In 1987 U2 released their seminal album, The Joshua Tree. Described at the time as having “the one thing vital to worthwhile rock, a thing so often absent: the urge to exist”. They did more than just exist, the tracks from this album, with their passionate political and cultural message, went on to define a generation.
Fast forward to 2017 and the band decide to do something completely unexpected. To play the entire album live, just as they did 30 years ago. The Edge cited the 2016 US presidential election and other world events for what he judged to be renewed resonance of the album – “things have kind of come full circle. That record was written in the mid-Eighties. It was a period when there was a lot of unrest. It feels like we’re right back there in a way”.
But with some things the same, so much was different. Bringing together fans who had been there in ‘87 with a whole new generation needed a show that would define U2 into the next 30 years, and the best technology was going to be at the heart of it.
Using a mammoth 200ft wide and 45ft high LED video screen as the backdrop the audience were presented with films from Anton Corbijn (who took the photos for the original Joshua Tree album) through to live visuals, captured and displayed in incredible 4K, and effected live via Notch’s real-time rendering. All of this was through a video system setup and directed by Stefaan ‘Smasher’ Desmedt, U2’s collaborator of 25 years.
“… from a creative point my goal was to have an immersive feeling for the audience, not in a 3d way but as in a super high resolution screen that just drags you into the beautiful stuff that Anton Corbijn shot, and the other visuals.” – Stefaan ‘Smasher’ Desmedt
Smasher worked with Ben Nicholson at Empirical, through TREATMENT, with Ben bringing Brett Bolton to further strengthen the Notch skillset.
Brett worked with Smasher on a 2 week pre-production session in Houston, and a further 2 weeks in Vancouver, then developed the work rapidly through an iterative process on site.
“The workflow process was pretty quick. Smasher would have an idea for something in the morning and I’d work through lunch to get it done. We prototyped as quick as we could to test it on the big screen. It was really fast paced. We could see it all right up on the screen instantaneously. It enabled us to work a lot faster and test ideas far more quickly, and no other package could add such in depth effects to a live feed. This is special to Notch” – Brett Bolton
Notch was used on 5 tracks most significantly (click the links to view):
- Exit: high contrast black and white with triggerable delay and some additional glow / masking effects
- Bullet the Blue Sky: high contrast and heavily effected black and white look with triggerable particle wind gust, flash, and noise effects.
- Ultraviolet: used for live halftone and colorization effects to match rendered content around the IMAG feed.
- Beautiful Day: used to makes some rendered glowing and floating cyborg heads for the bridge.
- Mysterious Ways: used for creating multiple colorized “gif-style” loops of the live imag feed. Smasher was able to take multiple “stills” of a dancer in the camera feed and then activate animated looped versions of each.
“My two favorite Notch effects were Bullet and Exit. With Notch it’s pretty much about having a certain look you want, kinda paint it in Photoshop or After Effects and then build it in Notch. That’s how I work creating effects” – Stefaan ‘Smasher’ Desmedt
The media servers on this tour were disguise gx 2 machines.
“I’ve always been the test pilot for disguise; I’ve always had prototypes and I try to push the limits in regard to technology. That’s why I use disguise.” said Smasher.