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Muse's New Set Design Is Like A Giant Video Game

Floating drones, responsive video, a rotating stage. Moment Factory details the design of the most immersive tour since Pink Floyd's "The Wall."

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The British rock band Muse is known for its larger-than-life performances, and the tour for its most recent album Drones, is no exception. Capturing the album's dark themes of government oppression and surveillance, the live show features dozens of globular floating drones, giant projectors, generative video footage, and one of the biggest 3-D tracking systems ever deployed.

To design the immersive concert experience, the band tapped Moment Factory, a firm that specializes in putting together cutting-edge audio-visual experiences for everything from concerts to retail stores. Moment Factory worked with the band's frontrunner Matt Bellamy and the stage and lighting designer Oli Metcalfe to come up with visuals that would not only correspond with the album's lyrics and overall themes, but build onto them. "They wanted to push the content and storytelling even further than their last tour, which was more graphic," says Dominic Audet, Moment Factory's co-founder. "This time, they wanted to do a more cinematic way of storytelling."

To develop the narrative, Audet and Moment Factory's multimedia director Bruno Ribeiro started by creating content for the giant projectors that would surround the circular, rotating stage where the band performs. They envisioned that throughout the show, projectors would alternately play animated videos, song lyrics, and clips of real footage (at one point, they play a 1961 speech by John F. Kennedy). The Moment Factory team even wrote a software program that would generate visuals based on the band members' movements. A fleet of 3-D cameras filming the stage, along with motion capture sensors attached to the band members, capture their movements, then feed the information to a program that generates graphics. In effect, the animations respond to the band members' movements like video game would, reacting each time they jump or run across stage or lean over their audience.

In that way, band members can control the visuals of the show in much the same way they control the sound. The movement of the animations on screen vary for each show. Audet compares it to improvising songs during live performances, rather than sticking strictly to the same script or choreography.

After Moment Factory perfected the content, they worked for two to three months on production, then spent a couple of weeks helping the band put the show together and rehearse at a rented stadium in Los Angeles. Now that the band is on tour (its first show was in November in Mexico City), all of the audio-visual equipment flies with them from city to city, and the crew typically takes an entire day to set up for each performance.

Last weekend, the band finally made the stop in Montreal, Audet and Ribeiro took everyone in the Moment Factory Montreal office to see the result of almost a full year of work. The verdict? "It was like a movie and a concert," says Ribeiro.

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