The Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) saw the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the XVIII Commonwealth Games, complete with an expansion of festivities to the adjacent Yarra River. A wealth of industry experts for the production included lighting designer Mark Hammer, with Paul Collison as associate LD and programmer. Others included Rohan Thornton, lighting designer (broadcast); Philip Lethlean, lighting designer (Yarra River); Nick Eltis, technical director; and Philby Lewis, production manager. The Ceremonies were produced by Jack Morton Worldwide with executive production and creative direction by Andrew Walsh. Equipment distributor Show Technology's technical director, Vince Haddad, was also onsite.
On March 15, some 81,000 spectators gathered for the Opening Ceremony, with millions more watching across the globe. The two-hour spectacular featured a parade of 4,500 athletes from 71 countries with a theme focused on Australia's cultural heritage. Hammer's lighting brief came from Jack Morton, with input from creative director Andrew Walsh and other ideas contributed from various segment directors. Lighting needs were twofold: to address the big picture, with a focus on TV lighting, while not losing sight of the details.
“Everything comes and goes from what they call the ‘million dollar shot,’” Hammer says, “that TV shot that works on an aerial where you can see the whole stadium, a media look that encompasses the audience, the main feature, pyro, etc. For some of the sequences, we would start with the main look or work into it and then out of it again. Having said that though, the detail shots were also very important and looked very good. A tricky thing to work out, for example, is taking a white stage and lighting that and giving definition to people standing on it. You want the people to stand out, not be a flat look. We have a base look and pull the people out from the wash by using different angles, a lower angle, or from the side, yet being careful to keep intensity levels right.
“I used appropriate colors and lighting for the different segments and areas, whether it was a nighttime look, daytime look, indigenous segment, or whatever,” Hammer continues. “We didn't want each segment to look exactly the same, so we used different treatments.”
With gear distributed through Show Technology and supplied by local partners Bytecraft and Chameleon, as well as PROCON of Germany, the massive MCG rig included 314 Martin Professional MAC 2000 Profiles, 352 MAC 2000 Washes, 100 MAC 2000 Performances, 116 Vari-Lite VL3000™ Profiles, 79 VL2500™ Wash fixtures, 36 VL2402s™, 22 Robert Juliat Aramis followspots, 144 Pulsar Chroma Banks, 1,500 Pulsar MR16 RGB hearts, 32 Pulsar Chroma Panels 300 mm, six Martin Cyclo 03, 102 L&E Mini-strips, and 12 Martin Atomic 3000s. Hundreds of meters of Ledron Flex LED Neon were used in the set. Atmospheric effects included seven Jem ZR33 Hi-Mass foggers, four Jem Glaciator X-Streams, and four MDG Hazers, while two HP W4300 Workstation P4 4G Xenon computers were used for 3D visualization. Lighting control for the MCG was from a pair of MA Lighting grandMAs (with MA Lighting NSP nodes and ELC ArtNnet nodes), with a third running the LED and dimmable fixtures. Some of the other Show Technology brands involved included TMB, LEDs by Pro Shop, Encore Cases, and Global Truss.
Suspended 37m (121.4') above a main stage in the middle of the stadium was a 20m (65.6') diameter truss circle supported by six lighting towers around the outside of the venue. This meant power runs of about 250m (820.2') to fixtures. “We had a lighting position above the stage, which was great,” Collison says. “It allowed us to push back in the face of the audience or get some tight shots right down on the stage.” From the roof were 29 lighting trusses, each with six MAC 2000 Washes, two MAC 2000 Profiles, and four VL3000s. “These fixtures lit the audience and were at an angle to effectively cover the center of the stage for any tight pickups that the overhead truss didn't quite cover,” he adds.
Spread evenly across a top tier balcony rail were 120 MAC 2000 Washes, 100 MAC 2000 Performances, and 40 MAC 2000 Profiles, with additional fixtures ganged up behind the Queen's stage and another orchestra stage. “It's a hard working area,” Collison adds. “At no point are those fixtures not lighting something.” Two levels down from the top balcony were 79 VL2500 Washes, used predominately as audience lighting but also providing back of camera fill.
Collison describes the stage as an upside down saucer, 100m (328') across at its base with a flat top approximately 33m (108.27') wide. Each side is, therefore, raked 33m (108.27') down to the field. On the field of play around the stage were 180 MAC 2000 Profiles in 45 custom boxes, each housing four fixtures with standard gobos and a custom slot gobo that helped to light the stage. “Part of the reason for those Profiles was because we had PIGI projectors providing images on the stage, and we needed a position where we could light performers or set pieces on the stage that didn't blow out the PIGI image,” Collison says. “A slot gobo around that periphery wall gave us the ability to do that.”
Running from the stadium seating area to the stage and used for protocol and artistic impression was a 10m (32.8') wide by 6m (19.7') high bridge, known as The Noodle, which lowered to deliver the athletes directly to the center of the stadium. “To add to all the clean lines, we had The Noodle, which we not only gave a different feel to for the different segments but treated differently for the TV and live situation,” Hammer explains. “Sometimes, we had to make it disappear, and sometimes, we'd highlight it.” The Noodle was illuminated with 144 Pulsar Chroma Banks. Additionally, 1,500 Pulsar MR16 RGB hearts created a path that athletes followed from one end of the stadium to the other.
At the Yarra River, 1.2km (0.75 mile) of water were lined with fish pontoons, where LD Lethlean lit the banks and coordinated with fountains and fireworks with a rig controlled via two Flying Pig Systems Wholehog® 3 consoles and four Wholehog 2s, all driven by timecode from the MCG. Fixtures for the river included 140 VL2000 fixtures (with custom prism extension), 28 VL6Cs, 46 Martin MAC 500s, 40 MAC 2000 Profiles, 16 Martin MAC 600s, 80 High End Systems Studio Colors®, 80 Studio Beams®, 40 Cyberlight® Turbos, six Strong Gladiator followspots, and 400 MFL PAR64s.
“The river was quite a saga, with a flood 10 days before the Opening, which dragged 10 of the fish pontoons off their moorings,” Lethlean explains. “We also had an out-of-control ferry side swipe six more pontoons and sink some lights and 17km (10.5 miles) of power and data cable, which all needed replacing.
“I was able to get some mock fire works effects, as well as water screen effects, floating in the air above the fish,” Lethlean comments. “Some nice effects were created by pointing the specially commissioned aboriginal-designed gobos into the fountain above the fish with a slight focus chase so that the image appeared and disappeared with the lyrics.”