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Cirque Du Soleil teams with designers Raymond St-Jean and Jimmy Lakatos for projections for Michael Jackson One.
The video design took a large team of talented designers working extremely quickly for Michael Jackson ONE™ at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Longtime collaborators Raymond St-Jean and Jimmy Lakatos led the team, which needed to roll with the punches while creating complicated and riveting imagery. While Lakatos considers his purview to be “video scenography,” St-Jean designs the images and graphic language of the piece. “My skill is more to make sure the integration of the content will be efficient,” Lakatos says. St-Jean and Lakatos brought in collaborators at Fly Studio, including Jean-François Talbot, to generate the actual imagery and content.
When they came on board, St-Jean and Lakatos worked with set designer Francois Séguin, who had already designed a lot of black surfaces and, as Lakatos says, “that was the first thing we needed to rethink.” Because the show was to be created with projectors (rather than LED scenery), the designers had to keep contrast ratio in mind throughout the process. Lakatos explains that LED walls have other problems. “In 2006 or '07, we did Justin Timberlake’s FutureSex/LoveShow tour. When we met Justin, he told us he didn’t want to use an LED screen because it was too powerful. He wanted something more subtle so that he could be the main character of the show.”
Lakatos considers working with projection as a more “feminine” approach. “More and more, you need to discuss a lot with the lighting designer so that light doesn’t ‘destroy’ the image,” he says. “David Finn is a marvelous lighting designer who really understands well how to work with us.” The idea, of course, is to maintain both the project image and the mood evoked by the light without having to sacrifice either. In ONE, there is an LED screen that had been purchased for Cirque’s recently closed Viva Elvis, but it is dimmed for much of the show.
The original design of ONE was meant to “evoke the presence of Michael,” but both the Jackson estate and the creators of Cirque du Soleil really felt that there needed to be a more palpable presence of Michael. From the beginning, the end of the piece was meant to culminate in a Pepper’s ghost effect, which would conjure Jackson dancing with the live performers onstage. But eventually, footage from Jackson’s videos also became part of the video design of ONE.
As ideas developed, Lakatos and St-Jean worked with words and images to create the visual language of the piece with King. Then they worked with 2D illustrators and guided them through many images. As St-Jean explains, “Once we get the image that is pretty close to what we want, we take the illustration to the 3D animators to do modeling. We cannot start 3D animation without being sure of what we want to do.” Because the whole show was set to Jackson’s music, the design could be timecoded, which made it easier for the motion-graphic animators.
According to St-Jean, they had to “find ways to integrate [Michael] into numbers.” The original design for “Smooth Criminal,” for example, had 3D animations of buildings with just a silhouette of Michael, but the team ended up using the original music video imagery in the onstage “billboards” in projected scenery. They had to figure out ways to put Michael into the existing edit as though it was planned. Says Lakatos, “Our goal was making sure that the content could be integrated into our scenery.”
The projection and video team uses various projectors from Christie: 16 Roadster HD20Ks, six HD6K-Ms, and three HD10K-Ms; a Roadster HD20K and a Roadie HD35K for specials, along with the Daktronics LED wall, five Samsung LED flat-screen TVs, and seven other LCD TVs. The system runs via 12 VYV Photon media servers controlled by a VYV controller. Lakatos is a big fan of the VYV system, which he first used on the Timberlake show and allows him to use realtime 3D mapping. He calls it his “realtime paint box—just amazing—able to do anything you want.”
They also collaborated with video designer Dago Gonzalez, and Lemieux and Pilon, who created the Pepper’s ghost effect. Technomedia Solutions provided the gear, with Andrew Atienza as project manager.