PWL Redefines the Boombox at Schlagerfestival

Image Louise Stickland

Luc Peumans and the team from Painting with Light redefined the boombox, presenting the historic music making device in a fresh, new, digital dimension as the set centrepiece for Belgium’s 2018 Schlagerfestival, staged in the 14,000 capacity Ethias Arena in Hasselt.

With Paco Mispelters as the lighting designer, Peumans and the crew created the event’s stage, set and production design and produced all of the bespoke video content appearing on the boombox. It’s the 13th year that Peumans has been involved in Schlagerfestival for producers PSE Belgium, in which time he’s seen a steady commitment to increasing production values, which has also enabled innovating the design each year.

The event has a festival-style programme with multiple artists and lots of quick changeovers, all backed by an extremely tight ‘house’ band of session musicians.
At the essence of the design was the desire to make the 8 mm pitch digital scenery truly three-dimensional and have it appear genuinely scenic rather than electronic!

Once the boombox idea started to evolve – he also wanted an object instantly associated with music that could carry its own visual narrative, Peumans added side panels at 90 degrees to the 20 metre wide by 9 metre high front fascia, so the audience sitting along the sides of the venue (the show was sold 270 degrees) would have a better viewing experience.

He then added 2 piles of retro-style scenic cassette tapes each side of the stage, which were fronted with Barco MiTrix video surfaces and which also formed part of the band risers. Their positioning and random appearance brought a whole new layer and perspective to the performance space.

“The objective was to create a digital set that looked like authentic, hand-built scenery,” explained Peumans. “Getting that ‘quality’ look was vital, and having an excellent digital toolbox – and plenty of ideas to hand meant we could add plenty of detail and adapt and personalise the set for each artist with different looks, graphics and animations”.

The show lasted 3 hours, so it was important to provide a dynamic and changing environment for the hugely enthusiastic Schlagerfestival fanbase, who packed into the venue to party the night away with a mega-mash of sing-and-dance-along crowd-pleasing anthems from a glittering line-up of Schlager stars.

Painting with Light supplied 3 video artists – a 3D modeller, a Notch expert and an animations specialist – to develop the boombox content.

The 4 metre wide cassette door in the middle of the physical structure slid open to provide stage entrance points for artists, and the 16 piece house band was positioned onstage to the left and right of the door, with some ‘on’ the piles of cassettes.

The cassette spines included handwritten titles, text slogans and comments – each relevant to the performer onstage at the time – while various related graphics and artwork were applied to the different parts of the boombox.

The cassette spine video content was produced as pixel-perfect artwork to fit the surface areas, and also scaled to the boombox so everything looked impressively in proportion.
On top of the boombox was a scenic handle, 3 large buttons and 2 antennas / antennae which helped make it look very similar to the real thing!

Three different overall looks were developed for the radio section of the boombox, including a tuner and VU metre, which were animated in real-time using Notch real-time effects and rendering software. This was linked to the disguise server, and ran scripts that translated DMX values from the lighting console and applied them to the different boombox graphic layers. These scripts were triggered via audio inputs, so the VU metre movements were synched exactly to the beat.

A similar treatment was used to pulse the speakers – utilising a variety of graphics – in time with the music, with some animations looking identical to speaker cones vibrating and pumping with SPLs.

Lighting and video were programmed, aligned and finessed with Peumans, Mispelters, video programmer Mark Honsbeek and lighting operator Arjan Grootenhuis all working in close collaboration – another advantage of having 1 creative practice designing the full visual package.

The video provided a structural and physical framework for the set, with light then adding atmosphere and depth.

The disguise gx 2 server ran all the video playback, but the atmospheric video settings, including colour, were controlled and triggered via the grandMA2 lighting console, which allowed specific parameters of lighting and video to be synchronised quickly and matched during the show, and work together harmoniously.

Mispelters utilised around 400 lights on the rig, including 86 x Robe Pointe multi-functional moving lights, 65 x GLP X4 Washes, 40 x Claypaky Sharpy Washes, 26 x Martin MAC Viper DX Washes, with 10 MAC x Viper Performances illuminating the thrust which comprised both vertical and horizontal runways, enabling the stars to get right out among their fans.
120 LED PARs were rigged on 10 pods, flown in the auditorium roof and did a great job of lighting the crowds, an important element in this event which is renowned for its audience interaction and engagement. Many of the stage lighting fixtures were also positioned so they could swing round and swoop over the audience when needed.

30 Chauvet STRIKE 1 LED blinders blasted out into the voluminous arena and a number of SGM Q7 LED flood / strobes were also deployed for blinding duties.

30 PRG Bad Boys running via a Ground Control remote follow spotting system ensconced under the stage were used to follow the artists as they strutted their stuff.

Programming time on site was tight, so 2 grandMAs were used, 1 for lighting and video, and 1 with the merged showfiles running off a single console operated by Arjan Grootenhuis (with ‘hot’ backup) for the 4 shows, all of which were completely sold out!
The challenge was to produce a flexible visual environment for a lively, fast-paced show featuring multiple artists, for which the Painting with Light team also used their studio in Genk for 3 days of intensive pre-visualisation and programming.

This allowed them to come to site prepared with all the basic video and lighting presets, focuses and programming completed, ready for the one and only dress rehearsal, ahead of a busy and complex show in terms of production.

This was followed by a fine-tuning session and then straight into the first show

Lighting, LED screens and sound equipment for the 2018 Schlagerfestival was supplied by PRG Belgium, with IMAG cameras and PPU from Fly Away, while lighting and playback video control was provided by Painting with Light.