If you watched more than a minute of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games from Salt Lake City, then you definitely saw the lighting design work of Bill Brennan. “It would be easier to tell you what I did not light than what I did,” laughs Brennan. The International Broadcast Center with Bob Costas was the only studio not lit by Brennan and his crew of 24 assistants, gaffers, riggers, and programmers.
Brennan, who thrives on challenges, has lit many Olympics as well as varied sporting events dating back to boxing in the 1970s, in Las Vegas where he grew up. Brennan was approached both by NBC as well as the Olympic organizing committee to light the venues, studios, and special events. “The network and the organizing committee presented me with quite a challenge: ‘to light for 16 broadcast days, each running around 19 hours.’ This is why I do it, to meet the challenge,” says Brennan.
Their day started at 5am with the Today show and ended around midnight after Pat O'Brien's late-night show. In between, Brennan and his crew lit every field of play, many for the first time in Olympic history. Throw in stand-ups, inserts, special events, fast turnarounds, and increased security and you have a typical day. Brennan says, “It's all about the crew; they are the best. I have a crew of 24 that I have handpicked and have worked with for 10-15 years.”
All of the fields of play were lit entirely; even the long runs like skiing, bobsled, and luge, were lit from top to bottom as well as the start and take out huts. For some of the runs, such as bobsledding, that meant over half a mile in length that had to be lit. “I wanted to balance the lighting for tight closeups. At 70:1, a long lens is getting in tight on the faces.” Brennan used Arrisun 100W PARs as well as Arri 4kW fresnels with custom dichroic filters to tweak the color correction. “I like to push the envelope, especially with color temperature as well as to compensate for day-into-evening competitions. To the broadcast and to the lay person's eye it looks white,” says Brennan.
For the first time at the Olympics, all of the figure skating was lit entirely with automated lighting. “At the Salt Lake Ice Center, I used over 250 Martin MAC 2000 and MAC 600 units to light the ice as well as the arena.” Brennan used the fixtures to light the audience, the banners, and architectural details. “I could compose the entire look and balance the audience or take them out if necessary,” says Brennan. He also lit the exhibition skating at the end, where color and patterns are allowed. “We had fast turnaround times for many of the venues. I worked with my sister, Barbara Brennan, who used a console to aid in the fast turnarounds. I also liked the ability to dial in any color to get the proper color balance when I could only use white lighting for the competition skating,” says Brennan. They worked with Bob Gordon of AC Lighting, who set them up with a full grandMA console with 4,096 channels of DMX.
Through it all, Brennan still loves working a huge event like the Olympics. He compares it all to sailing an open-water boat and managing the ship's crew. “It is all about the crew. I can design it, but the crew is so important at every level.” He gives a lot of credit to Arri, Martin, Chimera, AC Lighting, and especially Osram, which supplied all the HMI lamps. “I went through HMIs like candy,” laughs Brennan. He worked with Robert Hickey as an assistant LD and Tom Thompson at Prelite San Francisco for drafting. He also managed to turn it into a family affair with Barbara acting as assistant LD, his brother Seamus, who controlled the climbing and rigging, and brother Tim, who works for Martin Professional in Las Vegas, who wrangled the automated fixtures.