Do you have what it takes to battle against the odds? Bear Grylls, TV’s favourite survival expert, takes audience members on a journey of discovery telling stories of individuals who showed tremendous courage and spirit in some of the globe’s most hostile environments. With spectacular visual effects, surround sound and aerials acrobatics, TPi’s Stew Hume eagerly travelled to Belfast to meet the technical crew behind the live action encounter.
Since Bear Grylls ran (covered in mud) onto our screens back in 2006 with his Man Vs. Wild show, he quickly became know as the man who could survive anything. From parachuting out of a helicopter to spending a night in the most inhospitable destinations on earth, he is now one of the most recognisable faces on TV. This year saw Grylls attempt a whole new challenge; putting on a one-man arena show. Having been in development for almost two years, the show’s goal was for Grylls to take audiences up and down the UK and Ireland on a journey through some of the globes most treacherous destinations, telling stories of resilience and surviving against the odds. Once the wheels were in motion the challenge was on for Grylls’ production team to find a way of giving the survivalsit a vehicle to bring these tales to life. The result; a hybrid show that was part theatre production, part immersive experience. Complete with surround sound and an impressive video mapped rock face, Grylls and several other actors could display their finest aerial acrobatic work.
Travelling up to Belfast’s SSE Arena, TPi met up with Production Director Jim Baggott from Harvey Goldsmith to talk about how the show first came to pass. “Bear had been developing the idea for this live show for some time. He had already written an initial script to the show and had laid out the stories he wanted to tell,” began Baggott. “The idea was presented to myself and Harvey Goldsmith and we began to realise the potential of this show and the chance to do something a bit different. We approached AEG to become our producer partners. They are also co-promoters of the UK tour.”
Heading up the technical production for the show was a task that fell to the The Live Firm, with Luke Carr, Production Manager, along with the crack office team Charlie Johns, Production Coordinator and Marissa Bellon, Tour Coordinator.
With the production management in place, the next stage of the process was to figure out a way that Grylls could effectively tell his stories while creating a visually stimulate show. “Our first go-to when beginning to tackle the practicalities of the show, was Stufish,” stated Baggott. “The company have become known for their set design work along with the production side. One thing that made them incredibly appealing for this project was their work with automation and tracking systems, an idea that was intrinsic to the show from the very beginning.”
One of the first to be involved with the project from the Stufish camp was Project Leader, Ric Lipson. “The production side of the business is still a relatively new side of the business for us. But it means that we oversee everything from concept, including the scripting of the show and ideas on how it would look. This is one of the reasons we were very excited to work on the the Endeavour tour as we could see the project from creation to completion.”
ALWAYS BE PREPARED
Often tours only spend a week or so in a rehearsal space, however, Endeavour required a slightly different treatment. Talking TPi through the timeline of 2016 was Production Manager Luke Carr. “Once we got the green light from all the stages of management we began to put all the plans into action. One of the first things we needed to do was to get Bear used to the flying system. This first took place in a barn down the road from his house when he trained. Meanwhile Stufish began to do some R&D in its facility in the Dordogne, France, assessing what aerial system would be best to use to make the show work.” From there, the production moved into the famous 007 Studios at Pinewood to begin to rehearse the stage show. Finally, before unleashing the show onto the world, all departments moved into London’s LH2 to pull all the pieces together.
“We have to give mention to Malcolm Birkett for his work during these early stage,” staged Carr. “He was bought in early during the pre production process as Technical Designer to oversee the various CAD drawing requirements. His experience and knowledge from numerous high profile and technically complex productions were an essential part of the overall development of the show.”
