Ed Sheeran’s Mathematics Tour
Evoke Studios is well known for leveraging the latest in performance design technologies to push the boundaries of what is possible. It is this attitude that was recognised, once again, by creative director Mark Cunniffe of Twotrucks Productions, who commissioned us to create unique video looks for Ed Sheeran’s extensive new stadium tour; an in-the-round live experience featuring a colossal halo screen and six huge LED guitar picks flown around a revolving central stage.
We developed content for 10 tracks from the artist’s extensive setlist, as well as providing playback system consultancy, disguise media server programming and workflow, and content previsualisation.
The UK & Ireland leg of Mathematics Tour drew tens of thousands each night, with the UK leg culminating in a spectacular show at London’s Wembley Stadium on 1st July.
ChallengesAs is often the case with jobs as complex as this, we had to overcome a number of obstacles. One of the main challenges our visual content teams faced during the pre-production process was caused by the sheer size of the stage itself. There isn’t a rehearsal studio in existence that would have allowed us to build the full stadium stage and gauge how the screens would look from the furthest seats in the venue. This created a lot of problems, including what frame rates to use and how to scale the text and content itself. We wanted the video to look impressive whether the audience was standing 10m away or 100m away, and this was something that could only be fine-tuned once we were on the road. We were only able to overcome these potential obstacles thanks to a strong work ethic and collaborative spirit; both internally and with our amazing external partner, Twotrucks Productions.
Our managing director, Vincent Steenhoek, explained the creative process: “For ‘our’ songs we wanted to deliver consistent quality, despite the different look of each track. It’s super complex to design content that works in-the-round, unless you choose to segment it and turn it into 2D screens again, which itself is counter intuitive. This project was both exciting and daunting at the same time, but as a studio, we truly thrive off of complexity and testing ourselves creatively.”
The visual teams used Notch, VR, and stencilled mood boards to communicate our three-dimensional vision in real-time, developing ideas to craft content, materials, and 3D models for several applications. We then imported these stencils into Notch to light and animate the scenes.
“Notch allowed us to use the same assets across all the production teams,” said our head of content, Urs Nyffenegger. “For example, in Shape of You, the rendered shapes were used for the video effects to influence the IMAG itself, the images behind the IMAG, and where it appeared on stage. The most considerable success of Notch in an environment like this – more so than real-time and the 3D editing capabilities – is the flexibility you have to integrate content produced offline with real-time IMAG assets and create a coherent look.”
Photogrammetry enabled us to create what is arguably the biggest look of the tour, for the song Bloodstream. The inspiration for that song’s video content came from the lyrics, which reference different chemicals flowing through veins and how they can affect you. We wanted to make those mental processes visible, and by being able to animate Ed’s face to a high level of detail (despite the fact that the model is heavily treated) we could really represent a whole range of emotions in a particularly striking way.
As well as being able to create impressive-looking video content for Ed’s live shows, going through the motion capture / photogrammetry process comes with long-term benefits too. For example, because we now have that data on hand, we have the ability to take him into the Metaverse or create even more unique video looks further down the line, in broadcast as well as live applications.
“We’ve got a great relationship with Evoke Studios,” said Twotrucks Productions’ Mark Cunniffe. “We bring the creative direction and the opportunity to work with someone like Ed, and they bring a depth of knowledge and left field approach that is really useful when bringing such big ideas to fruition.
“Between Matt Swoboda at Notch, Vincent and Urs at Evoke Studios, and Matt Cromwell, James Masters, and myself at Twotrucks – we’ve created a really powerful visual show that’s never overpowering for the audience yet draws them into his presence. It’s still all about the artist, which is exactly the way it should be.”
The freelance team for this project was completed by Neil Harris and Caspar Wain of SHOP Studios and Lydia Cunningham.
“We’ve been getting really great feedback and the crew are already looking forward to taking it to South America and Australia,” concluded Cunniffe. “It’s fast becoming a must-see show, globally, and I think a lot of that success is down to Ed and his manager, Stuart Camp, for having the guts to really go for a show this bold in the first place.”
Show designer: Mark Cunniffe, Twotrucks Productions
Creative Direction: Mike Wilson
Artists: Rory Mitchell, Andreas Babenko, Ulli Thieman, Timo Ott
Notch artists: Matt Swoboda, Arminas Kaslaukas
Hardware supplier: Colonel Tom Touring