THE AUTHOR'S FAMILY SCORES WITH A STADIUM PROJECT IN MELBOURNE
On my most recent visit to my hometown of Melbourne, I renewed my acquaintance with an aspect of Australian culture that I had neglected for more than 30 years: Australian Rules Football. Descended from the ancient Irish game of Gaelic Football, Australian Rules has become the national winter sport throughout the country, with the singular exception of the state of New South Wales, where Rugby League is the dominant football code. "Footy," as it is generally known in pubs, cafeterias, offices, homes, trains, buses, and trams, is more akin to a religion in the nature of its following than a mere sport. In Melbourne, more so than any other football-besotted city in the country, the severity of a star player's knee injury is headline news, supplanting politics, international conflict, and natural disasters on newspaper front pages and news bulletins.
In my late teens, after following the (mostly mis-) fortunes of the St. Kilda Saints team since birth, I lost interest in footy as I became engrossed in the performing arts. Even during my decade in television, I fortuitously worked for networks that didn't cover football. After moving to Perth, 2,500 miles away on the Western edge of the continent some 23 years ago, my visits to Melbourne were intensely devoted to family and business matters. Thus I drifted until my late 40s, when one of my brothers dragged me along to see a football stadium his company had been involved with lighting. While I'm explaining how this story came about, I suppose that I should confess to my family connections in the lighting business.
As dynasties go, the Ciddor family does not really compare with the Altmans or the Kliegls. In fact, our family has a history in the garment trade. However, in this generation, after becoming involved with the ambitious musical productions staged at our high school, all three brothers have taken up the lighting profession. Following careers in quite different areas of production, both of my brothers, Braham in Melbourne, and Jonathan in Sydney, wound up working for lighting companies that were absorbed by an aggressively acquisitive conglomerate. In the financial shakeout of the late 1980s, each brother became involved with a management buy-out of their section of the Lightmoves operation. As for me, I went on to teach lighting for many years, and now, as you can see, I write about it.
The stadium that Braham showed me is part of Melbourne's Docklands redevelopment, on the Western edge of the central business district. The project is a revitalization of the Victoria Dock and the Spencer Street railyards area, which had fallen into disuse since the advent of container shipping. Designed by Darryl Jackson, Bligh, Lobb, Sports Architects, the Colonial Stadium, as it is known after the $50-plus million sale of naming rights, is an all-weather, general-purpose entertainment venue. With a capacity of 52,000 patrons in tiered seats and the inevitable corporate boxes, lounges, and bars, the stadium has a retractable roof to take advantage of Melbourne's warm summers, yet provide shelter from the city's infamously inclement winters.
There are nightclubs, restaurants, bars, and a television studio in the stadium complex, and the arena itself has seen the likes of Barbra Streisand, Roger Daltrey, Peter Frampton, and Alice Cooper performing in concert. However, its core cultural function is to host cricket in the spring and summer, and football in the fall, winter, and spring.
The Docklands redevelopment, as with all major building projects in the state of Victoria, was required to allocate at least 1% of the construction budget to integrated public artworks. In addition to placing sculptural work in the concourses surrounding the stadium, senior project architect Darryl Jackson proposed the commissioning of a lighting artwork to reflect the scale of the stadium in the urban landscape. Expressions of interest were sought from the arts community, and resulted in six urban artists being funded to produce full-scale proposals. The successful work, Vox Lumiere from Scottish-born artist Peter McNiell Stitt, was selected not only for its dynamic interaction with the stadium, but because, according to Jackson, "It was also the most practical proposal that integrated well with the structure and function of the stadium."
Stitt's concept was to first of all provide a visual anchor for the stadium in the cityscape. This then serves as a frame for the more volatile components of the lighting. Lighting changes contained within the frame relate to the activities in and around the stadium. The anchor elements are a band of colored light around the stadium's upper rim, and uplighting on the trusses for the movable roof. The variable components consist of a changing play of light on the upper fascias of the stadium. There are a series of scripted states, each corresponding to a particular moment in the flow of an audience's relationship with the stadium and what is happening within it. Stitt's script deals with the audience approaching and arriving at the stadium, watching the play and responding to the game at such moments as the scoring of goals or a skillful play in cricket. The final section of the script is about the audience leaving the excitement of the stadium and returning to their everyday world.
The implementation of Stitt's design was entrusted to lighting designer David Bird, from the Melbourne office of Vision Design Studio. Bird has a long relationship with lighting, having started in theatre in his youth. When I was lighting my first high school productions, it was David Bird, then at Strand Electric, who sold me my first pieces of Cinemoid #52 to put in our Pattern 23N baby mirror (profile/ellipsoidal) spots. In later years, it was Bird who fired my then-teenage brother Braham from Strand Electric's hire department, for doing wheel spins around the driveway in the delivery truck.
Bird's first thoughts for the colored band were to literally implement Stitt's vision of a neon stripe around the building. This however, proved impractical, due to the access requirements for the maintenance of the neon. Bird then turned to his theatrical experience to create the colored band by the use of shuttered profile (ellipsoidal) spots. Bird, in collaboration with Haydn Brennan from Lightmoves, undertook a series of on-site luminaire tests during the construction of the stadium. They established that the appropriate intensities and hue (Lee 132 Medium Blue) could be achieved with the architectural version of the Selecon Pacific cold mirror spot, fitted with a glass color filter. This 575W MSR variant of the Pacific offered the light output necessary for this application.
