The Palm Islands in Dubai are serious contenders for being named modern, manmade wonders of the world, and the trilogy of palm tree-shaped islands, each topped with a crescent, are also the grandest land reclamation project in history, adding approximately 323 miles of coastline to the city. The creation of the first island to be completed, the Palm Jumeirah, began in June 2001, and the island's flagship resort, Atlantis, The Palm, was officially unveiled this past November with the party to end all parties, produced by event planners to the stars, Colin Cowie Lifestyles. Atlantis, The Palm is a 1,539-room, ocean-themed destination resort located at the center of Palm Jumeirah's crescent. It features six square miles of water theme-park, marine, and entertainment attractions, a conference center, 20,000sq-ft. of retail space, and a collection of world-class chefs.
A year in the making, the special event and its spectacular finale brought together an incredible conglomeration of companies and individuals that overcame language and land barriers to make this one of the most viewed events in history — an estimated nine billion people watched either a live broadcast, YouTube video, or saw photos from that night. The 19-minute finale consisted of a multimedia show encompassing massive fireworks, lighting, and high-definition projections on the façade of the Royal Towers of the new resort.
Fireworks by Grucci of Brookhaven, New York on Long Island, the team behind the design and engineering of the fireworks at the Opening Ceremonies of the Games of the XXIX Olympiad in Beijing (“Going For The Gold,” Live Design, September 2008) handled the fireworks. More than 100,000 specially designed pyrotechnic devices were fired in less than nine minutes from 716 locations, for a total of 100,000 fireworks, around seven times the amount that were used for the Beijing Olympics.
For content creation and realization, the finale show's concept creator and producer Edd Griles and partner Chip Rachlin of Creddible Productions in Armonk, New York, were brought in by Jerry Inzerillo, president of the entertainment division of Kerzner International, the firm that operates the Atlantis resorts. Griles has worked on live events for over four decades and was the creator and producer of the original MTV Video Music Awards 25 years ago, in addition to being executive producer on a number of other events, including Donald Trump's Miss Universe, Miss USA, and Miss Teen USA pageants. He worked closely with illumination sequence designer Marie-Jeanne Gauthé of Light Motif in Paris to create the initial concepts for the video sequence. An impressive canvas, the Royal Towers stretch 659' wide and 337' tall at their highest points. A team of five graphic artists in Paris spent more than 100 hours rendering the final 11-minute sequence, and 12 technicians specializing in large-scale projection technology conducted the illumination, using 22 Christie S+25K DLP projectors, four Christie S+20K DLP projectors, and six Christie S+15K DLP projectors, all supplied by VLS in Paris. The projectors were managed using Christie network control software with Windows-based computers running Iridas FrameCycler software for the final display phase.
While working on the finale, each company had its own role: Grucci did the fireworks, Syncrolite of Dallas, TX took care of the lighting, and Creddible was in charge of the video. To integrate the video content with the lighting and the fireworks, Griles says, “For pretty much the first time, we really tried to integrate all three of those things together to tell the story of Atlantis, which is a little different from the familiar tale. In our version, Atlantis isn't lost at the bottom of the sea but instead comes back from the sea, the same way the land for the Palm Islands was reclaimed from the sea.” Sequences for the video included the initial destruction of the Lost City of Atlantis, the formation of the planets, and a falcon flying across the Arabian desert carrying the following quote by His Royal Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum: “We have to make history and approach the future with steady steps, not wait for the future to come to us.”
Before, during, and after the fireworks and video, 32 Syncrolite XL10s, 14 B5/2s, eight B5/2 HPs, 18 B5/3s, and 16 MX3000s were run on three universes of DMX, sent out on three Wireless Solution W-DMX transmitters and seven receivers, with one MA Lighting grandMA and one grandMA light as backup. Syncrolite's Jeffery A. Smith served as lighting designer, crew chief, and project manager for the finale show lighting, and Cory FitzGerald was programmer.
It was important for Smith to design lighting that would complement the projection and fireworks without getting lost in the mix. “My interpretation of that was to be a supporting role in the total look and feel of the show — to extend the projection beyond the building out into space and be an extension of the fireworks,” he says. “Edd had storyboards of the show, and some of them already had beams of light drawn in, and a QuickTime file of the animation with the music. I just came up with how to make it all a reality with the Syncrolites.”
Very little programming time and a tight load-in were two major concerns for the team. Since it's impossible to pre-viz fireworks, it was up to Smith and FitzGerald to create the cues and program in just two days. Rodd McLaughlin of Prelite Studios, LLC, provided pre-viz services for the lighting portion of the project. “The presentation materials were created from the cues at Prelite Studios in San Francisco and shipped off to the various entities around the world for approval,” says McLaughlin.
“This was time very well spent,” adds Smith. “The first day was just getting all the info into the grandMA to create the cues. Then we programmed the show, except for the fireworks, in one day. We created looks and printed them out to give to Phil Grucci, so he and I could come up with what went with what the fireworks were doing.” The cues for the two fireworks segments were added to the cues on location, as the programming for the whole show could not be done on location. “We were just too close to the building,” says Smith. “The best seat in the house was from a helicopter at 3,000'. Prelite made it possible to virtually see the show and get it correct and symmetrical before we got there.”
Fixture placement was also a careful consideration. The units couldn't get in the way of a fireworks wall that erupted from 400 balconies, starting at the top of the hotel and quickly spreading to all 22 floors. “Imagine covering a Vegas-sized casino/hotel building with Syncrolites and controlling them from down the street,” FitzGerald says. “However, they are amazing fixtures, and we were able to create a number of great looks using lights with only 14 channels. It was really refreshing to have such a relatively simple tool that could do so much. In the world of media servers today, with 500+ channels, you sometimes forget that a great-looking show is about creatively using the features, not just having ones that look good on a trade show floor.”
