EXTERIOR ILLUMINATION PUTS THE OLYMPIC HOST CITY IN THE SPOTLIGHT When guests are coming to stay, it's usual to spruce the place up a little. When Sydney, Australia, had the world come to visit for the 2000 Summer Olympics, it polished the silver, waxed the floors, and washed the city with light. In an outbreak of civic pride and commercial brand awareness, every inch of budlight was strung up and every available floodlight pointed at a building or a tree. Even the street and precinct lighting in all areas associated with Olympic visitors and events was brightened up to make the atmosphere more friendly.
The Olympic Coordination Authority (OCA), the state government body charged with implementing the Games, decided that the Olympics should be celebrated with a display more memorable and spectacular than simply lighting up the facades of buildings. OCA staged a trial in which searchlights and lasers were rigged on a single city building, to view the effect. Invited to this event were many luminaries of the Australian lighting industry: designers, suppliers, and hirers. As a result of this successful trial, OCA invited tenders from the industry for the design and implementation of a sky show in the city of Sydney that would run every night during the Olympic Games: the Sydney Skyline Spectacular.
The successful tender was from a consortium formed by Accolade Events Management and Chameleon Touring Services. Andrew Walsh from Accolade believed that the project needed to have a number of layers, from an equipment supply point of view, a visual point of view, and a conceptual point of view. As there was a limited amount of equipment available for the amount of money that OCA wanted to spend, careful attention was needed to obtain the right mix of gear for the desired visual effect. The brief required that the design have an impact from a distance, inviting people to come to the party going on in the city. Walsh wanted something that would not only call people into the city, but also deliver something to them when they arrived.
The concept proposed was for a layered design, with elements that provided visual excitement for three different audiences. From the suburbs, lasers would be seen sweeping the sky, radiating out from the top of the 1,000' (300m) AMP Tower, Sydney's tallest structure. On approaching the city, a forest of searchlight beams sprouting from tops of buildings would sweep the sky in choreographed patterns. While in the city, besides all the overhead activity, many prominent buildings would be floodlit in themed colors, which would change every few days during the Olympics. The ideas were well-accepted by both OCA and the AMP banking and insurance group, who unbeknown to the consortium partners had agreed to sponsor the event.
Accolade Events contributed the producers, design, production management, and laser systems to the project, while Chameleon Touring Systems provided luminaires and control, installation and operational crews, technical support, and maintenance. The Great Outdoor Lighting Company (GOLC), which had been a member of the consortium early in the tendering process, eventually only provided a small number of washlights. As producer of the event, Walsh saw tremendous advantages in partnering with a major equipment supplier like Chameleon. "I have been able to plead, beg, and bully Chameleon into supplying much more equipment than I would normally expect for the money," he confesses.
OCA assigned a production manager, Allan Cassar, to the project. His role was to set up all of the contracts and legal matters with the building owners and managers, while Accolade's production manager, Andrew White, dealt with building access and logistical arrangements. Initially there were around a dozen buildings participating in the show, but as the Olympics drew closer, enthusiasm for the idea caught on. Eventually there were 19 buildings participating in the Skyline Spectacular, all with floodlighting, and 10 of them crowned with more than 40 searchlights, including 4k Griven Imperials and Space Cannon 2k and 4k Easys, 4k Millenniums, and 7k Ireos. Color washes came from 2.5k Griven Kolorstreams, 1.8k and 2.5k Studio Due CityColors and 1.8k CityBeams, Philips ArenaVisions, and Osram Sylvania Stadium Pros.
CHAMELEON GEARS UP Once the final go-ahead on the project was given, it was a race to get all the equipment in place in the time available. Chameleon bought a substantial amount of new equipment for the project, doubling its searchlight inventory and substantially increasing its holdings of CityColors and CityBeams. In a number of cases, the scheduling of installations had to be juggled around the arrival of new equipment from the airport. This difficulty became particularly acute, as new buildings were being added to the project right up until the last few days. Getting access to buildings without disrupting normal operations was a major consideration for Andrew White and Chameleon technical supervisor Brad Gander. Fortunately, as most of the fixed floodlighting fittings were ArenaVision and Stadium Pro fittings, brought in from the Festival of Sydney, there were no availability problems with that equipment.
