JOHN RAYMENT PULLS OUT ALL THE STOPS FOR THE OPENING AND CLOSING CEREMONIES IN SYDNEY
Lighting designer John Rayment has recently risen to prominence on the world stage, probably because he lit that stage for the world to see. As LD of the Olympic Opening and Closing Ceremonies, not only were Rayment's pictures seen by about half the world's population, but he also presided over a lighting process that involved hundreds of designers, engineers, technicians, and operators, and what is reputed to be the world's largest lighting rig. Although he had no prior experience at lighting an Olympic Opening Ceremony, neither had anyone else until director of ceremonies Ric Birch convinced the Sydney Olympic Organizing Committee to hold the opening ceremonies after sunset. Birch wanted design control over all elements of the production: a full theatrical performance on a stage some five acres (20,000 sq. m) in area.
Rayment's background follows a long-standing Australian tradition that marries lighting design with technical and production management, frequently on the same project. His experience with multimillion-dollar budgets stretches back to his role as head of technical services, and lighting designer of the five main stage rigs, for World Expo 88 in Brisbane. This technical grounding, together with his reputation as a skillful, thoughtful, and practical lighting designer, must certainly have weighed strongly in his favor, when Rayment was selected for the Olympics job by Birch.
To Rayment, the biggest lighting design challenge was that production occupied much more than just the stadium floor. The installation of a flying system at Olympic Park meant that there was action throughout the volume of the space enclosed by the arena, all the way up to 130' (40m) above the floor. Even in the grand scale of the Olympic stadium, Rayment worked backwards from his desired look, to the equipment that could achieve it. He firmly believes that there is no point in designing a rig that can't be rigged in the time available or with the resources at hand. "I could have asked for a huge truss to span across the end of the stadium at a reasonable throw distance," says Rayment, "but that would have been a pointless use of resources. We just had to light from the back of the end stands."
It turned out that the end stand position was close to the ideal lighting angle to cover this volume. The throw distances, however, were enormous, hence Rayment's choice of 7kW Space Cannon Ireos searchlights as "sidelight" from these positions. The Eastern and Western grandstands, which run the length of the stadium, became the sources for the basic wash lighting and the 300 center stage robotics, because of the availability of hanging positions and access to power.
When the original concept design was put out for bid, it came in at around AU$8 million (US$4.5 million) for equipment hire only; without freight, installation, and operation. This figure was completely outside the bounds of possibility. The contract for the complete lighting package for the ceremonies was let to Bytecraft, better known outside of Australia for its dimming and scenery control systems. Bytecraft's Stephen Found put together a consortium of manufacturers and equipment suppliers, to supply and commission a production beyond the scale of anything previously attempted in Australia. The consortium consisted of Bytecraft (system and network design, installation, coordination, management, crewing, operation, and maintenance), Procon Multimedia of Germany (luminaires, dousers, color scrollers, truss, chain motors, distribution, and cabling for both power and DMX), Strand Lighting (550i consoles and ShowNet, DMX over Ethernet, data distribution), High End Systems (developer and supplier of the Cyberlight[R] Turbo, plus Flying Pig Systems Wholehog consoles, Hog operator training, and two Hog operators), Light & Sound Design, now LSD/Fourth Phase (consultancy services), and CAST Lighting (WYSIWYG visualization software and one Hog operator; a rendering is pictured below). The final cost for the ceremonies was around AU$3.3 million (US$1.7 million), excluding power. The audience lighting for the television broadcast was a separate AU$500,000 (US$260,000) contract let by the Sydney Olympic Broadcasting Organization, the host broadcaster for the Olympics. This contract was also won by the Bytecraft-led consortium.
An automated Games For Rayment (pictured above), what moving lights offer is the opportunity to do more than one job with a luminaire. He had originally wanted the entire rig to be automated, because he was anxious to avoid having to send crew up onto the trusses to focus. However, the resources required to cover the entire volume with robotics were well outside the budget. Instead, for his general coverage he opted for 96 HMI 4kW PARs, all of which had automated dousers, while 60 were also fitted with color scrollers. In each group of PARs, the close-up, near, and middle luminaires had color scrollers, while the far unit was white. In the original concept design these had all been 6kW PARs, and all were fitted with color scrollers, but this was another of the casualties of a finite budget. The extent of this compromise later returned to haunt Rayment, when he was attempting to balance against the 7kW Space Cannons for television.
