The new reality of set design

Augmented reality and new technology means set design is no longer just about the crowd – it’s a chance to connect with people watching around the world. Creative Studio Tawbox tells CR how live performances are becoming all-encompassing experiences

There was both confusion and delight in equal measure at this year’s MTV VMAs, thanks to some of the set design highlights of the evening. The most obvious was Missy Elliott, whose lavish medley performance took viewers from a shimmering LED-lit hall of mirrors through a storm of digital rain clouds and finally to a huge UFO that beamed up performers from a cornfield. The confusion came from the blurred lines between what was real for everyone sat in the audience, and what the viewers at home were seeing. Lyrics appeared in mid-air, Missy seemed to float up into the gods, and Lizzo performed in front of something that was either a suspiciously smooth inflatable butt, or a special AR addition for people streaming at home.

According to creative studio Tawbox, which specialises in designing live performance, changing technology is pushing set design forward fast. “Media servers that play back the video content have really progressed into something that’s more attainable by artists,” Tawbox co-founder Bronski told CR. “Some of these servers were initially made for huge, corporate shows with massive 3D projections, and budgets that are way beyond what the average artist would be able to do. They are definitely becoming more affordable, but they’re also allowing us to push possibilities. We did something quite interesting with Rak-Su last year on X-Factor. They came back for their new single performance, and we decided to flip it and treat the X-Factor studio as a green screen, so what the audience was seeing in the studio wasn’t what the audience were watching at home.”

CREATIVE DESIGN MANAGER

Leeds, West Yorkshire

GRAPHIC DESIGNER

Farnham, Surrey

PRODUCT DESIGNER

United Kingdom