PLSN | Avenged Sevenfold`s Shepherd of Fire Tour

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PLSN | Avenged Sevenfold`s Shepherd of Fire Tour
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Event Production Dir.
May 2014 Issue
Production Profile
Avenged Sevenfold's Shepherd of Fire Tour
Iron Maiden, eat your hearts out…
Using vintage 1980s metal motifs, terrifying
pits of flame, an ominous structure patterned
upon a medieval castle wall and one
monstrously animated mascot, heavy rock
titans Avenged Sevenfold (A7X) have become
the gold standard in ghoulish, budget-conscious concert bonanzas.
Written by Will Romano
Friday, 09 May 2014 08:16
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The band’s latest production, for their Shepherd of Fire tour, making stops at
numerous big cities throughout North America this spring, skillfully skirts schlocky
heavy metal gags while conjuring what can only be termed a nightmarish
otherworldly realm. The tour’s support crew and scenic teams worked with Gallagher
Staging & Productions and Pyrotek Special Effects so that the ideas of production
manager/set designer Jordan Coopersmith and of A7X bandmembers could come
screaming to life (or, as the case may be, back to life).
“A group like Iron Maiden was a huge influence on the band,” says Coopersmith. “Avenged Sevenfold flies a
kind of flag from the unbelievable days of ‘80s metal. That’s the music they grew up on.”
Classic Design
But pigeonholing the band’s show as a throwback would be wholly unfair. Yes, A7X’s
current production contains familiar elements, but there’s something undeniably
classic about the stage design as well. “Some rock shows have a lot of video and
content, and a lot of nothing else,” says Coopersmith, who’s worked with A7X for
over six years. “With this band, video was not the first priority.”
In keeping with this aesthetic, Coopersmith envisioned a medieval world marked by a weathered castle wall,
geysers of flames and monstrous creatures. Documenting his initial concepts in Nemetschek Group’s
architectural and entertainment CAD software Vectorworks, Coopersmith continually honed his ideas throughout
the design process.
“I had 200 renderings of different versions of this show before I whittled them down to
exactly where the show is now,” says Coopersmith. “I don’t come up with a million
ideas, put them all on paper and then have the guys look at them. Nearly two months
went by before I was at a point where I thought I had exactly what I needed. We live
in Virginia and the band was mixing the record [2013’s Hail To The King] in New
York, so I drove up to meet them and show them the rendering I had. As it turns out,
it was exactly what they wanted. We went to a mix session that day, had a meeting
on the way home, and when we came back to Virginia, we got the ball rolling.”
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Building the Castle Wall
It was during the early stages of production development that Coopersmith had
conceptualized one of the main visual elements of the production — the castle wall
located upstage. A vacation in Europe with family and friends inspired the set
designer to look beyond the Middle Ages, further back into history, for artistic
direction regarding coloring and texturing of the massive wall.
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“We rented a car in Barcelona and drove to the south of France, and ended up in Italy,” says Coopersmith. “We
took pictures of this coliseum in Nîmes, France, that was built in the same century as the Roman Coliseum. I
looked at those pictures and it happened to be the exact coloring and level of distress that we wanted for the
wall.”
Coopersmith considered a number of fabricators, but Gallagher Staging was awarded the project. Basing their
initial mock-ups on Coopersmith’s Vectorworks renderings, Gallagher created a miniature sample structure for
approval by the A7X camp.
The wall, meant to represent centuries-old stonemasonry, was created from foam blocks, which were hand
carved by Gallagher’s sculpture team. The scenic crew then chipped away at the foam material to give it a
distressed and crumbly appearance. “Sculpting is a true art, and we take pride in our team’s ability to transform
a block of foam into a realistic design,” says Joey Gallagher of Gallagher Staging, describing the process as a
mix of old-school scenic techniques combined with new age manufacturing methods. “There’s a lot of sanding
and polishing to make it look like real rock.”
Once that was finalized, Gallagher adds, the team applied a gray hard-coat — F1 flame retardant coating.
“Knowing the band’s plans for insane pyro effects during the show, we ensured that all set items, including the
stage decking, could withstand the fierce flames.”
Gallagher also fabricated the wall’s aluminum support framing, which breaks down into three main sections,
each of which are linked via De-Sta-Co toggle clamps and guided into place by Delrin pins. The design lets
crews easily build, strike and pack the wall quickly — no tools required. Versatility, Gallagher adds, was a key
priority — enabling it to adapt to a variety of indoor and outdoor venues, and stand up to movement and wind
loads.
