JUSTIN BIEBER’s PURPOSE REVEALED by Cory Fitzgerald

Justin Bieber’s third world tour, Purpose, in support of his album of the same name, brings with it a new approach to mark the artist’s freshly reinvented image. Lighting designer Cory FitzGerald employed Ayrton’s MagicDot™R, MagicBlade™R and the new VersaPix™RS fixtures to help define this new look and delineate major scenic features within the multi-layered set.

Bieber’s co-production designers, Nick de Moura and Chris Gratton, devised a highly mutable, multi-levelled stage set that is connected by ramps, backed by huge jagged-edged video screens and overhung with a ‘cage’ of V-Thru screens; the stages are inset with numerous lifts, toasters and risers, while three catwalks – the central one inset with a conveyor belt – lead to an octagonal B-stage; and, in an ultimate audience-gasper, a trampoline is flown in above the crowd for Bieber and his dancers to bounce on.
The performance area constantly changes in shape during the show, making full use of the many layers and different heights, and is matched by an equally dynamic lighting rig that adapts its appearance to keep up with the ever-changing states.

“The general design was established by Chris and Nick by the time I came on board so I had a clear idea of what I had to work with,” says FitzGerald. “The overall concept was to accentuate the shape of the video screens and various surfaces and levels throughout the set. There are many lifts, conveyor belts, moving screens, winches and a trampoline, so the show changes shape many times and we wanted to be able to follow right along.”

Dominating the backdrop is a video wall with edges forming five angular ‘peaks’ which FitzGerald outlined using 103 MagicBlade™-R fixtures mounted on angled trusses. These emphasise their irregular shape, while more MagicBlade™R fixtures are deployed upstage of the wall on a border truss to give a wide horizon to the upper stage level.

“The MagicBlade™Rs were one of the first things we decided upon as I knew I wanted to add some kind of lighting border to the screens,” says FitzGerald. “The MagicBlades-Rs have such tight beams and are so versatile in their movement, I knew we would be able to do a lot with them. Firstly, they gave us the big frame that we wanted which isolated the screens with a clean border. We could then frame the screens with the MagicBlades facing outwards or upwards to make the screen feel more dynamic, and then change the look entirely using the tilt and movement effects to give it a more asymmetrical border when we needed it. They fitted the look well and looked great.”

The MagicBlade™R fixtures are mounted on custom frames that travel with the screens, which helps to reduce rigging and focusing time at each venue, and can be easily adjusted to fit the different sized spaces on the tour schedule. “That is a key logistical advantage of the MagicBlade™ shape,” says FitzGerald. “When you are touring this amount of kit, every inch counts, and the speed of getting it all up in time is always a big issue. You don’t want your department’s special feature to hold up the load-in or it runs the risk of getting cut! A solution like this makes life so much easier on the road.”

FitzGerald chose one of Ayrton’s newest fixtures, the VersaPix™RS, to accentuate fifteen angled overhead lighting trusses, with a total of 122 VersaPix™RS units arrayed vertically on the downstage edges to act as truss fascias. The VersaPix™RS are rigged in mono-frames which are clamped to the trusses to avoid the time-consuming process of hanging each unit individually. The trusses can then be angled as a whole unit to match the declination of the stage in each venue. This also ensures all the VersaPix™RS fixtures remain aligned with each other as an array: “That’s the hardest part of touring any tight beam or static fixture,” says FitzGerald, “you have to really lock them in together to guarantee that symmetrical appearance.”

FitzGerald first came across VersaPix™RS on the stand of Morpheus Lights, Ayrton’s exclusive US distributor, at the LDI show in Las Vegas. “I thought they’d make a nice multipart beam light, rather like an old fashioned ACL effect with a modern twist,” he says. “As soon as I saw all the angles they produced, I really liked the idea of trying them out on Bieber’s tour to add that very beamy, almost 45°, angular look that would match the angles and geometric lines of the set. From this we developed the concept of reflecting the overall shape of the set, which in turn determined our truss placement.

