By the numbers: U2's 360 concert at the Rose Bowl and that giant screen
U2 put on one heckuva performance at the Rose Bowl Sunday night, but it was hard to ignore the elephant in the room.
There was one aspect of the production that literally overshadowed Bono's salience and kept the crowds talking for hours into the night -- that huge screen!
Willie Williams, the designer of the round screen, told The Times that the scale is "absolutely the least interesting thing about it."
We're not so sure about that.
Pop & Hiss caught up with Barco, the company that manufactured the massive LED screen that, international music sensations aside, is practically the centerpiece of the 360 Tour. We gathered some statistics on the production that will probably blow your mind.
If you were at the Rose Bowl or watched on YouTube, you'll remember there was a point when the spaceship-looking contraption opens downward and appears to swallow the band.
When fully expanded, the screen is about 72 feet tall. When contracted, the screen is 52 feet tall and 79 feet wide.
"In order to test this, we had to rent the largest indoor hall in Belgium," said Carl Rijsbraeck, Barco's VP of product design. "Even then, it didn't open all the way."
Thanks to hundreds of machines and computer software developed by United Visual Artists called D3, the video maintains its aspect ratio when expanded, and the lights stay in sync. We can't have Bono's face looking stretched, can we?
Packed in that monster of a screen, there are 500,000 pixels. Each light-emitting diode (LED) can fit in the palm of your hand and inserts snugly into the metal plates that make up the screen's skeleton.
In addition to the half-million pixels that make up the screen, there are an additional 1,200 bigger LED units lining the stage. The whole thing took about 18 months to create.
"No one has ever done anything like this," said Bill Morris, Barco's vice-president of North American sales.
At the Barco office in Van Nuys, the company has done some interesting things with LEDs. For decoration, the workers have constructed some alien-looking flexible lighting out of pixels, metal, cloth and fishing poles to make it bendy. The lights change colors fluidly.
Barco wouldn't say exactly how much the screen cost to build -- "millions of dollars in technology," Morris said.
But each of those little pixels will run you eight bucks. A half-million pixels at $8 a pop, plus labor and transportation -- you do the math.
Each one is tested, reliable and water-proof. "This will stand up to the elements," Morris said.
As a U2 stagehand named Rocko told the crowd during the post-Black Eyed Peas intermission, he and 333 other workers travel with the band and assemble the stage at the various venues.
The stage takes five days to assemble and three days to take apart.
Astute readers will notice that such a time frame would make U2's touring schedule impossible. There are actually three different versions of the stage. While one is being used or disassembled, another is in transit and another is hopefully at the next location, ready to be put up.
There's only one screen, though, so that's taken down and loaded on trucks first.
The entire stage takes a whopping 30 trucks to transport. The LED screen is loaded onto several trucks, and the various mechanics follow.
As you can imagine, 30 trucks and hundreds of workers on a tour that spans continents add up to a pretty big carbon footprint. Radiohead's Thom Yorke is a vocal critic of the environmental impact of touring.
Nevertheless, crowds demand to see U2. Might as well do it in grand scope and style.
-- Mark Milian
Photo credits: Top photo: A close-up of the software that powers the video component of the U2 concert. Credit: TJ Milian. U2 stage graphic: Brady MacDonald, Raoul Rañoa / Los Angeles Times. Bottom photo of Bono: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times.