Outside the dance music community, the name Eric Prydz might conjure fond memories of the “Call On Me” music video, wherein the aerobic gyrations of several scantily-clad girls provide an afternoon's eyefull for one lucky watcher. When it debuted, it was an instantly iconic, not to mention ironic, moment in dance music history—a humorous take on Flashdance, if you will.
While the DJ remembers fondly his cheeky former days, today, Prydz is more interested in fusing electronic music with the latest in visual technologies. Holograms, 3D-mapped animation, fractals, and amorphous cosmic topographies all blends into a sense frenzy for his touring EPIC showcase.
As originally conceived, EPIC 1.0 and 2.0 were fully-flared, futuristic dance music extravaganzas in which no expenses were spared to bring a certain cyberpunk edge to his already high-octane DJ sets. Now, the team behind EPIC is prepping the show's latest iteration, HOLO, for launch on March 28th at Ultra Music Festival, which caps a week of Miami's Winter Music Conference.
In a Skype roundtable with Immersive creative director and EPIC-co-designer, John Munro, production manager and technical producer and co-designer, Mark Calvert (also of Immersive), lead animator and VJ Liam Tomaszewski, and Prydz's manager Michael Sershall, we spoke about the challenges of not only creating holograms but expanding 'em. The team also spoke about rendering original 3D-mapped visuals for each new performance, and how they're fully scaling up the overall EPIC show with HOLO.The Creators Project: You're about to launch HOLO, a new iteration of Eric Prydz EPIC show, at Ultra Music Festival. Let's travel back and talk about how EPIC's projection mapping technology was originally conceived?
John Munro: Eric and Mick [Sershall] approached us to make a show which was going to be different from anything else at the time. We created this structure for projection. It still looks the way it does now, but originally it was a lot more detailed. We wanted it to be very intricate so the mapping could be really quite original as far as the animated shapes we were working with:
It revolved around the man-made and nature. All of the animators were given this brief, and encouraged to work in a more experimental manner with 2D and 3D software, as well as camera moves, textures, rotoscope footage, hand-drawn footage, and a combination of old techniques with new delivery methods.
How did the process unfold from there?
The animators who've been working with us for the last few years work on their own artistic merits. We don't stand over them, so each animator came up with something different. We wanted to use high-end for 2D and 3D but with a respective nod toward the old ways of creating media, like even collage and hand-drawn. Everyone was trying to push their own personal animation style just for this one style. It made people come up with different outcomes.
Tell me about the show's evolution through its earliest iterations.
Mark Calvert: EPIC 1.0 was a complicated, large, original metal and foam structure, which we had designed and fabricated for the show. There were many design elements to consider, such as caging issues, structure mounting at different venues, its weight loading for venues because it was so heavy. The fact that visuals had to be projected onto it was a real change because the structure has many angles. So, we decided to use a metal system called FOGA, a British-based aluminum fabrication firm.
For EPIC 2.0, we went back to the drawing board. It's a much-simplified shape so that we can deal with off-the-shelve LED screens. What we're able to at Immersive, which is pretty unique, is use our own software—the AI Media Server—to treat the surface in a way that makes it possible to remap old content onto it. It was a huge leap to move the show from just over a 4,000 pixel-wide projection show down to a LED show, which is still incredibly hi-res.
What is the benefit of LED?
Liam Tomaszewski: Being able to have a presence of smoke. Also, the back wall and the hologram can be running at the same time with fog, lasers, and other effects. No brightness or detail is lost.
Are the visuals always evolving from show to show?
They're constantly evolving. I render visuals before shows. Eric will come to me with an idea, and he'll say, “Listen to this track I've made.” So, then I'll make something that fits to that tune.
Mark Calvert: One of the things we did for 2.0 is introduce an intro. We always had a start for the show, but we liked to keep the hologram as a subtle fixture in the show. For the US, we decided to introduce the hologram as a leading role very early on in the show, and I think it worked really well.
How was the idea for a hologram originally introduced into EPIC?
Michael Sershall: I saw this hologram in London. Then I had this remarkable meeting with Immersive about another client of mine. I told them I'd seen this amazing hologram, and they'd seen it as well. I said to them straight away, “Let's do a show with a hologram.” Then John took the concept further and built the structure. It was a very simple beginning, really. The only people we knew who'd done it before were the Gorillaz.
What technology does the team use for the holograms?
Calvert: The hologram itself is a technology that has been around since the 17th century: Pepper's ghost. You reflect light off of mirrors, but when doing it in a new format there are an awful lot of complications, which is probably why it's not as popular as it could be. Vibration is a problem, and with a dance music event the vibration can be quite colossal.
How do you incorporate the hologram into the rest of the structure's visuals?
Calvert: We play with the depth of the structure. So, on the hologram itself we're not just using the hologram at any one time, but we're using the whole structure to give the effect a lot more depth and three-dimensional illusion.
Sershall: What we've always tried to do with EPIC is spend every last penny. [laughs] We want to give fans something new and different to look at it.
What data was used to create the hologram of Eric's head and upper torso; which, by the way, made me think of Kraftwerk's visuals in a way?
Tomaszewski: Eric's whole body was 3D-scanned using some really complex technology. We used that data to create new holograms, which can be seen in the intro and throughout the show.
So tell me, how is HOLO going to differ from EPIC 2.0? Tomaszewski: HOLO isn't just EPIC 2.0 on an even grander scale, but we've created loads of incredible new content specifically for the show. We've increased the size of the hologram dramatically, so it will be the largest hologram ever staged at a dance festival.
When we knew we were going to have a hologram at such a tremendous scale, it completely opened up what we're able to do with it in terms of content. With HOLO, we're able to create these vast, serene holograms that, given their scale, will have a far greater impact than if they had been used for EPIC 2.0.
How does the visual content tie-in with the music?
Tomaszewski: The visuals, holograms, and lighting will all be triggered live on the fly with Eric DJing. This is a great way to conduct a show because the way the crowd reacts has a direct influence on each show, we can all respond in real time, as opposed to being locked to a show that was created in a studio somewhere.
Can you describe how some of the new holograms will look?
Tomaszewski: We have made what we feel are the best holograms we've ever produced. It will be futuristic, intricate, cosmic, and jaw-dropping, with a serene vibe. At least those are the words that come to mind when I think of it.
How has the HOLO animation has evolved? And is there a particular visual theme you aim for?
Tomaszewski: Animation techniques are always improving, hardware gets more powerful, and software becomes more advanced. Luckily, we have a great team that really embraces and harnesses advances in technology to deliver the best experiences we can. I think EPIC 2.0 and HOLO are perfect examples of that.
There has been a lot of work on new animation for this show. This time it's really about quality over quantity, so we decided to focus all of our time on a handful of key moments through the show that will blow minds. There is a visual theme to HOLO, but we don't want to give too much away. People will understand once they see it.
We're using a wide array of software across the spectrum of CGI, animation, and compositing paradigms, from 3ds Max to Maya to Nuke, to other more unfamiliar physics and particle simulation software like Krakatoa and Thinking Particles. Creating holograms that look great aesthetically, compliment the music, engage the crowd, and work with the rest of the show (i.e lights, external structures), really is an art form in itself.
I think it would surprise people how much thought goes into everything we design. There are lots of boxes that need to be ticked before we say "Yes, that's going in the show." Luckily, we've all been working together for a number of years going right back to the original EPIC, so we have distilled the process down from a great deal of of experience to understand exactly how to deliver the best content for the show.
If you're in Miami this Winter Music Conference, make sure to check out HOLO's debut on the Ultra Music Festival mainstage Friday, March 28.