For the past two years, our April issue has placed its high beams on projects not generally associated with entertainment: corporate parties, auctions, weddings, trade shows, museums, fashion shoots, even pro wrestling (well, maybe that last one is your idea of entertainment). Dubbed "That's Entertainment, Too," we discovered with these special reports that such projects may have been weird and wacky, but they were also very lucrative, accounting for a healthy slice of the entertainment technology pie.
This year, we quickly realized that some of the most unusual projects were scheduled to occur at the stroke of midnight. In keeping with the Millennium fever that seemed so rampant in the last half of 1999, cities all over the world made extravagant and complex plans to ring in the new year. That's weird, we thought. That's wacky. That's Entertainment, Too.
In light of that minor revelation, we decided that this year's edition of "That's Entertainment, Too" would focus on some of the more challenging New Year's celebrations around the world. We'll take you to Paris, where the Eiffel Tower came alive with a dazzling fireworks display. Then it's off to London, where they not only celebrated the new year but also the opening of the controversial Millennium Dome. A trip across the ocean takes us to the States and a look at the design and construction of the glittering ball for the annual Times Square countdown. And then it's down to Washington DC, for a look at the massive sun designed and built to usher in the "dawn of a new age." That's Entertainment, 2000.
One thousand days before the end of the 20th century, Paris began its countdown toward the new millennium. Every night at midnight (beginning April 5, 1997), a 50-ton countdown clock hung on the Eiffel Tower moved one day closer to Ground Zero and an extraordinary show that would illuminate this French industrial icon in a dazzling display of pyrotechnics and light.
The fact that high winds blew the clock off the Eiffel Tower not long before the final hour did not diminish the impact of the Parisian New Year's Eve spectacular. The show was created and produced by Yves Pepin, the founder of ECA2, a Paris-based design and multimedia company, in conjunction with Christophe Berthonneau, art director of the Paris-based Groupe F, a company that designs and produces pyrotechnic shows across Europe.
Built by Gustave Eiffel in 1889, the Eiffel Tower can be seen from numerous vantage points in the French capital. "It is a major symbol that represents innovation and architectural audacity," says Pepin, whose credits include water screens for Disney's Fantasmic, and who was awarded a "Thea" by the Themed Entertainment Association for Acquamix, a show he produced for the Lisbon World's Fair in 1998.
"We proposed the idea for the show to the city of Paris," he continues. "The idea was to put the Eiffel Tower on center stage and make it the star of the evening." The show actually began three minutes before midnight and ran three minutes and 54 seconds after the stroke of 12, for a total running length of six minutes, 54 seconds.
The two major elements of the show were pyrotechnics and lighting. The pyro was fired from 84 different points on the tower, and launched from metal baskets that were attached to special decks placed on the corners of the tall structure. "The baskets were custom-built to adapt to the angles of the tower," says Pepin, who explains that each basket contained enough pyro shells for a total of 4,800 charges fired from the tower itself. The remainder of the 20,000 total charges used for the show were strategically placed behind, in front of, and around the base of the tower to create the dramatic imagery for the spectacle.
The fireworks that started the show created a sense of tension right before midnight. "The first fireworks were at the bottom of the tower with bursts every five seconds, so it looked like the tower was going to take off," says Pepin, who notes that the pyro products came from Italy, Spain, and France. The only sounds were the actual booms from the fireworks.
"The sound of the fireworks was very authentic and in real time," says Pepin. "At the Eiffel Tower, you heard only the sound of the pyro and the roar of the crowd." A soundtrack was added for the millions of viewers who watched the television broadcast of the event. The original music was composed by Pascal Lengagne and Philippe Villar.
As midnight approached, the tower was lit with sparkling lights until a total of 20,000 bulbs had been turned on. As the clock struck 12, the lights went out briefly and a shower of white fireworks wrapped the tower in a 13-second, scintillating corona. For the next 42 seconds, bursts of blue and gold fireworks surrounded the tower, first creating a blue background, then the look of golden wings turning into a golden sky.
In the next three minutes of the show, the pyro made it look as if the Eiffel Tower was dancing, twirling, and coiling around itself with kinetic bursts of blue and gold. The look changed to white and mauve, before a thick white cocoon wrapped itself around the tower, only to transform into a shower of fireworks, like a galaxy of stars in the sky.
The final 45 seconds featured a display of saturated colors (red, yellow, blue, and green) before a final burst of white as a symbol of purity and absolute light. At the end of the pyro show, the tower remained draped with dazzling lights and a lighthouse beacon shone at the top.
"The fireworks were never multicolored," says Pepin. "The Eiffel Tower is a monument to be respected with a harmony of single colors." The pyro show was programmed and run by computer with a team of 50 people working on the production design, programming and installation. The custom software was from ECA2.
"We used a visual simulation program but the computer images were fixed, not kinetic. The movement of the pyro was hard to simulate," Pepin explains. "First, we designed storyboards for the entire show by hand, like a film."
The lighting for the show was designed by French lighting designer Pierre Bideau, who specializes in the architectural illumination of the historic chateaux in the Loire Valley. The first thing he added for the Millennium show was a new beacon at the top of the tower. The four 6kW motor-driven xenon lamps operated like a lighthouse, with each lamp lighting a 90-degree segment of the sky for total 360-degree coverage.
