The Sydney Opera House, as a symbol of the Australian city and one of the most recognized buildings in the world, is often the focus for celebrations. Along with the nearby "Coat Hanger" (the Sydney Harbour Bridge), the dramatic shape of the Opera House has been seen around the world as the city has celebrated its selection as the host for the 2000 Summer Olympics and, most recently, made a splash with its spectacular welcome to the year 2000. The Opera House, as both a major performing venue and an icon for Sydneysiders, forms an important part of the annual Sydney Festival and in recent years its "sails" have been dressed up for the occasion. For the 1998 festival, rather than their workaday white, the sails were dressed in indigo blue light, while for the 1999 festival, together with 12 other major city buildings, the Opera House participated in "Painting the Town Red."
Project LD Al Stone was pleased with the success of the automatic startup and shutdown system devised for the Sylvania Stadium Pro floodlighting used for the 1999 festival, and felt that the time was right to try some automated luminaires for the 2000 festival. Running nightly January 8-26, the sequence loop was one hour and 15 minutes long, and ran seven times per night. Timed to start just before the sun began to set, the rig came up in white. At 8:45pm, the moment of dusk, the first sequence would commence and then continue to cycle until 4:45am, when the rig returned to white where it remained until 6am. The timers would then shut the system down after sunrise.
Interestingly, despite the dynamic nature of the show on the Opera House building, the 69 robotics in the rig were used as fixed luminaires with beam sizes and beam movement locked, but color and gobo changing and movement used extensively.
Marc Newson, an Australian industrial designer now based in Europe, was engaged to produce a range of designs for the project in collaboration with Stone. Newson's pencil sketches on astronomical and psychedelic themes were further developed into Adobe Illustrator images which were passed on to Lighting By Design of Runaway Bay, Queensland, which used the Beacon four-layer color process to produce the 180 full-color glass gobos required for the project.
Stone had previously designed all of his projects with pencil, paper, and a calculator, but realized that the three-dimensional complexity of the Opera House's form and his intention to tightly control the coverage in the design would require a more sophisticated tool. Stone had a 3D AutoCAD model of the building constructed by Barry Mair at Barry Mair Rendering and Design, based on an existing Microstation model of the building held by the Opera House Trust. During this process, Stone discovered that the existing model had been digitized from the original paper plans, but was only accurate to the nearest meter (39") with the result that some major structural walls appeared in different places on successive levels. Stone then had to check measurements taken on-site to correct the AutoCAD model to the level of accuracy required for the project.
The lighting design, which was implemented with an all-Coemar rig of NATs, CF Spots, and Panorama floods, was tested and refined on the CAD model using the AccuRender rendering add-in for AutoCAD from Robert McNeel and Associates. The output of each luminaire was rendered as a separate image to determine its effect, then all images were overlaid as slides in a Powerpoint presentation to build the total effect. These renderings accurately showed the extent of shadowing, spill, and overshoot, allowing the production of high-accuracy masking gobos to precisely control the final beam shape.
To produce the shapes for the mask gobos, a layer of digital "PVC sheeting" was placed over the area of the building to be lit by each beam in the CAD model. The pieces of sheeting were then digitally peeled off the building and laid flat to become the patterns for the masks. The mask gobos were cut from stainless steel and placed in the rear gobo wheel of the NATs where the gobo indexing function was used to locate them precisely where required in the beam. This allowed the front gobo wheel images to change while retaining the accurate masking. However, for the masking process to work at all, each luminaire had to be placed very accurately in the rig to match its position in the AutoCAD model.
Stone found the site itself presented a major challenge, as there is only one point on the whole of the eastern side of the Opera House to place luminaires, necessitating throw distances ranging from 180' (55m) to 567' (173m). The majority of luminaires were rigged from a series of 21'-high (6.5m), narrow-profile scaffold towers which had canopies designed to limit the amount of weather exposure and wind drag, while allowing unimpeded access to the Opera House building. Due to the blustery weather, a ballast of 11.8 tons (12 metric tonnes) of lead weights was required in the base of each of these towers for safety and stability. To provide low-profile rigging positions between the Opera House sails, 18 Oxo Con'domes [distributed by Tracoman in the US as "Bub'ble"] were mounted on the roof to house CF series moving-head fixtures.
The luminaires and control desk were supplied as a package deal from Coemar DeSisti Australia and included 15 MSD-powered 4kW NAT MM 4000 Zoom 15-30s, which were developed by Coemar in Italy especially for the Opera House project. Stone had spent several days after LDI99 in meetings with Fausto Orsati, senior design engineer at Coemar, to define the requirements for the luminaires. Other moving-mirror luminaires were two NAT MM 4000 8-16s and nine 2.5kW 10-degree NAT TMs. The CF series of 1.2kW, carbon fiber-bodied, moving-head luminaires were also well represented in the rig, with 27 of the CMY wash units and 16 of the CMY HE (hard edge) units being used. Broad area fill was achieved with 10 of the DMX-controlled Coemar Panorama Cyc 1800 MHD architectural floods, which also provide full CMY color selection.
The control console supplied to drive the 1,700 DMX channels in the system was a Compulite Sabre driven by wizard programmer Megan McGahan, who was brought in from Melbourne for the project. Although the Sabre is not Stone's favorite console to program, he was pleased to have a system which he knew from previous experience to be absolutely stable even in the most unpredictable of electrical environments. The 2.8-mile (4.5km) DMX network was run in four streams directly from the Sabre console to the towers. The signal was then reticulated using Showcraft (the manufacturer of the GAM Command) distribution amplifiers.
This month, Stone is off to London for more meetings with Marc Newson to discuss concepts for the next show on the Opera House, which will be seen from around four weeks before the 2000 Olympics until the night of the closing ceremony. The final concept is still in development, but underwater sequences featuring coral reefs and fish are under consideration, as are flames which may be used to "set the House ablaze" on the night, two weeks before the games commence, when the Olympic torch reaches the building. This next stage of the design should see all of the Coemar moving-beam fixtures finally getting their chance to move.
Andy Ciddor of The Kilowatt Company has been a practitioner, educator, and writer in the field of production technology for 30 years. He can be reached at email@example.com.