Element Labs Versa

Originally published in Elementlabs.com on September 11, 2006

When Martin Phillips took over the show design for Nine Inch Nails’ With Teeth tour, he knew that video projection on an opera gauze screen would be impractical on an outdoor amphitheater tour. “But it had played such a key part in the previous legs of the tour that we were loath to lose its drama and spectacle,” he explains. “I was looking for a way to put the band IN the video footage.”

Enter the Versa® RAY from Element Labs. The transparent video screen made its touring debut as the perfect addition to the last leg of With Teeth. The Versa RAY screen was built from ultra thin tubes spaced in intervals, which allowed Phillips to create a curtain/fence structure. Divided up into 5 columns, it hung approximately 6′ upstage of the downstage edge. Because of its distinctive shape, “It became known alternately as the ‘waffle iron’ or the ‘cheese grater’ on the tour,” Philips says. “Each column was made up of 5 hinged panels 3m wide by 4m high containing 36 Versa RAY units in a grid arrangement. The columns would fold up concertina-like behind a black teaser, remaining hidden until needed but when run out, the columns made a 48′ wide by 20′ high video surface.

“The pixels in the Versa RAYs were on 3″ centers horizontally, but we cheated by spacing them 4″ vertically, so from out in the house you couldn’t tell,” Phillips continues. “Even though it is low res, it was surprising how effective a screen it was — your mind filled in the gaps for much of the image. When running video footage on the rear Barco D7 video wall, footage on the Versa RAYs and lighting the band behind it, the 3D effect was wonderful.”

The show began with all of the columns in though none of the Versa RAYs were turned on. “It looked like a huge fence structure that you could see the band through,” Phillips says. “This went out at the end of the first number and stayed hidden behind the teaser until the song ‘Closer,’ which was a bit more than midway through the first half of the show.”

At that point, the Versa RAY’s unique construction allowed Nine Inch Nails front man Trent Reznor to interact with them. “For ‘Closer,’ we dropped in only the middle column and played custom footage of red liquid pouring down,” Phillips explains. “Trent would approach the column from behind, lit to be seen clearly through the motion of red pouring down. As he was able to put his arms through the gaps between the Versa RAYs, we had the footage react to him flowing differently until he withdrew again. The column would disappear again at the end of this number but the whole array would come in for the centre section of the show lasting three to four songs. The very last image of the show was the NIN logo, which was 48’ wide by 20’ high as it the whole Versa RAY screen came in after the last song.”

For the content on the Versa RAY screen, Phillips credits Elad Offer of Moneyshots with rendering some very interesting abstract tentacle footage for one number. “Other songs were a combination of stock images in the server and custom footage rendered by Rob Sheridan, NIN’s art director. “We were using the Mbox media server as controlled by a Hog iPC to feed the footage to the Versa RAYs,” he says. “Everyone was very pleased with the way they looked.”

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