After a two-year delay due to Covid-19, production designer Manfred Nikitser and Depence engineer Otto Schildknecht spent 12 hours per day working on getting everything up and running for the “Rock Believer” World Tour 2022/23. In their pop-up studio, everything revolved around a 68-inch flat screen that was mounted at the back of the room. On display was a Depence animation of the Scorpions playing on stage, vivid flames shooting left and right behind them, and a mass audience cheering them on. Manfred’s grandMA3 console was set up right in front of the screen, while half a dozen laptops and computers were organized into individual workspaces around. From behind, the buzzing sound of a massive server rack filled the silence. Usually, however, recordings of the Scorpions were heard all day long. Manfred explains that “our work here at pre-programming is targeted at connecting and creating the dynamic between all visual elements, which we will have in Vegas, on-site. We have set up the entire network here in the studio the way it will be in the venue, to make sure all components are speaking to each other and also to pre-program the show as efficiently as we can, before everything comes together.”
The Scorpions’ residency took place at Zappos Theater at Planet Hollywood Las Vegas from 26 March to 16 April 2022. The show presents an entire new stage set, video content and lighting design. In addition, the Scorpions premiered brand new songs from their latest album “Rock Believer”. Not only was the album just released at the beginning of this year, but it also bears the title of the world tour that will take place right after the residency, continuing until 2023.
With new tunes mixed with the old classic hits, it was important for Manfred to get his new design ideas across to the band and the management as best as possible. Using Depence was the way to go since, according to Manfred, “it is always easy to talk about things but it’s much better if you can show them through a moving image. So, rendering all these ideas and showing the band a video with music, like ‘this is what I am talking about’ and not talking in theory but rather having something to show that is close to reality, was very important.”
This was especially the case with visualizing the beginning of the show since one major focus of the new production design was to deliver a strong opening. Manfred remembers that it “was something we looked into in detail very early. We pre-programmed an idea of how the show opening can be and presented that to the band. Thanks to Depence it was possible to show the opening in a dynamic way, by recording all the elements in the upfront and then rendering it afterwards. That gave us a level of quality that we didn’t have in the past.” Manfred adds that “we pushed it really to the limits of what is possible by involving special characters, by involving the built-in audience within Depence, also by involving kinetics, et cetera, to really show the dynamics within the production design and to give the band options for extras, such as lasers or other elements, pyro, all of that. This was not planned but just to show ‘ok, we could do this in this song and this in that song’.”
Even beyond visualizing lighting looks and effects, Manfred emphasizes that “Depence was a huge asset throughout the entire process, not just for the production design process but also for the construction design phase.” While pre-programming had just started at the studio in Hamburg, the stage set, at this point, was already designed, built, and en route to Las Vegas.
On planning the stage set, Manfred explains that his goal was to create “a steel metal analogue look in a traditional rock’n’roll way.” To facilitate this creation process, he elaborates that “one of my personal key assets for this design, other than the easy workflow with the MVR export, was the usage of PBR materials. That gave me the option to look in detail into the haptics of the set design before even thinking about lighting,” adding that “once the set architecture and dimensions were planned and approved by our production management, we went through different PBR materials and did a lot of renderings.” The outcome is a spherical architecture, constructed out of metal grids that were specifically chosen, custom cut and colored for this set. Its arch structure serves as an optical rupture to the overall linear lighting and rig construction surrounding the stage. The pyramid- shaped drum riser that stands in front of the set is built with same material, completing the overall analogue characteristic of the stage set design.
With only a few days in the theater to rehearse and to prepare for opening night, the ability to visualize all the looks and ideas as precisely as possible has been key to creating and programming this show in advance. Regarding the overall development process, Manfred concludes that “Depence closes the gap within production designing phases because it is a software that finally involves all the elements that are used within entertainment.” As a last statement, he adds that “we are all very ambitious when it comes to presenting ideas and, finally, we have a tool that allows us to connect all the different technologies, such as lasers, lighting, video, all of that, in one software and render it in a quality where you stop and think ‘is this a photo or is this a rendering?’” Now, at last, the design is neither a photo nor a rendering. It has finally become a live experience to be enjoyed in Las Vegas.