Carr explained that the long development period was essential for the show to ensure they completely flushed out the ideas that Grylls and the Stufish creative team had come up with. One such creative on this journey was Abigail Yeates, Show Director. “I met Bear earlier in the year and began to work out all the various ideas for the show along with Chris Hynes, Creative Producer and Script Editor. During our time in France we were able to work out which aspects of the show would and would not work, especially with the aerial work.” After taking on the role as show director in the development stages, Yeates then took up the role of Resident Director while on the road. “So my role now is to watch the show every night and effectively be Bear’s eyes during the show. I feedback post show and make sure it staying true to the original concepts we discussed. She added: “It’s funny, I remember when myself and Bear were first talking through the idea of the show and he was jumping from sofa to sofa to explain his ideas, now it exists as a massive stage show where he flies 10m up in the air.”
There is no doubt that one of most striking elements of this show is the set. Standing at an impressive 10m high and 30m wide the massive upstage wall played the dual role of both projection surface and obstacle course, upon which Grylls re-enacted several stories from climbing Everest to base-jumping off the top of a mountain! “The idea of the wall was thrown around really early on in the design process,” explained Lipson. Initially the team toyed with the idea of a revolving stage, but in the end opted for one wall that could provide the base for all the various environments. Lipson continued: “The result was what we have dubbed as a 3D faceted piece of origami. I guess you could say that he wall give a ‘language’ to the video projection giving Bear platforms and arm and foot holds that enable him to interact with what is being projected onto the walls face.” Stage One were commissioned to provide the wall as other various staging elements. The wall had a movable element near the top of the structure which was removed several times during the evening to act as another platform for Grylls, as well as an entrance for various props such as a tree branch used for a rainforest scene and the Apollo 13 space capsule. Incorporated into the side of the wall were two IMAG screens that blend seamlessly into the overall set design.
UP IN THE AIR
“With such a massive stage show one of the first issues that the production faced was how to make it tourable.” stated Lipson. “The structure is around 12 tonnes and obviously, in the confines of touring there are physical limitations on what you can put into a venue. Our solution was to create a wall that was built in a similar way to a regular LED screen, so that a row of 2.5sqm panels were put together. This was then lifted to clip on the next row.”
Responsible for ensuring the wall was hung every day came down to Chris Aram, Set Crew Chief. “I was brought in once the show was on the road so had to pick it up pretty quickly. I have three main responsibilities; the b-stage platform, the main stage and the massive video wall. There is a fair bit of time pressure, as all the other departments can’t really get on untill the structure is built. Thankfully, all the departments on the tour have worked really well together and we are aware of each other is needs. There is no stepping on toes thankfully.”
Richard ‘Dicky’ Brennan with John Ashton, Head Rigger.Carrying on the conversation about the logistical challenges of the tour, TPi spoke to Matt Caley, Technical Stage Manager. “My day starts along side John Ashton, Head Rigger and his number two, Richard ‘Dicky’ Brennan. At about 4am while they begin marking out the floor I begin to tip the two rigging trucks.” Rigging suppliers PRG XL Video provided over 140 motors for Ashton and the rest of the rigging department.
This had not been Ashton’s first run of shows with The Live Firm having worked with them on the Hans Zimmer tour. “I had known about the tour for a while and once it became clear that my schedule would be free I put myself forward. Very quickly I realised I would need Dicky with me who was invaluable on the Hans Zimmer tour. The show itself is around 33 tonnes, but the biggest challenge for us is time. It’s an early start on this tour and everything has to be incredibly precise. If we are not on our marks it creates a hard job for the video department that have to map onto the wall. But more importantly, it could create a dangerous environment for Bear and the other performers who have a predetermined routine using the wall.” Despite the hard work and the long hours, Ashton was quick to commend Harvey Goldsmith and the rest of the production team. “They are great people to work for. They have an understanding of what it takes to get things done, and they treat us really well. For example, during the day some of the crew try to catch a bit of sleep and don’t always make it to dinner. The fact that you can wake up to some hot pizzas in the lounge can really turn your tour around.” Dicky added: “It really takes out a lot of the frustration of a tour when you know that the people on top will take care of you.”