In order for the show to be multinational, barely any words were spoken; there was just music to accompany the finale. Griles found “very rich, big-sounding stuff” that was licensed, created on a computer, and broadcast in 5.1 surround sound, with everything run off an SMPTE track and all the lighting and fireworks cues lined up and ready to go.
The fluidity and execution of a finale of that size and scope was a great success, and Griles recalls, “Jerry kept saying, ‘Make it bigger. Make it bigger.’ When people thought the first part of the illumination was over, that's when the fireworks started, and when that was over, we went back to illumination. All of this was filmed and shot by 22 cameras, some in helicopters, and for all of this to work, you couldn't have any residential lights on. Literally, all of the lights on all of Palm Island were shut off for about an hour,” he says.
Will Atlantis rise again? The larger Palms Jebel Ali and Deira are still under construction and slated for completion within the next 10 to 15 years, so perhaps those openings will top this one. We'll just have to wait and see.
THE MAIN STAGE: Q&A
Another highlight at the opening of the Atlantis resort on Palm Jumeirah was a 10-song set performed by pop music legend Kylie Minogue. Lighting designer Nick Whitehouse of Visual Light in the UK handled the main stage performance lighting for the event, using Clay Paky Alpha Spot and Wash 1200HPEs, High End Systems Studio Colors, Studio Spot CMYs, and Showguns, ETC Source Four 19° PARs, Strong Lighting Super Trouper IIs, and a mix of 8-Light Molefays, 6' MR16 Battens, and LED PARs, with gels specified from Lee Filters.
LD: How were you involved in the planning stages of this event?
Nick Whitehouse: I was brought in by Richard [Young] and Mark [Lynch] to integrate Kylie's show into the whole event on the main stage. The set design for the stage and event had already been completed, so I had the task of lighting the main stage for the dinner looks, additional artists, and during the closing extravaganza. I also had to integrate the look of Kylie's show into all of this, so I provided a lighting design that I felt would be complementary. I used drawings and renderings of the event to come up with my lighting plot and supplied it to Gearhouse and Upstaging in the USA who provided some equipment.
LD: What was the design philosophy going into the event?
NW: I wanted to keep the show look of the Kylie tour while also being able to light the set to fit in with the overall look of the event, which I think became a nice balance of a full-on pop show and corporate event. I thought that we managed to create a very classy and theatrical feel on the main stage, which integrated well with the visuals projected onto the main hotel. The lighting looks were kept very simple for the majority of the show so that the amazing backdrop of the hotel was allowed to be the major attraction.
LD: How was the video content created, managed, and run?
NW: The video for Kylie's set was created by Blink TV in the UK and forms part of her current world tour. It is run via timecode on a Barco Encore System. We worked very hard with the video designers to make sure the lighting and video matched and worked with each other for the whole of Kylie's set.
LD: Was the show preprogrammed?
NW: The show was preprogrammed for the current world tour, and I used ESP Vision to move this show over to the Atlantis stage setup.
LD: How is the console set up?
NW: I am currently using a PRG Virtuoso DX for my tour and brought that console system into this show. I have two DXs at front-of-house that are linked by fiber network to the Virtuoso Node Pluses that output the DMX directly. I recently moved back to this console following a big push on the software and have found that it is extremely reliable and has some very powerful features that are not found anywhere else, and it is also very quick to program.
LD: Was there a particularly interesting feature or a most-used tool in the production?
NW: There is a Virtuoso feature called “selective store” that is genius. It allows you to store any single or combination of changes across any single or any combination of fixtures across a single or range of cues with a very simple interface. It came in very handy when I wanted to change the outer set lights on the pillars to a different shade of amber while running the show and have it track the change through a range of cues without affecting anything else and while running the show.
LD: What piece of equipment was your workhorse?
NW: Wash lights were needed in large numbers for this show. There was a very bright video screen upstage and to obtain the level of balance needed for the dancers and band to appear equal required a whole bunch of wash lights. They worked hard.
LD: Any other comments or challenges?
NW: The closing sequence is something that I found to be quite incredible. The audio, projection, video, and fireworks sequence really had to be experienced to be believed. I have seen a lot of things in my years in this business but nothing that compared to that — a massive credit to all who were involved in creating the show.
PRINCIPAL PRODUCTION TEAM
Lighting Designer, Crew Chief, and Project Manager: Jeffery A. Smith
Programmer: Cory FitzGerald
Lighting Crew: Micah Andrews, Steven “Scuba” Sligar, Eric Braudaway, McClain Moss
Event Producer: Michele Wiltshire, Kerzner International
Producer: Jerry Inzerillo, Kerzner International
Finale Show Creator and Director: Edd Griles, Creddible Productions
Illumination Sequence Designer: Marie-Jeanne Gauthé
Fireworks Designer: Phil Grucci, CEO, Fireworks by Grucci
Technical Director: Simon Ransom, The Ransoms
Party Planning: Colin Cowie, Colin Cowie Lifestyles
Lighting Designers, Main Stage: Brian Lietch and Nick Whitehouse
Performance Staging: Mark Lynch, Ignition Performance Staging
Production Manager, Main Stage: Richard Young
Lighting Designer, Party Area: Ray Thompson
On-Site Production: Chris Titman
Lighting Crew Chief, Main Stage: Tom James
Gaffer, Main Stage: Ben Holdsworth
Gearhouse, PRG, Syncrolite, TechnoPro, Upstaging Lighting, VLS,