The Al Janadriyah Heritage and Cultural Festival, organized annually by the National Guard of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the town, located 45km (28 miles) north of Riyadh, is the area’s major tourist attraction, drawing more than one million visitors and highlighting some of the most exquisite examples of Saudi Arabian arts and crafts, and culture.

The Festival has become such an important event because it represents a meeting point for the area’s beautiful poetry, art, dance, theatre, heritage, intellect, and history. The 2010 edition of the festival was the 25th and kicked off with the traditional camel race (with over 1,000 contestants), followed by performances by folklore troupes, recitals by famous literary figures, falconry events, and the famous Aradha sword dance.

The spectacular multimedia musical show opening the festival was staged in front of His Royal Majesty King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia on a 1,400sq-m. (4,593sq-ft.) stage, custom-built for the occasion. It was broadcast to millions of Arab viewers by MBC, the show’s producer and the region’s first free-to-air news and entertainment satellite TV channel and broadcasting industry pioneer. MBC provided the OB van and crew for broadcast coverage.

The operetta, titled Wehdat Watan (the Unity of Our Country), was written by the great Saudi poet, Sari. As well as a cast of 250 performers, artists featured included singers Mohammed Abdo, Rashed Al Majed, Abbas Ibrahim, Abdul Majid Abdullah, and composer Majed Al Mouhandes. The voices of singers Yara and Fadwa Al Maliki were also heard.

MBC production was supervised by Samar Akrouk and Mohammed Al Odadi, and the team included executive producer Alex Meouchy, technical director Radwan Kanaan, production manager Suzy Ghosn, TV director Imad Abboud, and theatrical and creative director Ghazi Feghaly. MBC called in an international creative team with wide experience in TV, theatre, and cinema for the impressive multimedia spectacle.

During the show, the set also hosted live camels and sheep, encampments, and military vehicles. The show’s set was conceived and designed by Roberto Caruso, an Italian production designer and art director with wide experience in both television and cinema, who called in a series of specialist firms to construct and automate his set’s components, as well as create its dramatic special FX. A considerable amount of electronically controlled mobile scenery, designed and realized with specialist Roman company Dari Automazione, included two dunes and a central stairway that, when retracted, revealed an oasis with pools and waterfalls, six groups of palms that moved in and out of the set, two rotating triangular prisms (15'x21') with different scenes on each side (simple but useful modern versions of the periaktos of ancient Greek theatre), and an almost life-sized helicopter that “landed” on stage.

A 16'-high hawk with a 48' wingspan appeared from upstage for the dramatic finale. It was constructed onsite by Filomeno Crisara, an acclaimed artist who has also worked on several world-famous films, including The Name of the Rose, Federico Fellini’s City of Women and Casanova, and Roberto Benigni’s Pinocchio and The Tiger and the Snow.

The flame and rain effects and the waterfalls were created by Ricci, a Rome-based company specializing in cinema and TV effects since 1950. The flame effects used propane tanks with piezoelectric pilot flames, whereas the torrential storm scene was created with special heads forming a curtain of water without wetting the offstage areas along which the MBC camera dollies ran. All were installed and remote-controlled by a team led by Paolo Ricci. The lighting contractor for the show was Resources Stage Technologies, whose staff programmed the Barco High End Systems Wholehog 3 console according to indications from the show’s LD and director of photography, Marco Incagnoli, in association with MBC lighting engineer Michel Ashkar.

Incagnoli is an extremely eclectic professional: cameraman, show designer, director, director of photography. After more than 10 years as director of photography with RAI, for the last 13 he has worked freelance with the country’s major broadcasters (Sky, RAI, Mediaset, La7, MTV). “The correct balance between theatrical lighting and television photography is the result of experience with shows on which lighting is no longer only at the service of the show, but is itself a show,” Incagnoli says. “The lighting designer and director of photography have become one and the same person, and it is impossible—or at least restrictive—to correct a theatrical light plot to make it ‘visible’ to television cameras. It is much more productive to design a rig that is enjoyable to spectators at the actual event and looks good with television or film cameras.”

Incagnoli’s rig comprised Philips Vari-Lite VL3000s (40 Wash and 50 Spot versions) and 30 Barco High End Systems Cyberlight Turbo fixtures. Martin Professional Magnum smoke machines were also used to great effect in a storm scene, and the hawk’s appearance in the finale and solo performers were picked out with a pair of Spotlight 2.5kW MSR followspots. LED lighting technology on the show included 14 modules of custom LED “spaghetti” curtain by Italian manufacturer Tribe, eight SGM Ribalta LED bars, 250m (820') of Osram LED Strips, and 150 3W LEDs on the proscenium. Conventional fixtures included Philips Strand Studio Fresnels (20 2kW models and 10 5kWs), 16 ETC Source Four ellipsoidals, and 144 ACLs, and dimming was via Avolites ART 2000T units.