"There was one on each side of the tower," says Bideau. "They were computer-controlled and synchronized in a 1-2-3-4 relay, with two cycles around the top of the tower every two minutes." This lighthouse effect snapped on at the end of the fireworks display and will be lit every night throughout 2000.
"The cold blue-white light of the xenon beams marries well with the yellow of the normal tower lighting," says Bideau, who used 350 Philips 1,000W high-pressure sodium lamps when he redesigned the Eiffel Tower lighting and gave it this warm glow in 1985 (for which we was awarded a gold medal from the French Academy of Architecture). His new beacon replaces one that was at the top of the tower from its debut until 1970, when it fell into disrepair. The new beams, which can be seen for a distance of 80km (approximately 50 miles), dominate the Paris skies at night.
Bideau also added the 20,000 flashing strobe lights that were part of the special Millennium show and which give the Eiffel Tower an extra sparkle, like a shimmering white evening gown set against the warm yellow light of the tower and its intricate metal body. "These lamps will flash on and off every night like little fireworks all year long," Bideau notes. Actually, the strobes flash for 10 minutes on the hour from dark until 1:00am, when the tower lighting goes off. At 1:00am, the last 10-minute strobe show is set against the darkened tower.
Technically, the installation of the lighting was quite a challenge. Twenty mountain climbers took elevators to different levels of the tower, then scaled the exterior with ropes to install the lights which include 800 garlands of Christmas lamps which weighed 40lbs each.
Two technical control rooms were set up to run the show-one on the second floor of the tower, and the other on the nearby Champs de Mars, with eight miles of electrical cables and 230 junction boxes needed for the project. Special flexible clamp collars, clips, and corner irons were needed to attach the cables to the tower.
"It was like a ballet of fire and light," says Pepin when describing the show. "The key words are 'vitality, energy, and color.' " This hugely successful millennium celebration has segued into a new nighttime look for the Eiffel Tower, decorating its passage into the 21st century as one of the most visited monuments in the world.
As if six minutes of pyrotechnic wizardry at the Eiffel Tower wasn't enough, Paris also celebrated the arrival of the new millennium with a lineup of 11 giant Ferris wheels stationed along the world-famous Avenue des Champs Elysees. The brainchild of architect/designer Patrick Bouchain (whose projects include the equestrian theatre for Zingaro in Aubervilliers), this cavalcade of Ferris wheels sprang into action at midnight for an enchanting 90-minute show.
Each wheel was set on an island containing all of the technical elements necessary for its production, including a generator for power. In between the Ferris wheels were smaller installations that looked vaguely like windmills. Conceived by theatre designers Yves Bernard and Michel Rose, these 45'-tall structures turned like gyroscopes at 12 rotations per minute, four times faster than the big wheels.
The different shows, or installations, on the Ferris wheels (which stretched as high as 75'), were designed by theatre directors, designers, television producers, choreographers, visual artists, and performers. With themes like a fiery sun, midnight snow, eye of the world, the waltz of time, a word mill, and a spider's web, the extravaganza added a vision of light, sound, and color that rolled along the Parisian streetscape.
Among the most imaginative concepts was that of visual artist Jean-Luc Vilmouth, whose "word mill" gave a voice to the people of Paris. He established a website and posted messages of up to 40 characters received in advance. They were seen in various colors on three concentric circles turning within the wheel.
One person whose work was not included in this display was opera director Alfredo Arias, whose concept was to literally burn a Ferris wheel to "free the world of such eyesores." The Paris police were afraid the real flames would spark panic among the 1.5 million people expected on the Champs Elysees. Good point.
Despite the long waits on New Year's Eve to ride the London Underground out to Greenwich, England and the Millennium Dome, the opening night celebration for this much-heralded, much-criticized structure was actually quite spectacular. Directed and designed by Mark Fisher, principal of the Mark Fisher Studio in London, this Millennium gala featured a galaxy of performers, including the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Queen of England herself.
The largest structure of its kind in the world, the 80,000-sq.-ft. Millennium Dome consists of a steel frame supporting a massive white tensile roof that covers an area of 20 acres. It's big. Sitting on the South Bank of the Thames River, not too far from the Prime Meridian in Greenwich, the Dome looks almost surreal, as if it may have landed there from outer space. Inside, there is a 12,000-seat arena encircled by 14 different zones, each with a themed exhibit.
Fisher was faced with the task of creating an opening event that would be exciting both for the live audience of 10,000 people as well as millions of television viewers around the world (who watched the festivities in Paris, then London, as "midnight" reached the various high points of Millennial madness). "I wanted to balance the television spectacular of the Dome opening with the idea of spiritual reflection in the transition to the third millennium," says Fisher, who also designed the central Dome show, which opened on January 1 and will take place twice daily throughout the year.
Patrick Woodroffe, who has worked with Fisher on several Rolling Stones tours and other large-scale projects, designed the lighting for both shows, with Dave Hill serving as lighting director. Steve Nolan supervised the television lighting. The challenge was the fine line of having enough light for the television cameras without becoming too bright or washed-out for the live audience.
