Lil Nas X knows how to make an impact. His hit ‘Old Town Road’ was number one on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts for 19 weeks – the only song to achieve that in the history of the charts. So it was only natural that he would be duly honored when the MTV Video Music Awards came to pass. Lil Nas X was nominated for nine Moonman awards; he won Song of the Year for ‘Old Town Road ft. Billy Ray Cyrus [Remix].’
However, the artist’s Song of the Year award wasn’t the high point of the VMAs; that came during the performance of the song ‘Panini’. Rolling Stone online explains: “The performance opened with a cheeky bit that imagined a future where Lil Nas X was not only President of the United States of America but releasing the 3,162nd remix of ‘Old Town Road,’ featuring artists like Young Sandwich, the Ghost of Benjamin Franklin and Old Thug. After a snippet of ‘Old Town Road’, the rapper launched into ‘Panini’, embracing a Tron-like aesthetic as he lip-synced to the tune and moved through some intricate choreography with a cadre of back-up dancers.”
Technology, in the form of wireless 900MHz wireless pixel control, was also part of the production. “We needed to be able to control two universes of wireless DMX across the costumes of 28 dancers,” explains Lighting Programmer Ryan Alexander. Those dancers—and their costumes—created part of the tableau of the Lil Nas X performance.
The VMAs are a live event, and nothing could go wrong. So Alexander and the lighting team turned to RC4 Wireless. “This project was conceived and built very quickly. We weren’t approached until just 10 days before broadcast,” explains James David Smith, CEO and Chief Product Developer at RC4 Wireless.
RC4 Wireless has several lines of products, including their proprietary RC4Magic 2.4GHz and 900MHz products. “We launched our RC4Magic-900 system for lighting at Super Bowl XLIX, and it’s been a workhorse at high-profile live shows ever since,” explains Smith. “It was designed from the ground up to perform flawlessly in the densest wireless environments on the planet, with range and data security like nothing else.”
The RC4Magic-900 series DMXpix was Alexander’s choice for bulletproof wireless at the VMAs. Alexander adds: “The 900MHz products worked great. After getting it set up and having no issues in rehearsals, I was able to see the true power of 900MHz when I turned on the system at the VMAs. I was able to get a clear signal from FOH with all the other wireless flying around the room.”
For the ‘Panini’ performance, Alexander was controlling around 2,000 LEDs with only two universes. “Programming was simple. I configured each wireless DMX device with a unique address,” Alexander explains. The RC4 Patented RC4 Custom Pixel Profiles provide lighting designers with a simple and understandable way to expand the number of pixels they control with a limited number of DMX channels. “The core of CPP,” explains Smith, “is to move data redundancy away from the lighting console and into the little DMXpix pixel controller. Now the lighting console only handles core patterns, and all the replication happens in the costume, prop, or set piece. Thus, the look is the same but the channel count can be vastly reduced.”
During the process, Alexander did have to turn to RC4’s legendary technical support team and received expert advice from Smith himself. Alexander confides: “RC4 customer service was amazing. Jim helped me out a few times along the way.” Smith adds, “Nothing is more important to me than my customers, the people who use RC4 gear every day to create incredible art and beautiful shows. Whether you’re a high school, a church, Cirque du Soleil, or Lil Nas X — our goal is to always provide the best possible support in a timely and comprehensive manner.”
In the end, Alexander concludes: “I was blown away by the reliability of the RC4 system. I have never used a wireless system with such a long-range. The 900MHz works great and I would highly recommend it.”
In Europe, Robbie Williams is a legend; he regularly fills stadiums and his productions are some of the most anticipated on the continent. One of his dreams was to do a Vegas show, and to make every detail of Williams’ show perfect, Production and Lighting Designer Sean Burke, principal at Holes in the Dark, needed reliable wireless DMX technology. “When the wireless stuff came up, I did a bit of research on it, looked around, and saw that Baz [Halpin, of Silent House Productions] used RC4 Wireless products on the last Katy Perry tour. I know the crew chief, and he said they didn’t have any problems with it,” confides Burke. That was enough for him to entrust RC4 Wireless with the job for Williams’ “Live in Las Vegas” show. Matt Bakken, the Master Electrician on the show, adds: “When a lot of people in the touring industry use wireless, they use equipment from RC4; to me, if your wireless is working in a stadium with 25,000 plus people with cell phones, that’s good enough for me.”
