U2 3D

Mar 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Matt Hurwitz



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For the past 30 years, only audiences at U2 concerts have known what it was like to experience one of the band's live shows. But with the recent release of their newest concert film, U2 3D, that's all changed. The first live-action multicamera 3-D feature shot in HD, U2 3D places movie audiences smack in the middle of the crowd and onstage with the band, giving fans an experience almost as rich as attending in person surrounded by 90,000 other fans. Released by National Geographic Entertainment and directed by Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington, the movie can only be seen in 3-D, either in digital cinema-equipped theaters using REAL D 3-D projection or in IMAX 3-D.

The film was shot over a three-week period in March 2006, during the group's Vertigo tour in South America. Seven live concerts were filmed: two in Mexico City; two in Sao Paolo, Brazil; one in Santiago, Chile; and two in Buenos Aires, Argentina. An additional “phantom shoot” — sans audience — was filmed early the first night in Buenos Aires, with cameras placed close up onstage to permit such “macro” shots to be captured without camera operators interfering with the view of audience members.

For audio recording, executive audio producer (and one of the film's producers) John Modell of 3ality Entertainment enlisted the help of two U2 alums: co-producer and recordist Robbie Adams and music producer and mixer/re-recording mixer Carl Glanville. Adams has worked with the band on and off since 1989, engineering and mixing their Achtung Baby and Zooropa albums, as well as mixing front of house with U2 veteran Joe O'Herlihy and recording on numerous tours and live DVDs. Glanville, with the band since 2002, had produced and mixed two live concert DVDs for U2, as well as numerous other remixes; this was his first re-recording project. “That was the hallmark of the whole production — to work with guys who've been working with the band forever — rather than sending in some outside company with a truck,” notes Modell.

As a base, Adams used the band's live miking setup, comprising mainly Sennheiser 421s; Shure SM58 Betas, SM57s and RF58As (for Bono's vocals); AKG 414s; and Countryman DI boxes. Venue/audience ambience was picked up by Audio-Technica AT4073As and AKG 414s. Additional spot mics, mostly SM57s, were placed at various locations along the stage's tendril-like ramps — down which bandmembers would wander during certain songs — for pickup of individual audience clusters. “It really brings quite a lot and helps suck you into the movie,” Adams explains, “so that when you see a person screaming on-screen, that's the person you're hearing.”

Placement of audience/ambience mics was crucial to the 3-D experience. “The Latin American audiences are very vocal and exuberant,” notes Modell. “We knew that was going to be a big part of the movie.” The varying architecture of the different venues posed a challenge — both to Adams for recording and, later, for Glanville in mixing when trying to match ambiences from different recordings. “In one venue, we might point a mic at a wall near a large audience section, though that place doesn't exist in another stadium,” Adams says. “And one stadium might have a roof, while another is smaller, is shaped like a dish and has no roof. So you're totally guessing — you do the best you can and then deal with it later.”

The microphone signals were split through a Clair Bros. splitter to both stage and local racks containing the digital mic preamps for the DiGiCo D5 FOH desk, as well as the other D5 used for the monitor system. An additional set of audio splits fed the Digidesign VENUE console (operated by longtime U2 monitor engineer Dave Skaff), from which the signal was drawn for recording.

Adams recorded the earlier shows on his Steinberg Nuendo system, inputting 96 channels until it was discovered that additional inputs would be required for the additional ambience mics, totaling 110 inputs. So they switched to Pro Tools HD. In fact, for multiple redundancy, two Pro Tools rigs were used, the second acting as a backup along with the Nuendo.

Interestingly, Modell found that there was no direct way to sync picture and sound recording together with a digital clock. “Front of house would have had to sync their whole show to our camera clock, and that was not going to happen,” he says. To solve the problem, a stereo FOH mix was recorded to both systems. Editor Olivier Wicki then imported that mix into his Avid editing system, which was then output as an OMF (Open Media File), which Adams and Glanville then imported into their Pro Tools session, visually aligning transients of the FOH mix with their own recording of that mix in the Pro Tools session.

In addition, the click-track used by the musicians was also recorded to both systems; Adams and Glanville used it to make slight adjustments, as needed, to Wicki's OMF. “He would put together what he thought was the closest version of the thing,” Glanville explains. “But Olivier's not a music editor, so every once in a while he might skip a beat or come in halfway through a beat because he couldn't hear it clearly in that mix.” The team would make whatever slight adjustments were required and send the OMF back to Wicki, who would then regenerate picture and return the corrected file back to the audio team.


As mentioned, the film comprises recordings made at a total of eight performances from four different venues that were seamlessly edited together, both in picture and sound, to appear to be from a single source. No overdubs were done by the band, which, Modell notes, “is a real testament to the band's talent and accomplishment.”

Adams and Glanville edited and mixed the soundtrack over a period of more than a year — from July 2006 to October 2007 — at Effanel Music in New York City, taking full advantage of the studio's Digidesign ICON console. “It's the only ‘real’ 5.1 room that's of a size [that] music engineers who are used to making records would appreciate,” says Glanville. “We knew the scope of this project was going to require some serious hardware and a room that was specifically built for 5.1.”

Glanville notes that for concert films, the picture is usually conformed to whatever performance of a song is deemed best, but in this case that wasn't possible due to picture limitations at certain venues. Production was limited to only one or two 3-D camera systems on all but the Buenos Aires shows (to avoid multiple cameras block-ing audiences' views), which left director Owens and editor Wicki with only a single camera angle with which to work for songs from those nights' performances.

“We realized that because the picture department wanted to put together the best collection of shots they possibly could for any one song, we couldn't just pick the best version of the song and have them conform picture to it,” says Glanville. “It was clear we were going to have to conform our audio to their picture.”

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