Once the audience arrived at the Dome for the opening celebration, they found themselves limited to the outer circle of the building (where the exhibit zones are located). "It was like they were in a large donut, 1,000' in diameter and 250' wide," Fisher says wryly. He had cocooned the central arena of the Dome with massive gold curtains measuring 120' high, 600' in diameter (or 2,000 linear feet), and manufactured by the English company Blackout Ltd. "The audience could not see the entire structure at first," Fisher notes.
The curtains were hung around the central area of the Dome on Kabuki rollers, or trusses with a motor-driven spiked bar that rotated to release the fabric on cue. In this case, the cue came from an Avolites Pearl control console, operated by Andy Jupp, project manager for Blackout Ltd. The Pearl desk ran the Kabuki rollers as a chase sequence.
The motion-control system for the Kabuki drape reveal was developed by Artistic Licence in the UK, which now markets the product under the name DMX-Kabuki. The folks at Blackout Ltd. commissioned Artistic Licence to develop the system expressly for the Millennium Dome's opening celebration, once Fisher had specified the drape reveal.
Twelve DMX-Kabuki units (as well as five Artistic Licence Cue-Patch 1024 systems to provide intelligent patching for 10 universes of DMX512) were used at the Dome, each controlling four motor releases-for a total of 48 motors-via DMX512. The units were enclosed in G-clamp mounting cases for easy installation on trussing, and have large operational fail indicators visible from the ground.
"I used the drapes to create drama for the opening," says Fisher. "The audience hadn't seen the whole space yet, only the outer part." One hour into the show (at two minutes before midnight), the Queen opened the royal box and eight children ran down toward the central area to pull on large yellow tassels, or ribbons, that gave the cue to lower the drapes. "The Queen let the kids out of the box, and they were tracked by the television cameras," Fisher explains. "It was very dramatic."
The entire ring of curtains fell within the space of 24 seconds, to reveal a great waterfall of fireworks, another stunning image for the live audience as well as the television viewers. At this point in the show, two children from the chorus walked toward the De Beers Millennium Star, the second-largest diamond in the world, which was sparkling under bright rays of light from lasers supplied by Laser Light International, under the direction of Chris Matthews.
As the children cupped their hands to figuratively extinguish the light, they began to sing a song by modern classical UK composer John Taverner. The song ended as the quarter bells, then the midnight chimes, of Big Ben were piped into the Dome via a fiber-optic sound relay, with the famous face of Big Ben projected onto Barco LCD screens.
The post-midnight show included a carnival featuring 400 performers from London's famous Notting Hill Carnival in fantastic costumes mixed in with the performers from the daily show at the Dome. "The music was a mix of classical and Caribbean, from Bach to samba," notes Fisher. An acrobatic act with two airborne artists closed the show.
Lighting for the evening's events was overseen by the New Millennium Experience Company Ltd. senior lighting department, using subcontracted staff from NEG Earth Lights and Vari-Lite. NEG Earth provided most of the lighting equipment, as well as Thomas trussing for entryway areas, while Vari-Lite provided 60 VL7(tm) automated luminaires, and two Artisan(r) control consoles that were used for the stage lighting. NEG Earth brought in two Whole Hogs to run the main entrance to the dome and the interior foyer lighting.
The system included 97 Starlight MK5 fixtures, 66 High End System Studio Colors(r) (with a mix electronic and magnetic ballasts), 12 ETC Source Four 10-degree ellipsoidals, four Xenon Super Trouper followspots, Wybron Coloram scrollers, over 200 PAR cans, and Avolites dimmers. Special effects gear included 18 AF1000 Dataflash strobes and 54 Avolites strobes with Anytronics and Pulsar DMX splitters. A Clear-Com intercom system with four Beyer double-muff headsets was used.
The two lighting systems, the existing in-house system used for the daily show, and the special rig provided by NEG Earth for the opening celebration only were patched together for the event. "The temporary lighting was used to cover the stage areas in front of the Blackwall Tunnel vent as well as the exterior of some of the exhibitions and the Kabuki drop," says Simon Brophy, head of lighting for the NMEC. "The existing in-house system was used "as audience warmers and to light all the acts in the center of the area, as well as light the inside of the dome roof with a gobo wash."
Existing lighting was used to light the exterior of the dome (as well as the adjacent Skyscape building) for the opening night. The exterior of the Dome is lit with 120 Coemar CF1200 fixtures enclosed within acrylic weatherproof enclosures, and is controlled by a Whole Hog II.
For the opening night staging to be installed by ESS (Edwin Shirley Staging, a UK company located conveniently right across the river from the Dome), some physical changes were necessary to install a special thrust stage in place of one of the exhibit areas. "We removed the "Our Town Story," self-contained, 500-seat venue to enable building of the Dome's opening celebration stage," says Brophy. "After the event, at 2:00am, the stage removal commenced, and the "Our Town Story" venue was replaced over three nights."
The special sound system for the opening celebration was provided by Britannia Row in London. "The challenge was to give good, even coverage for a very mixed audience," says Bryan Grant, Britannia's managing director. "We wanted clarity and a dynamic sound without blasting anybody. You have to get a good balance between speech and singing. This can be quite tricky sometimes, especially with people who are not used to microphone techniques." To meet the needs of the event, Grant used a large, distributed system with 12 zones of sound.
