Just as “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the biopic of late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, wowed moviegoers last year, stage design firm Stufish Entertainment Architects has helped Queen + Adam Lambert’s current U.S. tour deliver a screen spectacular of its own.
The tour, which plays New Orleans on Aug. 20 and Atlanta on Aug. 22, touched down at the L.A. Forum in July, bringing with it a marvel of technical advances that mix video imagery, lighting and kinetic sculptures to create a three-act narrative.
Stufish partner Ric Lipson, who has been with the London-based company since 2006 and has been on four tours in five years with the band, worked with his design team to create mesmerizing effects that incorporated the groundbreaking see-through scrims — transparent video screens — Stufish used on U2’s 2018 Experience + Innocence Tour. The tech allows band members to interact seamlessly with the moving images.
Lipson says the success of “Bohemian Rhapsody” attracted a younger audience with video-game expectations to the tour and upped the stakes for Queen + Adam Lambert. “They felt invigorated not just to play the hits, but songs they didn’t ordinarily perform,” he says, pointing to “Love of My Life,” a song in the film that comes alive onstage as lead guitarist Brian May appears to be singing to a fleeting vision of Freddie Mercury on video.
Stufish, founded in 1994 by rock show visionary Mark Fisher, has long been an innovator in stage design. Fisher, who died in 2013, created the set for several Pink Floyd shows, including The Wall, as well as tours by the Rolling Stones, Madonna and Lady Gaga, among many others.
For Queen + Adam Lambert, Lipson and Stufish partnered with Treatment Studio to display a virtual 3D video of an ornate opera house that surrounded the 40 VIP seat holders onstage during the performance of “The Show Must Go On,” which closes the concert’s first set. Rendered on the fly, with lighting designed by Rob Sinclair, the 3D video borrows imagery from the band’s albums “A Night at the Opera,” “The Works” and “The Game” — and ends with the set’s virtual destruction.
“It takes quite a group effort to make it work,” says Lipson. “It’s very high-tech, but the audience probably doesn’t realize the scenery is completely automated.”
During “The Show Must Go On,” the front of the opera house is transformed, through a vortex tunnel of multiple portals, into a backstage view of the audience gazing at itself in a live shot. Later, May appears to be riding a digital asteroid into space as he rips off the guitar solo in “Who Wants to Live Forever,” amid a dazzling laser show.
“The video allows you to combine light and scenery in unique ways, which was something new for Queen” says Lipson. “This time around, we really wanted to use it as a main element in a more interactive way, rather than just have it play in time to the songs. The band never plays the same way two nights in a row, so we have to keep it spontaneous. What the audience is looking for these days is something more than the traditional arena show, and that’s what we’re trying to give to them.”