It was more than 25 years ago - in 1985 - when Hansen set off in his wheelchair on his Man in Motion World Tour, covering 40,000 kilometers through 34 countries in over 26 months. While raising funds for spinal cord research and quality of life issues for the handicapped, supporters followed in his tracks to help “make a difference” in their own communities.
Vancouver production design firm Electric Aura Projects and PRP have a history of creating events for the physically challenged, including the World Wheelchair Rugby Opening Ceremonies, the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Opening & Closing Ceremonies and past events with Rick Hansen.
Plans for this celebration began a year ago. Initially it was designed as a live show only, until broadcast partner CTV was brought on board just four months prior to the event. Then the location moved from BC Place Stadium to the Pacific Coliseum.
Converting the live show design to a televised production required many design considerations. It had to accommodate the needs of three different parties: Rick Hansen, The Rick Hansen Foundation and CTV. There would be musical acts - performers Sarah McLachlan, The Canadian Tenors, Jann Arden and more. Audience members in wheelchairs would need to take the stage to share their stories. And it all had to read well on camera.
Electric Aura Project's Robert Sondergaard was production designer, lighting designer and operator for the musical performances. With a diverse portfolio of design projects for TV, film, theme parks, ceremonies, award shows and more, and the company's design team at his side, Sondergaard had the experience to weave it all together.
“It was a celebration of Rick Hansen's achievement, a springboard to motivate future generations to take up Rick's challenge to make change in their community, and a live music event all of which needed to be captured on TV,” Sondergaard says. “The design elements had to be grand and formal with an award show look to them, but at the same time we needed to have a set that was dynamic, high energy for the music numbers. Blending these needs was my main challenge.”
The entire production centered around the stage design for the wheelchair access. Everything else - lighting, video, musical performances - would take shape from that.
“From the beginning we wanted to not only make the set accessible, we wanted it to also look and feel accessible,” Sondergaard says. “This is no small challenge, seeing as we needed ramps that were at the required 12:1 ratio (run/rise). We decided upon a circular center stage 36-inch high, 24-ft diameter riser as a focal point for the main speeches and presentations. A number of presenters would come from the audience onto the stage, and because building a 36-ft long straight ramp was not going to be practical or aesthetically pleasing, we built a curved ramp around the outside of the circular stage. This provided a clean, striking solution for access.”
He continues, “On the back quarter of the center stage we added a set of curved stairs. We also added a switchback of ramps to the front of the main performance stage. The front edges of these ramps were lined with Octostrips so they were visible in all shots of the stage.”
Christie Lites supplied more than 400 moving lights including: 60 Elation ELAR Pars, 158 Martin MAC 101s, 191 MAC Auras, 50 MAC 2000 Profiles, 10 MAC 2000 Wash, 15 MAC III Performance, 8 MAC III Profile with Fader Box and spot arm, 3 grandMA consoles, 7 network signal processors and 97 motors.
Midnite Hour Productions of Toronto supplied two video screens each comprised of 84 VisuaLED panels (168 total); the upstage set comprised of 31x 1mx2m Martin LC Series Panels and 90 VisuaLED panels; and 6 Barco CLM R-10 (10k lumen) projectors.
But an equipment list doesn't show how they fit into the design. Sondergaard explains how the video panels ensured that the live audiences as well as TV viewers would enjoy the same visuals. Video was segmented into three main sections.
For the live audience viewing, three video screens were hung - each 11.3 ft x 20 ft - around the main score clock in the venue to display IMAG and the VTR rolls.
At stage left and stage right of the main performance stage were two LED video walls made up of VisuaLED panels, 84 panels per screen. They also displayed IMAG and VTR rolls, plus photo montages from the tour during some of the production numbers. These screens could match content on the larger LED wall upstage of the main music stage.
The show stopper of the video set was the expanded wall - upstage of the main music stage - made up of three rows of LED video panels. The bottom row (hung at 10 ft) was made up of VisuaLED, while the mid row (at 20 ft) and the top row (at 30 ft) were made up of Martin LC Series panels. All together, these panels made up a video wall that was 30 ft high x 80 ft wide. A one meter gap surrounding each panel allowed space to hang MAC 2000 Profiles and MAC Auras for lighting the musical acts. Montreal's Turbine Studio created the custom content for the wall.
The tweaking from a live show to a televised production also faced a few budget challenges, he says, as everything had already been allocated at that point.
“Initially we had larger side video screens that would be the backgrounds for the host positions. But given the close proximity of the talent to the screens it was decided that we needed a translucent illuminated background instead, as we couldn't afford a high enough resolution LED wall to look good behind them. We also had to redesign the upstage video elements to get higher resolution screens behind the talent from 0-10 ft (using the VisuaLED) and go to something lower res from 10 ft -30 ft (the Martin LC Series panels). On the wide camera shot it was hard to tell there were two different resolutions of screens upstage.”
“The final major change was to the main curtain,” he explains. “There was a large stage (40 ft x 60 ft) where the music acts performed and three smaller satellite stages downstage for speeches and presentations. During the band change-overs we had a main curtain fly in on VarioLift motors. In the initial designs we were going to rent some Waterfall drapes for the curtain, but CTV had some concerns about how that would look on TV. The new curtain ended up being a stock aluminum grid wall backed with Coroplast (corrugated plastic sheeting) from Scene Ideas, and on the front of it we created large â€˜swooshes' internally lit with tape LED. The â€˜swoosh' look was taken from the 25th anniversary graphics.”
Scene Ideas of Richmond, BC provided set construction; Riggit Services/Show Distribution supplied 12 VarioLifts; and Electric Aura Projects rounded out the gear list with 100 Octostrips and 12 panels of Chameleon Star drapes.
Helping Sondergaard on the Electric Aura team were Jason McKinnon as Lighting/Followspot Director and Operator for presentations; Jason Bolger as Project Supervisor; Charles Arrata as Production Rigger; and Production Electricians Pete Siller, Ken Reckahn, Conrad Dew and Adam Volk.
For all the challenges, however, none were as great as those encountered by the man they were celebrating, onstage.
Sondergaard says, “The live event itself was so moving - it was a real triumph of the human spirit. It's satisfying to see a project like this come together after a year in the making. We've enjoyed working with PRP, Rick Hansen and CTV on the show - as well as in the past - and we look forward to more projects with them.”
Visit Electric Aura Projects' website for more details.
photo credits: CTV & Teresa Corsie