His equipment included a Turbosound Flashlight speaker system with 48 TFS780H cabinets and 48 TFS780L cabinets for the main system, plus eight TFL760W cabinets and 12 TCS56 cabinets (eight for in-fill and four for ground delay). Four additional delays were assured by groups of four TFS780H cabinets. Over 200 mics were used as well, a mix of rock-and-roll, orchestral, and wireless models, to account for the wide mix of performers onstage, from Jools Holland's orchestra to solo performers and children.
Consoles used ranged from a Midas XL4, two Midas H3000s, and a Yamaha PM4000 in the front-of-house position (halfway back on the left side of the audience), to a Midas H3000 and a Midas XL3 for onstage monitoring. Onstage speaker monitors included Turbosound 1 x 12 and 2 x 15 wedges and Galaxy Hotspots. "The acoustic universe was a pleasant surprise," says Grant. "Once we got it all in the right place and up and running, it sounded pretty rich."
While the Millennium Dome has been discussed both in the press and by the British public, it is definitely an interesting addition to the River Thames landscape. Its location in Greenwich, the home of time, made it the perfect venue for England to welcome the new millennium in an appropriate manner.
"For each of the guests attending the Dome opening celebration, the event was both the communal celebration of earthly achievement and a moment of personal reflection-the extraordinary achievement of completing the Dome on time and the extraordinary experience of bridging 1,000 years," says Fisher. "I wanted to juxtapose extravagant spectacle with a symbol of our insignificance in the face of eternity. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of a highly professional team, I think the event was a great success."
There's an old folk saying that goes something like: "No one can make time. Use it as wisely as you can." This sentiment was taken literally by the various members of the design team involved with this year's dropping of the ball in Times Square.
The 24-hour celebration, with the theme "Times Square, Crossroads of the World," was chosen from hundreds of ideas submitted during a global contest held in 1994-95. The winning idea was a 24-hour celebration using video technology to join Times Square revelers in each time zone around the world as it welcomed the New Year. The concept was augmented by giant puppets designed by Michael Curry, a variety of sound effects, and a giant stage for the Mayor and other dignitaries, plus numerous performing acts, constructed in the middle of Times Square. And then, of course, there was the famous ball.
Because this year was so special, the focal point of the event, the dropping of the ball, had to be equally unique. The ball, specifically designed for the Millennium celebration, spanned 6' in diameter, weighed 1,070lbs, and was constructed of Waterford crystal attached to an aluminum frame. The 504 hand-crafted Waterford crystal triangles formed what its creators dubbed a "Star of Hope" design, developed to complement the theme of celebrating the world in Times Square. The "Star of Hope" consists of a central circle and a seven-pointed star, with Earth portrayed by the central circle, and the seven-pointed star representing the seven continents. The cluster of deep cuts that surrounded each individual star symbolized the diversity of humanity.
The ball's design team was comprised of Jules Fisher, Paul Marantz, Scott Hershman, Andrew Thompson, Steven Heuss, and Jordan Ruden, all of the architectural lighting firm Fisher Marantz Stone. Actual fabrication was done by Hudson Scenic Studio, in conjunction with Landmark Signs, and the ball was augmented for performance lighting by Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, of the lighting firm Third Eye.
The concept of time was a central point of the design process. "It was always based on a geodesic sphere and having the ball be used as a marker of time, a clock of sorts," says Scott Hershman, associate principal of Fisher Marantz Stone.
The team eventually hit on a plan calling for a ball covered in 504 triangles of reflective crystal (provided by Waterford, one of many corporate sponsors, including local public utility company Con Ed), and 90 rotating, triangle-shaped mirrors, all DMX-controllable and formed of Alzak Mino 1, an aluminum reflective material manufactured by Alanod. Other key features of the design included chaser sequences built within the ball and on the skin of the ball, colored lamps inside the ball, and, for the ultimate attention grabber, 96 high-powered strobes. "We wanted to build a whole lot of different looks, mix them all, and even break up each one with a marker to indicate the passage of time, during daytime as well as during the final four hours," says Hershman.
The design team was fortunate in having Philips Lighting provide the sponsorship of the lamps used in conjunction with the ball. A total of 168 Philips Halogena (medium base) 2000 lamps, engineered with a special envelope (straight edges with additional facets for crystal enhancement) were used for the exterior. Inside, 432 lamps of various types provided effects. There were 208 clear Halogena decorative flame tips used for the core and wedges, because color was also a key design element; Philips also manufactured 56 red, 56 blue, 56 green and 56 yellow bulbs in a 40W, medium-base (A 19), incandescent lamp version.
"For the desired bursts of color," Hershman explains, "we needed a certain saturated color, but we faced a very tight space constraint. Philips specially manufactured the smaller envelope lamps, which allowed us to increase the overall total number of lamps within the sphere. We used tried and tested technology with our designs, the difference being in the execution of these elements." Adds Fisher, "We didn't use new technology of the next millennium to make a lasting impression, we used what we know about the power of light to move and give energy."
