When I was growing up, my family watched the Eurovision Song Contest every year. It was essential viewing. I briefly stopped watching the Contest whilst at university but resumed after I left. It’s become a much more professional affair nowadays but I enjoyed the days when countries sang in their own languages and dressed in local fashions.
ABBA were my favourite winners and I continued to enjoy their music even when they stopped being fashionable. To me, their songs are some of the best pop music ever created.
Last Monday (23 May 2022), I went to a rehearsal for ABBA Voyage. We were asked not to post any reviews or photos until after the official opening on 27 May.
In theory, the rehearsal could have been disrupted as the producers made changes. However, on the night, it ran flawlessly.
I was ecstatic when my friend, who had worked on ABBA Voyage at ILM, told me she had a spare ticket. I thought I’d never be able to get tickets for the actual show.
When we arrived at Pudding Lane, there were already long queues. Everyone was being scanned and bags were being searched. Mobile phones had to go in sealed bags because no photos of the performance were allowed. There was a dire warning at the beginning of the show that, if anyone was seen taking a photo, the show would be stopped for the evening!
For ABBA Voyage, ILM created a computer-generated ABBA concert. Almost everything you see is computer-generated, including the four members of ABBA on stage. The band play lots of hit records and are accompanied by actual live musicians and singers.
The concert starts with ABBA rising from the floor, looking as if they’re on a stage in front of you. Even though they look three-dimensional, there’s only a two-dimensional screen in front of you. (The images are not holograms, which some reviews reported.)
I previously wrote about visual effects and, in particular, about how hard it was once considered to create human motion; even harder was to create realistic human faces.
One of the hardest parts to animate is the mouth movement. ILM get this right most of the time but occasionally the lips seemed to me slightly out of sync with the singing. I’m sure they’ll get this right. Also, the computer-generated band don’t quite have the energy or passion in their faces of a live band although they do move around the stage effortlessly. This is especially noticeable, by contrast, when the accompanying live band perform one of ABBA’s songs. The atmosphere in the arena completely changes.
These are minor observations. The whole show is an incredible feat of human engineering. The faces are realistic (there are a range of emotions), the clothes are realistic, and the hair moves as if it’s real hair. It’s an astonishing and very enjoyable spectacle. And you get to dance to ABBA as if no one’s watching because everyone there is a fan and just so happy to see ABBA back in any way whatsoever.
The following day, my friend sent me a photo taken by a colleague who was also at the concert. The photo had the two men in the band; and, we learnt, one of the women members was also at the concert. So three of the four people in ABBA watched the concert with us. We just didn’t know they were there!