There are several props using the RC4 Wireless DMX4dims; specifically, two giant Martini glasses and four stylized box frames, called Gogo frames. “The GoGo frames are open aluminum frames that the dancers push around and dance inside. The Gogo frames and the Martini glasses have wireless receivers on board and battery packs, so they are completely wireless,” explains Burke. In terms of batteries, Bakken adds, “The batteries are lasting pretty much forever on them, and sometimes they forget to plug them in to charge them.” Both the Gogo frames and the Martini glasses were manufactured by ShowFX, who also handled the Katy Perry props.
“After working in the professional theatre world for a few years, I founded RC4 in 1991,” says James David Smith, also the Chief Product Developer. “Our DMX4dim wireless dimmers are the pinnacle of design, and can control LEDs, halogen lamps, position servo motors, ring telephones, and more. The RC4 ColorMatch feature lets you color-correct LEDs from different manufacturers to deliver the same color palette across all props and scenery.”
It’s no secret that Las Vegas is a busy wireless environment. “We have several wireless systems running concurrently; at no point did I see any signal degradation or interference,” says Bakken. Placement of the transceiver is also important. “I try to mitigate any potential issues by putting the transceiver right down by the proscenium on the stage, so there would be no problems. And there weren’t,” Bakken adds.
The ability to punch through crowded wireless areas is a fundamental part of all RC4 Wireless products. “The entire RC4Magic Series 3 system, starting with the DMXio-HG transceiver, uses proprietary wireless technology unlike any other,” explains Smith. “It consumes just 1/15th of the 2.4GHz radio band and punches through the noise like nothing else.”
There are many in the industry that are cautious of wireless dimming and DMX. “I know a lot of people who are incredibly wary of wireless because they have been burned in the past. When you’re using it, your wireless must work,” states Bakken. The RC4 products on Williams’ show proved their worth night after night. Bakken says: “RC4 gear works well and that’s all I can ask for. If you haven’t used it, you should give it a shot.”
Robbie Williams concluded his stint in Vegas on July 6th; however, the U.K. press reports that he’s close to inking a six figure residency deal there.
P!NK’s Beautiful Trauma tour is a visual extravaganza filled with meaningful music, numerous feats of athleticism and unique props. The team behind it, including Creative Director/Production Designer Baz Halpin of Silent House Productions along with Associate Lighting Designer/Programmer Eric Marchwinski of Early Bird Visual, relied on RC4 Wireless products to help create their vision for P!NK. “We required all of the vendors that were delivering props that included a wireless element to use RC4 products,” explains Marchwinski.
Wireless dimming that operates reliably throughout the world was a requirement for P!NK, since the tour travels from the US to the Pacific Rim. The P!NK production team is using the RC4Magic S3 2.4SX dimmers that are optimized for use in every nation. Marchwinski asserts: “We require a wireless system that is reliable, flexible, and easily expandable as we build the tour. RC4 products allow for multiple vendors to build props or set pieces, and upon arrival onsite, everything can communicate seamlessly. The RC4 products are built for theatrical and practical applications, and the product was built with so many of these needs in mind. The functionality and form factor, coupled with the wireless toolset/multi device management make RC4 unparalleled for any show environment with abundant wireless needs.”
Eight lamp posts that take the stage throughout this high flying circus-like extravaganza are controlled via RC4Magic S3 2.4SX DMX4dim-500’s; the units provide four channels of dimming, function from 6 volts DC all the way up to 35 volts DC and feature high resolution, 19 bit dimming. Eagle AVL and StageWorks collaborated to create the lamp posts that grace the stage. “For P!NK, Eagle AVL started developing the street lamp post LED effect with StageWorks, and made the RC4 Wireless recommendations,” explains Eagle AVL Lighting Department Director/Lighting Designer Felix Torres.
The production also uses RC4Magic S3 2.4SX DMXio-HG Data Transceivers with an external antenna to deliver a universe of data to the massive chandelier. This isn’t your grandmother’s chandelier; it’s the central acrobatic piece for P!NK’s aerial performance and flies through the air throughout the show. The DMXio-HG’s are used to control several hundred LEDs imbedded into the piece to ensure it shimmers for the duration of the performance. The DMXio-HG Transceivers–with the external antenna option–gives users top of the line security and reliability in the most challenging wireless environment, and does so in distances up to 300’ (91 meters). Marchwinski notes, “We have used RC4 Wireless products on many large shows before and our experiences have always been very successful. The support we receive from James [Smith, President and Chief Product Developer] and Sean [Dane, Applications Specialist] has been outstanding.”