The strobes were another area that combined versatile "conventional technology" and custom applications. Fisher arranged with GAM Products to modify its standard GAM Star Strobe II to be double-ended, enabling 48 units to provide 96 strobes. According to Hershman, the "Millennium model" of the Star Strobe II also featured a higher output, and the shared electronics within the module provided the double-ended strobing and allowed for conserving of space within the ball. Hudson modified the strobes by changing the acrylic covers to a polycarbonate tube to better withstand the temperature extremes (especially the heat) within the ball interior. While the use of incandescent lamps are definitely low-tech, the heat produced by the lamps called for high-tech materials-special polycarbonates, cables, and attachment methods.
The use of color was designed to excite the crowd and "to read well on TV," Fisher notes, adding, "Prior to the final minute, the ball pulses red, like a heartbeat. This sets up the final-minute sequence, bringing in more chases, then lights-both interior and exterior-and finally, the Vari*Lites." The 24 moving lights, 12 VL2C(tm)s and 12 VL7(tm)s, were located under the ball on the roof of One Times Square, under the control of a mini-Artisan(r) console, run by master programmer Dale Polansky. The control of the interior lights and DMX-controlled mirrors was through an ETC Expression 2X console (provided by Production Arts) under the guidance of Scott Gillette. According to production electrician John Trowbridge, "The boards are linked via SMPTE. This year marks the first time that we, via satellite, downlinked a feed from the US Atomic Clock in Colorado, generated the timecode, and distributed the reference signal to others, including the media, for perfect synchronization."
"The ball represents the clock and is a timepiece," Fisher explains. "It's also an active timepiece, so throughout the day, the mirrors on the ball reflect the light into the crowd. It's used as a marker, to indicate the hour, and then the ball goes into sleep mode." Starting at 7am, the ball marked each hour as the new year began across the globe. The ball was most active during the evening and, as midnight approached, marked the half-hour, the quarter-hour, the final quarter-hour, the five-minute mark, and the final minute. "The ball had a 35-second cue every hour," Hershman says, "roughly a 30-second lead-in cue with music, then a five-second marker, and then back to sleep mode."
Eisenhauer contributed the design of the Vari-Lite system and the integration of the lighting on and within the ball for the event. "We thought a lot about the issues of time and especially the usage of time throughout the event and how time accelerates," she says. Programming during the last minute is based on numbering sequences often called the "Golden Mean," or "Golden Standard." The Golden Mean, a recurring theme in art and architecture, is represented by the Greek letter phi, or decimally as 1.61. This standard was used by Eisenhauer and Fisher to divide the final minute into timed sequences which speed up based on a parameter of a half; first 10 (a major element of the clock) then five, then 2.5, and finally to zero. "The pulses of light accelerate, speeding toward its end, building excitement and eventual climax in a kaleidoscope of color, intense light, and a blaze of pyrotechnics." Fisher notes, "It may be that this progression excites the human psyche, so what appears to be random, uncontrolled bursts of light, is in fact intentionally timed to evoke a dramatic response."
Once design was complete, the ball was handed off to Hudson Scenic. "Our job was to take the ball concept, note the various restrictions associated with this project, and get the ball built within the time allotted," explains Hudson electrical designer David Rosenfeld. "The 6'-diameter ball is built in five pieces, with the 168 polycarbonate panels (with crystal) attached onsite. This is necessary due to the actual weight of the ball (minus cable and rigging) being 925lbs and also due to navigating the ball through the final doorway, an opening of 2', 6" wide and 6', 8" high. The core is built in five pieces, and the outer structure/skin comprises three additional pieces."
Among the challenges faced by Hudson mechanical designers Ed Fisher and Roger Bardwell were temperature, weight restrictions, and a tight timeline (six months) for fabrication. The panels, complete with electrical sockets, were fabricated by Hudson and shipped to Ireland for final assembly by Waterford, which solved the problems of attaching the crystal to the translucent Hyzod 3/16" polycarbonate sheets. (Conventional scenery construction would use 1/4" sheet material, but weight dictated the use of 3/16" material.) Extensive wind tunnel tests were conducted and the different expansion/contraction rates of crystal glass and polycarbonate materials were considered and factored into the tempering of the glass and the selection of fasteners by Waterford engineers.
The ball descends from the 77'-high flagpole, which is 4" wide at the top and 161/2" on the bottom, via an electrically controlled winch motor. A key challenge faced by Hudson was cabling. The design called for powering 98 lighting circuits (56 outside, 42 inside), six strobe triggers (0-10V), three non-dims for AC power for the DMX-controlled stepper motors, and three DMX lines also for the mirrors. Rosenfeld originally considered 12-circuit multiconductor power cable; however, the 1,350lb cable weight exceeded the weight of the ball itself and was too heavy for the flagpole and rigging apparatus. Eventually, he analyzed each circuit by load, and in accordance with National Electrical Code tables and guidelines, chose wire gauges appropriate for each circuit or function. After agreeing on a design temperature threshold of -20-degree(F), an ultra-flexible cable, Olflex # 855 robotic cable was procured and eventually used on the ball.
Time also factored into the world-famous, 60-second ball drop. There is not an exact moment where the ball makes contact with something to signify the start of a new year. Instead, "The ball disappears behind the numerals of a new year and the lighting of the ball and numerals indicate the start of a new year, or in this case, Y2K." notes Rosenfeld. The ball must start its descent, be constant, and disappear behind the numbers, so that the descent is carefully timed and noted accordingly. In other words, practice makes perfect. Two Hudson employees, one an electrician, the other a mechanic, operated the electrically-powered winch motor and carefully noted the average time of descent. This time was subtracted from midnight, and that is when the ball began its plunge into a new millennium. Fail-safe operation was assured by having a manual override on the brakes, with a hand wheel as part of the winch motor assembly.
