Artem has been at the forefront of physical SFX for the last three decades, with workshops in West London and Glasgow, and another soon to open in Manchester, continuing to serve as a one-stop-shop for television, film and advertising alongside live events and exhibitions.  Artem has an impressive track record with major events, including the 2012 Olympic ceremonies and the Glasgow Commonwealth Games 2014.  The creative effects and innovative solutions team can provide props, atmospherics, prosthetics, models and miniatures, pyrotechnics, mechanical rigs, animatronics, special costumes and huge media builds.  Since 2015, Artem has worked closely with Take That on three major tours. Below Mike Kelt, Chair and co-founder of Artem, talks about the highlights.

When did you first come to work with Take That? What was it like?

We first worked with Take That in 2015 for their Arena Tour, since then, we have collaborated on their two following tours: the ‘Wonderland Tour’ in 2017, and in 2019 their ‘Greatest Hits Live’ Tour.

In all instances we worked with Show Director Kim Gavin and Production Designer Misty Buckley, who also commissioned Artem to create giant props for the 75th anniversary of Europe’s ‘Holiday on Ice Spectacular’.  Having the creative freedom to interpret Misty’s imaginative designs and fulfil Kim’s creative direction has always provided the opportunity to create some really memorable central pieces for the various shows.

While the brief for each of the shows differ, it is a fantastic privilege being involved in such high-profile projects, knowing that our work will be seen by tens of thousands of people.

What were the most memorable props from the Take That Arena Tour 2015?

They were all memorable as we had an almost unthinkable three-week turnaround for an extensive range of scenic props. A total of 25 dedicated technicians managed to make a variety of creations.

One of the show’s most iconic moments involved a flying ‘copter-bike’ sequence for an aerial performance involving all three band members.  Gary Barlow, Mark Owen and Howard Donald took off from the stage and flew through the arena over the audience on the beautiful period-style tandem-with-sidecar machine which had rotating propellers and puffed smoke from its exhaust.

We initially drew and rendered the design using 3D software before implementing significant mechanical engineering to ensure safety.  The final construction incorporated electrically powered propellers above and to the rear, alongside a small 12v smoke machine to produce the realistic puffs of ‘exhaust’.  One major feature of the mechanical design was the inclusion of a steering mechanism allowing Howard to ‘steer’ the machine as it flew around the arena.

We also created a range of shadow puppets based on drawings and tests from the creative team.  Among these were puppets of walking and running people, fish and a cityscape. These puppets needed to be lightweight and robust, with some incorporating animating mechanisms for movement.  Most of the shapes were cut on Artem’s CNC router before being finished by hand to achieve a high quality of detail and finish.

For the opening sequence of the show, we built a tricycle and giant ‘hamster wheel’.  The trike was designed to be assembled by a ‘mechanic’ character as part of the on-stage action, before being ridden around the staging.  It eventually connects to the ‘hamster wheel’, giving the impression that the trike is driving the wheel and generating the electricity to ‘power up’ the concert.  As the wheel is being turned the mechanic climbs inside and continues his performance running and tumbling around as his assistant pedals the tricycle.  The design of these props was done in close conjunction with the creatives and performers, to ensure all of the actions and acrobatics could be carried out as planned.

Other props included a baby grand piano that could be flown while Gary played it, and a huge inflatable ‘underwater’ garden that took over the whole set.

What needed to be considered when making Aerial props for the Take That ‘Wonderland’ tour in 2017?

The Wonderland Tour in 2017 called for our technicians to design and build an extensive range of aerial props that performers could ride on as they fly above the stage.  These included a stylised swan, a winged horse, a unicorn, a jewelled orb and sceptre, a poppy flower swing, a giant fishhook and a bohemian bed, all of which form part of a revolving carousel.

Each of these objects had to be light enough for the dancers to carry into the arena, and structurally safe once attached to the flying system which lifted them into the air where the aerialists performed gymnastic choreography in time to the band’s catchy anthems.

What else did you make for this tour and how?

At one point the circular stage is transformed into a giant inflatable flower.  The 16 enormous petals inflate to a form a 26m diameter shape halfway through the show which could then be projected onto, so the team had to find a way to hide them in small discrete boxes under and round the edge of the stage.  Several small-scale versions were tested before creating a full-size test prototype.

Which tour was the most challenging?

The Take That ‘Greatest Hits Live’ tour of 2019 was their most technical yet with giant innovative sets and projection.  Artem had the wonderful job of creating 3 “Ride-on” huge scenic Chopper motorbikes for the song Spin.  The brief was that they had to have spinning wheels, rear up on cue doing wheelies, and belch smoke, and all this on a platform that had to fly into position from the roof of the arena!

Richard North and Alex Mayes designed the three choppers, and our technicians made and assembled the many components, motors, chains and control system that were required in a build that took over a month.

We were also asked to provide two of our super silent studio fans that featured not only as practical fans but also as scenic elements.  The fans were adapted to fit under the stage and were sprung and balanced for speedy deployment between songs.  We previously provided two of these machines for the Take That Musical “The Band” so they were familiar with their capabilities.

What next?

We are developing the Super Silent Studio Fan further making it highly portable and yet surprisingly compact considering its power.  Quiet fans are often indispensable for touring productions.  The fan will be available with or without DMX control and we will be able to adapt the fans for truss mounting, or they can be put in a lighting stand if required.

We are also excited to be opening a Manchester branch early in 2020.  This is our third UK location after our London headquarters and Glasgow satellite, and will allow Artem to be part of the booming creative hub in the North.  More news on this soon.