The rigging department throughout the show was supplied with 25 local riggers along with an additional 50 stage hands to aid Matt Caley, Technical Stage Manager. The Stage Manger explained the logistical choreography that was required everyday while dealing with the massive set. “In many ways the order in which we tip trucks is not different from a regular rock ‘n’ roll show with rigging, followed by set and then video, lighting and audio. However from day one we had to get in a system where when we brought in a piece of set we would have to build as the wall alone take about three hours to create. Also, due to the size of the set piece we have had to take on five curtain truck which can be slightly in convenient while loading into a venue as they take up the room of three vehicles.”
One of the really ambitious parts of this project, was always was going to be the aerial work. “Early on in our discussion we asked Stufish who they thought we should bring on board to handle the flying automation for the show,” stated Carr. “And we opted for Stage Technologies.”
Kim Swaden-Ward took on the role as Project Manager for the automation department. “I first got involved with the during the development stages in June we tried out different moves with our show stunt double.” What the production settled on was for four separate flying systems. This included a four way bridal system which allows Grylls to fly anywhere within a 3D space of the stage which is used several times during the show for Grylls to move up the various ledges as well as to create a zero gravity look during the space scenes. Additionally a two way bridal, which was used to get Grylls to the B-stage during the base-jump scene was utilised. There was also a tracking system that was used to bring in the various props such as the tree branch for the rainforest scene and the Apollo capsule. Finally, there was a two point system hoist system used to fly both Grylls and his younger son during the last section of the show.
Swaden-Ward went on to describe an average day for him and the rest of the automation team: “After tipping the trucks, we have to build the tracking system which has to go above the rest of the set. We then set up our bridal system onto the mother grid. The next stage of the process is set up our racks and automation system and then we start to survey the stage to work out the 3D geometry. Then, before we get anyone harnessed up we do several test with sandbags. The final stage is for our aerial expert run through the moves of the show before we get Bear hooked up before doors just run through some movements and get himself warmed up.”
From the beginning of the tour, one aspect that was always going to be prevalent within Endeavour was the video content. Carr explained how early on in the process they employed the services of Richard Turner from Lucky Frog who worked on the visual content. In collaboration with Rob Currie, Video Director, the duo worked incredibly closely with Grylls to ensure the content that they produced on the screen matched up to his vision of the show.
Speaking to Currie in video world, TPi asked about the origins of the video concept. “Between myself and Richard we put together a content team who would be able to bring Bear images to life. Most of what you see on the screen during the show came from him. He was really keen to play a role in the show which is quite refreshing.” Currie acknowledged a rather surreal experience where he found himself sitting on Grylls’ living room floor while he and the star came up with ideas for content, along with the adventurer’s eldest son, Jesse. “Jesse actually played quite a vital role and there is more than a few points in the performance where one of his ideas has come to life.” In fact, the whole project was quite a family affair for the Grylls contingent with the youngest in the family, Huckleberry, playing an integral role in an elaborate space scene depicting the Apollo 13 incident.
Creative Technology (CT) provided a total of 12 Panasonic PT-DZ21K projectors as well as a VYV Photon media server package. “I had used the Photon server several times before but this is the biggest and longest tour I have done with it. Everything else prior to this has been a few one-offs. It’s been quite nice to have a bit more time with it. It’s a fantastic tool for touring due to its process speed. We are able to calibrate 12 projectors in a hour,” stated Currie. “We also have an elaborate tracking system using 11 Infrared cameras on the truss as well as several IR emitters in the wall. This means we can accurately place the wall model in the 3D space in photon. It also allows us to track the movement of the wall and we have extended that to tracking the actors on stage. We are using small IR emitters on the shoulders of Bear and his cast and using parented 3D objects in the software we can motion track them around the stage and assign 3d effects to react with them. For instance, there is one point where we have rain appear on the wall and, using the information from the emitter, we are able to make it look as though the rain is bouncing off Bear. Similar in the underwater scene we have on of the actors flown around the stage in diving gear and we are able to make bubbles appear from him.”