VFS president and owner Dale Cihi is an experienced IMAX camera op, engineer, and broadcast video rental veteran, as well as one of the busiest display systems designers and integrators on today’s market. His large-screen projection work includes some of the most visually exciting sets in television, live concerts, and museum exhibits. He installed a curved 38'x15' screen at the CBS game show Power of 10 and designed an exhibit at MOCA Museum in Los Angeles, projecting 42' of contemporary art via 18 projectors mounted almost 30' above ground.

Cihi and his team acted as projection designers and display systems integrators, “a job that included electrical, rigging, screen tensioning system, and a screen fly system with high-speed chain motors and a manual rope backup system, to get the 850lb RP screen out of the way when the falcon made its entrance at the end of the show,” he says. “We provided eight Christie Digital Roadster S+20K projectors, mounted on 8m [25'] scaffold towers on the venue floor, with a center blend on the main RP screen, and four S+20K units on the lighting truss for the second tulle screen, used for multi-image effects and the smoke mask when the falcon came in.” Two Christie Digital Roadie HD+30K projectors were used on the first tulle screen and installed in a specially built air-conditioned hut on the venue roof, and all the projectors were fitted with special air handling systems to prevent shutdowns due to clogged internal filters.

The show’s high-impact visual content was created by visual designer Sergio Metalli of Ideogamma in Italy, with gear from video contractor Video Film Systems, Inc. of Norwalk, CT. “One of the show’s most interesting aspects was the use of multiple layers of projection to give the set a 3D look,” Cihi continues. “Sergio is an expert at layering images and had lighter images in front of darker ones, so they stood out better. The Christie projectors were able to be ‘twisted’ and the images re-warped to the large RP screen, and the Christie RoadTools suite enabled us to adjust them live.”

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Metalli’s work has been acclaimed by audiences in opera shrines such as La Scala, La Fenice in Venice, Buenos Aires’ Colon Theatre, Madrid’s Real, Verona Arena, and Los Angeles Opera, where he designed the visuals for the production of Fidelio that opened the 2007/2008 opera season. He has also designed for productions in other types of venues worldwide, and unusual projects have included a performance at the Roman Amphitheatre in Sardinia of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, for which he projected images on five sides of an enormous cube, made from sail canvas to resist the strong sea winds, and a large (almost 360°) projection, with a multiple projector setup, surrounding the audience in Rome’s circular Ancient Jewish Fish Market.

Using a Panasonic AJ-HPX3000 camcorder, the Ideogamma team shot HD video footage in the desert, including soldiers and tanks, and used a huge (35x5m/115'x16') blue screen to shoot soldiers jumping down from a helicopter. They also toured Arabia, shooting and photographing major monuments and urban areas, including the Mada’in Saleh archaeological site in the mountainous north-eastern region of Hijaz.

For the screens used for the show, Metalli notes, “We had a Peroni Rexor Lamé tulle—26x8.4m [85'x27.5']—and Peroni Gobelin black tulle—24x9m [79'x29.5']—with an additional silver finish by Paolino Libralato. The 25x10m [82'x33'] RP screen was in Da-Lite Da-Tex high-contrast flexible fabric featuring optical characteristics similar to rigid rear projection screens.”

Metalli’s team also fed video content to three modular 16mm pitch LED screens by California Pro-Lighting of China: two vertical 7.5'x33' screens and a horizontal 75.5'x6' one. The three formed a sort of frame around the set. The images screened on the LED, RP screen, and tulle had very different brightness and color-rendering, so combining them in a satisfactory manner was no easy task and required lengthy meticulous work. Filming was done with the screen as a consideration, and brightness balanced accordingly.

Ideogamma’s Dataton Watchout system included seven full-HD graphics servers, with two sending images to the rear video projectors, two for the projectors for the second tulle, one for the projectors for the first tulle, one for the LED displays, and another for the OB van. A graphic editor server controlled the HD graphics servers.

Metalli’s son, Mattia, was in charge of post-production and special effects, assisted by Davide Grussu and Luca Sensi. They used a server with 4TB storage, RAID5, four Ethernet gigabit load balance connections, two graphic workstations with dual quad-core Xeon 4GB ram to process full HD@60fps images, and 12 quad-core rendering nodes (with 4GB of RAM) for image rendering. Key software included Autodesk 3ds Max 3D, Chaos V-Ray rendering engine, and Adobe Production Premium CS4.

"As well as the technical challenges involved and successfully solved to achieve the show’s impressive all-round results, Janadriyah was also wonderful from a human point of view, as the spectacle was put together by a really mixed team, with Saudi, Italian, Lebanese, Tunisian, and American professionals working side by side—a fantastic experience!” Metalli, Sr. concludes.

Mike Clark, ex-sound engineer, road manager, radio personality, and club DJ, is a UK-born journalist residing in Italy and specializing in entertainment-related technology. He has contributed to LD under its four names for 15 years, and he also works as a technical translator for audio and lighting manufacturers.