Avolites: The Future of Innovation

Founder Director of Avolites, Steve Warren continues his series of articles talking to leading figures about the current state of play in the industry with a look at future innovations.

Founding Avolites Director, Steve Warren concludes his series of leadership articles by evaluating the future of innovation.

Founding Avolites Director, Steve Warren concludes his series of articles featuring key figures in live events industry – the series examines the changing roles of the sector, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and how, as a collective, the sector must keep up with technological advancement and innovation.

In the last of these pieces, we thought we’d look at the future. The past two decades have been a bit of a wild ride when it comes to innovation, so it’s interesting to speculate what the next decade might bring. This is especially true as there are plenty of technology industry commentators betting that we will see as much change in the next ten years as we have in the hundred before hand.

Much of that will, of course, be computer-based. COVID-19 secure events notwithstanding, our business still revolves around bringing groups of people together and giving them a shared experience. What is interesting to note is the diversity of opinion regarding how this can be extended using augmented reality, either to live audiences watching at home or adding more ‘bells and whistles’ in the venue itself, or both. It seems this is either opportunity or heresy, depending on who you talk to.

In fact, there is a diversity of opinion on many things, from the effectiveness of drones onwards. But one thing that everyone agrees on is that the creative prospects of the next few years are exciting ones. In so many industries technology can be positioned as taking control away from artists and adding a degree of automation that detracts from the human experience. In ours, for the main, it’s seen as providing the tools to enable greater creativity and — while there will always be a spectacular high-end pushing the boundaries in mega-scale event productions— delivering that creativity at more intimate scales and more constrained budgets

As Arthur C Clarke put it, “The future is not to be forecast, but created.” Over to you.

Chris Ewington of i-Pix

There’s something primal when humans get together, technology will enhance that, but the human shared experience is something more powerful than we can discuss in writing or mimic just with technology, the best we can do is enhance that experience which we already do pretty well these days.

We can do better though. Wearing AR glasses the audience can be geopositioned in an arena and, with low latency 5G, as a Lighting Director if there are 100 movers on trusses on a stage we can extend some of them out further into the arena and extrude the show into that space. You’ll probably end up with half a dozen more faders on your desk where you can control that virtual rig.

Dave Green of Realtime Environment Systems

I think performances with drones are very exciting. But there are a few big issues that stop them being used on a wider scale. Safety, reliability, weather impact, cost are all prohibitive at this stage. The technology is moving fast though, so hopefully we will see some interesting innovation in this area over the next few years.

Elsewhere, the interaction between the artist and the audience has always been an important part of our industry. Modern technological gimmicks can be fun, but I don’t think anyone has hit the spot yet. I liked what we did at the London Olympics with TAIT and the pixel paddles. That was great. I would like to see more of that, where the audience becomes part of the show.

Wayne Howell of Artistic License

There are some interesting technologies emerging out there. Projecting against moisture screens with 3D depth is one of them.

I’m also hugely excited about the potential of live control of drone-based pixels. At the moment all the drone shows are essentially pre-programmed and then run, but the though of having one operating as a RGB pixel that can move through 3D space and contribute to rendering live video is another production area that I think could be incredible. It’s relay young technology that need to evolve in terms of battery life and noise generation, plus there are problems with turbulence in confined spaces, but it could be one of the biggest growth areas for live production over the next five years.

The other thing I’m really excited to watch is the advances in rendering onto moving objects. There’s a new control protocol being worked on for mapping moving 3D objects, and it’s another area where the ability of computers to communicate with each other is holding back the creativity but this new protocol is another area to allow integration between video, lighting and stage movement.

Lighting Designer, Nick Jevons

It’s all about buskability – get in there, get a show running in under an hour. I don’t even program the disco part of a corporate awards gig now — I get the awards show nailed and all of that programmed in, and once the disco part has started I program it there and then. The current consoles are so quick you can program the looks and effects as it goes.

I next want to see an AI Siri or Alexa assistant in the console or server where the creative describes the scene and edits as necessary to achieve complex looks quickly. Having to be aware of fixture numbers and placement order is a distraction to the creative process. In ten years time you’ll sit at your console and it will be a case of Song 14 Cue List, start off slow moody, drums kick in, four bars, all go for orange, spotlight on guitarist stage left, bring up back truss… I don’t see that as being too far away especially as the console learns what your moody look is, what your breakdown is; it will learn from you. 

Peter Skytte of Martin Professional Lighting

AR/VR and social interaction is likely to expand the experience with the ‘show’ starting before the show itself and continuing afterwards as well, all with increasing interaction with social media. We will have an increasing number of smaller events were audiences can feel more engaged with the performance, as well as the large super spectaculars.

With products like Sceptron and Video Atomic Dot, the borderline between light fixtures and video products is already vanishing quickly and at Martin we will continue to focus on the seamless integration of lighting and video products as we move into the future.

Rachel Nicholson of Backstage Academy

I’ll be fascinated to see what impact the gaming world will have on us. Generative content creation, the cloud, 5G, the Internet of Things – one of the things that we’re talking about at the moment is integration and the changes we’ve seen over the past ten years, but that sense of integration is going to be extended much further over next decades.

AR, VR, XR – the sort of high level funding that is being driven in this by big business will have trickled down to everyday use in ten years. As a magpie industry, which bits will we take and which bits will we reject? As a small sector we have to adopt the technologies from other sectors as we don’t have the funding to develop ourselves.

And one of the things that will still impact on us in ten years time will be legislation. We’ve already seen, for example, the ALD’s Save Stage Lighting campaign highlighting problems with the legislation regarding tungsten, and we’re seeing more and more decisions taken at a high level that affect a broad range of sectors having an impact on our tiny sector whose needs are not being recognised.

TPi Awards Lighting Designer of the Year, Tim Routledge

I see AR and VR working really well when it comes to TV, but I really don’t want to see it in the live environment. It’s bad enough to have audiences continually holding up their phones to record shows as it is, for them all to hold up their phones to see a bit of extra stuff? No! It makes me feel sad for the state of our industry that we can’t create amazing experiences in the real world.

The audience experience in ten years time will hopefully be still live and hopefully be still real. I feel the shift in recent years to site-specific performances, finding unusual spaces, and also audience arena shows moving to different orientations – not just in the round, but more experimentations. I just hope it won’t be virtual. I work in the live event industry not the computer games business, and I really hope that we can continues to drive creativity through real experiences not computer games ones

Dave Weatherhead

The “Instagram moment“ will come more and more important in some productions. I think it is likely we could expect to be provided with “Cue Alerts” to let the audience know that there is a big visual effect coming up to cue up the phone cameras.

Automation is already working in XYZ and the upper level media servers are also working in 3D environments. It seems likely that more can be achieved by the lighting control system “knowing“ where fixtures are placed in the real world and using maths and geometry to create new complex effects.