This August, the Youth Olympic Games (YOG), long a dream of International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge, became a reality in Singapore. The games are a platform for youth 14 to18 years old to compete in Olympic events and include both summer and winter games alternating every two years. The event in Singapore was the first summer incarnation of the YOG, planned next for 2014 in Nanjing, China. The first winter YOG will be in 2012 hosted by Innsbruck, Austria.

The inaugural opening and closing ceremonies in Singapore were not held in a traditional stadium, but at the truly unique outdoor location The Float @ Marina Bay, the world’s largest floating stage, located in the heart of modern Singapore. Offering a stark contrast to the usual stadium setting of most ceremonies, the backdrop was not the crowd across the field of play, but rather the city skyline surrounding the bay. Before an audience of 27,000, as well as the estimated two billion global television viewers, the creative team presented a spectacle to kick off the games and to set the tone of the youthful energy that would unfold throughout the competition over the following 12 days.

Under the direction of artistic director Ivan Heng and show producer Vernon Teo, lighting designer Koert Vermeulen, of Belgium-based ACT Lighting, took up the challenge of his first-ever Olympic ceremonies, a task that included overcoming the weather, the stage location’s load restrictions, light levels needed for broadcast, and, as ever, budget.

Vermeulen describes how he approached the design with both the spectacle and the location in mind. “I worked with different layering systems,” he says. “I started with the fact that they wanted to have the skyline background, which is so different from the usual ceremonies held in a stadium. It worked well since I come from theatre. In a standard theatre, you have an actor, and you have a background behind when you work with a cyc. That was something that we were able to do here, which is unique for an Olympic Opening Ceremony, except one at the Winter Olympics in 1964, where they used a mountain as a background.”

The opening was a story that needed to keep its narrative intact, and the lighting had to support that. “We had more than one feeling that we wanted to get across,” says Vermeulen. “For me, the whole show was split into six elements: the welcome segment, the origins segment, the segment with the dragons, the portion with fire, the protocol moments with the flags coming in, and the Olympic flame coming in. Each had quite an identification there of how it had to be lit.”

For both the opening and closing ceremonies, music was an important element, and Vermeulen admits it’s a challenge to apply theatrical lighting techniques to pop music. “You are still trying to get frontlight, backlight, sidelight, the use of colors on the people, but you have to make it dynamic,” he says. “The show producer, Vernon Teo, said to me, ‘Koert, I want to be able turn down the music to a volume of zero and still be able to feel the music by seeing your lighting.’ So I lit it like it should be in a theatrical show, and then we started doing the color bumps, chase bumps, and iris bumps on top of the theatrical setting to add that dynamic movement.”

Stay tuned for part 2…

Michael S. Eddy has worked in the entertainment technology industry for over 25 years and owns Eddy Marketing & Consulting. He frequently writes about design and technology and can be reached at michael@eddymarketing.com.