The Monster Tour, 2014. Performers on hydraulic lifts in front of tracking video walls. Photo: New York Times.
In his May “Songs to Spectacles” article for the Washington Post, Steve Knopper gave a wonderful prologue to the summer concert season, summarizing the humorous and humble beginnings of the modern concert special effects industry. From the 1980’s antics of rigs with forklifts and “delightfully primitive…old-fashioned levers” to a full take over this century by “computers and robotics”, Knopper suggested this year’s season was poised to “blast into high gear with the latest and greatest in digital innovations.” It’s as though he knew we would do something awesome with computer controlled hydraulics.
Rihanna rising on hydraulic stage lift during The Monster Tour, 2014. Photo: Jeremy Deputat
Our friends at All Access Staging Production in Los Angeles were eager to up the ante in their control of hydraulic lifts on The Monster Tour (Eminem / Rihanna). Controlling hydraulics with a computer can be tricky, but with our own latest and greatest controller, the Stagehand Mini2 (that’s “mini-squared”), we were able to offer them reliable repeatability, and easy synchronization of three hydraulic stage lifts as well as two tracking video walls. In total the lifts would be used roughly 12 times during the 50-song show, amassing more than 20 cues including video wall movement. “The Monster Tour” opened at the historic Rose Bowl on August 7 to wildly positive reviews, and the show itself opened with Rihanna rising first on one lift, then as profiled on billboard.com, Eminem emerging on another lift “strapped to a stretcher à la Hannibal Lecter.” Those crazy kids.
It all happened rather quickly. The three-city tour lasted just two and half weeks in August (although it was able to entertain almost 250,000 fans thanks to the massive venues.) We ourselves only had three weeks of preparation for our part in the stadium scale production designed by Tribe Inc. to “match the epic nature of [the] two iconic artists.” Our task was to control the two 4′ x 8′ platforms (each comprised of two stacked scissor lifts) which could completely collapse below stage level or elevate 6′ above. From the same computer screen, the automation operator would also control two 8′ x 24′ tracking video walls.
Debuting our Mini2 on this job, we took full advantage of its programmable outputs which give it a versatility well matched to the nuances of hydraulics. For example, since there would be six scissor lifts in this production, each set of two would only require a single case with one Mini2 and two valve power supplies. And the entire six lift system would only need one pump.
Click here to view a system diagram of the components used.
When we aren’t using our open shop space for corn hole or pallet jack skating, we routinely build, rig and run numerous automation set-ups for both custom and stock products. Nailing the specifications of this hydraulic job required just that. We borrowed a single acting scissor lift and old Feller Precision proportional valve from our local buddy Stage Machines. Although none of the parts in this test rig except for Spikemark control software would be the actual components in the tour, it did show that we could meet the technical spec of the job, namely that a proportional valve could be used on a single acting lift all connected back to our Spikemark control software.
After testing was complete, the Mini’s along with the other components were speedily built and shipped to the All Access shop in Los Angeles for their shop test. At this point, although the units had shipped, and Gareth himself was about to get on a plane bound for L.A., a problem arose that was easily corrected thanks to some key features of the Mini2. The necessary addition of a solenoid locking valve programmed to fire when the lift speed approached zero was merely plug and play due to the Mini’s auxiliary outputs and ability to have firmware changes made via Spikemark. Really, it’s like the Swiss Army knife of automation controllers.
Gareth’s travels to L.A. insured the shop test of the lifts went well, and he returned to L.A. the same week not just to keep racking up those frequent flyer rewards, but to assist with on-site cueing after the lifts were loaded into the rehearsal space at the Sports Arena. Taking advantage of the proximity to our Rhode Island shop, he and Royal later joined the crew for their NJ shows at MetLife Stadium. They offered back up as well as direct support for the automation operator. Again, the show was executed very well. Video walls tracked, lifts glided up and down, and of course there were pyro, lasers, smoke machines, and very talented musicians anchoring the entire production.
Backstage at The Monster Tour, MetLife Stadium, NJ. Spikemark software is partially visible on the center computer screen. Photo: Gareth Conner
We were pleased to offer our technical assistance with the motorized video walls and stage lifts, all moving at the push of a button with an accuracy to .050″. Contributing to a part of the visual extravaganza at a Rock-and-Roll show reminded us how spectacle bolsters the music and the artists in a way that heightens the entire experience for the audience. Specifically heightened to 6′ above the stage on hydraulic platforms.
Many thanks to All Access for inviting us!
(Please scroll down for a complete list of gear used.)
Backstage view of hydraulic stage lift on The Monster Tour, 2014. Photo: Gareth Conner
Complete gear list
Mechanics (by All Access and Fluid One Productions)
- 96″ Stroke Single-Acting Scissor Lifts (6)
- Hydraulic Power Unit (1)
- Hydraulic Accumulators (6)
- Electro-Proportional Valves (6)
- Solenoid Lock Valves (6)
- Friction-drive “Mobilators” (2)
New Stagehand Mini2 with a custom valve power supply, hydraulic accumulators, solenoid lock valves, and Atos proportional valves. Photo: Gareth Conner
Gareth’s backpack atop a Hydraulic Power Unit (HPU) with accumulators used for testing. Photo: Gareth Conner