Legendary architect/set designer Mark Fisher, whose creations brought scale, creativity, and “wow factor” to many of the highest grossing and most critically acclaimed megatours of all time, died Tuesday of an undisclosed illness in London. He was 66.
For decades, Fisher was the most in-demand designer in live music, working on many of the biggest tours of the past three decades. “Perhaps more than anyone else, [Fisher] changed the face of stadium rock shows,” says former Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd tour producer Michael Cohl, chairman of S2BN Entertainment and producer of “Spider-Man—Turn Off The Dark.” “Without his designs, I doubt things could have reached the levels they did. He was a great one.”
Right up until the just completed Rolling Stones 50th anniversary shows, Fisher was considered a creative genius by his peers and artists alike, bringing to life the wildest dreams of rock stars, notably Pink Floyd, U2, and the Rolling Stones. Fisher’s designs made stadium shows palatable to music fans around the world, incorporating massive staging, never-before-seen “gags,” and lighting and video elements that not only were designed to work perfectly on site and impact the back rows of stadiums and arenas, but then had to be packed up and moved to the next city, or across oceans.
Fisher was behind the infamous Pink Floyd The Wall tour of 1980-‘81, in which a wall between the performers and artists was built and torn down during the course of the show, as well as Roger Waters’ re-imagining of The Wall in a hugely successful tour that wrapped last year having grossed nearly $400 million. Fisher also conceived the Stones’ groundbreaking stadium productions dating back to the 1980s, jaw-dropping productions marked by towers, elevators, satellite stages, and giant inflatables. He also did highly-praised work with artists such as Madonna, AC/DC, and Lady Gaga.
Arthur Fogel, chairman of Live Narion Global Touring who worked with Fisher on tours by the Stones, Madonna and U2, calls fisher’s death “a tremendous loss. “He was absolutely the master,” Fogel says, calling Fisher “part technician and part creative genius. He will very much be missed.”
Perhaps Fisher’s greatest achievement was in the design of “the claw,” U2’s first-of-its-kind stadium staging on the record-setting 2009-’11 360 tour, which allowed for the highest capacities ever for stadium shows, resulting in a record setting gross ($736 million) and attendance (7.2 million), records that could stand for decades, if not forever. Conceived on a paper napkin by Bono, set designer Willie Williams, and Fisher, and built at a cost of $25 million each, the stages were a mobile engineering triumph, and by the tour’s end, the three stages were hop-scotched across the world. They were built to support up to 185 tons, each carrying 14,000-square-foot video screens.
Not only did Fisher design touring productions, but his creations and ideas were also used for the Beijing Olympics in 2008, and several Cirque Du Soleil in Las Vegas, including the current Viva Elvis production. Legendary production manager Jake Berry, himself renowned for his work with such artists U2, the Rolling Stones, AC/DC, Floyd, Walking With Dinosaurs, and many others, was a frequent collaborator with Mark Fisher on tours, and called the designer’s passing, “a huge loss to our industry.
Fisher “changed the way we see large shows,” Berry tells Billboard.biz. “He had great vision and perspective—you would look at the design and say ‘that is crazy, it will never fit it, will never work.’ But, in the end, it would always fit and always work.”
Berry says Fisher enjoyed collaboration and input in making shows “fit” in various venues. “For instance, if we had an indoor show, we would always ask, ‘what do we need to allow for say fire lanes?,’ and once we had decided on that, he would work within than parameter,” Berry recalls. “Most of all, he could convince the artist that they did not need to be any bigger.”
Fisher mentored many in the industry, including Berry, and his productions were known for professionalism and delivering the goods every night, despite whatever insanity might be going on behind the scenes. “When you were on a Mark project, you knew you had to be on your game, as you could not bullshit him,” Berry says. “He was a great designer, a great person, and a great friend.”
The website of Stufish, the design firm Fisher founded in London, posts that Fisher, “passed away peacefully in his sleep at the Marie Curie Hospice in Hampstead, with his wife Cristina at his side, after a long and difficult illness, which he suffered with stoicism and courage and his customary good humor.”