Dimitri Vassiliu, lighting designer (LD) for French rock superstar Johnny Hallyday, invited us backstage at the AccorHotels Arena during the on-going “Rester Vivant” marathon tour to talk lighting, video, and rock & roll.
A magnificent tableau, lean and very graphic. The risers are marked with Arcaline 2 LED battens. BFML spots define the space to the side and behind, and the screens provide a red light source in harmony with the B-Eye K20s.
This was a new experience for the talented LD, who had already worked on some of the biggest music tours in France. Now, to helm not only the lighting but also the scenic and video design for over a hundred concerts by France’s rock icon was an exciting new challenge.
The fantastic skull opens, lit by MAC Auras…
Johnny Hallyday was back on the French concert stage, prepared to go all out in the true spirit of rock & roll.
Lead guitarist, Yarol Poupaud, has forsaken his six-string for this tour to act as the band’s musical director, joining the LD, the promoter, and Johnny himself in this rock revival production. The team opted for a lean and uncluttered vintage stage that nevertheless boasts cutting-edge technology in both projectors and screens: B-Eye, BMFL, Mythos, and Sharpy profiles and wash lights.
… revealing France’s national rock star under the Sharpy beams, in front of the MagicPanel™ array that artfully evokes stars in the night sky.
The set consists of 834 video modules that pepper the Arena stage along with an impressive array of 192 Ayrton MagicPanel™602 luminaires suspended upstage – no doubt, the biggest rig of this type ever used in France.
As expected, it’s a big rig, and Johnny makes his spectacular, surprise entrance from out of a fantastic giant skull that cracks open in a nebula of smoke, under a wash of blinding white light. Johnny wouldn’t have it any other way.
Vassiliu takes some bold risks with his decisions on a new lighting scheme that blends old-school lamps with ultra modern video. The point was not just to break all the rules but also to give the rock star a new lighting and graphic concept. We met with the LD himself, who also mans the console on this tour, assisted by Philippe Marty and Stéphane Chiron in the booth.
Team photo of the marvellous lighting crew. From left to right, kneeling: Stéphane Chiron, Martial Blond, Dimitri Vassiliu, Christian “Lou” Carlichi and Aurelien. Standing: Pierre Yves Orieux, David Bergue, Jean Philippe Willocq, Philippe Marty, Thomas, Sylvain and Enrique Elixander.
We also spoke with Peggy M., Vassiliu’s video content producer, who adds her own personal touch to Johnny’s show with some remarkable playback material.
Custom design: a mix of vintage rock and modernity
Upon arrival, we saw the immense stage, prepared by Vassiliu for Decibels Production, in the concert hall of the AccorHôtel Arena.
The big stage (over 15 metres from front to back) framed by Robe BMFL beams. Vassiliu added 20 more BMFL units for the shows at the AccorHotels Arena in Paris.
A perfect mise en scène for the French rock god: A giant motorised skull lowers like a lift onto the stage that measures 15 metres from front to back with an additional 12 metre B-stage, and out comes Johnny. Vassiliu installed six specially designed moving SMD LED black video screens and some beautiful luminaires positioned on trusses all around the room on totems, both to the sides and behind the stage.
What really impressed us was the wall of 192 Ayrton MagicPanel™ fixtures, framed in a matrix, all waiting to be switched on, suggesting an army of Star Wars droids poised to draw their weapons when Johnny gives the cue. Even on standby, switched off in the empty concert hall, Vassiliu’s lighting and video rig is an impressive display.
192 MagicPanel™ luminaires set the stage. Totally rock & roll – powerful, in white, and always moving.
Forget the vast panoply of some 460 projectors in the rig and consider the stage picture itself: massive but sober, conjuring images of the old days of rock & roll; of PAR cans and ACLs shooting tight white beams; of spacious stages with drums on risers and musicians jumping and gyrating as they grooved and soloed to the beat.
SLU : Dimitri, tell us how you got involved with the “Rester Vivant Tour”?
Dimitri Vassiliu : It’s the first time I’ve done lighting for Johnny. I’m excited because I really wanted to do this project. An offer I just couldn’t refuse! And I especially wanted to do it this way – with a back-to-the roots rock theme. Since that’s exactly what Johnny wanted too, it all worked out. His idea was always to do a tour that focuses on the band, and the whole atmosphere that goes along with it. So the lighting had to follow along those lines.
SLU : Working for Johnny Hallyday must be a lot of pressure, I would imagine ?
