BlackTrax is the only solution for Carrie Underwood’s REFLECTION

Photo: Denise Truscello

A long-held Vegas tradition is to create an experience that cannot be seen anywhere else in the world. Carrie Underwood’s ongoing REFLECTION: The Las Vegas Residency at Resorts World Theatre in Las Vegas kicked off in December 2021, and Carrie wanted this residency to be out of this world, in creativity and innovation.

BlackTrax is a tried and tested product that was used back in 2016 on her Storyteller Tour and in 2019 on her Cry Pretty Tour 360, so bringing BlackTrax with her to Vegas for REFLECTION was a sure thing.

The Resorts World Theatre is a 5,000-capacity, world-class theatre that Underwood opened on December 1 is exclusively programmed and operated by Concerts West / AEG Presents. The Scéno Plus-specified sound system, with about 200 L-Acoustics speakers, meets the hype. Carrie Underwood performs a 90-minute, 18-song show, REFLECTION, which incorporates pyro, set-changes, skilled aerialists and dancers, lasers, mirrored surfaces, and a water wall. These combined put the innovation, skill, and creativity of her production crew, and BlackTrax, to the test.

Nate Cromwell, Lighting Director, and BlackTrax Programmer for Underwood, answers some questions about REFLECTION’s unique production elements and their potential challenges. Through Nate, we learn first-hand how BlackTrax measures up for such a high-profile and precision-oriented show.

When Nate Cromwell, Lighting Director, and BlackTrax Programmer for Underwood and the production crew are operating a full tour with Carrie, instead of a big list of dedicated spotlight equipment, blocked-out spot positions, and operators, you only see a BlackTrax System. BlackTrax automates the key lighting for the entire show, freeing Underwood to move on stage when and how she wishes and saving Nate and the production team, money, rehearsal time, and headaches.

BlackTrax was first used on the Storyteller Tour in 2016 and again on The Cry Pretty Tour 360 in 2019. With both tours being staged in the round, the production teams had to come up with a solution on how to light Underwood, while she is center stage, surrounded by a variety of moving scenic pieces that impede her key lighting. The solution for this challenge needed to allow multiple lighting spot positions and a variety of angles to keep her lit, regardless of where she moved on stage. Butch Allen suggested BlackTrax and after a couple of conversations, Nate was convinced it was the solution to go with and has been fully on board with it being the solution for Carrie ever since.

Cromwell began: “It’s like launching space shuttles and you get what you put into it. BlackTrax can go as far and deep and as complex as I want it to, or it can take things over and be extremely simple and easy to use. If I need to key light an artist, it is very easy to do, or if I want 32 lights to pick up a quarter body shot in a blackout, in a moving target with prediction, I can do that as well. It’s the only solution that can do that.”

The two most important things to happen on stage are the ability for Carrie to be heard, and the ability for Carrie to be seen. For REFLECTION, Nate Cromwell uses a BlackTrax System that features 14 BT Sensors (cameras) strategically positioned throughout the rig and 9 BT Beacons (with up to 3 BT Stringers (tracking points) per BT Beacon) for each performer being tracked. BlackTrax is currently operating the key lights on Carrie, the band, and one of the dancers. The freedom and ability to use any lighting fixtures on the rig as a follow spot and the absolute precision of BlackTrax is the reason it was brought into this Las Vegas residency project according to Nate.

In these breathtaking shows with pyro, water, and mirrored surfaces. Nate’s lighting never loses sight of Carrie or the band. BlackTrax can overcome these various elements due to the fact it is a vision-based, active infrared tracking solution.

Cromwell commented: “There is a myriad of things that would have brought any other real-time tracking system to its knees with this show because we have every single element to make tracking difficult on that stage. We have pyro, we have water, and mirrored surfaces and they are all on stage at the same time. BlackTrax is reading through all of them. Seamlessly and flawlessly.”

To put things into perspective, a Jeep is lit on fire during the show during Underwood’s performance of her hit, “Before He Cheats,” and BlackTrax doesn’t lose line of sight of the BT stringers. Pyro interference is solved by adjusting exposure and gain settings on the BT Sensors. The grand finale includes a show-stopping water wall. Tracking through a water wall is solved by having a strong BT Sensor design with multiple and ample viewpoints. In a show called REFLECTION, you can expect… reflections from reflective surfaces and mirrors. BlackTrax offers a software feature called ‘masking’, which allows the BT Sensors to select and ignore tracking data originating from specific reflective surfaces within the tracking area.

Working closely with Underwood’s wardrobe team to keep costume changes quick, the simplest solution to integrate and hide the BT Stringers is to sew them into the costumes. For the BT Beacons, they created pouches for them within the costumes. During the live show, Carrie sports 5 different wardrobe looks. To facilitate fast changes, the BT Beacons simply need to be unplugged from the BT Stringers in one costume, then re-plugged into the BT Stringers in the next.

For each of the show’s costumes, the production team must carefully select discrete BT Stringer positions that work, being sure the BT Sensors see the BT Stringers active IR LED without changing the costume’s esthetics and regardless of Carrie’s hairstyle. Some outfits will be sleeveless, so the BT Stringers are moved from her shoulders to her hips, for example.

To prevent the lights from focusing on her hips, Nate can adjust the tracking by applying a vertical offset to the lighting fixtures to make them focus on her upper body. This offset will move the light beam any distance in any direction as defined by Nate, from the actual location of the physical BT Stringer to allow him to get the exact shot, no matter what Underwood is wearing.

Complete frontal tracking coverage is received with one stringer placed on the front of her body and when the second-stringer is added to her back, there is redundancy (an additional tracking point for continued optimal tracking) and guaranteed full coverage even if she has her back to the BT Sensors. To prevent any potential occlusion problems, Nate says he can physically walk the costumes around to troubleshoot any issues they might have to address.

The thinner, more flexible, lightweight design of the discreet new cable offers a greater range of motion than the previous generation of BT Stringers. Speaking with the band directly, the comfort level is real. Band members say they can’t even feel the BT Stringers and BT Beacons when they are wearing them. This is thanks to Generation 2 of the BT Stringers from BlackTrax.

Talking about costume changes and BT Stringers, Nate can be quoted saying the new design of the BlackTrax packaging received many compliments. “It looks impressive, it looks pro, and this helps the artist trust the product even more. This is important when your product is being used by a superstar.”

Cromwell concluded: “Carrie Underwood is the most precise artist that I have ever known. She is 100%, every night. Any gear used with her needs to be at the same level of precision as the ability to produce. That is what she deserves. She is up there on stage, giving at that level, and BlackTrax is the only tracking system and automated spotlight system with the level of precision and quality that a show like hers requires. I get goosebumps every night.”

Because of BlackTrax, Nate and his production team can create very magical moments that would otherwise not be possible.

Carrie Underwood’s REFLECTION: The Las Vegas Residency