How Claypaky Is Helping Take Lasers And Live Shows To The Next Level

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Carrie Underwood shows off all the pretty lights on her “Denim & Rhinestones Tour,” featuring laser source moving lights from Clay Paky’s Xtylos series. The team that helped bring the show to life included tour manager Geoff Donkin, lighting designer/show producer Nick Whitehouse and Bandit Lights.
Photo by Jeff Johnson

When dreaming up the production for her 2022-23 “Denim & Rhinestones Tour,” Carrie Underwood wanted to perform some aerial work within equipment that would give her the ability to move from the end stage to a B stage. She was looking for lighting that would create a visual as if she was singing from inside a cage.

Enter Claypaky, which has a patent application filed for its laser source moving lights called the Xtylos series.

“We had a bunch of these Xtylos pointing up into the air creating a very fine pointed light cage around the whole of the B stage, which I have [never] seen any other light be able to produce,” tour manager Geoff Donkin says. “It was as if you had lasers creating that look but without the headaches and the additional safety measures that you have to take while using traditional lasers.”

Alberto Alfier, head of technology / innovation at Claypaky, which is headquartered in central-northern Italy, notes that there’s always a push from artists looking for something ingenious that will differentiate their live shows from the rest. The Xtylos series offers extremely vivid color capabilities while drawing about 400 watts of power per fixture compared to a traditional fixture that might use 800 to 1,200 watts of power.

“In my point of view this is the future because we’re getting smaller lights, which are brighter and use less less energy and we don’t have to hang as much weight above people’s heads; we can put more lights in a smaller space,” says Nick Whitehouse, CEO and chief creative officer of Live Redesigned, who serves as Underwood’s lighting designer/show producer and helped advise Claypaky in creating the Xtylos series.

While acknowledging that both types of lasers are valuable because specific types are best suited for different jobs, Whitehouse explains that Claypaky lights are different from traditional lasers because it is “used as a kind of a light engine. … A traditional laser is just a laser that literally points straight out. You use a mirror to make it look like all the effects you see. And this is a sealed thing. It bounces around inside and then it goes through some glass to make it safe, and many different safety filters.”

So what’s the catch?

In almost every other part of the world, the Claypaky fixtures are seen as a high intensity stage light and used with a common international regulation that classifies the fixtures as a Laser Class 1, Risk Group 3 — but in the U.S. the products can only be used upon the issuance of a variance by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH). Alfier says Claypaky implemented safety measures that were agreed upon and discussed with the FDA, testing the fixtures extensively to fulfill federal regulations.

“The biggest challenge that we’ve had in the U.S. is finding artists and designers that are willing to deal with the regulations, which are pretty simple and pretty minimal. But, most people are in rock ’n’ roll because they didn’t want normal jobs, which means they don’t like filling out forms,” says George Masek, strategic marketing manager in North America at Claypaky.

Claypaky offers an online training course that is provided free to customers and, after a client passes a test, Claypaky applies for a variance from the FDA.

“Once a company has their variance, they’re now free to purchase the lights from us and use them on shows. We then help with any reporting that’s required. … We make it as easy as possible for people to follow the rules and the regulations,” Masek says. “We’re thankful for the artists willing to embrace new technology. … The ones that are willing to take the chance and give it a shot, I think they’ve been rewarded mightily.”

He points out that Claypaky is the only company that currently has a variance to offer these types of lights in the U.S.

Claypaky’s first big opportunity to debut the lights was the Super Bowl halftime show in 2020. The company got a ton of compliments and orders for fixtures – and then the pandemic happened. While live shows came to a halt, Claypaky used the time to make the application process seamless.

The Xtylos series can be seen on the road now on stadium tours including Coldplay and Bruce Springsteen.

“This is probably the only lighting fixture I’ve ever had in my career that does this – the bigger the space you put it in, the better it looks,” Masek says. “Having said that, Muse had 175 of them in arenas this winter in the U.S. and it looked just tremendous.”