ABBA Voyage – ABBA.
The photorealistic avatars have been created by Industrial Light & Magic, the company founded by George Lucas.
ABBA released their first new music in 40 years in November in the form of an album called Voyage, which is also the name of a never-before-seen concert residency coming to a custom-built arena in London in May and running through all of 2022.
Baillie Walsh – ABBA in their motion capture suits.
The team then recorded more footage with doubles, who had studied ABBA for a long time.
While ABBA won’t be on stage in person, their avatars will, but not as holograms or displayed on a 3D screen or brought to life with the help of 3D goggles. The photorealistic avatars, designed to look like ABBA in their prime, will be displayed on a regular flat screen and yet still seem to be performing on stage with a live band for a live audience. Show director Baillie Walsh (“Flashbacks of a Fool”, “Being James Bond,” “Springsteen and
I”) has found a way to eliminate the barrier between the physical real world and the digital screen world through the use of light.
Everything that happens in the arena needs to be mirrored and continued in the digital space on screen, which is done with the help of the visual effects masterminds at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), the company founded by George Lucas.
“I’m doing everything I can, so you won’t be thinking you’re looking at a regular screen,” Walsh told Pollstar, adding, “There are ways to make that irrelevant. We need it to be as real and close to a live concert as possible, so that people are going to suspend disbelief. Hopefully, after the first few notes, they’re going to feel the excitement of seeing ABBA now, in 2022, but looking physically like they were back in the day.”
StuFish Entertainment – Most artists scrap plans for a show, if they cannot find a space to host it.
ABBA decided to build a dedicated arena.
One of the show’s promoters, Ludvig Andersson (“And Then We Danced,” “Yung Lean – In My Head,” and “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again)” emphasized: “To talk about this show in terms of screens is never going to do it justice, it’s way beyond that. It’s all about music and emotion and love and soul. It’s about the experience, not the vehicle to deliver that experience. This show was never about technology, even though we’re using it to an extent that no one ever has before. But the truth is, the better we use that technology, the less that technology matters.”
The amount of lighting installations envisioned by Walsh could only be realized in a dedicated arena. “This isn’t a concert that could travel,” he said. Also, there simply wasn’t any other space in London, where the 3,000-capacity building is approaching completion at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, that could be rented out for a full year.
“It turned out to be a blessing,” said Andersson, “as we could start with ABBA’s music and performance, and then explode outwards from that. The building has organically grown around the performance, we can control every inch of it sonically and visually. It becomes part of the whole concert experience, from the moment you enter our space.”
ILM also designed the ABBA avatars, based on motion capturing done with band members Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. “The motion capture shoot with ABBA was an amazing experience. We spent five weeks with them, covering all the songs,” Walsh said. The team then recorded more footage with doubles, who had studied ABBA for a long time. Star choreographer Wayne McGregor made sure they moved like the original band, using ABBA’s motion capture as well as archived footage as a base. “You start with very basic animations, you see what works, what movement looks good, and build on that. That’s what we’ve been doing over the past 18 months. We’re now getting to the good bit where we’re seeing the results of all of our hard work, and all of our vision comes alive,” Walsh said.
Ludvig Andersson – ABBA in the studio.
Recording their first new music in 40 years.
He makes no mistake about the fact that “no one’s gonna stand there for an hour and a half and say, ‘Oh, my God, these avatars are amazing,’ right? What they want is a great show.And it’s irrelevant, whether they’re avatars or humans, we have to facilitate the same thing, which, hopefully, is a very emotional show that people are going to dance, sing and cry to. They’re going to forget about the avatars. When I watch ‘Star Wars,’ or any film that’s
got a lot of post-production, I’m not interested two minutes in what that post-production is, I’m interested in the story and the characters. And I think it’s the same with the show.”
The live band that’s going to perform alongside the avatars is made up of real performers “who can be on a stage and capture an audience,” Andersson explained, “They’re all excellent musicians, but they are also skillful performers, which is important. James Righton helped us cast them. We spent two days in the studio in London just jamming. This was almost two years ago. We’re starting music rehearsals in February.”
He emphasized, “This is what ABBA wants to do, they are completely involved in the production. This is ABBA’s concert in 2022. This is ABBA now. It’s not a time capsule, it’s not a karaoke show. This is what happens when you ask ABBA what they want to do. They said, ‘We want to do this, we want to do the
most unheard-of, most enormous production in the history of music performance.’ This is ABBA.”