What type of software is typically used for cueing live vfx at major rock shows?
I'm highly interested in the world of vfx for live music, such as Elton John's goodbye tour where he has custom graphics for each song. I always see a station with computers/media servers and a guy operating them during the show, and I figure he must be the one cueing all the graphics. Can anyone tell me what software is the industry standard for these types of concerts and shows? I'm not talking so much about content creation (though am interested in that, too), but about the playback and cueing of the graphics. They must use something more advanced than the typical VJ software, and perhaps the software is a combination of real-time content creation and playback. I only know a few of these, Notch and Smode being two of them. Do you think it's likely to be either of these? If not, then what is your best guess?
Also: Towards the end of the second video, you can see that Elton's piano is on fire, which makes me think they're using real-time tracking. How do you think they do this? Are they putting physical trackers on the piano that the software picks up on? I know these are a lot of questions, and I don't expect answers to all of them. But any general guidance on what softwares/setup these huge productions use would be very appreciated, as this has become a special interest of mine.
There are a few media-server systems I could imagine being used for concerts like this but, since it's Elton John, it wasn't to hard to find an article talking about the tech setup:
In this case, they used Disguise (previously called D3) servers, which are often used in high-end shows. Disguise does a lot more than just media playback - it allows 3D previsualisation of the show before you even get into the venue, has a robust system for automatic failover between player machines, and integrates with real-time graphic systems like Notch (which I thought might have been used for the fire FX but it's not mentioned in the article).
There are other media servers out there - all with different strengths and features which will affect the choice of system for a show (in addition to reputation, local preferences, and availability of operators). As you suggest, unlike VJ software, media servers for this kind of performance can be integrated with, or act as, show-control systems - either as a master or slave (sending or receiving timecode, or network commands) to communicate with sound and lighting consoles or stage machinery.
Off the top of my head, other systems include:
- Dataton Watchout (one I use a lot). Not the most flexible system out there (any changes to the show or media have to be pushed from the master to player machines) but a very solid system which includes some compositing features useful for on-site changes to shows, and is easy to expand for multi-projector and large LED wall projects (just keep adding players until your budget runs out!). Supports 2D and 3D mapping.
- Modulo PI, created in France but gradually becoming more well-known abroad. it exists in 2 versions: Modulo Player - the simpler version designed for cue-list style media playback with an easy to use 2D warping system for video mapping. Modulo Kinetic is the more advanced version, probably closer to Disguise in features, with support for 3D mapping and more interactive features.
- Smode grow out of the demo scene and is designed for real-time media manipulation (like After Effects, but live). Exists in a 'studio' edition, designed for smaller projects, and the 'station' edition designed for larger multi-output shows.
There are also hardware systems like the AnalogWay PictureAll which supports 8K playback - but doesn't - as far as I know - include any of the editing, FX or mapping features of media-server software. It's more like a very expensive tape deck! But if your show is entirely prerecorded and just needs to be played back onto big LED walls, it could do the job.
There is probably a more exhaustive comparison of different systems out there, but that's start.
Freelancer based in Paris, France
- Motion Graphics, Video Editing & Effects, Watchout Programming & Live Operation.
Wow Matthew, this is incredibly detailed and helpful. I didn't know the media servers were responsible for so much of the synchronization--likely because I didn't know much about media servers at all, except that they are used for high-end shows like this. I deeply appreciate this trove of knowledge. I'm a huge Elton fan, as well as an aspiring live music vfx creator. Your response has been an eye opener, and I'm now looking up more about Disguise and your other software suggestions. Thank you!!