When energy drink Red Bull puts its name on an event, spectators aren't typically lined up by the tens of thousands to see any demure happenings like an Easter Parade or a county fair — not that there's anything wrong with them — but more along the lines of some extreme sporting event. In the case of the live finals of Red Bull Crashed Ice — described as a combination of downhill skating, hockey, and boarder-cross, and broadcast on Canada's TSN sports network — a crowd of 85,000 lined a 1,750' ice track to witness skaters racing head-to-head in many heats, after a double elimination round that narrowed the field from the top 64 qualifiers to a final four. To top it all off, the day culminated in a Three Days Grace concert open to the public and held in front of Parliament.
Granted, Red Bull Crashed Ice may not be as “household” a name as The Olympic Games. In fact, its origins only date back to 2000, but the event is gaining international momentum. January's event in Québec City, for instance, was so fondly anticipated that it was held as the city prepared to launch its 400th Anniversary celebration.
Here's how it works: The course requires around three weeks of prep and construction, during which approximately 100 local crewmembers — just for the ice — shovel 40 boxes of 1,700lbs each (that's 68,000lbs in total) of ice across the streets of Old Québec. A cooling system keeps the ice surface smooth and maintains proper temperature, and polymer boards act as guardrails at the borders of the track, where fans stand only feet away from the racers. For foundational support of the structure, 900 adjustable steel legs and several thousand wood screws keep the crowd-track boundary intact.
The Old Québec course started under the Château Frontenac, overlooking the Saint Lawrence River, down the rue du Fort. Racers reach speeds of over 30 miles per hour, winding through various streets and past landmarks and even sprinting down the iced-over stairs of rue de la Place, just before the finish on Place de Paris.
With so much area to cover for the race itself, as well as the celebratory concert to end it all, lighting designer Hubert Gagnon had several considerations, not the least of which was balancing tradition with extreme sports. “I tried to have the overall design respect the historic architecture, while bringing the modern spirit of all Red Bull events. The track was divided into five zones that were clearly marked with different architectural masterpieces. I wanted to make a different look for each zone while keeping continuity in the design.” Gagnon — hired by producer Patrice Drouin from events company Gestev, with whom he collaborated in 2006 on the same event — adds that keeping his design simple was crucial, while integrating strategically placed, “stunning effects” to make certain areas pop.
Equally important was making sure the design looked just as good for its broadcast as it did in person, all without losing the event's live onsite energy. “For this project, I just wanted to do something really aesthetic and fun to look at, but I needed to remember that it's a TV sporting event that transforms into a big finale and concert. I needed one beautiful big picture to play with.”
Having worked this gig before, Gagnon notes he learned from prior experience how to manage the massive area. His biggest challenge last year, for example, was keylighting the entire track, but he also contended with a lack of space for scaffolding, the danger of cable protectors crossing all roads, evenly lighting the track, load-in time, cost, electricity, “and lots more,” he says. “The solution was to use many custom small fixtures mounted on brackets that fit on the 4'-high Plexiglas® sideboards that divided the track from the audience. Then, hooks screwed to the entire length of the track held all the cabling from the start to finish.”
All the scaffolding was provided and installed by Groupe EST, represented on this project by Steve Bouret. Gagnon worked with Bouret to devise a system that shared as much of the scaffolding as possible for lighting, sound, and camera requirements in order to save space and keep some out of sight. “The crowd is everywhere — climbing, jumping, standing, sitting — and the background of the show is the splendid 400 year-old architecture of Québec, so I couldn't hide all the set with scaffolding. This year, I decided to place at the bottom of almost all scaffolding towers a dimmer city mounted on a floor at 2' and protected by a roof and some plastic cloth and hidden by black or white scrim,” says Gagnon. “It helped to protect the gear and saved us time on installing cable, because we only had to bring a feeder and a DMX cable to each tower.” To supervise the rigging installation, Gary Bibeau, whom Gagnon calls “one of the best here in Québec,” was brought in.
Gagnon made particularly rigorous use of the 850 Stonco EQ500L Quartz Floodlights installed on the audience barriers, using them for keylighting as well as for effects for aerial shots that chase the racers. For additional lighting effects, he notes that the “VL3000 spot was a very powerful and reliable fixture that helped a lot in the visual signature. Its strength gave us the chance to hang fewer fixtures with the same results.” Three MA Lighting grandMAs and one grandMA light (used as a remote to focus the track area and afterward as a backup) controlled the event.
