Working alongside the celebrated composer Jeff Wayne for eight years now, AR Media have covered four arena tours and one west end show of the award-winning musical version of The War Of The Worlds. The TWOTW album won two Ivor Novello Awards along with The Best Recording in Science Fiction and Fantasy, (the judges here included Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Alfred Hitchcock!).
AR Media have been working to deliver the screen visuals to accompany the live band and orchestra conducted by Jeff live to an audience of die-hard fans. Jason Donovan, a long term member of the cast says “It’s an incredible piece of music and such a wonderful story, I don’t think there are too many shows that you can go and see in a big arena that are like this. It has a big, epic cinematic quality to it.” Brian McFadden (who played ‘The Sung Thoughts of the Journalist’ in 2014) added, “I can’t think of a musical bigger, the size and epicness; it’s a movie turning into life on stage.”.
Being a unique show, the relationship and work AR Media have completed have been far from the norm, here is a brief history of (as Jeff calls it) our:
“ULLA, back to war!”
In the last years of the 20th century, a young boy gripped his bed sheets in terror as Jeff Wayne’s pioneering musical told the story of The War of The Worlds on an old flip-top record player. 40 years on and that small boy now leads a successful creative agency that has had the honour of producing all the CGI (computer generated imagery) , TV commercials and augmented reality projects for Jeff over the past eight years.
Rob Fairhurst, Director of AR Media points out; ‘A lot of time and effort goes into every rendition, from all the pre-production meetings, technical rehearsals and months of production time, to the terabytes of data required to deliver visuals over multiple, arena-sized screens whilst remaining sensitive to the guest artists performance on stage’.
From 2012, Creative Director Lennah Seelig has overseen the team from project managers and account managers to 2D and 3D editors, storyboard artists and camera operators all sharing the same passion and creativity for the musical masterpiece that is now as much the fans vision as it is Jeff Wayne’s.
Here are some of the highlights of AR Media’s relationship with Jeff Wayne’s The War of The Worlds.
For the 2018 tour, AR Media team brought Jeff’s vision to life across multiple huge projections enhancing engagement with the audience and re-imagined a much darker, more sinister feel across the imagery in general but with particular focus on the Martian himself. The team pushed developments ever harder to visualise Jeff’s very specific idea of how each and every sound should appear, making full use of live capture, green screen, After Effects, PremierePro, D3 (now known as Disguise). New scenes were blended in featuring the escaping train and clock tower, both filmed on location by drones and a tent scene filmed in the studio received the special effects treatment to lift it from the green screen and be realised as an enormous refugee camp.
2016 saw Jeff Wayne’s The War of The Worlds take residency at the Dominion Theatre in London under the careful eye of renowned West End Theatre Producer, Bill Kenwright. Having worked with AR Media for so long, Jeff had the confidence to stand back and let the AR team adapt graphics developed for what had historically been a live arena tour into a gripping theatre experience, safe in the knowledge that we would keep true to the essence of his original story.
With songs being tailored for theatre and an immersive audience experience Including 1 backdrop, 9 roll drops, 3 screens and a front gauze at the heart of the project, the AR team worked relentlessly to ensure the CGI added to the narrative and brought wonder to the story whilst always remaining complementary to the action happening live, on stage.
2014 heralded the Voice of Humanity. As TWOTW had evolved over the years it was time to tell the story of mankind and how events affected them. Scenes were conceived, planned, cast and costumed ready for one week of filming with over 50 extras at our green screen studio. Particular attention was paid to expanding the role of Carrie, the Journalist’s Fiancée as she battles to escape the attack on London adding a parallel journey to the main character of the Journalist and the themed ship Thunderchild. AR Media filmed a Captain and crew which were then composited into bridge of the 3D Modelled ship to show man’s last stand for humanity as they battle the Martian Fighting Machines. The result was a series of scenes of people under attack, giving faces as well as voices to humanity.
2014 Also bought the author of the original story into the show, AR Media were given the opportunity to work alongside Jeff in bringing H.G.Wells to life. Oscar, Bafta and Emmy award winner Mark Coulier of Coulier Creatures introduced prosthetics to transform actor, Callum O’Neill, into the 3 stages of the ageing narrator H.G.Wells. A platform to deliver his soliloquy was needed and Jeff once again turned to AR Media.
