USA – Grammy winning American rapper LL Cool J has been rocking cities across the US over the summer with a star-studded celebration of hip-hop formed as The F.O.R.C.E Tour – with pre-made and live visuals fired by a team of tvONE’s Green Hippo brand of Hippotizer Media Servers.
With a line up of special guests including DJ Jazzy Jeff, The Roots, and Ice-T, the tour was LL Cool J’s first headliner live shows in three decades and, in the run up said he wanted to ensure “everything is done right.” VUE Show Design Group was brought into the LL Cool J Camp through Production Designer Gary Westcott, with a brief of programming visuals “from top to bottom”.
“We were tasked with re-creating the show visuals to elevate what existed before,” says VUE Show Design Group’s Design Associate/Screens Producer, Bransen Black. “This show wasn’t like your typical concert tour – it was imagined to be one continuous set, with new guest artists every night. Due to this, the structure of the show was constantly changing, sometimes even in the middle of the show. Therefore, the lighting and video teams had to technically create a show that made it easy to pivot at any point in time, that could be easily recalled and refined on the fly but had a familiar structure.”
Black specified a Hippotizer Boreal+ MK2 as the main Media Server, with a Hippotizer Amba+ MK2 as backup, from VUE’s fleet of Hippotizers. “The show utilized pre-made content as well as live manipulation,” he continues. “We heavily relied on the effects engine within Hippotizer to transform content and IMAG to achieve unique looks during the show. We chose Hippotizer because it checks all the boxes. It’s fast, affordable, and effective.
“On the tour, Hippotizer tackled everything from simple playback of rendered content to complex remapping, not to mention the real-time generative features like the extensive effects library and Notch, which allowed us to transform stock imagery to bespoke in a matter of seconds.”
Black says that to accommodate the quick transitions and altering sets, the lighting and video teams spent time in pre-production ensuring that creativity aligned across departments. They built the show in a way that it was easy to pivot at a moment’s notice in case songs were cut or added, or guest acts shifted around. Timecode was only used for one song to ensure one clip synced with the track but other than that, every element of the show was executed live each night.
“In order to do this, we practiced with familiar as well as unfamiliar tracks so that we would know how to transition while also staying cohesive and not fully disrupting the visual language of the show,” he explains.
“Hippotizer is versatile and well-equipped for any show situation we put it in. VideoMapper is also my best friend – this feature enabled me to be really intentional with how I placed my content in the mix without just using the scaling options.”
“SHAPE is another powerful tool. Creating a 3D model of the stage and screens allowed me to see how it would all look in real life, which was especially useful at points in the tour where time was tight and I didn’t have the luxury of programming on the screens post load-in. Using SHAPE really allowed me to program in a way that I didn’t have to guess where or how something was going to look on the screen – it told me everything I needed to know.”
Rendered content was made by Immanent.tv and Lori Hamasaki, with Charles Ford joining Black on Video Director and Server Programmer duties. They worked alongside Lighting Director and Programmer Cameron Moreno.
On stage projections were driven by Barco 40k Laser Projectors, with screens made up of ROE MC7. The F.O.R.C.E tour – which stands for ‘Frequencies of Real Creative Energy’ – visited cities across the US, including Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, Houston and Los Angeles, and finishes in Boston in November 2023.
Credit: © VUE Show Design Group