For the first time in 50 years, the massive dish of the Jodrell Bank Observatory’s Lovell Radio Telescope was utilized as a giant open-air projection screen for a public son et lumière event, Space 50.
Space 50 is a series of events celebrating 50 years since the launch of Sputnik 1, the world’s first artificial satellite which the Telescope tracked significantly marking the dawn of the Space Age.
Creative Media Techniques (CMT) supplied all technical infrastructure, including projection, lighting, lasers, sound, and crew, working closely with show producer Dr. Alastair Gunn, who conceived the event and is a radio astronomer from the University of Manchester’s School of Physics and Astronomy.
The Creative Media Techniques team was led by Richard Hawkins. The original brief involved projecting moving images onto the 75-meter wide dish, together with a sound system for the audio track playback. However, after Creative Media Techniques expanded the project to include lighting and lasers. Hawkins comments, “Naturally we jumped at the chance to work on such a prestigious and unusual site—it was a truly amazing experience.”
For projection, Hawkins specified two Christie 20K HDs, overlaid to produce one super-bright 65-meter wide image. The projectors were located 100 meters away from the telescope on specially-constructed towers 10 feet off the ground. The images were edge blended using the projectors’ onboard ChristieTwist edge-blending software.
Stored on and played back via DV cam, along with the audio track, the 37-minute video show consisted of archive and historical space-orientated footage, graphics, and photographs tracing the history of the Telescope, the moon race, and space exploration in general. This was painstakingly compiled by Alastair Gunn in the three months preceding the event.
The show started with a 12-minute sequence as the 3,500-ton Telescope lumbered into its show position, from zenith (vertical) to one degree above the horizontal
At strategic points throughout the show, lighting and laser effects were activated via manual cues.
Lighting consisted of six 1.8K Studio Duo CityColor color changing flood fixtures placed around the base of the dish inside the tracks on which it rotates and moves, complete with six Terrastrobes and two Space Flowers at its rear.
Front of house were two small left and right towers, containing a total of eight Robe Lighting ColorSpot 1200E AT moving lights, used for gobo and wash effects on the sides of the dish around the video. When the video content went to black and white, the Robe lights were used for very subtle masked break-up effects over the top of the video, producing a layer of spacey texturing.
A pair of five-watt diode lasers were positioned left and right of the perimeter fence around the dish, approximately 90 meters apart, utilized for projecting aerial beams and effects out over the audience. These were operated live by Richard Hawkins via a Pangolin Performer keyboard and choreographed to the soundtrack.
Lighting was controlled from an Avolites Diamond 4 console, programmed by Darren Parker and operated by Ben Bungle, who worked with lighting tech Andy Higgins. Hawkins operated the lasers and the video was set up and overseen by Julian Hogg.
Creative Media Techniques also supplied a 7kW EV sound system consisting of six tops and four subs to cover the audience area.
Each show attracted up to 2,000 people and the event was such a success that Gunn and the team from Jodrell Bank Observatory are already considering staging future shows on the same site.
Hawkins sums it up, saying, “We’ve worked in some idiosyncratic places in our time, but this was one of the most fun and challenging shows for all of us. It was a great experience working with Alastair and his team, who put so much effort into ensuring that it was such a memorable occasion.”
A delighted Gunn said, post-event, “The projection was awesome! It couldn’t have worked out any better, it was really spectacular and achieved everything I wanted and more!”