Dimitri Vassiliu : Sure, but I’ve been given a lot of freedom. I get all the information I need from the manager, from Johnny, Yarol, and even Laetitia [Johnny’s wife]. I’ve been provided with all the elements I need to do my design in total freedom. We listened to each other out and discussed which direction to go in. And that’s the direction I took. I really lucked out with the right band, the right tour, the right concert producer, the right year. And, I was able to choose my own team.
A fine example of Dimitri Vassiliu’s talent: His eclectic rig integrating multiple sources, media, and brands, produces a monochrome red, harmoniously bringing together video screens, moving head LED arrays, and wash lights.
The best compliment I’ve had was from a director friend of mine who came to see the concert yesterday. He asked me if everything had been synced up [to time code], because the show was really tight and spot on. To which I responded, there was no syncing of the images or lighting. Everything is done manually, all done live!
SLU : You were talking about wanting to keep to the rock & roll image. Any other specific requirements?
Dimitri Vassiliu : Nothing else in particular – just the main idea, which is to do a rock revival. We started to work on the project a year and a half before the tour. I was in charge of everything from the stage design to the lighting and video.
Three Robert Juliat Lancelot followspots are positioned around the concert hall to track Johnny perfectly.
The front edge of the stage is marked by Martin MAC Aura units.
I called Emmanuelle Fabvre to help out with the scenic design, and both of us decided how to mix the technology and vintage aspects. The concert producer and Johnny really wanted something fairly sober. I liked the idea – an uncluttered stage. And let’s not forget about the audience. At Johnny’s shows, the lights are everywhere.
Indeed, lights everywhere.
From the sides, with Clay Paky B-Eye wash lights, and with Sharpy beam lights on totems in front. The backlights and wash lights are Mythos. For side lighting, on the floor, from the back and the front, and on the trusses framing the whole stage area, we use Robe BMFL spots. And way at the back, a wall of MagicPanel™ fixtures. What we need is a lot of beam power to shine on Johnny Hallyday from the back, and in style!
Ayrton MagicPanel™, the other star of the show
The matrix of 192 Ayrton MagicPanel™ luminaires controlled in Extended mode (160 channels).
SLU : So you needed big light sources? How did you choose the projectors for your gear?
Dimitri Vassiliu : I built everything around the MagicPanel™ array. Of all the ideas I floated, they chose that one, my favourite, along with the skull. I had already been thinking about using screens and motorised drum risers, and playing with the shape of the stage.
SLU : Why did you insist on using the MagicPanel™ fixtures upstage?
Dimitri Vassiliu : I really wanted to add them to the rig, test the video with them. What I was looking for was a real rock & roll effect, a lighting unit that, when lit up in white produces a powerful fat beam, but could also project video and special effects.
Pure vintage rock look, setting the whole room ablaze.
Testing the luminaires at festivals and concerts
SLU : How did you decide on the rest of the fixtures? Any preferences?
Dimitri Vassiliu : We started off the tour doing festivals and we brought in a small rig with about half as many MagicPanels, some Sharpys, and some BMFLs on the floor, so I could test (I hadn’t ever used them before). Philou [note: Operator Philippe Marty, who programmed and ran them at the show] and I found some new ways to program and use the MagicPanel™ fixtures.
We also made use of gear that was already there and checked out some new equipment and installations… and we’d say, for example, “how about trying fewer Sharpys and more wash lights, etc.” So, this period actually turned out to be a test lab for our rig, and we then had a clear-cut idea of what we’d use for the rest of the tour.
Honouring Vassiliu’s original concept, the Mythos fixtures project their beams from behind and above the moving video screens.
SLU : Did you also find out about the Mythos fixtures at a festival?
When the custom video screens start to move, we can see Mythos units on the trusses.
Dimitri Vassiliu : No, I’d seen the Mythos units before, and I knew I wanted to use them. I wanted to hang them over the stage and above the automated screens.
We needed beams that could pass between the screens, and the projector had to be narrow because we didn’t have much room once the screens were hung from the ceiling. In addition, we had to place an insulating barrier outside the Mythos units so we wouldn’t burn the screens.
27 Clay Paky B-Eye K20 units on both left and right provide side-light.
SLU : You used two rather impressive B-Eye arrays on the sides…
Dimitri Vassiliu : I wanted very powerful sidelight beams that would be enough for the big stage with nothing else. The B-Eyes are big, fat sidelights that really shine.
