ABBA Voyage – How the Super Group was brought back to its 1970s.


Rome Oasis to Kylie Minogue, Massive Attack to New Order, director Bailey Walsh has worked his career with some of the biggest names in music. Her latest project is a little different, at least not because her musical companions are millions of pixels, recreating the four stars of ABBA in their glory. “They don’t complain – they’re not saying, ‘Oh, we can just have one performance tonight,'” Walsh laughs at the digital actors.

As director of ABBA Voyage, his job was to dream of a virtual concert experience that recreates the magic of watching a Swedish pop group in the royal stage of the 1970s. At its heart are four all-singing, all-dancing ABBAtars – Benny Anderson, Björn Ulvaeus, Agnetha Fӓltskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad – with hard-working digitally re-created digital rendering through the special effects of Industrial Light & Magic. Have been created.

When they appear on the screen in the opening tense of The Visitors at the purpose-built arena in Stratford’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, waving their dazzling caps, the effect is astonishing – and astonishing. Excited. “The challenging part was patience,” says Walsh. “I wanted tech to be a secondary part.” I like a light show, but I didn’t want it to be a tech wonderland because I think you’re going to lose that kind of emotion. ”

A big question for the director and his team was: “Is it possible for us to create emotion for these avatars?” Looking at the sheer volume of tears on the field every night – from wiping the eyes secretly to relentless waterworks – the answer seems to be yes. As Manog, who was on the show’s opening night, says, “This technical feat manages to be emotional; it offers a hug and welcomes us to this second worldly but ultimately human experience.”

Bailey Walsh (right) with Benny Anderson, director of ABBA Voyage

/ Handout

Walsh, a lifelong fan of ABBA, says the group’s music is “in my DNA” and, while living in the West End, is ubiquitous – “every day there are Tok Tux dancing queens playing outside my window.” Three years earlier, the show’s producers had been approached by Savannah Gasella and Ludwig Anderson – Benny’s son – who along with the former had released music videos for a large-scale attack, as well as the Oasis documentary Lord Dante Slow Me Down and Springston. Worked at & i. Then came the zoom call with Anderson and Elvis. “I was in Iceland on holiday, they were in their cabin in Sweden – it was all very unrealistic.”

The band spent five weeks filming in Stockholm’s movie Hewitt to capture their movements. This was followed by another filming session in which routine was extended using performance doubles, overseen by choreographer Van McGregor. Some songs were added and dropped along the way, but the set list was “too much for them – I can’t tell ABBA which songs they should play!” Says Walsh. “It simply came to our notice then.

“They’re in weird motion capture suits. [wearing] The shoes were with bubbles on them, but they overcame them very quickly and were very unconscious – then you just look at ABBA, and those mo-cap suits became hidden; when the four of them got together and they It performed. The first song, this [was] Breathable. “

Hi-tech motion capture suits are hardly the weirdest thing ABBA wears. In their heyday, they were known for their foreign stage gear – “they came from an era where anything happened,” says Walsh – which can be classified as theater costumes, under Swedish law. Taxes can be deducted. 2022 ABBAtars wears retro-modern costumes from costume designer BȦkerlund, who worked with the likes of Dolce and Gabbana and Manish Arora. “[They] They made the clothes physically and we filmed them how they move, “says Walsh.” Then ILM made them digitally – they had to weave every thread. “

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It was even more difficult to correct the faces of the ABBAtars. “You start with the skeletons, and then you put them on the skin; it’s a gradual process,” says the director. “You think, ‘We have it,’ but once it’s in motion, it’s gone.” He adds, “Sometimes it was scary, because it didn’t look like them … you’ll find Benny.[’s likeness] For one song, then for the next, he will go again. The light show – which includes 500 moving lights, featuring 30,000 points on the field – also had to line up with ABBAtars, as “every change of light changes your face”. Not surprisingly, the project required a total of 1 billion computer hours.

There are so many types it’s hard to say. The on-screen virtual stage is perfectly compatible with the physical stadium and lighting rig, giving a seamless three-dimensional feel. The band fades and retreats as it moves ‘behind the stage’. “That screen can never be just a screen,” says Walsh. “When you go and watch a live band, you see people moving around in the dark – it feels like a huge boost in confidence.” Will be.”

That’s not all realism – some of Vaz’s most sensational moments are a blink of an eye on the artificial setup, including a breathtaking sequence when an overhead shot featuring large-sized ABBAtars is flipped. The ‘band’ is found to be reconstituted. “It’s almost like you’re playing a game of what is real and what is not,” says Walsh. “We are not denying that they are digital avatars, we are accepting them. And I think the audience appreciates that.

The complexity of the tech meant that every light gesture and commentary from ABBAtars had to be sketched out years ago, but if the show ever came to another venue – the stadium was designed to “flat-pack” in a way. Gone, so you can. Take it down and move it “- Walsh would love to record an extra track for slots in the set, the day it tops your wish list.

He believes the technology will “get better and cheaper”, so other groups are likely to follow in the footsteps of ABBA (digital). Anderson and Elvis suggested in an interview last month that virtual concert treatment could eliminate the seemingly impossible and reunite Walsh’s former ally, Oasis. “I don’t think the oasis will be ready for that,” he replies. “They like to tour – I mean, they’re not together, but Liam and Noel do. And Noel made a comment years ago, you know, he likes to be a little bit negative.” In an interview with The Sun called the concept “meaningless.”

He says the fact that all four ABBA members were able to take part in the trip removes the moral hassle of previous virtual performances. “We were able to visually reinvent them – if it were a posthumous show you wouldn’t be able to do that, but since they were involved in this whole affair, we were able to bring them to 2022.” When you do Whitney Houston [as a hologram] And Whitney isn’t around, it doesn’t look right. All speeches and remarks made by ABBAtars were written by ABBA. They are, they are; how will you deal with John Lennon and George Harrison? Are you going to collect it? “

When Voyage was in its infancy, Walsh began the show with work on Being James Bond, a documentary featuring footage of Daniel Craig as the world’s most famous detective, and of Craig and Bond. There was a clear discussion between producer Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson.

Walsh had been very good friends with Craig since his 007 days. […] A laser-like eye for details, two things that often do not fit together.

“I spent a lot of time on bond sets, so I lived close to them all,” says Walsh. “I saw Dean become Bond. But when I went back to look for visuals, looking at all the B-rolls, I was really surprised that Dean went through it. I just wanted to make a portrait of the man who I know and I was incredibly proud.

Looking back, the commotion around Craig’s casting – which was about the color of his hair and the question of whether wearing a life jacket to take pictures at the Thames – has destroyed his action hero credentials – seems strange. Is. “It was crazy,” says Walsh. “It was really hard for him … the UK press likes to stand you up and slap you, or slap you down. … All those papers with him were just devilish. ”

Casino Royale responded to these criticisms, and Craig became the longest serving bond ever. “15 years is a long time to be a celebrity, and I think it’s hard to give up,” says Walsh. “If you become one of the biggest stars in the world playing this role, it’s hard to get away from it.” Pierce Brosnan, of course, made his mark as a Bond with a character in Mama Mia! Walsh says, “We go there, why don’t we bring Dean to ABBA? The two worlds will collide again …”

ABBA Voyage is booking until May 2023,