2012 saw one of the biggest landmarks in TWOTW history. Whilst Richard Burton’s uniquely deep tones will always be synonymous with the opening lines of TWOTW, Jeff was keen to expand the narrative and make the Journalist visible. With only one man ever in mind, Liam Neeson stepped up to continue Richard’s legacy, giving a legendary performance on the green screen in New York.
The AR team were critical in developing new scenes, weaving the journalist’s visuals into the well-established narrative we experience today. Underwater special effects, vignettes and the famous stage hologram have all benefited from the experience of the AR team.
2012 – Collaboration with Sony Music UK and Ian Emes. Jeff teamed up with Sony Music UK to recreate the original The War of The Worlds album, which having been created in 1978 was influenced by the disco era that was king at that time. Besides expanding the score in the new Next Generation album, Jeff created a sound that reflected today’s world and for this new sound came the rerelease of the hit single Forever Autumn sung this time by Gary Barlow.
Multi award-winning, Ian Emes was commissioned by Sony to direct the music video to accompany the single. AR Media were delighted when approached by Ian to continue their work on the CGI. Ian and his team supplied raw footage and worked with the AR Media team to then create the visual effects in keeping with TWOTW look and feel.
2010 THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAIL. The War of The Worlds is a powerhouse of musical storytelling with an dedicated following but Jeff always knew that the visual aspect was also key to engaging with the audience. Up to 2010, the technologies available at the time meant the CGI work was a little rudimentary and at times didn’t quite reflect the mood and style of the accompanying audio.
To address this, AR Media dedicated a team for nearly twelve months to improving the realism and level of detail across the whole experience. Martian Fighting Machines gained more bulbous, insect like eyes and battle worn texturing, tripod legs became more menacing in their movements and the cylinders showed signs of travelling through space. Even the skies throughout all the scenes received the AR treatment, replacing the original 4 variations with 50 new skies to reflect time of day and season.
And it’s not just a case of using the latest technology. Every scene the AR team work on has to be treated with care to ensure it remains in keeping with the visual style The War of The Worlds has become known for and that the visuals compliment rather than compete with the live performances unfolding onstage.
Giving life to the experience is something AR Media are very proud of to this day and continue to push the boundaries of each time they are invited ‘back to war!’.
2010 – DESIGN OF A WHOLE NEW PREQUEL. Alongside bringing life to Jeff’s vision, AR Media also developed an introduction to the musical, giving context to the story of Martians arriving on our home planet. Jeff had already composed a score to set the scene for the audience but was not satisfied with the accompanying visuals so challenged AR to realise the journey.
Working from Jeff’s audio composition, AR proposed and subsequently delivered a back story reminiscent of mankind’s own dilemma; an intelligent race recognises the fact that they have exhausted their own planet of resources and look for alternative planets to colonise. Slowly and surely they drew their plans against us…
Back to where it all started in 2010. A young man attends a meeting set up by his business partner for what he thought was to be a music video. Only to arrive at Jeff Wayne’s house as reality dawns on what this meeting is really about. 8 years on, the directors of AR Media are always honoured to be involved, eager to add new perspectives during those early creative sessions and always manage to come in on budget year after year.
As Rob fondly recalls, ‘I always had a dream to work on a musical and have a live audience but would never have imagined of this opportunity’… and yet, across the Gulf of London, minds immeasurably superior to ours regarded this creative agency with envious eyes, and slowly and surely they drew their plans alongside us.
Putting on the show is no small feat, there’s an entire orchestra to practice, guest performers to bring in and the little known fact that the stage, props (including that surprise in the ceiling) and pyrotechnics all have to be dismantled after each show, transported and rebuilt at the next venue which is often the very next day. So it’s crucial that they fill each venue to capacity… and they do.
To help this, AR Media have produced broadcast approved adverts for every tour and theatre experience since 2010 that have featured on social media, in cinemas and across multiple TV channels varying the dates and venues for each region.