Like Marchwinski, Torres is a longtime RC4 Wireless client. “I have used RC4 units for various theatrical shows in Puerto Rico in the past 3 to 5 years, as well as in multiple concerts and corporate events in the USA, and I can honestly say, that after many years working with wireless DMX, RC4 is by far the best, most stable and flawless product in the market,” Torres concludes. RC4 Wireless is also the only firm in the industry that offers a lifetime warranty for RC4 Magic products like those on tour with P!NK.
“When Silent House and Early Bird get together you know something spectacular is in the works. We love seeing what they come up with and playing a role in bringing their vision to life. No matter what the next project brings, we will be here, ready to meet the challenge,” reflects Dane.
P!NK, her Beautiful Trauma tour and the RC4 Wireless gear are currently down under in Australia.
Katy Perry’s “Witness: The Tour” is more than just a concert production; it’s a kooky and creative journey that includes dancing eyeballs, giant insects, a massive inflatable hand and even a flight through space, courtesy of Saturn. It all reflects Perry’s personality, and it should, since Perry is directly involved in the design. “Katy’s productions are always amazing, and she invariably has something new and challenging to achieve. ‘Witness: The Tour’ is using our new RC4Magic Series 3 SX software, which makes LEDs in props and costumes even more pleasing to the eye, thanks to our exclusive 19-bit per color wireless dimming,” says James David Smith, President and Chief Developer at RC4 Wireless, headquartered in Raleigh, NC. RC4 has been working with Perry since her California Dreams Tour in 2011.
RC4 Wireless technology is there along for the ride with Perry as she works her way through her somewhat surreal, planet-hopping adventure. When Katy struts out on stage during “Déjà Vu” – surrounded by a massive stylized Venus flytrap– she’s wearing aaLED-infused beret, illuminated by Tom Talmon of Tom Talmon Studio, based in Los Angeles. “I’m fairly new to RC4 gear; back in the day, I used to tinker and try to find ways to do things with my electronics experience. I’ve always been resourceful and somehow figured it out,” states Talmon. But as technology advanced, Talmon saw the need to advance as well. “I was using equipment that was not necessarily cutting edge, but it was still better than what the consumer could buy. However, I wanted to be even better, and now, I can do much more with the RC4 Wireless units, especially in terms of pixel control,” he says.
For Perry’s beret, Talmon is using an RC4Magic S3 2.4SX DMX4dim, a 4-channel dimmer, paired with an RC4Magic S3 2.4SX DMXio transceiver, which can operate as either a transmitter or receiver. “Especially when illuminating costumes, the compact size of RC4 units is important, as is the fact that it seems to be bulletproof; it’s not cheap Chinese radio controlled garage door openers, which I’ve altered and used in the past. The units have good circuit protection, and it’s hard to mess things up,” he admits. All of the RC4 Wireless 2.4SX products operate in the 2.4GHz bandwidth, which is the recommended bandwidth for international tours.
The legendary RC4 Wireless reliability was also important to Talmon. “When you’re doing something live, you want it to work the way it’s supposed to work. The RC4 equipment has been extremely easy to work with; it finds the signal and works flawlessly. In the end, it’s nice to have a stable, reliable system out there,” Talmon notes
During “Hey, Hey, Hey,” the LED walls upstage slide open to reveal Perry astride a motion-controlled motorcycle. It has illuminated head and tail lights that are controlled via two RC4Magic S3 2.4SX DMXio transceivers. The motorcycle was fabricated by Santa Fe Springs-based DAS Design Works, who has a longstanding relationship with the RC4 Wireless team. “They are absolutely the only wireless DMX that we’ll work with, and it’s not just due to their products. Their service is amazing; between the product and their customer service, we have no reason to call anyone else,” states Aaron Ford, a partner at DAS Design Works.
During one of her flights, Perry is in a stylized star wirelessly controlled by a dozen RC4 Wireless RC4Magic S3 2.4SX DMXio transceivers; the star was fabricated by Santa Fe Springs, CA-based ShowFX. An RC4Magic S3 2.4SX DMXio-HG transceiver and an RC4 S3 2.4SX DMX4dim can be found on the massive inflatable lion head created by Burnsville, MN-based Landmark Creations that dominates the epic song “Roar.” “The RC4 equipment has been working flawlessly; technically, there have been no issues at all,” notes Thomas Walls, the lighting crew chief for The Witness Tour.
