The tech behind U2’s mind-bending, spherical reality in Las …

As U2 plays on stage, the Las Vegas strip lights up the backdrop inside the Sphere.
Irish rock band U2 plays in front of a visualized Las Vegas Strip as seen on a 16K-x16K circular display inside the arena. Rich Fury / MSG

I remember sitting in the back of a Las Vegas taxi in January 2022. CES was upon us. While Las Vegas is extravaganza on a typical Tuesday, CES week takes things to an entirely different level. It took a few years without CES due to the pandemic, and Vegas reinvented itself in the blink of an eye.

This still could not explain the huge black sphere that seemed to come out of nowhere on Sands Avenue.

“What the hell is that?” I muttered in the back of that cab. I soon learned that this was a new venue and was going to be covered in LEDs inside and out. However, at the time, the inauguration was 18 months away, and it looked like it was a big, dark sphere.

Of course, we now know differently. The Sphere opened in late September 2023, with Irish rock band U2 setting up nearly three dozen shows for “U2:Uv Achtung Baby Live at the Sphere” through mid-February 2024. Thousands and thousands of lucky fans have already experienced it. Spectacle. Millions of us have caught a glimpse of it through cell phone videos and online videos. And while it certainly doesn’t do it justice, even that brief, two-dimensional glimpse inside makes it clear that the Sphere plays host to the kind of futuristic live experience never before Has gone. (And none of this includes what you can see Outside of the field.)

So we have some idea of ​​the magic that goes on inside during the show. We wanted to get a glimpse of what powers it had. Why does that magic happen?

A wide-angle image inside the arena in Las Vegas shows how the view creeps to the sides and top of the venue.
The incredible imagery isn’t just behind U2 inside the arena – it’s above and around the band too. Rich Fury / MSG

Brandon Kramer tells me, “There’s nothing we can’t do, you know, if we have an idea, we can definitely make it happen.” He worked as technical director at London-based creative agency Treatment Studios, which has worked with U2 for years. Kramer says that line casually, as if creating mind-bending visuals behind one of the biggest bands in the world is an everyday experience worth the therapy. But the fact is that U2 and the Treatment have been in this situation for some time. Even before the Sphere opened, U2 shows were known for their visuals – joshua tree 30th anniversary tour and experience + innocence Tour, to name two in recent memory – and Treatment Studios (founded by Willie Williams and Sam Pattison) was a driving force behind it.

“There is nothing we cannot do. If we had an idea, we could definitely make it happen.”

But in an industry – and in a city like Las Vegas – where huge visual spectacle are the table stakes, even a venue like the Sphere has to do something different. Bigger and brighter. Once the sphere is filled with more than 18,000 fans and a band, and the interior surfaces are illuminated by 160,000 square feet of LEDs at 16K resolution for 256 million individual pixels – yes, you read that right – then toss that fact Do you think ‘Is this all being done in the shape of a circle?’ There’s no way this isn’t incredible.

And it turns out that size isn’t actually the hardest part.

An image showing the audience and the band U2 as a wraparound visualization of letters and numbers appears to skew the perspective inside the arena in Las Vegas.
Perspective and reality played tricks on the audience during “The Fly” at the U2 show inside the Sphere in Las Vegas. Rich Fury / MSG

“The challenging aspect of it is not that, you know, it’s circular,” Kramer says. “It’s the fact that the resolution is 16K x 16K. …We actually broke several pieces of software along the way. We’ve certainly reached the limits of what most computing power can do, and most of the software we typically design can do.”

There are a lot of pixels to push. And driving them forward is Disguise – another big name in this space that powers many of the world’s best shows. To simplify things a bit, if the treatment is on the creative side of the equation, disguise plays a big role in hardware and software platforms. This is also not exactly a modern thing. (Although Disguise does have a web-based, 3-dimensional pre-visualization platform that’s quite fascinating to see in action.) We’re talking about major servers and hard drives for the ridiculous amounts of data that go into a Sphere show. Have been.

Peter Kirkup, solutions and innovation director, Disguise, says of the Disguise hardware being used for the U2 shows: “They’ve upgraded the hard drives in the machine. So we have 30 terabytes of storage on each machine inside our system. But we’re also interfacing with a special system, which is in the house, that’s driving the LED pixels.”

