Avatar show in London offers glimpse of future for live music

LONDON — Before the start of ‘ABBA Voyage’, a London concert performed by the iconic Swedish band’s 3D digital avatar, member Björn Ulvaeus felt that the audience had ‘experienced something they had never seen before. I want you,” he said. “

After its debut on May 27, the reaction from critics, fans and industry experts at home and abroad was mostly enthusiastic.

“Other than the teams involved, no one really knew how to integrate avatar-based performances,” Sarah Cox, director of live event technology consultancy Neutral Human, told CNBC. “As someone who works in real-time graphics, this overwhelmed me. My jaw was in the floor. I looked around and people were really embracing the idea that ABBA was out there.” increase.”

Demand is strong, and the show’s run has been extended through November 2023, and could exceed that.

And the team confirmed that they aim to bring the show to the world.

“Our ambition is to do another ABBA Voyage. For example, we can do another in North America, Australia and Europe. We can replicate the arena and the show,” said producer Svana Gisla. said at a session of the UK Government Commission in November.

We also hope other shows will be launched following the same model.

“The technology itself isn’t new, but the way we’ve used it, the scale, and the barriers we’ve broken down are. I’m sure others will follow suit and plan to follow suit.” We do,” Gisla said.

She added that it “absolutely” could happen in places like Las Vegas, with some shows running 24 hours a day with rotating crews.

“We have live musicians, so we keep a band and we do seven shows five days a week. But we can do it 24 hours a day. Las Vegas quickly adopted this style of entertainment. And we’ll play Elvis and the Beatles.”

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Voyage’s venue, called the ABBA Arena, was built specifically for the show in Stratford, east London, with a capacity of 3,000, a standing pit, and stairs with unrestricted visibility along three sides. It consists of quaint seating, and expensive private dance booths. , Space for a massive kit on the roof and what creator White Boyd says is the world’s largest permanent kinetic lighting installation.

ABBA Arena in London, UK, May 26, 2022.

Dave J. Hogan | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

It was also designed for flexibility. Built on a one meter high platform without breaking the ground, it could be dismantled and rebuilt at another location, or it could remain in place for another show in the future.

But it would be easy to emulate Voyage’s model, where digital replicas of four band members play classic hits and new songs for 90 minutes, simultaneously interacting with each other and speaking to the audience between songs. not.

The show ran for five years and grossed £141 million ($174.9 million). Budget funded by global investors. Gisla said about three million people would need to be in to make ends meet, and the average ticket price he said was £75.

After selecting the set list and making other creative decisions, the ABBA members donned motion capture suits and performed for five weeks. Hundreds of visual effects artists then worked on the show during his two years led by the London branch of Industrial Light & Magic, a visual effects company founded by George Lucas.

Promotional image for ABBA Voyage, a digital avatar-based live show currently taking place in London.

John Parson | AvaTravel

Ten years ago, a Coachella performance featuring an apparent hologram of Tupac Shakur wowed audiences, and the digital recreation of the artist’s likeness without the use of archival footage explored the possibility of alternate realities in live shows. suggested.

While it doesn’t meet the technical definition of a hologram, which uses laser beams to construct objects with depth, the visual effects team projects a 2D image onto a slanted piece of glass, which itself projects onto a mylar screen for a 3D effect. is created. Shakur then “played” two songs with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg 16 years after his death.

The Voyage team has been tight-lipped about how the show will work, but has also previously confirmed it won’t be a laser-based hologram. It includes a 65-megapixel screen that gives the impression that the band is performing life-size on stage in real-time and in 3D. A traditional-style concert screen shows a close-up and a different view on each side.

Its servers have been pushed to the “absolute extreme” to render images with no lag, so it’s rocking in some transitions. Very unforgiving,” he admitted that there is room for improvement.

Rapper Snoop Dogg (left) and late rapper Tupac Shakur’s “Hologram” perform on stage on Day 3 of the 2012 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival.

Christopher Polk | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

But with faster real-time rendering speeds, “Benny and Bjorn can sit in their avatar-connected chairs at home and update to talk to the audience about last night’s football results. It’ll come .”

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Consultant Sarah Cox says the kind of processing and motion capture technology used in Voyage is still very expensive for most productions, but especially in places like Las Vegas, “many times A completely new format that will be replicated over and over again.”

“With an immersive venue, you can have multiple shows, and then the cost will come down because you have the technology stack and the venue and all the money goes into creating avatars and virtual experiences and fine-tuning the programming. ”

Many are skeptical of digital avatar-based gigs, especially if they’re wary of the general trend towards metaverse-based virtual experiences.

Björn Urbaeus himself previously told CNBC that he fears the technology will be abused to create malicious “deep fakes” that will “become indistinguishable from the real thing in the future.”

There is also the issue of finding the right artists for the show. ABBA is a rare proposition for a band with a vast catalog of hits, a multi-generational global fan base, and a complete set of members who have attended shows but haven’t toured together in 40 years. is.

ABBA’s avatar performing the 1981 song “Visitors” in London, 2022.

John Parson | AvaTravel

“You can put an artist back on stage after death, but ethically you may or may not have an opinion on that,” Gisla said. “To have ABBA on board for this is to say that this is an ABBA concert. ABBA made the decisions, chose what to wear, chose the setlist, ABBA made the show.”

For artists like Elvis, who have vast visual and audio archives, they can create exact replicas, but without the input that makes the show feel tangible, she said.

For Cox, live shows that offer a “shared experience” like ABBA Voyage have a bigger appeal than headset-based virtual experiences, but there will undoubtedly be more available in the future.

And both AR and VR are pervasive in the world of games, events, sports, theatre, and more.

Experiments with digital avatars include the premiere of a song by musician Travis Scott within the wildly popular game Fortnite in 2020, where his avatar will still be on top of players moving around the game world. It’s getting closer. With five shows he reportedly garnered 45.8 million viewers. Lil Nas X played in the game Roblox that same year.

A 15-year-old boy playing Fortnite and Travis Scott Present: Astronomical on April 23, 2020 in Los Angeles, USA.

Fraser Harrison | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

Jo Twist, Chief Executive Officer of UK Interactive Entertainment, an industry association, said he sees growing opportunities at the intersection of games, music and entertainment experiences.

“This kind of experience has largely been the domain of the largest artists, but the growth in both the number of people playing it and the online gaming world that enables user-generated content has made games accessible to performers of all kinds. We believe that there is a potential to open up, and that huge player base can be put to good use to increase their profile,” she said.

Giulia De Paoli, founder and general manager of show design and AR studio Ombra, has been working on projects that span AR and VR to bring “augmented reality” to live sports.

“Thanks to AR, we were able to create complete shows for broadcast events that were not possible with traditional projection or LED setups. you can,” she said.

“We want this to evolve into a complete experience for people to see live, and as the term suggests, to augment, gamify, interact with, and do the impossible with the reality around us. I’m watching it happen.”

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