Right About Now

Headlining the Coachella 2014 festival, Fatboy Slim mixed electronic dance music with hi-res CG visuals for the ultimate live show performance

Ever since Norman Cook, aka Fatboy Slim, broke the mold for live DJ performances on location with his Brighton beach parties at the start of the century, the crowds have been getting bigger and the technology more complex. One show in Brazil drew an audience of 350,000. In Brighton in 2012, Fatboy Slim utilized a massive 600 square meter screen. Tim Fleming of Plastic Reality has been Fatboy Slim's show director since 2001, so when he met up with the production team to discuss headlining at Coachella 2014, the biggest electronica and arts festival in the USA, he was expecting to push the envelope again.

Tim had already set up Plastic Reality and Plastic Pictures and the content for this year's Coachella was to be provided by his new venture, The Happiness Labs - a studio focusing on the integration of shared experience through the latest crop of tech devices such as Leap Motion, Myo from Thalmic Labs and of course the mighty Occulus Rift. So, whether creating content for music events, experiential content for brands or looking at new ways of storytelling, Tim intends to be at the convergence of the new wave of tech and tools and the never-ending desire for a good story.

This year's team that’s working on the show for Coachella included Chris Cousins, Joe Plant and Bob Jaroc. Bob was out on the tour while Chris and Joe were crunching out some stunning frames. For this year's production they also shot lots of footage in slow motion and had Mike Sansom from the Brightfire Pyrotechnics company help blow stuff up - not using particles or expressions but black powder.

The content was created using four workstations with 16 CPUs for rendering the footage, with Cinema 4D and After Effects driving the entire process. The Coachella staff built a set with the DJ booth integrated into a 96 square meter screen and the VJ would run the entire show using video being sent live from Fatboy's Serato setup, with Resolume running from the VJ position off-stage.

Tim explained how the key concepts came about: "Coachella originally approached Team Fatboy asking if we would like to do a show based on the four seasons. The set at Coachella is 60 minutes long so they were looking to split it into four parts and use a bunch of physical effects - fire, snow, rain - to accentuate the different seasons. We had a think about this and obviously loved the idea of the different physical effects but thought the four seasons might be a bit like doing opera. We started throwing some ideas around and realized we could re-work Fatboy's ‘Eat Sleep Rave Repeat' track into ‘Heat, Sleet, Rain, Repeat!' We got to keep the physical effects but had to incorporate them into Norm's global smash. Norman was placed in the middle of the screen with the display split into nine regions. This meant that we were able to build some additional content around this configuration, such as the fruit machine animation"

The fruit machine section was built by Chris Cousins, who commented on the value of "The quick and smooth motion blur, using Maxon's physical renderer, which helps avoid the strobe effect - especially important with large-scale displays. Also, the simple parametric setup via MoGraph cloners, which meant it was easy to create new combinations, swap out text, and animate bounce using simple sliders."

A big part of the show utilizes a 3D version of Fatboy Slim’s head built entirely in 3D, which you can see here… 

They scanned Norman Cook with the guys at Centroid at Pinewood studios and then added the textures and finishing touches in After Effects. This leads to the boom box video:

Where the four seasons effects were created to run along with the tune. It starts with paint splashes, which were created in Realflow. Joe Plant, who built the boom box footage, went through the process. "The trick to the consistency of paint in Realflow was a subtle blend of viscosity, density and surface tension. The transition of the paint was down to a high output rate, which passed through three separate vortex daemons. The surface of the boom box was then given a high stickiness value to make the paint stick, which in turn, with a modified gravity setting, produced the desired results."

The next stage of the video was fire, which was created in Phoenix FD. Once the required elements of the boom box were separated and incorporated into the simulation, a high fuel temperature combined with a high cooling rate and varying output to create the fire pulses, provided the desired results.

About 60% of the video elements were scripted and were launched within Serato, which has been Fatboy Slim's DJ weapon of choice since it incorporated video about six years ago. The files sat as QuickTime video within Serato and, when a pre-scripted track was selected, the video and audio worked in perfect synchronicity. If the pitch was changed, the video sped up or slowed down accordingly. The other elements, such as the rain and snow effects, were all operated by the VJ, Bob Jaroc. Tim added, "We had a script we had worked on with Norman but a lot of it was triggered manually and not on rails. Norm always likes to throw lots of curveballs into a show so we have evolved with that spirit in mind over the years - always be ready for the unexpected!"

At the heart of the process, though, was the Cinema 4D and After Effects pipeline. Tim concluded, "Their widespread adoption throughout the creative industries is a reflection of the quality of results that can be achieved. And we find for speed and flexibility, they are the ultimate combination. The forthcoming era of deeper integration between Cinema 4D and After Effects is really exciting, and we are really looking forward to see how this will enhance our workflow. We find them a joy to play with and encourage all younger artists who are working with us to learn this combination."

Duncan Evans is a freelance journalist, photographer and author.

You can read all about the full festival at Coachella here:

Previous slide
Next slide