This was not the first time Currie had worked with CT. “I was with the company for over five years and I still work in collaboration with them quite a lot. When you know the people in the company it makes such a difference and you know exactly what to expect.”
As well as being heavily involved with putting together with the content side of the show, Currie is also responsible for video directing the show handling the content that was streamed onto the integrated IMAG screens. “We knew we would have IMAG fairly early on in the design process,” stated Currie. “But we wanted to try and integrate the camera IMAG into the environments more so as you travel through Antarctica and the Jungle the IMAG changes in its style and shape. We wanted to avoid the standard rectangular camera PIP completely. We used a four camera PPU along with the Photon System which included four Sony HXC300’s and a Panasonic 450 vision mixer.”
Brought on board to handle lighting design responsibilities was Woodroffe Bassett. The project saw the collaborations of Adam Bassett and Assistant Designer, Terry Cook. “The integration of video and lighting has been amazing,” stated Currie. “We worked really closely with Terry during the rehearsal stages of the tour. At LH2 we would we would spend our evenings simply working out scenes where I would project a various part of the show and he would beginning to map out how the lighting would best complement the show.”
For the tour, operation was handed to Nico Bray, who talked TPi through the various looks in the show. “The brief was to be as immersive as possible. In many ways it’s a cross between a theatre production and an secret-cinemaesk event. The goal was to have the audience brought into the reality of the stories that are happening on the stage.” Bray stated that the major role of the lighting department was to complement the video design, ensuring the grading and the colouring matched the content. In Bassett’s design he also incorporated the crowd within the show with an audience lighting truss. Giving an example, Bray commented: “One of the most effective uses of this is seen during a simulated plan crash and the audience lights mirror what is going on in the story.”
PRG XL Video worked as the sole lighting supplier for the tour, providing 36 PRG Best Boys Spots and 18 Bad Boy HP Spots along with Philips Vari-Lite VL3500 Washes, nine GLP Impression X4’s, nine I-Pix BB4 LED Battens and 54 Chauvet Professional Strike 4’s. For effects, Bassett deployed three Philips Color Kinetics ColorBlaze 72’s as well as three Hungaroflash T-Light 88 LED Modules. For control Bray manned an MA Lighting grandMA2 desk.
As well as supplying the complete lighting package, PRG XL Video also provided a hardy set of lighting crew, headed up by Crew Chief Aidan McCabe. The PRG crew members were responsible for the arsenal of six PRG GroundControl Followspots. Scott Monahan, Lighting Technician, talked about using the new control system. “We were with the production for the rehearsals as this show was slightly more complicated from a spot stand point due to all the various cues and all the aerial work done by Bear and the other performers. The GroundControl proved ideal for this show due to the fact that you can put them almost anywhere. We have six separate truss spots so it would have been awkward to have traditional seated spots in all six possitions.” Bray was also complimentary of the new GroundControl system. “As a tool it’s incredibly powerful. First and foremost you can hang them almost anywhere, which opens up so many more possibilities for key lighting. On this tour we have three on the main truss with a spare for emergencies, then we have two at the mid stage of the rig and finally, one in place at the back of the venue. The fact that you can do almost everything with this followspot that you can do with a moving fixture really opens up design options.”
The final element from the visual world came courtesy of Quantum Special Effects. Daniel Ivory-Castile, Special Effects Operator, discussed the various elements of the show he was involved in. “Quantum’s main brief was to produce ‘atmospheric’ effects. This included steam effects for the rainforest scenes as well as some smoke to recreate the arctic conditions.” These effects were achieved by using two Smoke Factory Captain D. Fog Machines as well as two LSGs (Low Smoke Generators) and two Smoke Factory Scotty handheld smoke machines.
