For years, South African audiences have bemoaned the quality of our televised awards shows and concerts. From the sound quality to the lighting, we’ve often harshly (and sometimes unfairly) compared our local shows to their US counterparts. But thanks to some amazing 3D visualising software, a Cape Town duo is changing the way live shows are produced and giving our entertainment industry the type of quality productions it deserves.
Gareth Hadden and Grant Orchard are the brains behind Formative, a production company using innovative design and smart technology to produce some of our biggest shows.
Formative’s first big gig was Skouspel in 2014. Since then they have worked behind the scenes on both of Cassper Nyovest’s spectacular Fill Up concerts, the 2015 and 2016 MTV Africa Music Awards and Anatii’s 2016 Album tour featuring American singer, Omarion.
Formative is the only stage and production agency in South Africa to utilise 3D visualising software called D3. Before a live show, all artwork, dimensions, time codes and specifications are directly fed into D3. The programme then correlates all the information and queues the mechanical as well as visual elements into one continuous timeline.
D3 is the world’s first integrated video production suite. Based around a real-time 3D stage simulator, it is the single solution needed to design, present, communicate, sequence and playback shows. “We can actually watch each performance in our studio before we have even built the stage,” says Orchard, creative director of Formative.
“When we get to the site, we simply plug in the system and watch it unfold. It takes about two months for us to put a show together so on the day, we try to do as little as possible.”
To get the best out of a performance, Formative run the tracks via timecode so everything can be synchronised to perfection. The team get the guide tracks from the musical director of the show and add a timecode layer.
D3 works at a push of a button. The keyboard player on stage, for example, will push a key to get the programme started and do the same at the end of the show.
With the help of Formative, Cassper Nyovest became the first local artist to fill up Johannesburg’s TicketPro Dome. The following year he filled up the city’s Orlando stadium.
“Fill Up Orlando was a first for South Africa as the set continuously metamorphosised, seamlessly transitioning from one song into the next over a two-and-a- half-hour process,” says Orchard. “Traditionally, concert stage design is quite symmetrical. But that wasn’t what this concert called for. Suspended, monolithic LED screens asymmetrically flanked a revolving, mirrored stage on which Cassper performed from throughout the concert. The results were both functional and captivating; the audience were never aware of actual set changes, but rather emotive transitions from one song into the next.”
Formative is constantly watching and learning from its international counterparts. “The quality of custom content created for South African stages is improving, but there is still a lot to learn. That said, I know that we can do anything they can do in Europe or America.”
It’s a common misconception that only large budgets can produce incredible performances, says Orchard. “Certainly, a large budget does allow for more scope in general. But it’s using resources skilfully that really makes the greatest impact.”
Formative’s line of business does not give second chances. Everything is live and under immediate scrutiny, so they have to deliver perfection as soon as they press play.
Hadden and Orchid say that D3 is largely how they have been able to deliver show after show without a noticeable hiccup. “What is important to us is creating moments, and D3 has definitely helped us achieved these moments, moments that will stay with the audience forever.”