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Designing Coachella: Interaction and Stage Design by Vita Motus

Festivalgoers to Coachella expect weekend-long partying that stimulates all the senses. The festival caters to the ears with lively performances by top artists, and it dazzles audiences with dynamic stage designs and futuristic interactive experiences.

After this past Coachella, we looked into the stage artists who deliver the interactive experiences that energize the festival’s atmosphere. We were lucky enough to talk to Heather Shaw, CEO of Vita Motus, who has designed stages and interactive experiences at Coachella for the past decade. At the most recent Coachella, she designed stages for Halsey, Run the Jewels and The Chainsmokers. Read our interview below on Vita Motus’ process for designing stages at Coachella.

The Chainsmokers perform in the Sahara tent at Coachella, in Indio, CA, USA, on 24 April 2016. | Copyright Goldenvoice

At this year’s Coachella, what is new with your stage designs that you haven’t done before?

There’s no new technology per se, but we are looking at a lot of different layers on stage and using projectors, using lasers, and using lighting on materials so it’s a layered show. We are not using the layers in a way that’s typically used. We’re facing the lasers on the stage. It has a little bit of a different attitude because we are drawing on the stage, which will be pretty fun.

The Chainsmokers perform in the Sahara tent at Coachella, in Indio, CA, USA, on 24 April 2016. | Copyright Goldenvoice

What are the drawings of?

We are drawing laser over media. It’s like punching media in a different way. It’s graphical. For example, in the movie Iron Man, he can see through his eye digital graphics. These digital graphics are laid over certain media moments and layers of scripts. It’s a play between this digital graphics and projection.

On the Vita Motus site, it mentions that designing a stage is about revealing a story. Could you tell us a story behind one of the stage designs that you have done?

Halsey has been touring this album for a year and the album is called Badlands. The album is very post-apocalyptic and very emotional. A part of what we wanted to do for this particular show is to create a stage that was about her finding a new land. So it starts with badlands and ends with her a finding new land. Each song goes through a particular journey that she might be on. The particular stage design is not theatrical stage design. It’s more of a design that lends to media and adventures. It’s this place that she can use as a playground. She can jump around and come through it.

Halsey at Coachella, in Indio, CA, USA, on 22 April 2016. | © Goldenvoice/ © Coachella/ Ryan Muir

What are some of the visuals for that?

We start in a city—a Blade Runner style looks. As we go through, there are songs like Hurricane where she’s in this desert hurricane and there are media of her going through hurricanes. It’s not literal. She’s not acting through this journey, but it is a common thread to have a media adventure with it.

Where do you and your team look for inspiration when designing a stage?

It always depends on the project. For designing a stage, we usually start with the artist. It’s not always just our vision. We get projects that are our particular vision, but when we’re working with music artists we are there to amplify their vision, amplify their album, amplify their music. We look at what inspires them, what moves them, where they want to go, what they want to do, what will make an impact for them because they’ve been doing their show for so long that being able to impress them is actually going to impress their audience.

Halsey at Coachella, in Indio, CA, USA, on 22 April 2016. | | © Goldenvoice/ © Coachella/ Ryan Muir

What are some considerations you take into mind when you are designing these stage experiences?

There are custom stages, theatrical stages, and there’s this world of LED rental gear. You try to plug and play with the puzzle pieces of rental gear. For us, we want to be able to make it look like something unique and different. We’re constantly trying to find new ways to use rental gear and/or be able to create custom pieces that puzzle into a way of rental gear puzzles and make it something that’s feasible for stage hands across the U.S. to put together. In the initial concepting of stage, we try not to think too much about limitations. Then once we like an idea, we start to hone it down into what those limitations might be — be it budget, material, touring, size, scalability, modularity. Trying to figure out what’s the functional logistics have to be. And then defining it for a particular client, show or tour. There’s a lot to consider. On the front end, we try really hard to keep it open, creative and interesting so we don’t get too narrow focused.

Halsey at Coachella, in Indio, CA, USA, on 22 April 2016. | © Goldenvoice/ © Coachella/ Ryan Muir

I read some articles that you’re used to looking ahead at the future. For instance, when you were designing for Audi, you were looking at designing cars for 2020 and 2030. And that you look towards the future with your stage designs as well. How do you go about designing for the future?

It’s the core inspiration, the movement for us. Everything that we try to do is push the limits into what has not been done. For example, when we were doing the Amin Tobin projection mapping stage, that kind of thing wasn’t being done. It was the first one of its kind to push into a new style of entertainment and a new style of sculptural media playback. I think that is a good example of how we tried to look into the future and look into what has not been, why it hasn’t been and how we can get there. And I think as a core inspiration for us, we’re looking at our own connectivity. That inspiration alone is of thinking anything is possible and that nothing is impossible. It’s a really good place to be because it’s that narrow focus that can hinder creativity.

Check out more incredible stage designs by Heather Shaw’s team below—and even more at vitamotus.com:

Amon Tobin ISAM Tour 2012/2013 – This high-tech concept references the digital roots of the music through a dynamic 2-Bit / pixel sculpture that comes alive when 3D projection mapped. This stage first premiered in 2011 and is currently touring the world with consecutive sold out shows.

Pharrell Williams at Coachella 2014

THE DO LAB Coachella and Media Chandelier 2014

Tripolee Stage – Electric Forest 2015

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