One of the biggest challenges for Ivory-Castile was arguably one of the most notable special effects of the show. In the final story when Grylls appears in a replica of the Apollo 13 pod, several Co2 blasts are fired from the underbelly of the capsule. “This was probably the trickiest part to design,” stated the special effects technician. “We had to create a bespoke Co2 rig within the capsule. We couldn’t use standard Co2 jets because they are too big and the capsule had to fit Bear in it when first revealed. So we worked out a way of doing the Co2 so it looked like a jet without having a big cylinder on the side of the capsule. The other issue was the weight limitation; the capsule by itself was already quite heavy and with the inclusion of Bear we were limited in how much extra we could add. So we attached several smaller cylinders and I personally handle all the control so we have minimum kit on board to create the biggest look possible.”
Ivory-Castile concluded saying the main goal from the special effects department was to have effects that did not distract the audience, but helped to created various worlds for them.
During the early stages of the show development one of the overarching aims was for Grylls’ performance to be as immersive as possible. The solution from the audio department; a surround sound speaker system.
Brought on to find a solution was UK audio specialist, Britannia Row Productions. Lez Dwight Project Manager for Brit Row was involved from the concept stage and asked Sound Engineer/Designer Colin Pink to come on board to bring the design together. Talking TPi through the audio set up for the show was Audio Crew Chief and RF Tech, Josh Thomas. “The system that we have got out on tour is a L/R rear surround system. On the first shows at Wembley Arena, we had a slightly different set-up which also had a mid-section L/R surround array.” To increase the immersion of the audience, sound effects were delivered from behind the audience to really engulf the audience in the story. For example, before the intermission, in true Bear Grylls fashion, the production creates the illusion of a helicopter flying in to pick up the star, an illusion that was helped in great part with the audio department creating a sound effect that sounded as if it came from behind the audience traveling toward the stage.
Britannia Row Productions made use of its healthy L-Acoustics inventory, deploying a main PA of L-Acoustics K2 with a main flown sub array of K1SB’s. For side hangs, K2 elements were used with ground stacked KS28’s. KARA was used for the design’s front fill. Finally, for the rear surround sound, the audio team deployed KARA. The main PA was powered by L-Acoustics LA8, while the subs and the surround sound as run by the new LA12X. “Brit Row have a big stock of L-Acoustics and have been really helpful on this tour,” stated Thomas. “The PA has works extremely well for this tour and our System Techs, Sergiy Zhytnikov and Nathan Todd have enjoyed playing with the system.”
During the performance various sound effects were played throughout the PA to mirror the environment prorated on the stage as well as for some key point in the story. To go alongside the various sound effects, the production brought The Elements, an original music and catalogue licensing company, to produce an original score for the performance which was recorded at the world famous Abbey Road studios.
Once all the music and sound effects had been delivered, Colin Pink and FOH Engineer, Fergus Mount set to work to translate the content into the arena setting. Fergus, discussed the process: “Everything that came from Abbey Road was sent to us having been mixed to 5.1. However, to make that work within a live arena environment with this particular surround sound set up, we had to do quite a lot of experimentation to see what sounded right while setting up the playback thought Figure 53’s QLab. It’s not strictly a 5.1 system so the files still need to be treated on our end.” Mount explained that he had 24 outputs coming in from QLive where he splits it into two sections. “We have one for the music and one for the effects. The simple reason for this is that sometimes music requires a slightly different treatment to the effects; you might want to effect one mix of one while leaving the other.”
Mixing was via a DiGiCo SD5 console, situated at FOH. The department opted not to have a monitor desk for the show, instead deploying an SD rack on the stage end, using the desk in a more traditional theatre style. In fact it was the SD5’s history with theatre show that made it the ideal choice for the Endeavour tour. Mount elaborated: “The SD5 was the go-to desk for the West End for a long time. It was great for this show because the busses can get quite complicated when your dealing with 5.1 stems. Normally you would have a stereo master, but since it’s in surround you can end up with up to 8 busses replacing your master. It quickly adds up and having 24×24 matrix also makes thing simpler. On the whole the console gave us lots of flexibility on that front as well as having a great surface to mix the show on.”
