The New Year in Sydney, Australia arrived in typical Sydney style with an estimated one million people flocking to the city's harbor under a spectacular fireworks display that, for the first time, was complemented by more than 130 moving spotlights. The pyrotechnics and spotlights, mounted on the upright hangers of the Harbour Bridge, created dazzling new effects with fireworks zigzagging from the bridge and beams of light slicing through the night sky.

The New Year's Eve celebrations marked the start of the City of Light project that illuminated some of Sydney's best-loved buildings, as well as the bridge, like never before.

Artistic director for the event Leo Schofield gave lighting designer Martin Kinnane three simple instructions to show Sydney in a whole new light: go paint it, go color it, go surprise us. As a result Kinnane used Sydney as his canvas to create City of Light with 16 of the city's most historic buildings and recognizable structures painted in light and color between dusk and midnight from New Year's Eve to January 18.

A graduate of the National Institute of Dramatic Arts, Kinnane was lighting designer for East Timor's Independence Day ceremonies in May 2002. This is his fourth year of involvement in Sydney's New Year's Eve celebrations and his biggest project to date.

“City of Light explores the rich cultural history of Sydney's most significant landmarks — from buildings established during the early days of settlement through to the iconic masterpieces of recent years,” Kinnane explains. “The medium of light and color provides a unique way of showcasing the extraordinary variety of Sydney's architectural forms. Using light and color, the faces of familiar buildings are transformed; their role in the city's economic and social history illuminated as never before. It's also a way to entertain the public for a period of time longer than just New Year's Eve.”

During this period, a Harbour Bridge Light Show was also performed at specific times each night. The scene-stealer of the event, this project also consumed most of the budget allocated to the lighting.

“In its most basic form we were hoping to change the color and look of the bridge but we found out we could do a lot more,” says Kinnane. “For example, we have 15 Space Cannon 7kW Ireos Pro Searchlights sweeping out over the harbor.” Kinnane chose the Ireos searchlights knowing that the lighting supplier Bytecraft Entertainment stocked 10 and could import the rest from Procon in Germany.

Fifty-five High End Studio Beams lit the diagonal and vertical trussing between the upper and lower chords of the bridge; several of the 32 Martin MAC2000 Wash fixtures were used to light the two hangers at either end of the bridge, with others situated inside the bridge to light the far side of the structure. From inside they also provided depth and texture, adding more color and light for those viewing the bridge from the west.

“We looked at several fixtures over a couple of months but the Studio Beams just seemed to work better,” states Kinnane. “The Martin MAC2000 Wash has great intensity; in fact, I was surprised how well they worked once placed on the bridge.”

Twelve Studio Due CityColors and six City Beams lit the pylons in ever-changing color. The units were placed in a line on the ground, in a secure area, about a meter apart across the face of the pylon. From that position they could light up the pylons in sync with the design and show programming for the rest of the bridge.

Installation of the bridge lighting took about one month, with actual programming beginning on Boxing Day. A Wholehog II, programmed by Sean Hackett, was situated at the Sydney Opera House forecourt and controlled the nightly light show. The signal was sent via a microwave Ethernet link from the forecourt to a receiver on the lower chord of the bridge. The system was comprised of four Strand SN100 Ethernet nodes, two D-Link wireless Ethernet access points and two 2.4 Gz microwave antennae. There was also one Interactive Technologies Radio DMX System from the lower chord of the bridge to the north and south pylons.

Close to the bridge, the façade of the Museum of Contemporary Art became a large projection surface onto which four Martin MAC2000s projected a series of specially designed gobos. Of particular note is the “bubble” gobo, especially designed to complement one of the museum's current exhibitions.

Rising high above the heart of the city, the Centrepoint tower acted as a platform for a moving “beacon” display delivered by 24 Space Cannon 2kW Easy searchlights.

All of these various lighting elements were designed to draw attention to the skyline. “My concept involved drawing people into the city with a light source that focuses upwards and moves in a choreographed display — shining light to the city's edges in celebration of the new City of Sydney boundaries,” Kinnane explains. “It drew attention toward the city to attract people to come look at the other aspects of the project.”

At ground level, there was also plenty to see. Eight Martin MAC2000 fixtures highlighted the Centrepoint tower's entrance by lighting up the awning with gobo animation. By looking up at the projected gobos, viewers were also then drawn up to the searchlights in the sky directly above them.

It was Sydney's historic Macquarie Street that housed the best collection of featured buildings, including St. James Church, Hyde Park Barracks, the Mint, Sydney Hospital, and Parliament House. With most of the limited budget spent on the bridge and Centrepoint, Kinnane relied on generic lighting such as Par 64s to light these buildings or, as the case of the St. Andrews Cathedral, he re-colored existing architectural lighting fixtures.

Despite the lack of intelligent lighting for these buildings (except for the Hyde Park Barracks which changed color courtesy of a few CityColors), the results were still extremely effective. Through hue and contrast, Kinnane managed to highlight architectural features previously unnoticed by Sydney-siders, such as the faces carved into the front of the Sydney Hospital and the two statues atop the QVB building.

Par 64s lit the Parliament House in red and green to signify the Legislative Council and Assembly, respectively. Rather than try to conceal the scaffolding around the Mitchell Wing of the State Library, Kinnane drew attention to it with blue light, while the rest of the façade was pink with an effectively lit green tree in the foreground. Again this was cheap and simple as it only required colored gel added to existing fixtures.

With the City of Sydney footing the bill for the project the budget was fairly tight, although Centrepoint, QVB, and David Jones department store all paid for their lighting, as they are commercial buildings as opposed to state. As a result the QVB could afford ten High End Cyberlight Turbos to project from the roof of the Town Hall onto the entrance.

In the end, Kinnane did what he set out to do: he painted; he colored; he surprised. “The project has caused a lot of excitement and the feedback from the public has been very positive,” he concludes. “I think there's a good chance we'll do it all again next year.”