Measuring 64 feet wide by 28 feet high, the structure is detailed with treated Super-Velor drapery. “We went to
town on them with blow torches,” says Coopersmith. Other set elements include faux-stone pillars, two castle
doors, four fire-breathing fiberglass death bats (3D versions of the band’s winged skull logo) and three archways
offering vistas of imagery pumped through Absen 7mm video tiles. (The castle wall supports the video panels.)
The video setup includes a pair of grandMA2 Light consoles, grandMA2 NPUs and PRG MBox Studio media
servers. The video imagery is used largely as a tool to help show visuals coincide with the mood of a particular
song.
His Royal Badass
Gallagher Staging also fabricated one of the show’s most impressive, if not menacing, visual element: the
animated, winged skeletal king, recalling the cover artwork for the CD single of A7X’s song, “Hail to the King.”
The custom “King” assembly was constructed on a mobilator and equipped with animatronics, enabling the King
to have an actuating head and wings.
Composed of foam and fiberglass, the threatening figure measures 14 feet high by 12 feet wide by 10 feet deep.
From his throne of skulls, the king scowls as he surveys the crowd, fiberglass sword gripped in his boney
fingers. For his reveal, the daemonic despot moves up and down the stage through the center archway doors.
His wings, fashioned with pyro capability courtesy of Pyrotek, have up-and-down mobility (via automated air
shocks). “The king blows fire out of its claws and its head and wings light on fire,” says Coopersmith.
“The great thing is, the king comes to life all his own,” says lighting director Matt Mills of Lighting Programming,
Inc. “All he really needs is to be illuminated. We also blast him with fog as he rolls through the doors.”
His Royal Badass can be forked into position, rolled or flown from four rigging points. “He splits in half,
horizontally, for travel, and is hauled in two set carts,” says Gallagher.
Pyromania
Perhaps it’s no surprise that one of the main visual thrusts of this modern metal show is pyro. In fact, pyro has
practically become the band’s tour-production signature. Operated by pyro shooter Hans Lundberg of Pyrotek
Special Effects Inc., the flames billow up from the depths of the set, as if Hell itself had cracked open. The pits
of fire may be visually sensational, but they also initially presented challenges for other designs involved with
the show.
“Pyro is bright and there’s a lot of it,” adds Mills. “The lighting looks will be a bit darker during the pyro
moments.”
“The key is to program lighting that complements pyro when this element is used,” says lighting designer Trevor
Ahlstrand.
Yelling, “fire,” in any of the crowded arenas or theaters in which A7X performs will likely do no good. The
headbanging business the band deals in nightly notwithstanding, the flames are inescapable. Pyro equipment
has been installed everywhere upstage, it seems, including the aforementioned fiberglass “death bats,” which
spit 30-foot streams of flame above the heads of the performers.
“We mounted the flame shooters right below the death bats,” says Gallagher. “Everything is fire proof. All the
flames are positioned to where they won’t burn soft goods. It’s away from everything.”
“The drummer [Arin Ilejay] plays on stage with the pyro going off all around him,” says Coopersmith. “I can’t
imagine having to do my job in that environment. But he seems to like it.”
Pyrotek pyro units are built into four foot by eight foot stage carts (constructed by Gallagher Staging), which
receives stock decking and connects into a five foot and eight foot rolling stage, providing a full underworld, or
what the support crew calls “the dungeon” (i.e. change room, audio mix station and pyro units).
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“Our whole pyro show, except for some random effects, rolls in giant set carts,” says Coopersmith. “I don’t have
the luxury of putting this show in 20 trucks, so everything must roll out in the best and cleanest way. This entire
tour is done in eight trucks.
“I challenge anyone to have more sh** in less trucks,” Coopersmith adds, with a laugh. “These guys want to
have a show, and they want pyro, and that costs money. But we’ve made it all work. We put on a surprisingly
big show for a reasonable budget.”
Strategic Lighting
Designing for a show whose main attractions include an animated creature and fire pits has its challenges. Yet,
lighting designer Ahlstrand successfully found a way through this maze and completed the main objectives he
was tasked with, such as expanding the appearance of the stage, allowing the lighting to be bold yet expressive,
and complementing the other visuals. Ahlstrand achieves his goals through strategic fixture choices and truss
placement, working with gear provided by Christie Lites.
