Tool Time

July 30, 2019 13 mins to read

When Tool decides to go out on tour, there’s one thing that’s for sure: guitarist Adam Jones is going to be highly involved in the look of the show. For some designers, this might be a challenge, but considering Jones’ background and past work on set design and makeup (including on Jurassic Park, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Dances With Wolves, and Ghostbusters 2), the guitarist has something of an artistic eye, to say the least.

Working alongside Jones, who conceived the video and set design, are video director/programmer Breck Haggerty and lighting designer/programmer/director Mark “Junior” Jacobson, with Scott Wilson as laser crew chief. Content and animation for the video-heavy tour came from several sources, including Jones’ wife, artist Camella Grace, who directs the content, as well.

The look of the tour is really dictated by the video elements of the design. When Jacobson, the band’s lighting designer for the last 10 years, was unable to take on the first leg of the tour earlier this year due to a conflict with Korn, he approached Haggerty to handle a converged role directing the lighting, video, and set design. “This time around, however, Adam had some really specific ideas he wanted to try for video and set design in terms of where the projectors and screens go,” says Haggerty, who is also founder of Diagonal Research and the creator of the NEV8 system, also used on this tour. “This time, it was more about technical problems than design issues for me.”

While there was a similar screen backdrop for the earlier leg, the screen for this leg — a 56’×6′ seamless rear projection screen — is exactly half the size. “It was inspired by a show that Cream did at Royal Albert Hall, where they wanted to seat people all around,” says Haggerty. “They had a very low video wall that was front-projected, so they could have a video element, but they could also seat in the round. The design is a combination of that and the idea of using the whole stage as a projection surface, including the stage itself.” Delicate Productions provided both lighting and video gear for the tour.

To use the stage as a projection surface, 56’×28′ of white marley floor, provided by Accurate Staging, takes video content from a grid of 12 Christie S+16K DLP projectors hanging from the ceiling. Seven more rear-project the backdrop screen. “The design itself is really simple,” says Haggerty of the video. “It’s just that low wall and the giant projection on the floor, which really ate up our budget. It really came down to how much money they wanted to spend and how big this projection could be on the floor, because it gets exponentially more expensive as the image gets larger. We started looking at keeping a constant brightness level and just widening the stage by 2′ or 3′ made a huge difference.”

“The show looks very different based on where you are sitting in an arena,” says Grace. “Toward the end of the show, the screens in back of the band and the entire floor become one giant screen, making the nosebleed seats the best in the house. The design objective is to create a show that everyone can be a part of — no bad seat in the house.

“Adam wanted the show, in its entirety, to be an evolution,” continues Grace. “The show has very a minimalist feel in the use of basic colors in the beginning and builds through the entire set until the end is kind of an overload of lights, video, and lasers. Inspiration comes from so many different places, large and small. Each song has its own themes and ideas, and the trick is somehow to marry all of these visual ideas and styles.”

Ten Coolux Pandoras Boxes, with two outputs per box, serve this setup, using 19 of the available 20 outputs, one per projector (seven in back, 12 in the air). “The Pandoras are used mainly for their ability to zoom, edge blend, and correct keystoning, so we can accurately tweak this huge projection and knit it all up so it looks like one continuous image,” says Haggerty. With six quadrants on the floor, each takes two projectors with individual outputs to correct for any errors in hanging. “We were originally going to try to use just one output per quadrant and try to focus each projector physically, but we never would have been able to get it totally right, so we added Pandoras Boxes, effectively doubling the number we had to the projectors in the air, so we could get that extra level of adjustment and really get it dialed in,” Haggerty adds.

All the content is delivered via three Diagonal Research NEV8 racks, one feeding the floor, one feeding the wall, and one feeding Barco MiSpheres — configured in a shape inspired by the work of artist Alex Gray — that appear as a more dramatic backdrop for the last third of the show. “Part of the reason we used a singular source was so one image could play across the whole scene without having to worry about all the timing issues you can get running movies off of multiple computers,” says Haggerty. “The NEV and Pandoras Box made a wonderful combination. Because all of the programming was divided between two systems — the NEV for content, and the Pandoras for display — it kept the programming relatively simple.” There is no use of IMAG on this or any other Tool tours, as per the band.