Due to the all the aerial acrobatic work done by Grylls, the only real solution was to use a headset microphones. The tour opted for DPA Microphone 4066’s with d:fine directional headsets. For IEMs the department opted for the Shure PSM-1000. “I am also on the in-ears throughout the show,” stated Thomas. “I keep an eye out on Bear’s mix which vocal-heavy with a sprinkling of music under the surface. Thomas had another role on the tour and that was to oversee the majority of Grylls’ costume changes. “Apart from one costume change, which takes place on the b-stage, I am there for every single one. It’s good to be on hand from the audio point of view just to make sure both the mics and the IEMs are all working correctly and we don’t have any issues.”
With such a cue-heavy show, it only made sense that the audio department made use of a lot of timecode. “QLab generates all of our timecode. We have two different channels; one for lighting, one for video.” stated Mount. “The simple reason for this is that sometimes the timing alter between the lighting video and having it done via two different channels means it becomes slightly move of a live show.”
It was not just a PA that Brit Row provided for this tour, but a fully integrated touring coms system. “We are running a Helix Net for all the wired communication along with two Telex BTR800 Dual channel wireless base station. Altogether we have eight Telex Dual channel wireless belt packs with eight Helix net dual channel wired packs. Overseeing the coms was Barry MacLeod.
TRUCKING, BUSSING AND FEEDING THE ARMY
There are several things that come to mind when you think of Bear Grylls but one of his most well-known traits is his tendency to consume some rather outlandish dishes. From eating the faeces of various animals to drinking bodily fluids, it’s safe to say that you sometimes require a strong stomach to get through some of the Born Survivor’s shows. On tour, however you’ll be happy to hear that when entering catering, TPi was not met by a strange collection of tropical insects to dine on but the fine folks from Eat Your Hearts Out, led by Sean Stone. The caterers where brought along to the rehearsals at LH2 before heading out on the road. “On this tour we are feeding about 70 crew although with the nature of touring that sometimes goes up by an extra 10 with local visitors. Due to the early starts on this tour we find that we are also feeding the majority for breakfast as well.” Stone went on to state that every day he provided a selection of healthy dishes including a sugar-free desserts, which he said Grylls himself enjoyed checking out daily.
Providing transport and a home on the road for the entire production fell to Beat The Street. Director Jöerg Philipp discussed Beat The Street’s involvement with the tour. “This is the third tour this year we have provided buses for this production team. In April we started a long run with Hans Zimmer and just recently a short hop with Andrea Bocelli.” For this run BTS provided three, 16 berth double-decker buses and a 12-berth super high deck for the crew, as well as supplying a Phoenix double deck Star Bus for Grylls and his family.
Philipp continued: “Jim Baggott and his whole production team have always been a delight to work with, being clear about what they need from us, and always available if we need any information makes our job as a supplier much easier. I can’t speak highly enough of them. Hopefully we can continue to build on this relationship in the coming future.”
Fly By Nite supplied 13 trucks for the tour. Due to the size and the shape of the set pieces, the company supplied five curtain sided vehicles as some of the larger set pieces simply would not be able to be removed from a traditional rear opening truck. Matt Jackson from Fly By Nite discussed the company’s involvement with the tour: “We have worked with Jim Baggott for quite along time now on various tours and have got to know each other quite well. More importantly we know how each other other work which lead to a great customer relationship.The Endeavour tour has been a great show to work on as it is slightly different. Once we heard about the show we were intrigued to see what the show is about!”
AGAINST THE ODDS
It is in our nature as humans to complain, granted some more than others. But after witnessing Bear Grylls’ two hour show where he told stories of individuals battling against the odds in order to simply survive, it certainly put the problems of the ordinary into perspective. However, unlike the other thousands people that witnessed the show at Belfast arena, TPi got to witness one more extra story of endeavour… that of the hard working crew who made this concept a touring reality. In our opinion one that deserves just as much admiration.