In the initial stages of planning, Rayment had the idea of using the 4kW version of the Coemar NAT as the main automated luminaire for the rig. However, on his first round of visits to luminaire manufacturers and equipment suppliers, he discovered that 4kW NATs were not available in the quantities required for the rig. On this trip Rayment asked each manufacturer that he visited if they could produce a narrow-angle version of an existing luminaire, to get the output he needed for the stadium.
The response from High End Systems was the development of the Turbo kit for the Cyberlight: a $1,200 retrofit that doubles its light output. As there were already tens of thousands of Cyberlights in the hire and production marketplace, there was no question of the availability of enough luminaires for the job. The side benefit has been the availability of the Turbo upgrade to all Cyberlight owners.
The 48 Space Cannon 7kW Ireos searchlights with DMX-controlled pan, tilt, and color-changing capabilities were used in ways that no searchlight was ever intended. Once the mains supply voltage was adjusted down from its initial 260V by the electricity supply authority, the Ireos performed very reliably. Rayment was impressed with how quickly it moved for a large luminaire, and used them for displays in the sky besides their work onstage. The Ireos were able to tilt to 47 below the horizontal, which fortunately was exactly the angle required for coverage of the arena from the top of the grandstand.
Matters of control Controlling the 970 robotic and 658 dimmed luminaires (14,208 DMX channels) was a task Rayment believed to be beyond the reasonable capacity of any one operator, even if a single console had been available that could handle the task. Rayment had been considering using either Compulite Sabres, Avolites Diamonds, or Wholehog IIs to control the show, when High End Systems (which had recently acquired Flying Pig) offered the Wholehog as part of the package with the Cyberlight Turbos. The main arena lighting was controlled by seven Wholehog IIs, while an eighth controlled searchlights on the stadium roof and architectural lighting on the stadium structure.
Strand Lighting, whose ShowNet was used to distribute all 35 DMX data streams, also supplied a 3,072-channel 550i console to control the 36 dimmers and 331 robotic luminaires used for the audience lighting for television. Each of the nine consoles was run from an uninterruptible power supply and backed up by a second console (that's 16 Wholehog IIs and two Strand 550is).
There were so many Wholehogs on the project that on a particularly frantic day, one of the backup Hogs, which had been used for testing searchlights at the off-site lighting workshop, was put in the trunk of a car for transport back to the stadium, then promptly forgotten. A few days later, a major search was mounted to locate the missing Hog before the VIPs from High End arrived from the US. When Stephen Found met them at Sydney Airport, he was in the act of confessing to the embarrassing loss when he opened the trunk of that very vehicle to stow their bags, and quickly changed the topic of conversation.
While at first sounding like a nightmare reminiscent of the bad old days of the piano boards on Broadway, a team of nine console operators was considered by Rayment to be a significant advantage. As all of the operators were experienced moving lights programmers, Rayment was able to sketch out the intention of a lighting look in broad brushstrokes, and then leave it to them to set it up. He could then deal individually with each operator to fine-tune their portion of the rig. In allocating control to specific consoles for the stage and the field of play, Rayment could be simultaneously setting up separate looks for the stage, the field of play, and the audience.
Despite having nine operators and some of the most advanced consoles available, Rayment had realized very early in the production process that there were never going to be enough hours of darkness in the stadium with a complete rig to plot the ceremonies. Even before the rig was in the air, the seven main stage Hogs were set up in the boardroom of Ric Birch's company Spectak. Each Hog was connected to a high-powered Compaq workstation running WYSIWYG visualization software, and all of the computers were networked to allow operators to view the effect of the entire rig. Rayment used this time to set a base of 145 focus points, and to plot some core elements of the show in preview.
As the production was evolving during rehearsals, and the trusses and robotic lights were inevitably unable to be rigged in precisely the places that had been planned, many changes were made once the consoles were connected to the real rig. However, one sequence, where the fire-breathers and fire-jugglers moved down the length of the stadium, remained essentially unchanged from the time it was plotted in preview. From Rayment's point of view, the most important outcome of the work in the boardroom was the opportunity it gave for the whole team - operators, assistant designers, and himself - to learn how each other worked, and to evolve a successful plotting strategy that they could take with them to the stadium.