In addition to content creation, Grace also works from others’ content to build a narrative for each song. “Having worked with the band for 10 years gives me a real understanding of how the band wants to create the live experience,” she says. “Being married to Adam gives me an intimate understanding of the vision they hope for.”

Along with Grace and Haggerty, contributors to the video content include Jones, Chet Zar, Alex Grey, Meats Meier, and Matt Santoro. The artists use a variety of media, including some live action footage shot on DV or 35mm and software including Autodesk® Maya®, Newtek Lightwave 3D, Apple Final Cut Pro, Adobe After Effects, and U&I Software’s ArtMatic.

“In the early days, we would use 16mm film or a Hi-8 video camera and a video toaster making loops on SVHS tape,” Grace continues. “Today, the tools are so much better, and we have more creative minds involved, but we still use some of the early stuff. The evolution of ideas is very much a part of what Tool does. It is a cacophony of styles and ideas that have emerged over the years.”

Content is tweaked every show, and so are timing and programming changes. “We’ve been trying to shift things over to a more improvisational type of programming, where you can make last-minute changes during the show, and if you decide you want to try something two seconds before it happens, you can go for it,” says Haggerty. “This also makes it easier to change content and concepts. I’m more VJ-ing the show than playing back cues.”

For both lighting and video control, Haggerty and Jacobson each run an MA Lighting grandMA. A grandMA Light is also on hand for backup, but its main use is during setup for adjustment to the Pandoras Boxes for the floor projections on stage, since these can’t be seen tweaking from FOH.

Danny Whetstone, video crew chief for Delicate Productions and the projectionist for the tour, builds the projection system onsite, converging and blending all the projectors. He uses a combination of the projector optics (lens shift, zoom, focus) and the grandMA Light controlling Pandora CAM layers. “We built very specific test patterns, test cues, and views for him to use,” says Haggerty. “Once the grid is straight and field is flat, he turns it over to me, and I start working on show notes.”

Band members are much less involved with the lighting design of the video-dominant set, except for the insistence on no followspots. Aside from drummer Danny Carey, the band simply does not like to be well lit, especially lead singer Maynard James Keenan. “They don’t really run around the stage anyway,” says Jacobson. “I can leave dark areas on the stage they can retreat into in case they don’t want to be lit at that moment. This tour, the lead singer was really lit because of the video, not the lighting. Video has always been a top priority.”

Jacobson did not want to wash out the video on the stage floor with too many lights. “That’s where the sidelighting with LEDs comes in — the PixelLines,” he says. “They’re low profile, you don’t really notice them, and I could still light the band without any toplight. The PixelLine 110 is one of the first LEDs I’ve seen that is an actual light and not just an effect because it can actually throw light 20′.” Also in Jacobson’s arsenal are Coemar LED ParLites for truss toners, Martin MAC 2000s, High End Systems x.Spots, Studio Beams, Studio Commands, and Zap BigLite 4.5 fixtures.

For a few songs, three rings of moving truss lower and articulate, for which Delicate provided a magnetic link-counting system by Branam Enterprises Inc. “It’s just a computer with a monochrome screen — very DOS-looking stuff — that selects the hoists and records a position for them,” says Jacobson. “They just play back with function keys.”

Diversitronics D3000 Strobes are used for lightning effects but are actually controlled by Haggerty from his grandMA to coordinate with the video footage. Both grandMAs are running the same show file but operating in different worlds, allowing Haggerty to grab the strobes for the song “10,000 Days,” for example, and sync them to the video. For the first song, “Stinkfist,” there is no video used, so in addition to the lights, Jacobson uses the projectors with a solid green as a wash, controlling them from his grandMA, each console acting as a sort of backup for the other, as well.

As for operating the lighting, like video, much of the show is run on the fly. “There are only a couple of songs that are totally ‘Go button’ songs,” says Jacobson. “The rest of it is very fader-intensive, grabbing this chunk of lights, each having its own cue stacks. Tool sometimes plays something a little longer or adds a cool new bridge to a song during sound check, so we have to come up with something extra. They evolve the show, so we have to also.” Some preprogramming was done using grandMA 3D, although most programming for both video and lighting was done while onsite.