“Our aim was to continue the visual fluidity that starts from the 7ft-high video ramp which rises from the main stage to the second level and continues up into the back wall. These create a kind of angular motion which we wanted to keep going through to the ceiling, so we arranged the trusses at various heights and angles to correlate to this and add more layers.

“We placed the VersaPix™RS on these trusses in a combination of straight and angled positions which interact to give us some really cool looks and help give it a sense of motion. The VersaPix™RS’s curved shape with their five-finger spread creates an interesting dimension, simultaneously following the linear effect but adding a slight curve. The angles overlap and create a sea of beams that fill in the whole sky and even punch through the video. The way we have them set up and the way they work enables me to create a sense of movement, even though the units and trusses are static – it feels like they are moving really quickly which is super-cool!”

This is the first time FitzGerald has used VersaPix™RS fixtures and it was not for the unique beam spread alone that he chose them: “Sets are becoming bigger and more complex, so there’s a lot of surface area to cover from a lighting designer’s point of view. With greater video use, the number of different types of light sources available and ever-brighter LEDs, there’s a wide degree of choice and flexibility, but also the danger of ‘clutter’ if you are not careful. I’m discovering I prefer the uniformity of just a few types of fixtures, used in a large enough quantity to ‘read’ in visual terms. This produces a more ‘homogenised’ look which is less distracting than using a lot of different sources.

“So, although I’d never used them before, I knew the power and the optics of the VersaPix™RS were extremely similar to those of the MagicDot™R, which meant that, used in combination, they would give me a high degree of versatility yet lend a unity to the overall design.

FitzGerald put the MagicDot™R to good use on one of the show’s main scenic elements, the 40ft x 20ft trampoline that descends over the audience during the song Company with Bieber and his ensemble bouncing just 15ft above the fans’ heads.

Ninety-six of the compact, award-winning moving head fixtures are built into the supporting truss and make their entrance performing a big tilt wave as it descends at the top of the number. “We came up with the idea of the trampoline being its own cool little spaceship and developed that idea into a big focal point,” explains FitzGerald. “We needed a fixture that could operate and travel within the space of the truss framework so it didn’t have to get set up everyday, and the MagicDot™Rs were perfect as they fitted right in there!

“They give the trampoline a nice frame, lighting up all around the edge, and provide good lateral movement from the great pan and tilt feature. When in the ‘trampoline’ position we can make a lot of horizontal and upward beams that make it look like the floor of the room, and then some really cool sinuous waves that enhance the fact that the trampoline is moving. When retracted up into the ‘store’ position we use the MagicDot™Rs as overhead fixtures and can create a lot of down focuses, linear effects and aerial fans. It’s definitely a very cool look.”

FitzGerald has used MagicDot™R and MagicBlade™R many times before: “I am always impressed with their performance and their total reliability,” he says. “I love Ayrton products – the speed and graphic nature of the fixtures makes them incredibly versatile. Having a uniform look to the lenses throughout the fixture lines also helps keep them very uniform and similar in feeling. I’m always excited to see some of the newer products in action and discover what we can do with them.”

All the Ayrton fixtures were supplied by the tour’s vendor, VER, who served FitzGerald and his team well: “VER were great as always, going above and beyond to make it happen and get us the tools we needed to make the rig work every day,” says FitzGerald. “We had a great crew chief in Kevin Parsley who led a great crew who have been very supportive and helpful throughout. And Nick van Nostrand has to be the best lighting director around! He keeps the show looking amazing every night and is a complete joy to be around. It’s been a great experience.”

After completing 115 arena shows in 2016, Bieber’s Purpose has now upsized and is visiting stadiums across South America, Australia, the Middle East and South Africa, and will take in several European festivals this summer before returning to North America to finish in Canada in September.

Photos: © Steve Jennings
© Todd Kaplan