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ABBA needs digital concerts to make £140m to cover costs of 'ABBAtars' made by George Lucas' firm


ABBA needs to recoup £140million to cover the costs of their immersive digital concerts, which saw George Lucas’ special effects firm log one billion computing hours to create the flashy ‘ABBAtars’.

The Swedish pop group returned to stage after 40 years with an avatar-led show in a purpose-built arena at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford, for a preview performance on Thursday.

Avatars of the band members – or ABBAtars as they have become known as – appeared on stage in 1970s silver sequinned ensembles to perform the band’s number one hits in an eerily realistic 95-minute stage show.

Pricey: ABBA needs to recoup £140million to cover the costs of their immersive digital concerts, which saw George Lucas' special effects firm create the flashy 'ABBAtars'

They're back: The Swedish pop group returned to stage after 40 years with an avatar-led show in a purpose-built arena for a preview performance on Thursday

Pricey: ABBA needs to recoup £140million to cover the costs of their immersive digital concerts, which saw George Lucas’ special effects firm create the flashy ‘ABBAtars’ 

Technology: The 95-minute high-tech concert was created by the pop group dressing up in motion-capture suits to pre-record the performance

Technology: The 95-minute high-tech concert was created by the pop group dressing up in motion-capture suits to pre-record the performance

Bandmates Agnetha Faltskog, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad only appeared in the flesh as they took to the stage for the final curtain call, with their digital counterparts leading the show.

And it has been revealed that the band needs to recoup a staggering £140million to cover the costs of the high-tech concert, which saw motion capture technology used to create the avatar singers.

The band have already sold a staggering 380,000 tickets for the London residency, which is booking until May 2023, while the show is then expected to head on a worldwide tour, according to The Times.

After investing huge sums in the flashy technology to create the show, the band have shunned corporate sponsorship, working exclusively with Swedish firm Oceanbird.

Venue: The Swedish pop group returned to stage after 40 years with an avatar-led show in a purpose-built arena at London's Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford, on Thursday

Venue: The Swedish pop group returned to stage after 40 years with an avatar-led show in a purpose-built arena at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford, on Thursday 

Bandmate Benny’s son Ludvig Andersson, who is serving as the project’s music producer, told The Telegraph that no band had tried a virtual performance before because ‘it’s so bloody expensive’.

‘We also need lots of people to come and see it for a very long time,’ he added.

The 95-minute high-tech concert was created by the four members of the pop group dressing up in motion-capture suits to pre-record the performance.

The voices and movements are the real quartet, but the performers onstage at the 3,000-capacity venue are digital avatars, who uncannily depict ABBA in their 1970s heyday in glittering sequinned ensembles.

The realistic avatars were created using motion capture and other technology by Industrial Light and Magic, the special effects firm founded by Star Wars director George Lucas.

High tech: One billion computing hours were then collectively logged from 1,000 special effects pioneers across four different studios to create the end result, ABBA Voyage

High tech: One billion computing hours were then collectively logged from 1,000 special effects pioneers across four different studios to create the end result, ABBA Voyage

Over five weeks, the band recorded their movements with 160 cameras trained on them and an 85-person crew manning the operation, which were then used as reference points to create the avatars.

An impressive one billion computing hours were then collectively logged from 1,000 special effects pioneers across four different studios to create the end result, ABBA Voyage.

During the concert, the ABBAtars appeared on a 65million pixel screen, with lights and other effects creating a futuristic 2D performance, made more realistic by an accompanying ten-piece band.

After the preview performance, with the residency opening to the public on Friday, critics hailed the technology for being ‘realistic’ and avoiding the ‘ghoulish’ feel of hologram shows.

The Daily Mail’s Adrian Thrills heaped praise on the show, which is booking until May 2023, as he gave it a generous four-star review, commending the avatars for their ‘realistic’ look.

Wow! ABBA's much-anticipated concert residency opened in a purpose-built arena at London's Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford, on Thursday

Wow! During the concert, the ABBAtars appeared on a 65million pixel screen, with lights and other effects creating a futuristic 2D performance, made more realistic by a ten-piece band

Wow! During the concert, the ABBAtars appeared on a 65million pixel screen, with lights and other effects creating a futuristic 2D performance, made more realistic by a ten-piece band 

Describing the show as ‘a concert like no other’, he wrote: ‘For those lucky enough to witness last night’s opening show of Abba’s virtual London residency, there was only one conclusion: Mamma Mia! How can we resist you?’

