AJA XENA and KONA Cards Travel with Madonna's 'Sticky and Sweet' Tour

AJA XENA and KONA Cards Travel with Madonna's 'Sticky and Sweet' Tour

August 26, 2008

Short and Spikey Provides Cross-Platform Tapeless Workflow and Real Time Editing for Video Playback Concert Footage

Veteran video engineer Jason Harvey, founder of Short and Spikey, knows what it's like to travel with the band. Working with musical acts such as Beck, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Cher and Cristina Aguilera, Harvey first went on the road with Madonna during her 2006 "Confessions" tour. This time around, Harvey is serving as Assistant Video Director on Madonna's "Sticky and Sweet" tour, which kicked off on August 23 in Cardiff, Wales, and arrives in the U.S. on October 4.

In addition to an elaborate set, Madonna's performance on the "Sticky and Sweet" tour is accompanied by dramatic video footage displayed on 17 LED screens. Behind the scenes, Harvey uses AJA's XENA and KONA video playback and capture cards along with Adobe's complete professional video software as part of the on-site backstage editing system to help bring Madonna's show to life, simultaneously combining elements of pre-created videos with the live event.

Harvey developed a cross-platform tapeless workflow for the tour using three workstations: an 8-Core HP 8600 64-bit PC with 10 terabytes of storage running a XENA 2Ke card, a 4-Core HP 8400 PC with 1.6 terabytes of storage running a XENA 2K card, and an 8-Core Mac Pro running the KONA LHe. All three systems are loaded with Adobe Creative Suite 3, which Harvey and Video Director Christian Lamb use to edit and composite all of the video content for the show. Each system outputs 1920 x 1080 at 30fps directly to the video LCD screens, and can also be hooked up to feed each other directly for real time capture and playback.

"For the first time, we have a completely tapeless workflow that uses both Mac and PC platforms. AJA's XENA and KONA cards allow us to move easily between platforms, which is priceless," Harvey explains. "For us it's all about speed. I can output from the Mac into the PC and vice versa. Then we can loop that material through and send it to our video screens. Everything happens exactly the way we need it to, and in real time."

Harvey's job is two-fold: in addition to preparing all of the edited pre-show content, he also streams and controls the live video captured during each night's show. To make all of this possible, Harvey created pre-loaded templates that provide a way for multiple video sources to play in multiple boxes appearing on a single screen.  With both HD and 35mm material from six separate editing houses in hand, Harvey uses AJA's XENA cards to load it onto his system and position the clips within the template boxes.  Then Harvey manipulates the clips using Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe After Effects, color correcting them for consistency and creating composites of the video streams for each of the screens before rendering them out for play during the show. Final clips are rendered at a resolution of 1920 x 1080 at 30 frames per second to the Photo-JPEG compression at 50 to 100Mbps for use in the Mbox Extreme media server, using a grandMA lighting desk to control the server.

"XENA and KONA give us the freedom we need to set up a tapeless, cross-platform workflow," concludes Harvey. "It's a beautiful thing, and it saves us time."

Jason Harvey is the founder of Short and Spikey, a full-service creative video company based in the UK specializing in live music events.

Christian Lamb is the owner of Frank The Plumber, a Hollywood, CA-based video production company specializing in live music events.