The initial design called for a single luminaire to cover each section of the building. However, the highly specular metal sheeting which forms the upper rim of the stadium's structure requires that a pair of instruments be used. These have been placed at the classic theatrical 45ø offset, to provide a sufficiently wide angle of view. This problem is expected to gradually diminish with time, as the building acquires the inevitable patina of urban grime and industrial fallout. The rim is further enhanced by uplighting with Moonlight metal-halide floodlights fitted with a color-matched blue glass filter. The floodlights are mounted inside the building, in circular porthole-like skylights in the ceiling of the corridor that circles the stadium. The uplighting on the trusses of the moving roof sections are also Moonlight floodlight fixtures.
Stitt's vision for the fluid elements of his artwork described the light playing on the stadium in terms of color palettes and movement. He talks of water ripple effects with echoes of Monet and Turner that light the underside of the roof, tying it to the nearby Yarra River and Victoria Dock areas. The other major component he describes is a "polychromatic wave of animated light" around the exposed underside of the upper seating. He associated each of the stages in the audience/stadium interplay with a particular color and texture of light. Bird spent some time in discussions with Brennan about the possible combinations of luminaires and effects devices that could produce the range of looks required. During this period, many cold, blustery nights were spent at the construction site, with Stitt, Bird, and Brennan looking at tests of various luminaires, colors, gobo patterns, and animation systems. These were rigged on a scaffold tower by a Lightmoves crew and powered from a generator.
Although the requirement does not exercise them to anywhere near their full capabilities, the only luminaire which could meet all the requirements for the job, particularly in terms of light output, gobo rotation, and prism rotation, was the Clay Paky Stage Zoom 1200. Similarly, the Clay Paky Stage Light 300 was chosen to cover the underside of the moving roof when in its retracted position and overhanging the edge of the stadium. The water effects are achieved through the combination of a piece of shower-screen glass in the gobo wheel and a standard breakup prism. Other effects are combinations of standard prisms with custom gobos, designed in a collaboration between Stitt, Bird, and Brennan. The currently unused facilities on these robotic luminaires certainly offer a wide range of possibilities for future additions to the program.
To house these luminaires at the required elevation and distance from the building, architect Darryl Jackson designed windowed, forced-air-ventilated boxes on stilts. These units have become known as "Ned Kellys" due to their resemblance to Sir Sydney Nolan's famous painted images of Ned Kelly, the notorious armored bush ranger (as featured in the Olympics opening ceremony), and they ring the stadium, as if about to bale it up and rob it. Where the stadium building projects beyond the oval line of the arena, large air-cooled "coffins" on the roof take the place of the Ned Kellys. For the 16 individual Stage Light 300s required to uplight the moving roof sections in their open state, Lightmoves developed its own force-ventilated, acrylic-domed enclosure. All luminaire enclosures are fitted with over-temperature power cutoffs.
Control for the system requires both sophisticated interaction between the building and its occupants, and simplicity of operation by non-technical stadium staff. Andrew Sherar, systems engineer (and Braham's partner in Lightmoves) implemented a two-tiered control system. Martin Light Jockey software running on a rack-mounted Pentium/Windows PC provides the DMX512 data stream which directly controls all 16 Stage Zoom 1200s, 16 Stage Light 300s, and the 18 Dynalite Dimtek 934DMX electrical contactor controllers that switch power to each of the luminaires. The Light Jockey is driven, via MIDI link, by an AMX controller with a touch screen. Sherar has programmed the AMX system to provide a simple, almost technology-free interface for stadium operations staff. [AMX is now known as Panja.] The AMX controller has inputs, via noise gates, from six microphones located above the spectator seating, which are used to sense the excitement levels of the crowd to trigger the lighting changes. It is expected that different crowd noise thresholds will need to be set for different sports.
To the non-technical or disinterested user there are only a half-dozen fairly self-explanatory options on the AMX control screen:
- The stadium awakens
- The crowd arrives
- The crowd comes to life
- Action on the field
- The crowd departs
- The stadium goes to sleep
These options are selected by the event manager as part of the standard operations of any event or venue booking, or can be programmed in advance through the scheduling system incorporated in Sherar's user interface.
DMX data from the Light Jockey is buffered and distributed to the four building cores via multicore shielded twisted-pair cable, and buffered and opto-isolated again via LSC Isoports at each data distribution point. The DMX feeds to the contactor controllers on the moving roof are run in optical fiber, using Optical Systems interfaces, to isolate the network from the inevitable lightning strikes on the roof structure. A second identical DMX512 network was installed to provide the infrastructure for additional lighting for special events or outside television broadcasts. A DMX input network, with LSC Isonode buffering and opto-isolation, has input points in the scoreboard, at the television outside broadcast van bays, and at a services panel in each of the four building cores.
Although I just missed the last footy game in the stadium for the 2000 season (which is probably just as well, as the Saints had another tragically unsuccessful year), I was able to see the lighting system in operation. Under the guise of system quality tests, my brother put on a show for my youngest daughter and I, and the bemused crowd who were camping in the forecourt areas of the building. Such is the fanaticism of the Melbourne football supporters, that club members of the very successful Bombers team were queuing for up to three days: waiting to buy tickets to see their team in the season finals.