SLU : Do you use any of the fancier features of these wash lights, any special effects?
Dimitri Vassiliu : No, nothing fancy at all (hey, this is a show for Johnny after all!), except maybe – and this is the exception – the Ayrton MagicPanel™, when we need to be subtle and create a scene with little stars. We want to play with the pixels.
Bringing Johnny up to date while honouring his roots: Colourful images of urban scenes, mixed with pure light from the superb Clay Paky Mythos units, shine through from behind the stage, with B-Eye units providing colour from the sides.
One of the BFML sidelights – the stars of the show when it comes to beam quality and light output.
SLU : Tell us about using the Robe BMFL.
Dimitri Vassiliu : Yeah, absolutely… It’s really a super fixture, a powerful spot with a very high quality beam. I use them for front lighting – on Johnny and the band – and also for side and back lighting. Here in the arena, I’ve asked for 56 of them – 20 more than we use on the tour.
SLU : Do you think that arc source lamps, especially when used as wash lights, still have a future?
Dimitri Vassiliu : Sure, used as spots, or even as wash lights, arc lamps are far from obsolete! I picked Clay Paky Sharpy wash lights for side lighting, which I think are the ultimate for beam and colour quality. To light somebody… a face… I think nothing works better than an arc source lamp, especially when you don’t have much time to make adjustments.
SLU : How do you light the musicians?
Dimitri Vassiliu : With Sharpy Washes from the side, BMFLs from the side and front, plus the B-Eyes that add some extra light. They are 15 musicians on stage and I wanted them to be comfortable, without having too many fixtures on stage. That explains why I have them on truss hooks and why the big sidelights
This beautiful tableau shows the contrasting elements of the lighting/video rig on a sober, uncluttered stage. Video screens, positioned above to function as a soft source, and the MagicPanel™ luminaires add a touch of class and taste. The powerful BMFLs provide front and back lighting, as the B-Eye units project from the sides.
Totally Johnny! But with Dimitri’s touch!
The fabulous video team: Soline Marchand and Christophe Paillet.
His carefully selected lighting rig has a modern touch, leaving a lot of open space on the big stage, making it look even bigger. The front line of fixtures include six motorised SMD 6 mm-pitch black Xenon portable screens that can move up and down, or remain suspended as if to defy gravity.
Their revolutionary concept integrates video into the design as a light source in itself. With Dimitri at the helm, no more need for heavy equipment, CO2 projection or pyrotechnics. To create the effect of fire, the screens do all the work with images of flames, plus other fabulous effects in 3D.
When Johnny sings his famous version of “Amour Fou” (Crazy Love) and “Requiem”, the video screens deliver the pyrotechnics, giving the show an ultra modern look.
SLU : You’ve really freed up the stage and lightened up the heavy rig that we’re used to seeing at Johnny’s concerts
Dimitri Vassiliu : We still have him appearing from out of the skull that lowers and opens, as the drummer on the risers goes up. But what’s new is that the heavy part of the rig is now the six portable screens. Another reason I’m on this tour is also to redo the whole Johnny show – make some changes, bring in a new dimension, and not just repeat what’s already been done.
Dimitri Vassiliu’s refined lighting design shows originality, using a Mythos fixture as a top backlight on Hallyday and B-Eye LEDs as sidelights.
Johnny Hallyday stands alone, amidst his audience, lit only by Robe BMFLs spots.
It isn’t necessarily better, just different, like the scenes where he starts to sing in the dark, lit by just a single high wash fixture, which I think was hard to do before. It’s another way of showing Johnny. He wants all the lights of course, but considering he how much emotion he puts into his songs, that gives us license to enhance the effect with more dramatic lighting.
In a closer, more intimate setting, the formidable rock star and his band enchant us from the B-stage, lit simply by Robe BFML fixtures and Lancelot followspots, with the screens displaying Peggy M’s media, adding to this intimate moment.
SLU : So how does Johnny react to this new style of lighting design?
Dimitri Vassiliu : I think we are all on the same wavelength – Johnny, the musicians, the concert producer, and the audio-visual technicians. And Johnny is the ideal subject: he never complains, not about the strobes in his face, or the smoke or the projectors. He’s no wuss, and his audiences aren’t either
SLU : Are you the one controlling the screens?
