Production Design and Manufacturing

Production Design and Manufacturing

Chemical Brothers

Specialz Create Chemistry with Robots & Reflectors

“The visuals are the priority with this band,” opens Marcus Lyall, “For a long time the stage has been dominated by the upstage screen and we wanted to develop that imagery and bring it closer to the audience.”  Lyall shares the responsibilities of show director and designer for the Chemical Brothers with Adam Smith who has worked with the band for over twenty years.


“We wanted to try and create a 3D experience for the audience,” agrees lighting designer Paul Normandale, “And bring some of the video content to life, blurring the lines between screen and reality. We went to Specialz as they did such a great job on the last tour and this mechanical, visual, yet tourable challenge is very much their area of expertise.”


To this end, Specialz were charged with creating a huge 3m diameter reflector, a set of bespoke dollies pre-rigged with Sharpys and last but certainly not least two mechanical robots, George and Mildred respectively and standing approximately 15’ high apiece.   Specialz’s Dave Smith begins with the reflector: “The initial idea came from the design team of Marcus Lyall and Adam Smith who essentially inverted accepted lighting protocols and put the entire rig on the floor. The traditional way to create height, angles and perspective would be to use mirrorballs but this design team likes to think outside the box.”


“The brief was it had to be quick to deploy and de-rig and had to fit on an aircraft pallet. We sourced the medical grade steel, which is faceted, and essentially designed the unit and the flight cases. It splits in two for transport. The top hemisphere is lifted out of its case on motors and the bottom hemisphere, still in its case, is manoeuvred into position below the hanging top that is then gently lowered onto the bottom section and bolted together. The complete reflector stays off stage until required; then it’s deployed via two Kinesys motors straight from its case. It comes with a protective cover to stop people touching the surface and to protect from dust. There is also a lightweight quick-change cover which is used to cover the reflector when it’s being rigged so that the gag is not given away whilst being deployed.”


The lighting dollies are essentially a mobile framework to enable Normandale to reverse the normal show environment by putting the lights on the floor, rather than in the air and use the reflector. It’s also an intelligent way of maintaining an individual design look for the band in a festival environment. As Smith explains, the brief was centred around the ability to ‘roll and rig’, “The dollies are mainly rigged with Sharpys along with Solaris LED Flares and SGM X5 Strobes.  Everything is pre-wired and cabled so it can roll out of the truck straight onto the stage, get plugged in and work straight away, so the final weight load was crucial. The dollies were a simple way of moving a fair few lights with time constraints as it is a very tightly scripted show.”


Lyall warms to the subject of the robots: “The robots have been part of our video footage for the last decade at least.  The originals were tin robots that Adam borrowed from his mum!  When we were considering how we could bring some of the screen imagery to life, the robots were just there, waiting to be transformed into a reality on stage.  And everyone said: they must have lasers in their eyes!  We went to Specialz with our design as we knew, from past experience, this was a concept that would require their particular brand of ingenuity and proficiency.  We wanted something that might utilise the best in lighting and effects but looked essentially low-tech – a 1950’s version of a robot if you will.”


“When the robots were delivered to rehearsals, they simply bought the proceedings to a grinding halt; everyone was just blown away by them. Specialz have managed to bring personality to them in the way the LEDs work in their eyes and the pupils move around.”


“Once the size and design of the robots was clearly established it was left to us to work out the logistics within the timeframe and without breaking the bank,” explains Smith. “The robots have a dolly for airfreight which includes a top-box for the arms and legs - the biggest dolly we’ve ever had made! For truck transportation, they have transit skates and soft cases for the arms and legs. For onstage rigging they are lifted by motors, the arms attached and dropped onto their rigging skates. The legs are attached so they stick out behind the robot. For deployment, the robots are moved into position under their motors. As the robots are lifted the legs automatically move forward to an upright position and are locked into the mechanical movement system. After their stint on stage the procedure is reversed. Essentially, no matter the complication, there is always a way to make a project work and we try and keep it as simple as possible.”


Lyall concludes, “Considering the amount of mechanism within the robots, along with the built in Ayrton MagicBlades, O LED in the eyes, Look Solutions smoke machines, Mac Auras, video PSUs and lasers with everything built in and pre-wired, it is a testament to the quality of their build that we’ve had absolutely no reliability issues whatsoever, particularly when you consider the band are playing the festival circuit at present where load-in/outs and change-overs can be pretty fraught.”


“Specialz have delivered on this project in bucket-loads: they took a slightly silly idea very seriously and turned it into a workable and remarkable reality.  How you achieve that is a whole Black Art of its own and Dave and his team at Specialz are masters of it.”