There are a handful of people on the tour who operate various aspects of the wireless system including carpenters and wardrobe; not all of them have experience with wireless dimming. “The learning curve with the RC4 equipment was pretty seamless and it all made sense to us,” says Walls. Ease of use is one of the hallmarks of the RC4 Wireless system, where all of the products work in a similar manner; the firm calls it “Harmonized Design”. “The beauty of the RC4 Harmonized Design is that new concepts, techniques, and methods introduced for one product or project can seamlessly transfer to all our other products. Thus, overcoming the 16-bit barrier and delivering 19-bit per color LED dimming in our DMX4dim results in higher resolution dimming in our LumenDim and W-DIM lines as well. The same is true when new dimmer curves and other features are added. Everything advances together, is debugged and tested together, and is released together,” states Smith.
One of the unique features of RC4 Wireless products is the System ID; this gives each user a super secure, private ID that is used only for their particular wireless DMX universe and the RC4 devices associated with it. “The crew really likes the unique System IDs and were able to understand how to set the system up without any problems,” Walls adds. While other firms have user IDs, RC4 Wireless is the only firm that provides each user a private, secure ID that is used exclusively for that individual.
Katy Perry, her props, her beret, and RC4 are touring the world through August of 2018.
This is the year that iconic crooner Frank Sinatra would have celebrated his 100th birthday, and to mark that milestone, Sinatra – via 3D rotoscoped imagery and never before seen video – is on stage once again at the London Palladium, starring in Sinatra: The Man & His Music. The sleek, cutting edge production, mounted by Producer Karl Sydow, takes place 65 years after Sinatra played his first gig outside the United States. Sydow explains, “Sinatra: The Man & His Music is the official celebration for the centenary of Frank Sinatra’s birth, and we’ve brought some of the biggest names in the industry together to do it justice. A show of this magnitude requires the best in the business.” Those biggest names in the business include Set Designer Ray Winkler of Stufish Entertainment Architects, Lighting Designer Patrick Woodroffe of Woodroffe Bassett Design, Projection Designer Leo Warner of 59 Productions and a 24 piece orchestra headed up by conductor Richards John.
As one would expect, the production is projection heavy, relying on images and vocals from Sinatra’s colored past. The songs featured in the production include ‘Come Fly With Me,’ ‘Fly Me to the Moon,’ ’New York, New York’ and ‘My Way, ’among others. The set features an impressive band stand with two moving sets of stairs; there is also an area below the band stand that’s comprised of 18 rotating LED panels that are 6’ 5” high by 3’ wide. The back of the LED panels utilize blue velvet with LED strip lighting; six of the center panels can move on and offstage, allowing entrances and exits of performers and set pieces.
The production itself had a rather accelerated production schedule. Sinatra: The Man & His Music Senior Production Electrician Harrison Cooke explains, “We didn’t have a lot of time; pre-production was only four weeks and typically for the West End it could be months.” Pre-production was done at the LH2 rehearsal facility in London.
Lighting is tastefully integrated into the scenery – specifically in two sets of stairs and a curved deck piece. Because these are moving pieces, there was a need for reliable wireless DMX for lighting control. Cooke says, “It’s certainly the biggest wireless system I’ve ever come across and normally we would have a dedicated technician to look after the wireless equipment. In our instance, we didn’t.”
The original wireless DMX that was specified for the show had significant issues. “The only thing that we had to spend a lot of time dealing with was the wireless system,” admits Cooke with chagrin. Those issues seemed to relate to a firmware issue within their transmitters. “We were the first in the UK to have their new transmitters, and it was going to take them three weeks to fix it,” Cooke reports.
Time was the major challenge. Cooke adds, “I didn’t feel like they [the original wireless vendor] were particularly interested in our project. I told them that I have a big lighting designer behind me, and the production won’t accept anything but the system working. And neither will I.” Stresses were high.
Since waiting weeks for a workable, reliable system wasn’t in the cards for Cooke, he turned to Technical Performance and Presentation, the London-based representative for RC4 Wireless and the firm’s owner, Beverly Grover. He says, “We didn’t try any other systems; we simply didn’t have the time. I’ve used RC4 before; you plug it in and it works.” That kind of reliability was exactly what Cooke and his team needed for Sinatra.
It was June 18th when Grover came out to the LH2 with a pair of RC4Magic Series 3 DMXio transceivers for the staircase unit. They did a simple side by side test. She notes, “We put the RC4Magic receiver on the stage right side, and we left the stage left as it was; then we switched them back on and the difference was quite remarkable.” The original unit was still non-functional, while the RC4Magic DMXio receiver worked perfectly with a solid connection to its associated DMXio transmitter. Cooke notes, “I said, ‘That’s it then.’ So we got the RC4 system.”