But he noted the inevitable downside of an avatar-led concert, as he admitted that there couldn’t be any interaction with the audience or spontaneous moments as normally seen in a live performance.

‘The staging was undoubtedly spectacular, but there are still innate shortcomings in any virtual show,’ he concluded.

And The Guardian’s Alexis Petridis gave an equally glowing review as he said it was almost ‘impossible’ to not recognise the eerily realistic avatars as the real thing.

Awarding the show a rave five-star review, he penned: ‘The effect [of the avatars] is genuinely jaw-dropping. Watching the four figures on the stage, it’s almost impossible to tell you’re not watching human beings: occasionally, there’s a hint of video game uncanny valley about the projections on the giant screens either side of the stage, but your attention is continually drawn to the human-sized avatars.’

Impressive: The Daily Mail's Adrian Thrills heaped praise on the show, which is booking until May 2023, as he gave it a generous four-star review. Pictured: ABBA in 1974

Impressive: The Daily Mail’s Adrian Thrills heaped praise on the show, which is booking until May 2023, as he gave it a generous four-star review. Pictured: ABBA in 1974

The 6,710-square-metre theatre will host eight shows a week and will allow for a 360-degree immersive experience, giving fans the chance to get up close and personal with the recreations of the superstars. 

The show saw the digital band deliver a hit-filled set featuring tracks such as Knowing Me, Knowing You, Fernando and Mamma Mia while the real-life Abba watched on from the stands.

In a nod to the venue’s east London location, Andersson’s ‘Abba-tar’ kicked off a rendition of their song SOS by playing the EastEnders theme at the piano.

And during Chiquitita, the band played against a backdrop of a giant sun that was slowly eclipsed.

Numerous outfit changes saw the band don sparkly dresses and cowboy boots, denim jumpsuits and futuristic space suits featuring neon detailing.

One more time! The pop pioneers originally split up in 1982, but reformed earlier this year to record ninth studio album Voyage and unveil plans for an immersive digital stage show

One more time! The pop pioneers originally split up in 1982, but reformed earlier this year to record ninth studio album Voyage and unveil plans for an immersive digital stage show

Fun! The theatre will host eight shows a week and will allow for a 360-degree immersive experience, giving fans the chance to get up close with the recreations of the superstars

Fun! The theatre will host eight shows a week and will allow for a 360-degree immersive experience, giving fans the chance to get up close with the recreations of the superstars

During their version of Waterloo, Ulvaeus jokingly recalled how the UK jury awarded them zero points at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974.

The band closed with The Winner Takes It All before the real-life Abba took to the stage, flanked by the show’s director and producer, and embraced each other to loud cheers and applause.

Speaking ahead of the shows, Björn revealed Voyage would be ABBA’s last album and recounted the ’emotionally charged’ moment the quartet secretly watched fans react to their concert from within the arena. 

Talking to The Sun, Björn revealed: ‘I don’t think there will be any more music with ABBA. I think that was definitely our last album.  

‘It’s very emotional at times. The lifesize avatars that you see on stage together with the live musicians, you have to pinch yourself. Even I get the feeling that they really are there.’ 

Awesome: The state-of-the-art concert - booking until May 2023 - features ABBA performing as holograms of themselves in their heyday

Awesome: The state-of-the-art concert – booking until May 2023 – features ABBA performing as holograms of themselves in their heyday

Explaining the process, Björn added that it was difficult for the band to choose which songs that avatars would perform as he said: ‘It took some time but finally we arrived at something which has a nice dynamic. But if we had gone on tour we would have played something like this.’

In an interview with The Mirror, he also detailed the ’emotional’ moment he watched the concert for the first time alongside bandmates Benny, Anni-Frid and Agnetha, as they secretly joined fans for the show. 

Björn confessed: ‘We were sitting away back in the darkness, so nobody saw us. It was a special moment for me and my entire family who are coming over to watch. 