For projection, three Arkaos VJ DMX servers, as well a fourth with its pixel-mapping feature, were on site, all linked to a grandMA via Art-Net. One server fed 200 Color Kinetics ColorBlast 12s — two screens of a 5×20 matrix that formed a large LED display to scroll ticker text — hung on the Porte Prescotte, a pedestrian crossing over the road. Gagnon merged the output of the pixel mapper with one of the grandMA outputs to control the ColorBlasts directly from the console. Another Arkaos server ran direct video out to a Christie Digital Roadie 25K projector, with another doing edge-blending projection to two Roadies. “I am really satisfied with the pixel mapping,” says Gagnon. “It was a lot faster to program the ColorBlasts like that.”
While the screen of ColorBlast 12s — Gagnon says it “upgraded the overall look” — provided additional branding and race information to the audience, another 96 ColorBlasts were integrated into the finish line set and use to light the sculpture Dialogue with History at Place de Paris that Gagnon describes as “a big Rubik's Cube.” In another area, ColorBlasts provided uplighting on a fortification structure. “The ColorBlasts helped me a lot in doing interesting effects without adding too much power on the overall project,” says the designer.
Surfaces for projection occur naturally — well, architecturally — in the city setting, so Gagnon also took advantage of the building surfaces, using the wall of brick of the Frontenac Castle, for example. “It was a 4:3 ratio — 80'×60' — realized with three Roadie projectors stacked due to the darkness of the brick,” Gagnon says. Another was a building totally painted white that took projection via two Roadies, edge-blended with a ratio of 8:3 (80'×30'). For even more projection, a Main Light Soft-LED curtain was screen-mounted on a scaffolding structure behind the starting line and mounted at an angle, “so there is a 3D effect,” says Gagnon.
Martin Genois, technical director for the event, notes that Red Bull gave the creative team a lot of freedom in the design. “Hubert has mastered the art of media server technology,” Genois says. “For his young age, he understands the sources very well. On top of that, he is technically very strong. This guy is a wiz kid.”
Gagnon's color choices were driven by the Red Bull logo itself — red, blue, yellow, and white — to work with essential pieces already in place, such as an inflatable Red Bull arch at the starting line, cushions along the track with Red Bull logos, and, of course, the marketing and programming for television. Content was based on graphics from the Red Bull Crashed Ice campaign and created to fit to the architectural surfaces.
Gagnon worked a graphic artist on initial designs that he then animated and layered. Once on site, he either played a clip that was already mixed or composed additional content using the existent layers of video, he says, “using the branding design as a mask and adding a texture in background. Sometimes, it's easier to work this way, because on this project, for example, I didn't have a lot of time for video pre-production, so I wasn't able to create all the looks before load in. This flexibility helped us to create various looks to position each layer at the right place on the buildings.”
During programming, Maxime Gosselin worked on moving lights, while Gagnon focused conventional fixtures. “Five days of preparation in a warehouse with full crew was very useful,” says Genois. “The plan was to patch, address, and test everything before it went on the trucks. This gig is extremely hard on the gear, as well as the physical and the mental stress. Out there, you deal with the cold temperature, the snow, the rain, the wind, and it takes two long weeks to set up. You must be prepared for the worst. You don't want to spend your time troubleshooting.”
For show time, Gagnon operated two of the grandMAs for conventional and automated fixtures and media servers, while Gosselin handled moving lights and smoke machines on another grandMA. All DMX was generated via three MA Lighting NSPs, with all consoles and NSPs linked on MA-Net and all media servers controlled via Art-Net. The project required 16 DMX universes.
The main challenges during programming were the size of the site and the lighting booth. “Our lighting booth was a construction trailer modified into a booth for the events, parked next to the TV broadcast truck, so we didn't have any real vision of the track,” says Gagnon. “We only had the camera feed to look at our work. In this show, it's impossible to see the entire site from one point, so we didn't really have the choice. Maxime and I used the backup grandMA light at different spots on site to program the lights to record all the positions and afterward, create looks in the comfort of our trailer.”
Genois adds that power was another huge concern — 18 diesel generators in seven locations provided two-and-a-half million watts — especially “making sure it was all working properly and safely,” he says. “It's a bit unusual to operate a show with so much power running via generator. Diesel generators powered almost everything. It was too expensive to back up every unit, so you can imagine how anxious we were prior to the show.”