Grover has been working with RC4 Wireless for five years. “I went up with the completed order on the 6th of July and we put part of it in, tested it, and again it worked the first time and it’s working to this day.” The show opened on the 10th of July.
There are several RC4 products that comprise the Sinatra wireless DMX and dimming system. The production has four RC4Magic Series 3 DMXio receivers that deliver DMX data to the lighting on the two sets of stairs – the main performance stairs and the rolling stairs – and on the curved deck piece that enters when the center LED panels open. James D. Smith, President and Chief Product Developer at RC4 Wireless explains, “More and more, modern musicals have no room for blackouts. Directors are thinking cinematically and want the show to be tight with quick changes. Scenery, furniture, and props rush on an off with the fluidity of film edits and dissolves. In the past, a crew member could run a cable out to a floor pocket and connect the odd set piece equipped with on-board lighting. Now there is no time for that — and no room, either, because many more set pieces have lighting in them.” Wireless products have solved the dilemma.
The RC4Magic Series 3 DMXio can receive – and transmit – a full universe of DMX data. Any number of receivers can be used in the system, replacing splitters and distribution boxes. RC4Magic avoids RF channel hopping, and consequently avoids competing with most other devices using the 2.4GHz band. “Unlike other products on the market, RC4Magic uses only 1/15th of the 2.4GHz spectrum. Rather than hopping through, over, and into other systems in the room, we play well with them. RC4 systems are ideal for use in congested areas with many theatres right next to each other, as is the case in London’s West End,” notes Smith.
The back of 16 of the rotating LED panels are using new RC4Magic Series 3 DMXmrx miniature DMX receivers, which the firm created for Sinatra: The Man & His Music. Cooke notes, “In the soffit panels there’s lots of LED strips, and there was in issue with the amount of cable that could be run to them. The easiest thing for video, lighting and power, was to remove the DMX and do that wirelessly.”
So the engineers at RC4 got work, and created the miniature DMXmrx receiver. Smith explains, “Creating new products for customers is something we do regularly — pretty much whenever the need arises; in fact, every product and feature in our RC4Magic Series 3 line-up was requested by a customer. Sinatra needed small and reliable wireless DMX receivers, easily connected to batteries. The ideal solution was a product much like our Series 3 DMX2dim, which includes DMX data output, but without the dimmers. In this case we had the concept, the basic outline of what a DMXmrx should be, on our to-do list before Sinatra came along. The immediate need just moved it to the front of the line and we were able to deliver it — a brand new product — in a matter of days.”
RC4Magic Series 3 DMXmrx miniature DMX receivers are indeed small – 2.40″ x 1.41″ x 0.79”. The receiver DMX data output replicates the DMX data input at the RC4Magic DMXio transmitter, providing the same number of DMX channels and the same number of packets per second with excellent data integrity. It’s output can drive more than the DMX specification limit of 32 devices downstream, and, as expected, the DMX output meets USITT DMX512/1990. “We knew that space was an issue in this installation, so we offered them the choice of standard RC4Magic Series 3 DMXio receivers or new DMXmrx receivers. They chose the DMXmrx because it provided a shorter installation time and we were able to deliver it at a lower price than our standard DMXio. That’s right – it was a brand new product, less expensive that the previously existing option, and available in the same time frame. When does that ever happen?” Smith asks with a smile.
To ensure good signal propagation throughout the theatre, the wireless transmitters installed for Sinatra: The Man and His Music are two high-gain RC4Magic Series 3 DMXio-HG units; Sinatra: The Man & His Music is running two full universes of wireless DMX. “Our Series 3 DMXio-HG is the most versatile RC4Magic Wireless DMX transceiver. It can operate as a transmitter or receiver, has an RF connector for use with a wide range of external antenna options, automatically scans the RF environment to find a clear channel with the least interference, and provides unmatched system security with RC4 private digital IDs,” Smith notes.
Things have been running smoothly for Cooke and his team at the Palladium with Sinatra: The Man and His Music. “I don’t particularly feel that you should have to employ someone who is a specialist in wireless DMX to put a system in and operate it; it shouldn’t have to be that complicated. The RC4 Wireless system has been brilliant for us,” Cooke concludes.
Sinatra: The Man and His Music is playing at the Palladium until the 10th of October.