Over the past six months, two German production companies have been working together to simultaneously keep their creative juices flowing during the COVID-19 pandemic-inflicted hiatus on in-person events and lift the production value of livestreams. The Wharf is the latest in a series of three increasingly ambitious dedicated livestream studios that they have created using primarily ADJ lighting and video equipment.
The spaces latest project combines a series of eye-catching 3D cubes, lined with ADJ Pixie Strip pixel-mapped LED fixtures, and a water tank, illuminated by ADJ Hydro Series IP65-rated moving heads, to create a truly stunning visual backdrop for both DJ sets and full-on live performances to be captured on video.
LaserFrame, based in Cologne, and its owner Guido Schütz, specialise in lighting for clubs, lounges, and electronic music events. Meanwhile, Creative Sounds, from nearby Düsseldorf, and its principal Patrick Hirt, focus more on trade shows, festivals, concerts, and other large-scale events. The two companies have a long history of collaboration and often worked together on larger projects prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past winter – following a year when most of the events they would have worked on had been cancelled – Schütz and Hirt wanted to find an outlet for their creativity and recognised that DJ livestreams, which had become popular during lockdown, presented the perfect opportunity for production innovation.
“We were very aware that the production value of most DJ livestreams is very low,” Schütz elaborated. “They usually involve a single camera setup, zoomed in on the DJ, which is very different to experiencing a DJ set at a club or festival. We wanted to move away from the single camera DJ-focused stream to give the viewer back something of the festival feeling of seeing a big stage and lighting production. We experimented with various camera settings and positions to get more emotion out of the lighting and create more of a dynamic show for the viewers.”
The teams from LaserFrame and Creative Sounds began this experimentation with a project they called ‘The Tunnel’. This involved creating a long and thin black box in LaserFrame’s warehouse, filling it with lighting, and positioning the DJ at the far end. They invited a number of local DJs to livestream from the space and received hugely positive feedback from both the performers and their audiences. This proved the concept and led Schütz, Hirt and their team to move onto a bigger project. ‘The Cube’ was a larger space with more lighting that offered increased flexibility for accommodating a wider variety of performers. It was rented out to DJs and promoters for live streams but was also hired to film music videos and for fashion photo shoots.
Despite the success of The Cube, Schütz and Hirt wanted to keep innovating and take the concept even further. They were also intentional about infusing a sense of exclusively into each of their livestream studio projects and have therefore committed to a principle of only running each one for a couple of months. This keeps things fresh and gives a sense of uniqueness to the videos that are recorded; clients who invest in hiring the space to create their content can rest assured that the number of others who will also have access will be limited, so their content will always stand out from the crowd.
Requiring more space than they had available in their own warehouses, the team moved to the Bootshaus complex in Cologne for The Cube. They have a longstanding relationship with this world-famous nightclub venue, having served as its exclusive technical service provider for some time. They came to a mutually beneficial arrangement with the club, where the space was provided in exchange for the opportunity to use it to record their own content. Bootshaus is located at a wharf on the Rhine river, which provided the inspiration for the team’s next project. An old friend of Schütz works as the manager for the wharf and offered the use of an empty warehouse, which provided the space for an even bigger project, ‘The Wharf’.
Featuring a 10m by 6m stage set designed by Hirt, which was enclosed in a 12m by 12m black draped box, The Wharf truly realises Schütz’s desire to bring festival-style production to livestream performances. The creative vision for this project began with the idea of creating 3D objects using ADJ’s Pixie Strip linear LED fixtures. The set comprises four large 3D cubes, constructed from metal pipes, which have Pixie Strip 60 units mounted on their front and side edges. The back wall of each cube is then filled with a video display constructed from AV3 3.91mm pixel pitch LED video panels. The outer two cubes are lower down and further forward than the inner two, adding to the sense of depth of the set – with the DJ position raised even higher in between the middle two cubes.
“When clubs open again,” enthused Schütz. “We have plans to use the Pixie Strips for installation projects, so it has been useful to be able to really learn how to use them working on The Tunnel, The Cube and now The Wharf. It’s allowed us to really test the product in hardcore conditions over a number of months so we’re now at the point we really trust it and are coming up with creative ideas for using it to create an abstract installation at Bootshaus, for example. The cubes made from Pixie Strips really give The Wharf a unique visual identity, and using pixel mapping we were able to create some amazing effects.”