In a few cases, equipment had to be lifted into place onto the roofs of buildings with a truck-mounted crane, but the searchlights were generally taken up in a service elevator to a plant room level near the top of a building. A rigger with a winch would then come in to haul them up the last few levels to the roof. In other cases, the gear was hand-carried up several flights of fire stairs to reach roof level. (In case you haven't carried one recently, a Space Cannon Ireos weighs in at around 265lb [120kg], a Griven Imperial, 340lb [155kg], and a CityColor at close to 135lb [60kg].)
The Chameleon installation team working around the city consisted of 20 lighting technicians, two of whom were electricians, working full-time on power hookups. A separate Chameleon metalwork team devised and constructed brackets to adapt floodlights to Sydney's new "smart" street poles, and site-manufactured brackets for searchlights located in areas of high wind-load. In most cases sufficient three-phase mains power was available near the equipment, although occasionally a drop of a couple of levels was needed to reach a switchboard. Without even trying, approximately one mile (1.6km) of three-phase feeder cable was used around the city for power hookups.
Color on the buildings was achieved through three means: remote-controlled color-changing washlights and gelled floodlights installed for the project, and existing floodlights which were gelled just for this show. As the colors were changed every few days during the run, long-term color stability for the architectural lighting was not an issue, so the gel used for the floodlighting washes was ordinary theatrical gel. Chameleon built steel frames, known as "coffee tables," to allow color to be fitted to existing building floodlights. Color changes on the fixed floodlights were undertaken by the crew on their daily maintenance and operational site visits. Walsh was struck by the contrast in the technologies being employed: "Some of it is high-tech, the very latest in equipment, and some is Stone Age. It's quite theatrical in the sense that, as always, we're making do."
THE LIGHTS AND THE LASERS The six lasers atop the AMP Tower were 40W water-cooled YAG heads rented from Laser Fantasy International of Bellevue, WA - the most powerful display lasers yet seen in Australia. The control system was Lasershow Designer 2000, from Pangolin Laser Systems of Orlando, running on a Windows platform, under the supervision of the show's chief laser technician, Chris Walsh.
Firing six lasers from one of the central navigation markers for Sydney airspace caused some consternation for the civil aviation authorities. No lasers were permitted to be used until after 11pm each night, when the Sydney airport closes due to a noise curfew. The protocol negotiated by Accolade required that before each show could commence, clearance had to be obtained from Sydney air traffic control, who also had to be advised once the show was completed. There was also a police officer present in the control center to act as liaison, in case the police air wing should have a helicopter in the vicinity of central Sydney. As an additional safeguard, the Department of Civil Aviation required that Accolade should have a team of aircraft spotters. Each spotter was required to watch the area of the sky traversed by a specific laser, to ensure that there were no aircraft in the vicinity. If an aircraft was sighted, the laser covering that zone was to be shut down immediately.
The original intention had been to control the entire Skyline Spectacular from a single lighting console, in an operations control room overlooking the city buildings participating in the event. Such a place was located in the Darling Harbour complex. It normally serves as the studio for The Morning Crew, a daytime television program that uses its panoramic view of the city as a backdrop. The central control approach was, however, rendered impractical by the ongoing growth of the project, coupled with a suspension of telephone line installations, to allow all telecommunications staff to concentrate on the infrastructure for the Games.
It was decided instead to place a Jands Event 4 desk and a local operator on each of the 10 searchlight-equipped buildings, with the show being called by radio link from the control room. In the Chameleon workshops, Brad Gander loaded each of the Event desks with the appropriate searchlight and wash luminaire personalities. A Martin Professional Case controller was used for the AMP Tower, as it already had the Ireos parameters loaded, and was also very straightforward to integrate with the Pangolin laser control software via SMPTE timecode.
Communications for the crew were primarily via UHF trunked-radio transceivers, with the ubiquitous cell (or mobile) phone inevitably serving as a backup. The show call was broadcast from the control room via VHF FM radio, on a special channel just outside the commercial band. At each control point, the calls were picked up on a pair (the second unit was a backup) of slightly retuned Walkman-style personal radio receivers. To verify that the cueing system was fully functional, music was broadcast over the channel, with the show calls automatically gating off the music. The idea was that the crew could provide their favorite CDs to play over the system, but somehow Jackson Browne's famous ode to the road, "Running on Empty," seemed to get more than its fair share of airtime.
