Q&A With Jeff Ravitz: Live From Whistler

1. Jeff, I hear you are working at the Olympics?

Yes, I'm in Whistler, at the Whistler Medals Plaza, as it was called during preproduction. Now it's called Whistler Celebration Plaza, where the nightly victory ceremonies are held for events taking place at Whistler Mountain Resort. The show is captured in high definition with nine cameras—one of which is on a blimp—for nightly broadcast.

Jeff Ravitz at work in Whistler. Photo by Stanley A. Green

2. What is your venue like?

The venue is outdoors in the middle of Whistler Village, with a view of the mountains peeking up behind in 360 degrees. The setup is temporary but totally customized for our purposes. It consists of a fully covered and walled-in proscenium stage with a turntable in the middle that facilitates the changeover from the medals ceremonies to the nightly concert. So there is scaffold structure and trussing onto which the lights are hung. The curved proscenium arch has fixtures following the entire inside edge from deck level. Then there are downstage, mid-stage and upstage positions as well as far offstage sides. Out in the house, there are lights mounted on the four-story control tower to provide front light for the ceremonies, and to backlight the audience for the concerts. The tower also houses four follow spots. The stage front extends right and left in an arc to surround the audience. On these extensions are ten-foot-high medium resolution screens for custom content. The screens also support more lighting fixtures, which tone the proscenium façade and the audience. Finally, there are towers scattered around the arena that have lights which illuminate the Olympic and national flags which are a huge part of the landscape.

Where the winners are!

3. What's in your rig?

The rig, as I mentioned, it pretty integrated into the structure and set. It consists of VL 3500 washes, VL 3000 spots, VL 2500 spots, VL 500 tungsten washes and Martin Atomic strobes. The only conventionals are ETC Source Four ellipsoidals for flag coverage and some PAR bars on the audience. We also have around forty Martin Stagebar LED washes mounted on the set and to tone our upstage wall, and quite a few Philips Color Kinetics ColorBlasts helping to light façades. The show is controlled by two MA Lighting grandMA consoles: One concentrates on overall wash and scenic toning. The other board handles individual specials, keylight and backlight.

The vendor is Epic Production Technologies. Nathan Wilson designed the initial plot, and then I was asked to join in the process. Finally, I came in to cue, focus, balance, and call the shows and broadcasts.

The stage at Whistler

4. What is the show like?

This is a very hybrid show, with traditional requirements for the Olympic medal ceremonies, and then rock and roll elements for the concerts–all for broadcast. The nature of the stage, and the set design, created numerous obstructions, so most lights have a fairly restricted focus range. That forced us to get quite specific in assigning each light a specific purpose.

Then, there are the concerts. We have quite limited programming time, but even so, there are simply not that many choices. The producers insist that the scenic elements and audience are covered all the time, so the lights that remain for us to use for the music are, again, narrowed to specific purposes. If there is an incoming LD, he or she will help us know the vibe and feel for each song and the important moments. We program tomorrow's show after tonight's ends, but the band equipment is rarely completely set up. So we do a quick rough focus, which gets finalized in daylight the next day before sound check. And we program a look or two for each number...if we have info about the show. If we don't, then we have little choice but to improvise. We're good at that. Our programmers, Stan Green and Kevin Lawson, are vets of "busking" and have great instincts.

The band LDs sometimes have loftier goals and try to make our humble system into something it's not. Our most successful shows have been the result of coming to an understanding of just what can be accomplished and then maximizing that. The least satisfying shows have occurred when LDs have tried to reproduce tour cues, which just don't read like they imagine they will. Also, despite having two hazers, our atmosphere is subject to the whims of the winds. So the beams and sweeps lose most of their impact.

Lights up in Whistler!

It's a shallow stage, too. So when the athletes are on the podium receiving their medals, the back wall is just a few feet behind them. All the front light shoots right past them onto that wall. We've been really good at reducing that, but the wall material is vinyl, so there is a natural sheen that can really look bad at a straight front camera angle.

This same wall is the background for the concerts, and poses the same problem. Even with zero light on it, that wall just takes on more luminance then we would want in order to maintain depth and dimensionality. I use a lot of backlight to help compensate for the close background, but it's only a partial fix.

It's been a great honor and a lot of fun being part of an Olympics and seeing it somewhat from the inside. Being within fifty feet of Olympic champions is a rush, believe me.

Also check out:

Nathan Wilson Talks Lighting For Whistler Medals Plaza

The Site and Sound of the Whistler Ceremonies Plaza, Part 3

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