The day began on Times Square with the arrival of the year 2000 in the South Pacific, accompanied by special effects, more than 500 dancers, and 160 giant processional puppets moving through the crowd of millions. The Year 2000 celebration was the largest New Year's Eve celebration ever held in Times Square's 95-year history. And the ball made its annual drop without a hitch.
"This was the most complex New Year's show I ever worked on," Trowbridge says. "We used 200 macros, and seven pages of submasters. Naturally, we had a full set of consoles autolinked and tracking in real time. This was the ultimate 'one-off,' and everything needed to work, perfectly and the first time." Luckily for everyone involved-not to mention the millions of revelers-it did.
For some projects, producers ask for the sun, the moon, and the stars. The design team for America's Millennium in Washington, DC, were lucky-they only had to provide the sun.
True, there was also a huge stage on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, dual video screens on either side of the Memorial, and a massive pyrotechnics display on the Washington Monument, among myriad other design requirements. But for the design team-lighting designers Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, lighting director Simon Miles, and production designer Robert Rang-the conceptualization and implementation of a huge sun that would rise just after midnight provided one of the biggest challenges of their respective careers.
This same group had worked together previously on President Clinton's inaugural celebration in 1993. Like that event, the New Year's Eve celebration was to be broadcast from the Lincoln Memorial. Like that event, it would feature a wide variety of performers and speakers who would not have much rehearsal time. Like that event, it was to be held in the middle of winter. But unlike that earlier event, it was New Year's Eve 1999, ostensibly the biggest worldwide party of at least the last 100 years. Expectations for a big Beltway bang were high.
The basic concept of the production, broadcast on CBS, was this: a series of performers, politicians, and other luminaries would speak and/or entertain the live and televised audience on a stage built on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for most of the evening. Because of the nearly 500,000 expected to be on hand for the event, two giant video screens were built on either side of the Memorial. The centerpiece of the evening was to be a 17-minute film directed by Steven Spielberg, titled The Unfinished Journey, which combined live music and spoken word with the filmed image and was to be shown just before midnight. President Clinton would speak to the audience in the final moments of the Millennium, and then a symbolic fuse would be lit, which would travel down the length of the Reflecting Pool, and reach the Washington Monument. For the last 10 seconds of the year, pyro would rise up 1/10 of the monument every second, serving as a countdown (or rather, count up) for the audience, followed by a huge fireworks display to begin at the stroke of midnight. As the fireworks begin to dissipate, trumpets onstage would begin playing, drawing attention back to the Lincoln Memorial area, where a massive sun made up of PAR cans would rise slowly stage left.
Quite a full agenda for a project that didn't even begin to materialize until four months before the actual event. The earliest meetings about the project took place over the course of two days in DC last August. "We started pretty late in the day for such an ambitious project," says Miles. "Most of the other Millennium projects had already been geared up for several months. That made it more exciting. But the concept of the show that we came up with in that two-day meeting was pretty much what we ended up with on New Year's Eve as a matter of necessity as much as anything else."
In attendance at those first meetings were producers Quincy Jones and George Stevens Jr., director Glenn Weiss, the aforementioned design team, other members of the producing team, and via speakerphone, Spielberg. According to Fisher, it was the director who first suggested the concept of the sun.
"In an almost throwaway line, Spielberg said, 'What if you had a sunrise, and you could light all the buildings of Washington as if the sun was coming up, for the dawning of a new age?' recalls Fisher. "We all thought it was poetic and spiritual and fun; we also realized that the lighting of every building in Washington would be a bit difficult."
"Spielberg's visualization," adds Eisenhauer, "was seeing that contrast of dark to light travel up all the faces in the audience. His view was looking at the people." In the discussion, the director brought up Wendy lights, which are approximately square 12' x 12' grids made of PAR-64 lamps sometimes used in film. "He said, 'What if you had all the Wendy lights you could get your hands on to rise and light the whole audience?' "
A series of ideas for the sun were proposed and later discarded: reflective surfaces, pyro, flames; lifting the sun via helicopter, via hot air balloons. In the end, it was Miles who drew up a concept that would become the most workable version: a series of lamp bars spread out in a large array that would make up essentially a half-circle. "The sun was never designed as a full circle, but as most of a sphere looking over the top of a profile," Miles explains. "And it was made of off-the-shelf pieces because it was so massive we could never custom-build anything in time. My initial drawing had a 150'-diameter sun, with 31/2 gigawatts of power. It was pretty big. And we found out there weren't any cranes big enough to pick it up, nor were there enough dollars to pay for it." In the end, the sun was reduced to 115' in diameter, 220 degrees of a circle, weighed over 70,000lbs, and consisted of over 2,200 PAR-64s hung on 359 lamp bars.
