- 08 Nov 18
Catherine Owens was Creative Director of screen imagery for animation, film and video for both the Vertigo and the 360° tours
“We were always trying to be ahead of the curve...”
I first met Willie Williams at Madison Square Garden during the Joshua Tree Tour, but my involvement with the band really started with Zoo TV. I customised the Trabant and provided content for the massive video screens. That tour was about breaking new ground with what you could do in a live show, bringing theatrical, performative elements into the rock arena. We licensed art and worked with artists like David Wojnarowicz, Run Wrake, Brian Eno and Keith Haring.
That led to using Keith’s work in beautiful animations on the PopMart tour, and also led us to Roy Lichtenstein. There was a strong connection between what was happening in the art world and what happened on the stage. To invite great artists to use their platform, make what they want to make, say whatever they want to say – that has continued with U2.
We were always trying to be ahead of the curve of where we thought things were going politically or socially; always trying to think about what our anchor message should be too. On Vertigo, I thought that the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights would be a timely piece of text to reintroduce to young people. I remember a conversation with management about how putting the full text into the show would probably kill the concert right there! It was so political.
However, Bono was very encouraging. He said, “If you can find a way to put it into the show, let’s do it.” It turned out to be an utterly perfect piece, absolutely timely.
We also created an animation for the song ‘Yahweh’. It was a huge, hand-drawn piece by an amazing artist called Juan Delcan. It was literally a bunch of sketches I’d given to Juan that he turned into this magnificent animation. It played during the acoustic set, with just Edge and Bono on the stage. It was a very personal moment within these huge arenas. It’s something that U2 are really masters of: how you can affect the individual within the context of the whole.
In terms of cost-effectiveness, the stage used on the 360° tour was definitely controversial! For the art departments it was like being given another layer of paper or another set of pencils. Instead of having the video reinforcement on the left and right of the stage, we had high definition areas within the circular screen. We had these portals where you could have all live feed, all animation, or a mixture of both. In terms of your palette, that was wild and wonderful, but it was a lot to fill. There were a few sleepless nights during pre-production in Barcelona.
After that, I directed and produced the U23D concert film. Mark Pellington directed the live shoot and then we went into a year’s worth of post-production for animation and visual effects. It was a particularly beautiful film in terms of how it flowed and its pace. It formed a part of the 3D language. Ang Lee was very influenced by it on Life Of Pi and the cinematographer of Gravity, Emmanuel Lubezki, also referenced it.
That was really wonderful because I felt that we got to tell the story of everything that went into those previous five tours, including Vertigo. It was a wonderful way to sign off. There wasn’t that much you could do after the 360° tour!