Keep in mind, it’s not just 30 terabytes on a server. There are 23 of those things (GX3 servers, if you must know) at work for 690 terabytes of storage. Some of this is for live graphics behind (and above and around) the band. Some are for redundancy and others for production power.

Treatment’s Kramer was quick to say that “Disguise Hardware has been amazing.”

Twenty-three special servers with a total of 690 terabytes of storage power the scenes for U2 inside the arena.

“We have a lot of experience working with Disguise servers,” he says. “We know what they’re capable of, we’ve used them on every U2 tour I can think of. In fact, every show I have worked on in this industry, I have worked with servers in disguise. “They had those capabilities for what we wanted to do in terms of integrating image magnification into the content in a very seamless way.”

You don’t actually need to experience a U2 show at the Sphere (or any other U2 show for that matter – the band’s relationship with Disguise goes back nearly two decades) to understand that seamless immersion is the name of the game. . It’s also evident in the countless TikToks that do their best to share what it’s like to live there.

U2 concert at the Sphere in Las Vegas, with spectators holding cell phones in their hands.
Phones are a common sight at all concerts these days, but especially at the U2 show at the Sphere in Las Vegas. On display is Irish artist John Gerrard’s “Surrender (Flag) 2023”. Rich Fury / MSG

“The wonderful thing about Sphere is that it is a shared experience,” says Kirkup. “So you have 18,000 other people feeling the same way, and there’s a collective reaction from the audience, which, by and large, I don’t think the audience has realized yet. This is a new thing. It’s a new way of making a show and a new way of creating that emotion.

Even cell phone videos seem to illustrate that “new approach” that Kirkup and Kramer talk about. It looks like a real-life, high-resolution VR adventure. Of course, that is the point. Band. the audience. Experience. Attitude. Immersion. Even viewing it through your phone – as if shot by someone else’s phone – it translates. Certainly not on the same scale, but you get it.

“We’ve looked at that, too,” Kramer says, “because it’s obviously got a lot of coverage on social media now. You can see a lot of what we’re doing from different points of the room. You will realize what it is really like. It’s not the same as being there, but it’s unique because the screen isn’t in a straight line. It’s circular, and it’s curved.”

While Kramer said that the circular nature of the scenes did not hinder the creative process, that does not mean that some guardrails were not put in place. If you’ve ever been a little attracted to VR headsets, you’ve got to imagine what it might be like to be inside the arena with these types of shows. So while Kramer says there was really no limit to what can If this is to be done, from a constructive point of view, some practical considerations will have to be taken.

“There was one piece in particular,” says Kramer, “where we actually adjusted the scale so that it seemed like it wasn’t moving as fast or less over a large distance, which then changes in speed as it approaches the limit. There was Rekha who was making all of us sick.”

Understandable, even if it’s a little rock ‘n’ roll. It’s also unique to the venue, says Kirkup.

ES Devlin's visualization "nevada arch" Get a behind-the-scenes look at Irish rock band U2 inside the Sphere in Las Vegas.
View of ES Devlin’s “Nevada Arch” seen behind Irish rock band U2 inside the Sphere in Las Vegas. Stufish/MSG

“Bono really talked about it,” Kirkup says. “When he was on stage on opening night and talking about how this was actually the first time that artists had created a space to perform. If you think about a typical arena or touring show, they’re going to ice hockey arenas, going to football stadiums, they’re playing second fiddle to the game a lot of times. Whereas now, it is the other way around.

“All this technology is here for superficial display. At the end of the day, it’s just those four guys on stage having a blast.”

“This venue is for entertainers. And so the way the show is built, the way the audience experiences it, the intimacy of the venue – even though it’s physically bigger – that doesn’t come across in the YouTube videos at all. But when you’re actually there, it doesn’t feel like you’re a million miles away from the stage. Still, you’re fully aware of the content and everything going on around you. And it really is quite a special experience.”

The technology is impressive, no doubt. To put it bluntly, the views are stunning (and even without seeing them in person). They are also there to remain in service of the show. Of the band. Of U2.

“Something that shouldn’t be forgotten,” Kirkup says, “is all this technology is for display on the surface, you know. At the end of the day, those four guys are having a blast on the stage for all to see. has paid off. And that’s important. We’re just a part of it, part of the equation. We’re making some great things happen.

“But, you know, the band is there to perform, and they come in first. It should happen like this only.”

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