Designing the sun was one thing; building the massive structure and then figuring out a way to lift it was something else entirely. Miles worked closely with Jim Evans of Wilkes Barre, PA-based Mountain Productions to come up with a way to make the structure flexible enough to be lifted. "One of the big problems with the sun is that if you build something that's 115' in diameter, how do you hang lights on it?" Miles says. "What Mountain came up with was a grid structure of pipes that served as sleeves over steel cables. Those served as the vertical lifting elements; then they just used horizontal bracing in between. They basically created a fully articulated metal mat which sat on the ground, so we'd attach the lights on the ground, and when the cranes would lift it up, the framework the lights were attached to could actually bend as it was lifted. It was really an intriguing idea that Jim came up with in order to get the thing off the ground; if we had done a solid framework, it would have snapped in the middle from the weight."Evans and his team at Mountain also came up with a plan to lift the structure. Miles had initially wanted to use mobile cranes to hold a truss and then use chain motors to pull it up, but Evans nixed that idea because of the weather; ice and snow can reduce the ability of many cranes to lift. "What he came up with were two of the largest computerized mobile cranes I've ever seen in my life," Miles says. "I don't think any of us realized that crane technology is so good; the motors on these cranes were computer controlled, and so the cranes were able to very precisely lift this object. My hat's off to Mountain for that." The computerized cranes were able to raise the sun 160' in 31/4 minutes.
Even though design plans were finalized sometime in October, final financial approval for the sun did not come through until late November. "That was really hard," Miles says, "because we were afraid we were going to have to make some big sacrifices. One of the things that kept coming and going was the sun. It was almost a daily thing, where Jules and I would have these bizarre conversations. I'd say, 'What do you know about the sun today?' and he'd say, 'Well, I just heard it was out.' And I'd say, 'Really? I heard it was in.' "
Such uncertainty didn't make things very easy for Light & Sound Design, the lighting supplier for the event. Just to be safe, John Lobel, vice president of LSD in Los Angeles, created a series of contingency plans. "Our agreement with the producers was that we would take each step necessary to make it happen, and just commit a little more money every day," he explains. "That way they didn't have to make the full decision before they could fund it, but they could make a whole bunch of little decisions, any of which, if they said, gee, don't do that, would have prevented it from working on time. So for instance, on a certain date we would let the trucks roll from LA to the East Coast with the equipment. And on another date we'd let trucks roll from Orlando to Nashville. So the stuff was getting closer, and we were pulling the elements together to get it done."
In all, trucks from six different PRG sites hauled equipment to DC; Orlando provided the most, followed by Nashville, Atlanta, LA, Las Vegas, and New York. The lighting equipment for all the aspects of the production arrived by December 20, as did the crew. Actual construction began December 22, but because it was Christmas Eve two days later, the bulk of the work was done beginning Monday, December 27, five days before the event. By most accounts, project coordinator Steve Cochrane and his crew were the saviors of the project, working in split shifts 24 hours a day, in rain and wind and snow, to get the sun built in time. Cochrane was also responsible for figuring out a way to manage the massive amount of cabling required to feed the sun the juice to light up (Aggreko provided generators for the entire project). "Because there were over 2,000 PAR cans, the wiring for the sun was just amazing," Lobel says. "Steve came up with the idea of using a third crane that had a truss hanging from it, which had a dozen motors hanging from that, each of which had about 30 Socapex cables. The shortest cable was 200'; there were roughly 35,000lbs of cable needed to make the thing work."
The sun was rigged and vertical for the entire show, which meant that it had to be hidden from view until after the clock struck 12; it's not that easy to hide a 110'-wide sun from an audience of 500,000. "Basically we came up with just a black profile, built by Mountain, so it could be lit and the sun could come up above a horizon," explains production designer Rang. "Now, when I say 'just a profile,' remember this was 85' tall by 140' wide, it had a footprint of 40' deep, and it was covered in black scrim. But it was still a profile."
Just when the design and tech crews thought everything was in place and ready to go, the Parks Department informed the producers that the sun was too close to the Lincoln Memorial, and too close to the backstage tents, and would have to be moved. This proved especially problematic in that the sun was designed to shine light onto the immediate audience as well as down the length of the mall, per Spielberg's vision. "We had to do a fix at the last minute," explains Fisher, "literally two nights before the show. What we did was take two lamp bars, with a total of 12 bulbs on them, all the way around the inner part of the circle, and them aim them at the audience near the monument. The rest continued to shoot down the mall. Men were on lifts 24 hours straight, refocusing those lamps individually. I think we were able to save it with that, and people seemed to be happy. The President got some sunlight on his face."
Other aspects of the project had their own share of changes and compromises. The creative team's plans for the Washington Monument went through several different incarnations as well; one proposal called for a huge wall of scaffolding built around the monument like a cyclorama, featuring PAR cans, Vari*Lites, and fireworks. Producers took one look at the price tag on that idea and passed. Another plan called for electric light to be placed on the scaffolding currently on the exterior of the Monument (it has been undergoing renovations for the past year); that was rejected by the Parks Department. Finally, Fisher and Eisenhauer worked with Fireworks by Grucci to come up with a plan to light the exterior of the Monument in a way that would also serve as a countdown to midnight via simple, sparkling, and safe pyrotechnics.
