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Tour de Force

The perfect symphony of on-stage robotics for a global megastar

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Phil Mead is a video director at Colonel Tom Touring (CTT), with the enviable job of going on the road with Ed Sheeran. His big break came most unexpectedly, when he was working as head of electrics at Lighthouse, Poole’s Centre for the Arts, back in 2010.

“A show designer by the name of Mark Cunniffe came into the theatre and asked me if I wanted to go on tour and work on concerts instead,” Mead recalls. “I’d spent six years at the theatre and the time had come to explore and further my opportunities.”

Having worked on several tours for the likes of Stevie Wonder and Sir Elton John as a lighting tech, Mead was offered Sheeran’s + (Plus) Tour in 2011. Cunniffe wanted to introduce video and lighting; Mead was charged with looking after both.

“Everything had to be streamlined to give a clean and immersive experience”

Doing the maths

The team had to raise its game, as the next project involved making video for one of the world’s best-selling artists.

“The + Tour design became heavily dominated by video screens, so we took on a video director with some cameras to do it justice,” he adds. “I was the head of video/engineer on that tour.”

On the following ÷ Tour, the show designer created a video installation to wrap around Sheeran. It began in arenas, but was designed to scale to play larger venues. “We introduced IMAG screens and scaled up the height of the stage installation to play stadiums,” says Mead.

However, it was on Sheeran’s Mathematics Tour that the team behind the scenes decided to push the boundaries even further – this time not only challenging the skills of the people involved, but also pushing the abilities of the current technology at their disposal.

“The tour production team didn’t want to see any camera operators out front,” Mead continues. “Everything had to be streamlined, to blend in and give the audience a clean and immersive experience. That’s not a problem when you are filming Ed Sheeran on a normal end-on stage, but this was in the round. We knew that a camera crew with long lenses and sports jackets out on the six masts was inevitably going to break that design brief.”

The ambitious Mathematics Tour has been running since April 2022, with more than 100 planned shows across four continents

The next stage

Mead and his team had some enormous decisions ahead, namely how production would work with no operators allowed near the stage.

“In previous tours, we employed four Bradley Engineering CamBall 3s and three Sony broadcast cameras, but that was no longer an option,” he says. “The obvious answer was to expand the robotics.”

Mead decided to look at a mini pan–tilt–zoom (PTZ) camera: “The two options we had were a small-form-factor PTZ or a broadcast head on a PTZ head, which would be remotely operated,” he adds. However, there was no such dilemma for Mead when it came to sourcing the kit and asking for advice.

“We’d been using CVP at CTT to service our lenses,” Mead explains. “We have got a lot of Canon lenses with Sony broadcast heads. CVP is just a fantastic partner, in part due to its terrific client base. Service is great, and that’s pre- and post-sale. If anything unexpected happens, the team deal with it and turn things around quickly. I’m very happy with their attention to detail.”

Its customer service prowess was evidenced when Mead’s team went to the video equipment specialist for this project. The crew was introduced directly to Ben Arlow and Alistair Brierley from Panasonic Connect – set up by Michael Groom, account director at CVP.

“The Panasonic team came to our warehouse in Wiltshire for a demo day,” Mead goes on. “We looked at two high-end PTZs. One was a Panasonic UE100, which we tested at the facility with some basic shooting. Then the UE150, which I love the look and size of, and the fact it’s all networkable with fibre options is a huge plus on this tour design. The UE150 also has a 4K-to-FHD crop, which got me thinking about how we could use one camera and get two live shots of Sheeran from one position.”

With the kit ready to be deployed, the team was about to do something outside of its comfort zone. Although the set-up was exciting and new, Mead says it was ‘very daunting’ to just be using robotics.

“It was definitely hard work for our operators on the tour, when you take the discipline of a front-of-house broadcast camera with a box lens and replace that with a tiny robotic camera,” Mead says.

“When operating a broadcast camera, you are at one with the unit – every muscle is engaged to move it and operate the zoom and focus. This was now a plastic joystick and rocker switch.”

If reviews of Sheeran’s latest tour are anything to go by, Mead and his team hit the right note.

Panasonic PTZ cameras like the UE150 proved the perfect partners, capturing Ed Sheeran on the big screen with precision

Build your perfect kit with CVP

CVP is home to a full spectrum of production equipment that is ready to see, combine and evaluate. Its creative and technical staff are committed to finding the correct solution for every production need. To arrange an online demo or book a one-to-one consultation, call 0208 380 7400 or visit

This content was first. published in the Spring 2024 issue of LIVE.


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