Dimitri Vassiliu : Yes, and it feels good to be back at the console (a Hog 4) for this tour. I’ve done all the shows from the start. I run the screens. I have two Catalyst media servers to process the images created by Peggy M and Cutback. I’ve been collaborating closely with Peggy for a long time. She created 70% of the images. CutBack did the 3D ones, which are fewer but still essential. Playback video is always oriented to rock & roll… with all the proverbial eagles, skulls, snakes, etc. The idea was to mix the styles to get a modern but vintage effect.
The result: teamwork lighting
Dimitri Vassilu running the show live on his Hog 4. Stéphane Chiron is on the left.
Dimitri Vassiliu shares the lighting booth with two co-workers:
Philippe Marty is in charge of the technical systems. He programs the Ayrton MagicPanel™ luminaires and much of the light show. Stéphane Chiron, had worked with Vassiliu in 1988 for pop star J. J. Goldman, calling the followspots, and has been assisting him at the console on major tours.
These veteran operators never forget that their primary function is to light the musicians, the stage, the audience, and to resist the temptation of technical overindulgence, however trendy or effective – but to simply control the LED units effectively.
SLU : How do you divide up the work for the live playback?
Dimitri Vassiliu : I handle the video screens, and Philippe controls the MagicPanel arrays, Sharpys, Mythos and K20s from a grandMA. Stéphane controls the BMFLs and all the other fixtures from another Hog 4. Honestly there’s more than enough work to go around! I selected grandMA for the programming and playback for the MagicPanel™ luminaires. We have a dedicated Catalyst for all the media.
SLU : Was it difficult to program the MagicPanel™ units?
Dimitri Vassiliu : We did actually spend a lot of time. Considering what we’d been told about the product our expectations were high. So we weren’t going to go halfway and just stay with the macros!
A subtle and tasteful blend of light and video
SLU : You weren’t tempted to do what a lot of people do and call some computer geek to program them?
Johnny’s world depicted by some truly effective playback video created by Peggy M for the MagicPanel™ array. Here we see three skulls.
Dimitri Vassiliu : Sure we were, because some pretty cool things had already been done with those units! That put the pressure on. I met the group Ez3kiel at a festival and saw the work they did with the MagicPanel™ and also saw what Chanel had done…
Philou and I knew that that was a hard act to follow!
But I don’t really think the two of us work in exactly the same way and want the same thing. But I’ll admit we did think about it…
Finally, we found what worked best for both of us. We didn’t want too much geek factor. There’s a song where three skulls are displayed on the MagicPanels.
Peggy M. produced some video content with the skulls and we transferred it to the panels… Didn’t need a computer guy for that. We do lighting for the main purpose of projecting light, and I don’t want to be out of phase with Johnny Hallyday’s band.
Philippe Marty programs the MagicPanel units
SLU : Did the programming take long?
Philippe Marty : Sure it’s long, mostly because there’s a lot of it. Afterwards, of course, we needed a system that functioned, so we had to program with the MA to directly merge the Catalyst output for the fixture and simplify the network management. That’s why MA beats the competition for this kind of thing.
SLU : Did you work more on abstract textures or images?
Philippe Marty : We worked more on the textures. All the videos were done specially for the format and pitch of the MagicPanel™, with attention to the negative space between the projector faces. I also made some videos myself using After Effects, and the results were impressive.
The famous fire eagle, created by Philippe Marty…
… displayed by the MagicPanel™ array, soaring behind Johnny Hallyday!
Three lighting consoles control the show: a grandMA2 used by Philippe Marty (seen here, with daughter Aélia looking on) and two Hog 4s used by Stéphane Chiron and Dimitri Vassiliu.
SLU : Do you have the new version of MagicPanel™?
Philippe Marty : No it’s the original version, the 602, and we didn’t use the infinite rotation because it doesn’t return to position with enough precision, especially in a huge rig like this, where we can’t afford even a minute degree of shift.
We control them simply via DMX, since Ethernet would need a network splitter, which is trickier.
I have 12 NPUs [Network Processing Units from MA Lighting] behind the console to handle 89 DMX universes with 40,500 active parameters!
And I have a second console behind and a Catalyst for backup.
SLU : Did the backup console ever come into play?
Philippe Marty : No, fortunately, never during a show. Knock on wood!
We’ve tested it. The MaNet switches over instantly but the ArtNet picks it up with a 5-second delay. Still that’s better than nothing at all.
I’m pretty happy, since we’ve never had a crash, even with the program, and there are a lot of people working the console!