Of course, then there was the little matter of the show itself, featuring all sorts of celebrities onstage and in the VVIP section and witnessed by millions of people on TV. Rang's challenge was to design a set that was similar to the one he created for the Inaugural Address in 1993 but that reflected the spirit of a Millennial event. He created a multilevel set enabling different acts to be set up at different times, plus enough space for an orchestra, which grew over time from 85 to 106 pieces, plus enough wing space for the various acts, plus an area for the politicians to speak. As if that weren't enough, he also had to allow for heaters underneath it all to keep everyone warm in the December night.
As with most events of this magnitude, video screens were used. Provided by Texas Instruments, Rang designed them as smaller versions of the Lincoln Memorial. "We couldn't quite make them dimensional because of the budget, but National Scenery did the most fabulous job of painting them," says Rang. "They looked better than the Monument!"
All kidding aside, the Memorial was to be a major fixture of the set for the TV audience. "We knew we had Lincoln from the center camera, but we also had to make sure that it was present from the speaking platform and the presidential platform," Rang says. "There was a lot of homework done as far as how to achieve that and keep Lincoln in the picture."
The Memorial provided its own challenge for the lighting team. "How about no backlight as a challenge?" notes Eisenhauer. "How about not being able to put any lights above the rear of the performers because of interrupting the picture of the monument itself? A lighting person can see in the video how the backlight was missing, and that it was compensated for by using as much side angle as possible. But it was still a challenge."
"There are issues about lighting the memorial," adds Miles. "They very rightly believe that if we can project our light on the Memorial, then someone else can come along and project whatever they want on the Memorial, which may not be something as benign as light. So we tried not to do that. But just with spill light and frontlight, and all the rest, the Memorial did become lit. We lit the memorial in a kind of permanent fashion for the show, so that it looked on television like it would in person."
The stage lighting included a healthy number of Vari*Lites: 200 VL5(tm)s, 100 VL5 Arc(tm)s, and 48 VL5B(tm) wash luminaires, 100 VL2C(tm)s, 30 VL6(tm)s, and 30 VL7(tm) spot luminaires, as well as eight 2k long-throw Super Trouper and eight 3k Gladiator followspots from Strong/ Xenotech, twenty 96-way ETC rolling racks, two ETC Expression 2X consoles, 60 L&E MR-16 Mini-Strips, 75 High End Systems Dataflashes(r), and 40 light bars. According to Lobel, the producers tapped GE, one of the show's sponsors, for bulbs; at a moment's notice, the manufacturer sent 2,500 PAR-64 narrows and 3,000 MR-16 floods. "I don't know how often there has been a bulb shipment of 5,500 for one show," notes Lobel. "I wish I'd seen the pallets roll into the shop!"
All parties involved pointed to innumerable challenges on this project, from the weather to the time factor to the money factor to the Parks Department to the available rehearsal time. All of these little roadblocks, however, are pretty much part and parcel for any project. Perhaps the most unique challenge for the participants in the DC event, however, was one factor most designers never have to encounter: the Secret Service. On the day of the show, at 11am, the entire site was evacuated to allow the Secret Service to conduct a safety sweep. Remember this was around the time of heightened concern over terrorist attacks, and Washington, DC seemed a likely target.
"It was supposed to last two hours, and it lasted three-and-a-half hours," notes Eisenhauer. "I don't think anybody realized how big this production had become. When the Secret Service came in to sweep, I think they may have been a little understaffed too! It took them longer to get through all the layers of stuff, from the heaters to the audio to the lighting, the tents upon tents, the dressing rooms, the potty trailers. And then we all had to be swept as we came back in, all of our gig bags, our gear and boxes, even the food had to be hand-checked."
"But you know what?" Fisher adds, "I'm sure glad they did it."
Executive producer: Quincy Jones
Executive producer/writer: George Stevens, Jr.
Director: Glenn Weiss
Production designer: Robert Rang
Art director: Joe Cashman
Scenic shop: National Scenery Studio
Head stage manager: Garry Hood
Head carpenter: David Hughes
Technical director: Eric Becker
TD (screens): J.W. Griffith
Lighting designers: Jules Fisher, Peggy Eisenhauer
Lighting director: Simon Miles
Gaffer: Mark Carver
Board operator: Lisa Gilhousen
Vari*Lite operators: Harry Sangmeister, Richard Tyndall
Vari*Lite technicians: Kevin Bye, John Ellar, Mark Hudson, Robert Jarvis, James Lewis, Jason Trowbridge
LSD technicians: Steve Cochrane, Michael Finocchairo, Bruce Honer, Jason Hudgens, Joe Gibaldi, Shawn Needham, Michael Parker, Michael Stehr
Lighting equipment: Light & Sound Design, Musco Mobile Lighting, Vari-Lite International
Production audio mixer: Ish Garcia
House PA mixer: Tom Holmes
Orchestra mixer: Tommy Vicari
Band performance mixer: Mark King
Monitor mixer: Dave Velte
Audio sweetener: Dick Maitland
Audio equipment: Audiotek Corp., Masque Sound & Recording, Wireless First
Scaffolding: Mountain Productions
Confetti: Artistry in Motion
Video: Paul Ranieri, Mark Sanford
Projection: Texas Instruments
Projection support: Rich Elliott
Pyrotechnics: Fireworks by Grucci
Costume designer: Ret Turner, Elizabeth Courtney Costumes