The cubes not only allowed Schütz and the team to experiment with the creative potential of the Pixie Strips, but also presented a new creative opportunity when they were built. The setup was perfect for DJ live streams but also proved ideal for live music performances, with individual members of a band each performing from a separate cube. The Wharf was used by a number of bands to record performances, including some of Cologne’s biggest carnival groups.
Another key creative element of Hirt’s design for The Wharf was the six, two metre water tank filled with six DMX-controllable water fountains. This was positioned in front of the inner two cubes and between the outer ones, with a bridge over the middle in front of the DJ booth. ADJ’s Hydro Wash X7 moving head wash fixtures were used to illuminate the water feature. Each of these versatile IP65-rated units feature seven Osram 40W RGBW LEDs and offer a motorised zoom function with a variable beam angle of 6 to 40°. A total of eight fixtures were utilised, positioned on small truss pedestals standing in the water, four on each side of the bridge. In addition, a pair of Proteus Lucius IP65-rated profile fixtures from ADJ’s sister company Elation Professional were also located in the tank, with a third unit utilised to backlight the DJ position.
The primary beam moving head fixture used for the lighting rig was ADJ’s extremely popular Vizi Beam RXONE. Utilising an efficient Osram Sirius HRI 100W 1R discharge lamp, focused through precision-engineered optics into a tight 3° beam, it is popular with designers who want a moving light that can be deployed in significant quantities. For The Wharf, six of the fixtures were positioned at the front of the stage deck under each cube, while a final set of six were positioned on a riser in front of the DJ position, making for a total of 30 fixtures spread across the set.
“For me, the RXONE is one of the greatest fixtures ever; because it is small, powerful, reliable and very affordable, which means that that it is profitable,” commented Yannik Richarz, a freelance technician who works extensively with both companies and was heavily involved in creating The Wharf. “LaserFrame has been using them for four years now and we’ve had very few problems with any of the fixtures. You can do really amazing things with them, and the price and size mean that it’s possible to use large quantities on even smaller scale shows. Between them, Schütz and Hirt own 42, but they have also acted as influencers to other companies in Germany that they sometimes collaborate with, who have also bought RXONEs. It total, we have access to around 100 fixtures across all of our partners. This is really useful for when we’re working on big festival shows, for example the Blacklist festival in Oberhausen, when we filled the main room with RXONEs!”
Rear and mid stage trusses, rigged above the set, gave the studio an added dimension and were used to mount 12 of ADJ’s Jolt 300 multifunction strobe/blinder/wash fixtures. Each of these feature a central strip of 144 0.5W white SMD LEDs (divided into three independently controllable zones), surrounded on both sides by 144 x 0.5W RGB SMD LEDs (also divided into three zones). This provides lighting designers with the creative potential of generating strikingly bright white strobe/blinder effects, vibrant colour washes and eye-catching chase patterns from the same compact fixture.
The flown trusses were also used to rig Elation Professional CUEPIX Blinder WW2 LED-powered warm white two-cell blinders, which further added to the festival feel of the lighting system. Finally, the trusses were used to hang a significant quantity of wash and spot moving head fixtures to allow projection down onto the stage and out towards the camera. The wash unit chosen was Elation Professional’s RAYZOR 360Z, which is a compact fixture that features an 8 to 77° variable beam angle and 360° continuous pan and tilt movement. Meanwhile, the spot fixture of choice was ADJ’s compact, powerful, and feature-packed 200W LED-powered Focus Spot 4Z.
“The Focus Spot 4Z is a great moving head, which we discovered by accident,” explained Schütz. “Patrick and I visited the ADJ showroom in Kerkrade for a demonstration of the Hydro Series and saw the 4Z on the ground there. We instantly loved its size and weight; it is very compact and only needs a single Omega bracket, but the LED source is very powerful. From there we got in a demo fixture and really fell in love with it. It fits perfectly alongside the rest of our inventory, as it is a similar size to the RXONE and Elation Rayzor 360, which we use a lot. So far, we’ve invested in 24 heads and are very pleased with how they have performed.”