Peggy M.’s playback video tailored to Johnny’s repertory
With about 150 m2 of black SMD video screens, in both 6 and 9-mm pitch, the quality of image playback was bound to be impressive. Vassiliu’s video content producer for the tour, Peggy M, created textures and images to everyone’s liking: Johnny’s, Vassiliu’s and her own (she recently handled the visuals for rock group Indochina on their latest tour).
Peggy M, video content producer and designer.
Peggy M : Work started in November 2014 with a list of 70 possible songs! So I worked with some basic restrictions – powerful elements like nature, animals, fire, water – the sorts of images that fit the character.
I was free to use whatever I wanted either for texture or pure images. My team created all the video playback material for each song, designed for the six screens that were moving every which way, and on the big arch.
SLU : Were you directed by the scenic designer, by Dimitri or by Johnny himself??
Peggy M : I worked a lot with Yarol Poupaud who gave me some guidelines, using hues and creating an atmosphere. He helped a lot with the choice of stock images by referring us to some old festivals like the Big Mama event.
SLU : Tell us about your collaboration with Dimitri Vassiliu.
Peggy M : I’ve been working with Dimitri for so long I can’t really even describe it. He always proposes a set of images per song title and that gives me the direction to take when I create the videos. We know each other really well and have good synergy.
As Johnny sings “Tennessee”, Vassiliu calls on Peggy M’s imagery – to create a magical, intimate and emotional moment.
With the moving screens at the back of the stage displaying Peggy M’s media, a beautiful colour wash from the B-Eye fixtures at the sides, sets the décor.
SLU : What do you think of the screens that are being used on the tour?
Peggy M : They’re magnificent and they have great resolution. Even though I prefer to work by projection – because LEDs have a tendency to lose some subtle image nuances – we’ve still managed to achieve a certain warmth. I see the screens as light sources unto themselves. There are songs that use only the screens for lighting
The more Dimitri and I get into it, the more I try to work on content, like the light, and less on narration. It’s hard work for a videographer but it’s exciting.
It’s sometimes hard to tell whether it’s the video generating the light or vice-versa, blended with the light from the arc lamps sources. The entire design project by Dimitri Vassiliu and his team integrates lighting, scenic design, and video. Bravo!
The idea is that the light and screen come together, and that especially applies in this case because the screens move like projectors.
SLU : How did you design your images? And in what format?
Peggy M : On the arch, we go beyond 3000 pixels
We’ve created visuals using a template for the six flat screens and the arch, and then we cut them up again for the Catalyst, which repositions them.
This can take a long time, sometimes all night!
Big and heavy, it’s only old rock & roll… but we love it.
It’s all because of Johnny (who’s always in perfect form) and his handpicked band that are focused more than ever on achieving a real gritty roots rock & roll sound. Under the watchful eye of the giant skull (keeping the faith in the true Johnny tradition!) the brilliant stage and video design is geared to preserve the timeless authenticity of rock and blues.
Really spectacular lighting – often in pure white. The stage looked out over the concert hall and on a B-stage that jutted out into the audience, Johnny and his band treated us to an awesome jam.
MagicPanel™ units become wash lights. BMFL spots deliver moving beams in colour – all for the glory of rock & roll.
Vassiliu’s direction cast a spell on us!
- The big B-Eye sidelights washed the stage in white and colour, sometimes used exclusively for certain tableaus.
- BMFLs carefully highlighted the musicians from the front.
- Just like some big ACLs, MagicPanel™ luminaires delivered powerful white light from upstage – for a classic rock & roll effect – then subtly projecting only single pixels with unexpectedly elegance.
- Light from the Clay Paky Mythos units cut across the screens to project an intense beam on Johnny.
- Video takes over where the bulky old rig left off.
- The entire visual show was a “Live” event, under the magical control of the console operators.
Dimitri Vassiliu has revolutionised Johnny’s lighting and yet remained faithful: deftly balancing the authentic vintage and the modern.
Johnny Hallyday, the real deal, appeared that night, lit by Ayrton MagicPanel™ luminaires, black SMD screens and other fixtures in this 21st century rig, sometimes in a blaze of colour, sometimes with just the smallest bit of illumination, but always radiating charisma and sincerity.
This could be the theme of the Rester Vivant tour: To bring Johnny Hallyday up to date while honouring his rock roots.
Block diagram of light and video network
3D view fire plan
Vue de dessus
Vue de face