L.A. duo Kid Infinity debuts 3-D light technology originally intended for Michael Jackson's London concerts
The Smell is not the most technologically sophisticated room. A shotgun-style space downtown with concrete floors and graffitied brick walls, it's best known for its influence on the L.A. punk rock scene -- not for premiering a technology that could transform the concert experience as we know it. There's little in the way of lighting, nary a video monitor and no pyrotechnic gear. Just a stage and a decent sound system, which is usually all a band needs.
But on Saturday night at the low-budget all-ages mecca, the future of the light show revealed itself in the form of a live performance with interactive 3-D visuals by a two-piece band called Kid Infinity. It was an unlikely scene, to be sure, given that Michael Jackson's 50-date "This Is It" series of concerts in London was supposed to be the launching point of the proprietary technology. Instead, a dance-heavy electro/hip-hop/rock duo debuted the eye-popping light show to a crowd of a few hundred.
Kid Infinity, which features keyboardist-programmer Nathan Huber and singer-rapper Ryan Pardeiro, came up with the idea a few months ago. Explains Pardeiro: "Nate said, 'We should do a show in 3-D,' and I pretty much said, 'You're crazy.' " Huber, though, had a specific plan in mind; his day job is as office manager for PLLX3 (pronounced "parallax 3"), which is described on the company website as a creator of "advanced 3-D visual experiences for movies, television, advertising, and sporting events."
The company's brain trust is impressive, with a roster of industry veterans from Google, George Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic, Paramount, Kerner Optical and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on the masthead, most of whom had probably never heard of the Smell, let alone stepped foot inside. The company had been contracted for the "This Is It" show and had worked out the kinks while preparing for those concerts. After Jackson's death, though, PLLX3 awaited the next live concert project. Much of the work they're doing these days is with Panasonic, a technological partner. The company has also been in discussions with a marquee electronica act to possibly work on an upcoming show. But PLLX3 was also looking to experiment with other avenues of 3-D performance, which is when Kid Infinity stepped in.
"I figured, 'Why can't I pitch this to my boss?', " says Huber. "And he was like, 'Sure, show me more ideas.' So we started sketching some out." Since the pair were new to such an endeavor, they started with something relatively simple -- cubes, the most basic of 3-D objects. From there, they asked Huber's boss, Bradley Nelson (who designed the 30- by 90-foot LED wall that was to be used for the Jackson shows) for a little support money, tracked down friends in the animation world and gave them each a song to work on.
"We didn't want it to come off as screensaver art," Pardeiro says of the design. "We wanted it to be completely customized to our songs." The band, he adds, usually uses its own lights during performances, but this technology has caused the duo to rethink everything. "We don't need lights anymore," says Pardeiro. "It changes the whole plane of live performances by creating a whole virtual stage behind us."
At the Smell before the band started, the set-up was far from virtual. Kid Infinity had to break down the original stage to make room for the massive gray screen onto which the 3-D projections would appear. After a few opening bands primed the crowd, around midnight, Pardeiro asked that the lights be turned off, and audience members put on their glasses. After a brief miscue in which the cubes looked disappointingly 2-D -- an intern working with the band loaded the wrong file onto Huber's laptop -- the festivities began.
By definition, of course, concerts are naturally in three dimensions. When Iggy Pop dives into the crowd, there's nothing virtual about it. But with a screen behind the duo, Kid Infinity expanded the show into the space above the audience's head. A grid projected onto the screen pushed cubes in and out, made them spin and twist above the crowd. At times, these cubes seemed to be breathing along with the rhythm of Kid Infinity's music.
While the duo bounced along to the music, the effects were making the crowd oooh and ahhh. At one point, a glowing rectangular platform seemed to rise from behind the stage like a garage door and levitate over the audience, transforming the Smell's dingy ceiling into a red and white futuristic roof that looked like an inverted disco dance floor. A cube the size of a chair floated above the crowd. At one point, the band's logo erupted out from the stage and flew overhead.
The final images were the most impressive, and best indicated the potential of the technology. Created by German animator Matthias Muller -- Huber found him on YouTube -- the visuals combined swirling particles and virtual flames to create something mysteriously alien. When it was finished, the crowd erupted into applause.
A few days later, Huber was well rested after an intense period of preparation. He estimated the pair had slept a total of 10 hours in the week leading up to the show. But, he added, they're already starting to think about the future. "We hope to do it more and more. We just need to find the right venue. But my company is really excited about it, and they just asked us when we want to do our next gig."
-- Randall Roberts
Photo: Kid Infinity at the Smell. Credit: Randall Roberts