The final icing on the design is the use of lasers, a first for Tool. “In 2002, we talked about using lasers, but the budget didn’t allow for it,” says Jacobson. “I had been talking to Howard Ungerleider about some other effects I wanted to do, and I kept thinking about his company [PDI]. My approach with the lasers has really been to let the laser crew do what they want because they know far more than I do about it. Adam had some ideas here also, and Scott [Wilson] came up with the looks.”

As laser crew chief, Wilson designed and programmed the looks and runs the cues for the show. Additional programming was shared by laser tech Alex Donne. Since Wilson was on tour with Hilary Duff for most of the rehearsal period, most of the laser elements were programmed in just two days. Adding to the idea that the show builds and adds new elements as it progresses, lasers appear only in the final four songs.

“Knowing that the show is building to its pinnacle, the laser effects build as well,” says Wilson. “All the elements of the show play off each other, trading places for who is the most predominant. A laser effect might lead to a lighting transition and vice versa. The upstage lasers are able to change color, allowing me to match certain color palettes in songs. In the end, you’re left with a unified visual experience like no other.”

Wilson uses a total of five lasers, including two 20W Spectra Physics 171 Argon/Krypton White Light Lasers at upstage center. They are used on a custom 24-position double rail projector fitted with three sets of Eye magic X/Y Scanners and CMY color mixing. Other effects include 180° diffractions, RGB, and CMY beam rails. Three 12-position 3W Quantum YAG lasers, two of which are mounted on the upstage truss, round out the package. One of these is situated at FOH. The laser show was programmed with Pangolin’s Showtime 2000, configured to use two Pangolin Pro Cards. The show itself is run through a Pangolin Live Controller.

The tour design was most recently morphed once again for a European leg, which is currently out. After dates in Australia and Asia, Tool plans to return to the U.S. in the spring, with dates to be announced.


Lighting Gear

24 Martin MAC 2000 Profile

6 Martin MAC 2000 Wash

8 High End Systems x.Spot HO

4 High End Systems Studio Command 700

5 ZAP Biglite 4.5

6 High End Systems Studio Beam

15 Diversitronics D3000 strobe

10 James Thomas Engineering PixelLine 110ec LED Batten

28 Coemar ParLite LED


2 MA Lighting grandMA console

1 MA Lighting grandMA Light console

1 MA Lighting NSP

1 Pangolin Live Controller for lasers

Video Gear

12 Christie Digital Roadie 16K DLP Projectors

7 Christie Digital Roadster 6K DLP Projectors

10 coolux Pandoras Box Media Servers w/ SDI input cards

6 Diagonal Research NEV8.2 Universal Controllers

2000 Barco MiSPHERE

56′ × 28′ White Marley Floor

56′ × 6′ seamless RP Screen

3 Panasonic MX70 Mixers w/ 3D and SDI Cards

6 FFV Omega Dual Decks


2 Spectra Physics 171 Argon/Krypton White Light Lasers

3 12-position 3W Quantum YAG lasers


24 10′ to 20.5″ Black truss

3 10′ Circular 12″ silver truss

16 1-ton chain motor

9 ½-ton chain motor under hung, link counting

(with Skjonberg Motion Control system and two ½-ton chain motor cable picks)

10,000 DAYS CREW

Production and set design: Adam Jones

Video content direction: Camella Grace

Video design/direction/programming: Breck Haggerty

Lighting design/programming/direction: Mark “Junior” Jacobson

Stage manager: J. Dennis (“J Dot”)

Carpenter: Bobby Reid

Delicate Productions Video Crew:

Projectionist: Danny Whetstone

Tech/MiSphere: Adam Brown

Tech: Alan Cosgrove

Delicate Productions Lighting Crew:

Lighting crew chief: Leigh Fordham

Dimmers/motors: Paul Eaves

Repair/system tech: Jerry Hall

System tech: Adam Walden

PDI Crew:

Laser operator: Scott Wilson

Laser tech: Alex Donne

Rigger: Thom Moore

Production manager: Greg Dean