The team for whom Rayment is the public figurehead directly involved 106 lighting staff as designers, technical and production management, engineers, operators, technicians, and riggers. Behind them, even further in the shadows, stand hundreds of others in technical, fabrication, logistic, maintenance, consulting, and administrative roles: a truly vast organization assembled for just a few hours of stage time (a complete crew list can be found on the High End Systems website, at www.highend.com/news/credits.html, along with other Olympics-related news). Rayment is still amazed that on the night of the ceremonies nothing of any importance went wrong, except, of course, for the Cauldron, the one thing that had never misbehaved in its entire operating life.
Closing remarks "It was quite something to be part of," he recalls. "To have that level of success was a special treat. It was a thrill to be part of. I think that's why there was very little grandstanding, and far fewer than you would expect in the way of artistic tantrums. Everyone was absolutely committed to make it happen.
"It was fun to attempt it, and obviously capital `F' fun to pull it off," he continues. "After the Olympics, as I wandered about at LDI chatting to many others from our industry, I was taken aback by the number of people who were clearly impressed by what we had achieved."
While Rayment is hardly from the school of lighting designers who deliberately remain oblivious to the technology underlying their art form, he is concerned about the nature of contemporary writing and discussion about lighting (including this article) and its obsession with the watts, bits, channels, and lumens. He likens our absorption with the equipment and technology of the lighting rig, rather than pictures created by the lighting designer, with an appreciation of a painting for the clever paint chemistry rather than the aesthetic beauty of the images. "At the end of the day it doesn't matter what equipment I used. It's the pictures that I make that are the measure of my design."
1988 - Present Opening Ceremonies, Sydney 2000 Olympic Games Closing Ceremonies, Sydney 2000 Olympic Games Opening Ceremonies, Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games Closing Ceremonies, Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games Soviet/Russian Space Shuttle Exhibit, Buran Space Corporation Sky Display, Optus Building, Sydney Stadium Australia, Olympic Coordination Authority Dinosaurs Alive, Malaysia (TVEvent Management) My Fair Lady, Aotea Centre, Auckland, New Zealand Beauty and the Beast, Sydney Dance Company Lilies of the Paddock, Northern Rivers Performing Arts Inc. (NORPA) Accidental Death of an Anarchist, State Theatre Company of South Australia The Cars That Ate Paris, NORPA The Siege of Troy, The Australian Opera 20th Anniversary Concert, Synergy Percussion Ensemble Matsuri, Synergy/Hong Kong Festival of Asian Arts Stars of Illusion, Sydney Festival/The Event Company Red Earth, The Australian Ballet Merrily We Roll Along, Sydney Theatre Company Free Radicals, Sydney Dance Company Salome, Sydney Dance Company Kiss Me, Kate, Andrew McKinnon/Brisbane Festival 1998 Burnt Piano, Company B/Belvoir Street Theatre Seven Deadly Sins, Royal New Zealand Ballet Company Happy Days, Dainty Consolidated Entertainment The Mercenary, NORPA Melbourne Millennium, Bytecraft/Arts Victoria Les Petits Rats, Ascham Foundation Return to the Forbidden Planet, Kevin Jacobsen Productions Bicentennial Wool Collection, live international broadcast World Expo 88 Brisbane, Australian Pavilion & Exposition Site
Original designs prior to 1988 include: Das Rheingold, Die Walkure, Aida, Norma, The Mikado, The Little Mermaid, Australian Opera The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, The Cherry Orchard, The Fields of Heaven, As You Desire Me, The Perfectionist (Spoleto Festival), Macbeth, Extremities, Sydney Theatre Company Lady Macbeth of Mtensk (1984 Adelaide Festival), State Opera of South Australia Don Carlos, Victorian State Opera As You Like It, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Wild Honey, She Stoops to Conquer, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Nimrod Ondine, Summer Solstice, Queensland Ballet Snoopy: The Musical, The Ensemble Romeo and Juliet, The Conquest of Carmen Miranda, The Touch of Silk, Peter Pan, State Theatre Company of South Australia Poppy, Rumours, Viridian, Daphnis and Chloe, Scheherazade, Homelands, Hate, Wilderness, The Selfish Giant, Carmina Burana, Limited Edition, Sydney Dance Company ENTECH 96 Stage Lighting Designer of the Year