‘Many are too young to have seen me on stage. It was very emotionally charged to say the least.’

Return: The pop pioneers originally split up in 1982, but reformed earlier this year to record ninth studio album Voyage and unveil plans for an immersive digital stage show

Return: The pop pioneers originally split up in 1982, but reformed earlier this year to record ninth studio album Voyage and unveil plans for an immersive digital stage show 

And in an interview with Australia’s A Current Affair, Björn teased of the digital show: ‘That’s the vision we have, an experience that nobody has ever had in music.’

‘You know to sit in the audience on opening night and see this thing, see ourselves… it’s going to be weird and wonderful,’ he added.

The pop pioneers originally split up in 1982, but reformed earlier this year to record ninth studio album Voyage and unveil plans for an immersive digital stage show.

But bandmembers Benny and Bjorn insist the reunion is a one-off, with the band unlikely to record more music following the release of first latest album Voyage, after 39 years in November.

Music: Benny and Bjorn (pictured with Agnetha and Anni in 1976) insist the reunion is a one-off, with the band unlikely to record more music following the release of first latest album Voyage

Music: Benny and Bjorn (pictured with Agnetha and Anni in 1976) insist the reunion is a one-off, with the band unlikely to record more music following the release of first latest album Voyage

The group became household names after winning the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest with hit single Waterloo.

They went on to release tracks including Mama Mia!, Dancing Queen, Take a Chance On Me and Thank You For The Music before walking away from the music industry. 

The foursome previously said they would never reform despite their huge worldwide popularity, and reaching more than 400million album sales over 50 years.

The Waterloo group went their separate ways at the height of their career, and during their final years Björn divorced bandmate Agnetha whilst Benny and Frida split up, too.

They performed together for the first time in decades in 2016 at a private event, which marked the 50th anniversary of the first meeting between songwriters Björn and Benny.

ABBA VOYAGE: WHAT THE CRITICS ARE SAYING 

Daily Mail

Rating:

Adrian Thrills heaped praise on the opening night show as he gave it a generous four-star review, commending the avatars for their ‘realistic’ look and ‘rocking’ performance.

Describing the show as ‘a concert like no other’, he wrote: ‘For those lucky enough to witness last night’s opening show of Abba’s virtual London residency, there was only one conclusion: Mamma Mia! How can we resist you?’

The Guardian 

Rating:

Alexis Petridis gave an equally glowing review as he said it was almost ‘impossible’ to not recognise the eerily realistic avatars as the real thing.

Awarding the show a rave five-star review, he penned: ‘The effect [of the avatars] is genuinely jaw-dropping. Watching the four figures on the stage, it’s almost impossible to tell you’re not watching human beings: occasionally, there’s a hint of video game uncanny valley about the projections on the giant screens either side of the stage, but your attention is continually drawn to the human-sized avatars.’

Huffington Post 

Rating:

Another incredible five-star review was given by Huffington Post critic Matt Bagwell, who described the digital show as a ‘mind-blowing feast for the senses’.

‘It is quite simply, awe-inspiring,’ he gushed. ‘If the acoustics weren’t so impressive, I swear I would have heard 3000 jaws simultaneously hit the floor.’ 

The Times

Rating:

Elsewhere, Will Hodgkinson described the show as an ABBA ‘singalong’ with an accompanying light show as he admitted that a live in-person performance would have been better.

He wrote: ‘Is this the future? Should we get rid of pop stars and replace them with compliant spirit people? I’ll stick with humanity, not least because when the real Abba came on at the end it provided the truly emotional moment. 

‘Still, for a show that combined live music, 3D spectacle and something else entirely, it was out of this world.’

The Telegraph

Rating:

Chief music critic Neil McCormick praised ABBA’s return to stage with a 20-song set as a ‘blockbuster multimedia CGI spectacular’ and an ‘entertainment extravaganza’ as he gave it a four-star review.

‘There’s a cinematic sweep to the production that will have today’s pop superstars looking on with envy, wondering how they might replicate such trickery at their own gigs,’ he wrote. 

‘The truth is, it would be impossible for any actual band to pull off something this spectacular.’

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