Canada-based studio Moment Factory is known for doing elaborate, magical multi-media projects for a wide range of clients. Creating live shows for big music tours is one of their specialties and among their high-profile acts include Miley Cyrus, Madonna, Justin Timberlake, Arcade Fire and Nine Inch Nails, as well as Imagine Dragon’s 2015 world tour, Smoke + Mirrors.
The Smoke + Mirrors show starts slowly using lights and shadow and gradually builds to elaborate 3D projection and effects.
Creative Director Jesse Lee Stout and Content Director Adam Hummel led Moment Factory’s creative team for Smoke + Mirrors. The show follows years of collaboration with Imagine Dragons on projects including the band’s “Gold” video, a live performance they did at the American Music Awards and the Smoke + Mirrors album launch, and a live TV spot for a Target ad.
Here, Charlotte Risch, one of Moment Factory’s lead motion designers for Smoke + Mirrors, explains how the studio used Cinema 4D, After Effects and Maya to craft the live, on-stage experience for Imagine Dragons’ latest tour. Moment Factory spent three months working on the show, handling every aspect of it, including content, lighting, automation and stage design.
Q: Describe generally how this fun show unfolds on stage?
Risch: The band already has such a strong aesthetic, so they already have their own universe and that world corresponds to the songs on the album. We used that as the basis for our collaboration. The show starts out ghostly and abstract in black and white and evolves from there into a colorful, 3D story that curves into surrealism. We went back and forth on ideas and the band was present and very involved in the creative process.
Q: Moment Factory often uses projection for live shows. Can you talk about how you used the eight convex columns you had built on stage for this tour?
At one point, the columns were used to create optical illusions using complex light settings and mirrors.
Risch: For the first part of the show we barely used visuals and we relied more on lighting, so the eight columns are seen in perspective. The ceiling unfolds a bit and creates another perspective. We like to build visuals in the shows we do so there is an emotional curve. And we also like surprises, so for this there are lots of visual tricks in the design. The columns are automated and they transform over the show. At one point, they look concave but there are many ways that they change the perspective.
Q: In general terms, how did you use Cinema 4D, After Effects and Maya to create this show?
Risch: We used 3D to recreate the columns, which we sometimes used as containers for effects. We did some interesting trompe l’oeil effects, filling the columns with smoke and trees. A lot of the visuals we created were an interpretation of the name of the album, Smoke + Mirrors, so the whole show is about reflections, abstractions and playing with perceptions.
Q: Did you divide up songs so different members on your team worked on individual parts of the show?
For the song “On Top of the World,” Moment Factory created abstract scenes that play with perceptions.
Risch: We really liked working on the design for the song “On Top of the World.” It’s the most colorful song in the show and it’s very surreal with bodies floating and shapes going through people. It’s a happy song that’s a strong moment for fans. We used Cinema to create some colorful, abstract mountains and landscapes, and we used After Effects to do the compositing of people falling and crawling inside of this vibrant universe.
Q: Describe another one of the parts of the show you created?
The Imagine Dragons’ song “Hopeless Opus” features effects that appear organic yet digital in a surrealist way.
I animated the scenes for the song, “Hopeless Opus.” It’s a very interesting song. We used a lot of different techniques on stage and inside the visuals. We fly through an abstract 3D landscape. And we shot the band with a Kinect (a motion sensing device) and usedTouchDesigner
to get a nice generative particle look. Inside After Effects we blended the interactive style with the tunnels of particles and nice glitch shapes.
Q: Light played a big role in the show, too. Talk about the role lasers and reflections played on stage?
Risch: We created a moment in the show where the band is playing inside a laser cage. All of the lights are turned off and then the cage is revealed. It looks like an architectural structure and then it disappears.
Q: What part of the show do you think people are most struck by?
Throughout the show columns on stage serve as containers for visual effects.
Risch: I think that would be the last song, “The Fall,” when the columns first look like they are glass containers with something growing inside them that becomes trees. The trees bloom and expand and at the end of the song, they explode and there are leaves everywhere, falling from the ceiling. It’s amazing.
For “The Fall” Moment Factory created a stunning effect where the columns become trees and leaves fall from the ceiling.
Q: What did your team enjoy most about the process?
Risch: It was easy to work together as a real team because we were directing the show. We had very high expectations and we had time to do it in-house. The real challenge was to make it look as good as we wanted it to, but that was a very good challenge to have. We’re all very proud of this. Sometimes things like this are a patchwork where you see stitches, but you don’t see stitches on this one.
Meleah Maynard is a freelance writer and editor in Minneapolis, Minnesota.