design of structures, which could accommodate such quantities of both special effect and projection equipment at no expense to the audience within any of the four ticket categories took time.”

She adds, “In the end six structures played a part in housing both the visual and physical effects of the show and we were happy that their footprint complimented the layout and flow of the arena well.”

It was no surprise that, when asked which piece of equipment truly “made” the show and left the audience saying “wow,” Muirhead felt it was the 3D visual effect that made it seem as though Mr. West was floating on ice throughout the evening.

“The use of seven giant projection screens to fully encompass the artist on stage, creating a 3D visual effect in which he walked on floating ice and performed amid rolling waves and Arctic snow scapes was undeniably impressive,” Muirhead admits.

“It was a definite first for both the arena and Abu Dhabi and you could feel the excitement of the audience as they realised the set up in full and anticipated the show to come.”

Lee Charteris, FLASH Entertainment’s operations director, mentioned in an earlier S&S article that “you have to keep moving forward and getting better all the time.” As FLASH’s main venue is the duArena, it was interesting to know that the crew did utilise lessons learned from previous events, both during the setup and the performance.

Muirhead explains, “The Arena is approaching its 5th birthday and the ease in which we as a team are able to present shows like this is testament to the fact that the careful planning and implementation process over a prolonged period has paid dividends.”

She continues, “Significant time and effort have tailored the venue in such a way as to achieve maximum flexibility for the types of performances that can be accommodated. Add to this, a number of key suppliers and contractors who have helped us nurture the venue from day one and it is this combination that ensures events always run as smoothly as possible.”

Finally, we wondered what Muirhead and her crew took away from this performance that she felt useful to apply to future events.

“Every event offers opportunity to learn and improve,” she admits. “Whether entertaining five people or a whole arena full, our event debriefs are key to ensuring we are able to continually build on and share as a team our knowledge of the industry, the artist, the venue and the people we work with. ”

Muirhead adds, “Thinking outside the box should be embraced: It may be too warm for a coat in the desert, but last weekend Kanye West battled the cold weather elements, while snow fell.”


10 FAN
Machines Number of powerful electric MAN machines in order to create paper snow on all three levels of the VIP grandstand

100 kilograms
Amount of biodegradable paper snow used by StageFX

14 machines
The Kanye West Tour provided a total of 14 overhead snow machines, all imported from the US

5 years
Believe it or not, du Arena is quickly approaching its 5th birthday

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