The Martin MAC Viper AirFX fixtures constitute the bulk of the lighting rig and make up the majority of what’s
visible to the audience. The AirFXs are hung from chevron- and diamond-shaped trusses located, roughly,
above the stage. Floor lighting consists of additional AirFXs and Clay Paky Sharpys, which extend offstage to
make the show visually wider, while half a dozen MAC 2000 Performance fixtures act as shin light for the band
and for further texturing. (Sidelighting is largely accomplished via four trusses — two positioned stage left and
right — and these truss sections contain MAC III Performances that allow for additional texturing of the stage.)
The set was continually tweaked throughout the design process. For instance, when downstage kabuki drop
curtains were swapped for a midstage traveler, the change nudged Ahlstrand to rethink his design.
“We ended up splitting the diamond and chevrons at center stage and leaving a gap to accommodate the
additional traveler truss,” says Ahlstrand. “The midstage cable bridge that was meant to live above the rig and
hold the MAC 2K Washes, and underhung motors came down next to the traveler track. From front of house the
split was not nearly as noticeable as I first thought it might be, once we were in a show. The challenge with the
traveler was, when we play venues that have more limited width, the traveler ends up stopping directly
downstage of the upstage side trusses. It’s simply grabbed and pulled offstage as much as possible for shows
where this is an issue.”
Another challenge was ensuring that the lighting properly highlighted the defining features of the wall without
washing out other vital visual elements. “I approached the lighting of the wall in the same way I would have if I
were doing an architectural lighting design,” says Ahlstrand. “The entire wall was washed by MAC 2000
Performance units, which allowed me to shutter off the parts of the set I wanted to isolate. I then uplit the wall,
doors, pillars and flags [drapery] separately from different LED fixtures placed on the floor. This really let the
texture of the wall stand out while giving the set depth and providing separation between its elements.”
“From the midstage truss we have MAC 2000 Performance fixtures, chosen mainly for their shutter feature,”
adds lighting director Mills. “For as much of the wall as we do want to light, there are also plenty of places we
need to avoid. The shutters allow for that. The wall is also uplit using [Philips Color Kinetics] ColorBlaze 72s,
which are used for streaking up the wall and not completely washing it out. The ColorBlazes are tight enough
that just the accents of the wall are lit. It also makes for a great look when the Performances and ColorBlazes
have contrasting colors.”
Versatile Staging
Because A7X’s tour includes a variety of venues, Coopersmith and the band are modifying the production to
meet their day-to-day needs in the foreseeable future. (Typically, the crew will enter a venue at 8 or 9 a.m. and
work until the late afternoon, hours before the start of the show.)
“The staging element will move along with the situation,” says Coopersmith. “We are going to be doing a lot
more outdoor shows; festivals. We do Rock on the Range festival in Columbus, Ohio [in mid-May], and then this
entire show will go into sea containers and sail over to England for one show, the Download Festival [in midJune]. We are building the show for the festival and we will container it back up and it will meet us at rehearsals
for our summer “shed” run. This new form of the show is dialed in and perfect for the summer. We’re adding IMag, we’re getting rid of the doors where the king enters, and we’re adding a bi-parting video wall. The king will
move in and out more, and when he’s not present, we’ll have three equal video walls. It’s much more festival
friendly — and much more powerful.
Crew
Lighting Designer: Trevor Ahlstrand
Set Designer/Production Manager: Jordan Coopersmith
Lighting Director: Matt Mills
Lighting Crew Chief: Tim Solar
Lighting Techs: Will Anglin, Benjamin Smith
Pyro Shooter: Hans Lundberg
Video Content: Ofer Zmora
Lighting Co: Christie Lites
Account Rep: Rod “Red” Gibson
Set/Staging Company: Gallagher Staging & Productions
Video Co: Media Visions
Pyro Co: Pyrotek Special Effects
Gear
2 grandMA2 Light
2 grandMA2 NPUs
2 PRG MBox Studio media servers
41 Martin MAC Viper AirFX fixtures
12 Martin MAC III Performances
21 Martin MAC 2000 Performances
16 Martin MAC 2000 Washes
46 Martin Atomic 3000 Colors strobes
4 Martin MAC Auras
20 Clay Paky Sharpys
5 Philips Color Kinetics ColorBlaze 72s
4 Philips Color Kinetics ColorBlaze 48s
13 Philips Color Kinetics ColorBlast 12s
8 Mole-Richardson four-light inline moles
20 Mole-Richardson two-lite inline moles
6 Reel EFX DF-50 Diffusion Hazers
2 Martin Jem ZR44 foggers
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