Solotech provide the bulk of the rental package for lighting, video, and sound, including all trussing, with additional Barco DLite 7 screens for I-Mag supplied by Sportech in Montreal via VER of New York. Nicolas Marois, of the Québec division Solotech/Axion, notes that the vendor also provided an entire team to the project, including project manager Steve Ross, electricians and techs, and over a dozen other crewmembers.
“Obviously, the biggest challenge of this edition of the red Bull Crashed Ice was the temperature,” says Solotech project director Ross. “We had to begin the installations with temperature from minus 30° to 35° Celsius accompanied by strong winds. For workers climbing on structures 25' high, it was not a game. During the dismantling, we had strong rain that forced to cancel a day of activities. Another challenge was the reality of working in the city center of Québec with automobiles, traffic, etc. We were far from an assembly in a theatre with all its the facilities.”
Gagnon also notes that the video projection was a complement to the lighting, and the content, in fact, was made to “look like wallpaper already in place. For the Soft-LED, for example, he says, “It serves me more as lighting reference to get information behind the skaters. The LED screen of ColorBlasts is really the best example of integration of video and lighting in this project.”
Lighting Designer: Hubert Gagnon, BlackOut Design
Board Operator: Maxime Gosselin
Lighting Director: Guillaume Tremblay Tardif
Technical Director: Martin Genois
Production Head Electricians: Danny Savoie, Alexandre Lévesque
Head Rigger: Gary Bibeau
Concert Zone Assistant LD: Michael Lavertu
Concert Zone Solotech Project Director: François Hallé
Lighting, Video, and Sound Vendor: Solotech
Solotech Project Director: Steve Ross
Solotech Head Video: Jérôme Gagnon
Solotech Dimmer Tech: Pablo Cruz
Solotech Electrician/Tech: Jean-François Aubin
Barco Screens Vendor: Sportech, Montreal (through VER of New York)
Feed Distribution: Dome Production
3 MA Lighting grandMA Console
1 MA Lighting grandMA light Console (Backup)
3 MA Lighting NSP
2 ETC Sensor+ 96×2.4kW Dimmer Rack
14 ETC Sensor+ 48×2.4kW Dimmer rRack
16 Strand CD80 2.4kW Dimmer Rack
5 Christie Digital Roadie 25K DLP® Video Projector
8 Solotech vflex 4'×16' (16×50 pixels)
1 Main Light Industries Soft-LED
3 Arkaos VJ DMX Media Server (video output)
1 Arkaos VJ DMX Media Server with Pixel Mapping (DMX-via-Artnet output)
4 Syncrolite SX3K-2
28 Vari-Lite VL3000 Spot
12 High End Systems Studio Color 575
42 Martin Professional MAC 600
20 Martin Professional Atomic 3000 Strobe
370 Color Kinetics ColorBlast® 12
3 Color Kinetics ColorBlast® 6
10 Studio Due City Color 1,2KW
8 MDG MAX 3000 fog generator
16 Red Beacon
13 Six-Lamp Bar with Altman PAR64 VNSP
45 Six-Lamp Bar withAltman PAR64 NSP
37 Six-Lamp Bar with Altman PAR64 MFL
2 Six-Lamp Bar with Altman PAR64 WFL
76 Four-Lamp Bar with Altman PAR64 ACL
268 Altman PAR64 NSP
52 ETC Source Four PAR WFL
24 ETC Source Four 10° Ellipsoidal
6 ETC Source Four 19° Ellipsoidal
18 ETC Source Four 26° Ellipsoidal
20 ETC Source Four 50° Ellipsoidal
24 Strand Lighting Iris 1 Cyc Light
20 Strand Lighting 8" Fresnel
24 Altman Zip Strip ZS3
850 Stonco EQ500L Quartz Floodlight
1 MA Lighting grandMA Console
1 MA Lighting grandMA light Console (Backup)
1 MA Lighting NSP
2 ETC Sensor+ 48×2.4kW Dimmer Rack
2 Strand CD80 2.4kW Dimmer Rack
20 Vari-Lite VL3000 Wash
1 Vari-Lite VL3000 Spot
26 Vari-Lite VL2500 Wash
18 Vari-Lite VL2500 Spot
20 Martin Professional MAC 600
12 Martin Professional Atomic 3000 Strobe
6 SGM Palco 3 RGB
12 ETC Source Four PAR WFL
2 MDG MAX 3000 Fog Generator
43 FE Lighting 20-Lamp Blinder MR16
12 Four-Lamp Bar with Altman PAR64 ACL
Barco DLite 7 Screens for I-Mag