Image courtesy of Tomorrowland & Prismax BV

The show must go on: Tomorrowland and Prismax get rave reviews with virtual music festival

Imagine a $10 million music festival, and you’ll probably get pretty close to Tomorrowland Around The World. With eight unique stages, one million fans, and headliners like Katy Perry, David Guetta, and Lost Frequencies, the two-day extravaganza was exactly what you’d expect from one of the biggest electronic music events in the world. There was just one very important difference: Everything from the dancing fans to the fireworks in the night skies was entirely virtual. 

The original in-person Tomorrowland festival had been canceled due to the pandemic, but organizers weren’t satisfied with simply live streaming musicians performing in their living rooms. Instead, the Tomorrowland team joined forces with content creation company Prismax. Together, they used Unreal Engine to recreate the entirety of the festival atmosphere, including a virtual island that attendees could walk through on their phones, tablets, or computers—all without any risk. This custom world was 10 times more dense than a typical computer game and populated by a mix of forests, mountains, and over 500,000 3D people. It was the start of a pipeline that would lead to the successful launch of two additional new virtual events in 2021.

From web design to virtual experiences

For General Manager of Prismax, Joris Corthout, working on Tomorrowland came hand in hand with a new focus on Unreal Engine.

“I started Prismax back in 2005 as a web design and video content creation company,” he begins. “We started experimenting with Unreal Engine in 2017,but it wasn’t until the pandemic happened that we really focused all our attention on it. Our regular work had been canceled, but with virtual productions and real-time work, we could still be in business.”

Together with the Tomorrowland design team, the first step to delivering the digital festival was to build the eight different virtual stages—each catering to different genres of music—that attendees could explore on the day. There were also 8,000 DMX light fixtures, fireworks, and laser shows to make; as well as a series of webinars, games, and other activities.
Image courtesy of Tomorrowland & Prismax BV
“Each of the stages had a specific theme and were a mixture of recreations from the real festival and creations that could physically—and economically—never be built in the real world,” Corthout continues. “For one, we even made a huge cave with flying crystals inside!”
Image courtesy of Tomorrowland & Prismax BV
Once all the stages were designed by hand, they were then integrated into Prismax’s custom-made Unreal Engine environment. The Tomorrowland team then built four different green screen studios around the world, all of which featured a full-sized DJ booth as well as 10x15 meter cycloramas. These studios would pre-record more than 60 performances—resulting in over 48 hours of content—that would be streamed live on the day.

Recording virtual performances

In order to record each performance, the Prismax team used up to six 4K Ultra HD cameras at the studio, three of which were tracked in 3D space with stYpe. “This meant we could easily capture each individual show live, and have all cinematography imported directly into Unreal Engine,” says Corthout. “The light designers could also create their shows directly on their GrandMA desks, as we could import their DMX data to our Unreal Engine scene.”
Once all the data was recorded, the Prismax team comped everything together, baking the tracking data recorded with stYpe into their own sequences. The result was a completely frame synced show that could be rendered out of Unreal Engine. For the crowds, the Prismax team used 3D scans of real people mixed with motion capture data. The effects like lasers and fireworks were a mixture of the team’s own creations as well as particle systems found on the Unreal Engine marketplace.

“Unreal Engine is much faster because you can work in real time,” Corthout adds. “What we rendered in Unreal Engine in a day would have taken weeks in Cinema 4D. Plus, the results were unparalleled. By the end, we had messages from people thinking our digital festival was real: they’d say it was crazy to do something like this during a pandemic! It was a sign for us that we achieved our goal and made something that looks believable.”
Image courtesy of Tomorrowland & Prismax BV

Bringing the world together

With viewers from Japan to Mexico and Iceland, Tomorrowland Around The World was such a success that the festival organizers are now planning to create digital experiences on a permanent basis.

“We believe digital events will exist next to in-person events in the future,” says Bruno Vanwelsenaers, Managing Director of Tomorrowland. “With Unreal Engine, we were able to create designs and effects on the computer that wouldn't be possible in the real world. We were also able to give attendees a more accessible festival experience. There was no need to travel or worry about wheelchair-accessible stages or huge crowds: you could simply decorate your backyard, get dressed up, and party with friends and family at home.” 

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