The Sydney Skyline Spectacular had its debut performance at around 10:30pm on the night before the Opening Ceremonies, the night the Olympic flame arrived in the city, and was paraded in front of the Opera House. Nearby in the Domain, a free concert in the park had attracted an audience of over half a million, who witnessed the first show, performed to the music of Iva Davies, of Icehouse fame, playing live onstage. By special arrangement, Sydney airspace was closed for 20 minutes to allow the lasers to be used. It's an indication of the political clout of the OCA that it could request such a closure at peak period on the night before the Games. For the next 18 nights the show was performed at 11pm, 11:30pm, and 12am, and continuously until 2am on the last night of the Games.
During the run, the show crew comprised 10 searchlight control system operators and two laser operators on the various buildings. In a van cruising the city was a troubleshooting team of two lighting technicians, one of whom was an electrician. In the operations control center there was a communications technician, two technical support supervisors, and the designer calling the show. At 6pm each night, the operators' bus left the Chameleon offices and dropped them off at their assigned sectors. Each operator had a group of buildings to power up and check before ascending to their searchlight eyrie. The troubleshooting technicians moved about the city setting up the temporary parts of the rig, such as the equipment-laden truss which was rolled out of a garage each night, onto what by day was a construction site.
The Skyline Spectacular was very well received by the public, OCA, and especially the building owners. Some owners, having seen how their building looks under lights, are now considering a permanent lighting installation. As the LD, Andrew Walsh is particularly pleased with the outcome. "When we were selling the concept to OCA, we did some artist renderings of the look we were planning to achieve," recalls Walsh. "We have delivered that look."
CITY LIGHTS Besides the official OCA-funded show, several other buildings around Sydney were given spectacular lighting treatments. In particular, the Star City Casino went to great lengths to attract the attention of visitors to the city. GOLC put six white and four color-changing searchlights and 22 color-changing washlights on the building complex. Together with the nightly pyrotechnics show from Howard and Sons, it was difficult to miss that something was going on at Star City.
The Westfield Tower in William Street was rigged by GOLC with six 2kW searchlights, four 4k multibeam searchlights, and four color-changing washlights, controlled by a Martin Case controller. Meanwhile, Bytecraft, which already had 48 Ireos 7kW searchlights in the Olympic Stadium, installed 16 more of them on the Cable and Wireless Optus Tower across the harbor in North Sydney. This rig included 16 more 2kW searchlights and 16 Studio Due CityColor washlights to create some very impressive looks.
Meanwhile, back in Sydney Harbour, the Harbour Bridge was hung with a giant set of illuminated Olympic rings constructed from circles of stage truss, and the quintessential Sydney building, the Opera House, put on another of its magic gobo shows. Once again, the team of LD Al Stone and industrial designer Marc Newson used Clifton Exhibition Services' all-Coemar rig of NATs, CF 1200s, and Panorama washlights to paint the Opera House sails (see "House painting,", May 2000 LD). For the Olympics, Newson sent a set of pencil sketches of gobo designs on the themes of festivity, fire, and water. The sketches, which included sequences of marine images from the Great Barrier Reef, flames, and a festive ribbon motif, were turned into full color images at ToastMedia. A total of 563 new custom gobos, 215 of them full-color glass, were made for the Olympic shows by Lighting by Design.
The installation for the Olympics show was a little more leisurely than the previous New Year and Sydney Festival projects. In fact, it was so relaxed that Stone and console programmer Megan McGahan were able to get a few hours' sleep during the plotting weeks. The Opera House had a different show programmed for each night. Its 16-night run started out with the concept of the Opera House aflame with Olympic Spirit on the night the flame appeared on the steps of the House, held aloft by Andrea Bocelli. The program sequences were sufficiently complex that the console could not hold all 1,800 cues for the 1,700 channels in the rig, forcing McGahan to keep parts of the sequence on backup disks. Once again, the Opera House sails as projection screen proved popular with the millions of nighttime visitors to Sydney, a city that truly hummed and sparkled during the Olympics.