In a video interview, Nick Whitehouse, CEO of powerhouse design firm Fireplay and creative producer/lighting designer for Justin Timberlake’s Man Of The Woods Tour, and Kelly Sticksel, director of R&D of Fireplay and special effects on MOTW, discussed the artistic and technical concepts JT’s current and sixth headlining tour, which launched in March 2018 and will run into April 2019.
“The design is based off the floodplain maps of the Mississippi River as it runs through Memphis, which is his hometown”, says Whitehouse. “We wanted it to be a really organic, never-before-seen type stage that ran through the entire arena and engaged all the fans so everyone could have a front row seat”.
“It all starts with the vision of the stage, what we want to do and the scenes we want to play”, explains Whitehouse. “I’m always thinking, how do I like this moment? What do we need to do to make this happen? What do we have to build into it to make this work?”
“People ask us all the time how involved the artist is, and Justin is there all the time”, states Whitehouse. “There have been times where he sat with us until 2 o’clock in the morning, going over the design from cue to cue. He’ll say ‘I like this’, ‘can we expand this’, ‘maybe I can change the music here so this is better’. He puts his stamp on it”.
“It’s a fun process”, adds Sticksel. “It is a very organic but very definite process. From the time the design starts to the last dress rehearsal, he is engaged the entire time. It is really fun to watch, and it is a challenging process where we are all trying to reach that level of perfection”.
An integral part of the show is the campfire moment. “It started out as a shorter piece but it played so well, so intimate with the audience that we all felt it and it grew in length”, says Sticksel. “Justin went out with his music director and created more music for that element. It is one of those things that we call a main screen moment where you see it repeated over and over again on social media”.
“It was one of those things that became so important that there could never be a show without the fire scene. We didn’t want to go down the road of silk fire. We knew it had to be actual flames and heat. So we engineered something that had never been done before with a dual fuel system because some fire marshals won’t allow propane so we developed a system that would also burn butane cylinders and lots of them”, explains Sticksel. “The fire is almost indistinguishable between both types of fuel. But the fact of the matter is is that there was a fire every night at every venue around the world”.
“The fire actually became the light element in the scene as well”, adds Whitehouse. “You’ll notice there are hardly any lots on during the whole moment”.
“There’s a moment where he does some choreography with the mic stand during the laser moment”, says Whitehouse. “I’m not sure anyone would believe us if we said that was a week and a half’s worth of programming just for a ten second moment. I would say there are 150 cues in that scene”.
TAIT created the custom LED sign featuring the Man of the Woods logo. “It’s fantastic and looks great”, says Whitehouse.
Around the LED sign are ClayPaky Scenius Unicos and GLP JDC-1 strobes.
“For ‘Cry Me A River’, we wanted to cover the stage, based on the riverbed in Memphis, with a low fog to create a flowing river”, says Sticksel. “Because we had no lips on the stage to hold the fog in, we knew we would be using a tremendous amount of fog. So I made the choice to go with nitrogen-based fog so that we weren’t poisoning people on the floor. By the end of the show, we fill up the better part of the floor with fog. And breathing nitrogen, which is the majority of the air we breathe now, is a refreshing feel”.
Fireplay worked with a vendor to create custom nitrogen-based fog machines. “It was a fun time prototyping liquid nitrogen”, quips Whitehouse. “It freezes everything. We froze the stage the first time we tried it”.
“We had the video elements and the lighting elements in the same trusses, and part of the reason was we don’t want to do a pre-rig”, Whitehouse says. “We want to go in the same day. How do we make this massive show super efficient?”
To have video, lighting, and automation live together, 36 custom rolldrops from TAIT are integrated into the GT Truss.
The lighting rig is 90% Robe Spikies. “They do a lot of stuff that no one would expect that little effect light to do, but a lot of times they’re lighting dancers, they’re doing key lighting, they’re doing his light, they’re doing the effects”, says Whitehouse.
“Special effects includes about a dozen lasers based on where they’re located and the effect we want to create”, explains Sticksel. Lasers range from 6W to 15W. “Our biggest ones are in the 30 watt range for the tunnel effect when he comes up out of the stage”.
Philips Vari-Lite VL3015 and VL4000 Spots handle audience lighting and key lighting. Lighting is controlled via MA Lighting grandMA2 console. A custom Follow-Me system handles followspots. disguise media servers control video content.
“Working on shows like this with amazing artists like Justin Timberlake is the best part of our job”, states Whitehouse. “You get to have fun. You get to create something that is an extension of what they want to see, rather than just our idea of what they should have. For me, I think the whole process of what we do, how we work with him, and what we deliver as the end result is the most rewarding thing you can do as a designer”.
“It is a very collaborative process, and it is very fulfilling working with him”, Sticksel concludes. “He knows what he wants. He is an incredible performer. Working with him is an honor for us.
312 Robe Spikies
130 GLP JDC-1
68 ClayPaky Scenius Unicos
32 Philips Vari-Lite VL3015 Spots
32 Philips Vari-Lite VL4000 Spots
320′ LED RGB Tape
1 Custom RGBW MOTW Custom Sign
1 Custom Follow Me System
36 Tait Custom rolldrops integrated into GT Truss