Tuesday, March 16, 2010

2 Million Watts Power Sound Systems at the Winter Olympic Opening & Closing Ceremonies

The aurora borealis dancing in the northern sky served as a guiding metaphor in the design of the elaborate Opening Ceremony of the XXI Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver on February 12, as light and projection were employed in place of scenery to dress the gargantuan stage in the 65,000-seat bowl of BC Place, where the ceremony was held indoors for the first time in the history of the Olympics.

Lighting director Bob Dickinson went straight from Vancouver after wrapping up the Closing Ceremonies to light the 82nd Academy Awards in Hollywood. Two days later, he was on the phone with me, downloading his thoughts and feelings about the experience. I then caught up with audio director Bruce Jackson—founder of Apogee Electronics—who used 2,000,000 watts of amplifier power in his sound system design, design director Doug Paraschuk, and other members of his team to get their take on producing the largest spectacle ever mounted on Canadian soil.

Featuring the largest air-supported stadium roof in North America, BC Place offered executive producer David Atkins and his designers an unprecedented opportunity to stretch the boundaries of spectacle using state-of-the-art lighting, projection, sound and special effects. The fabric roof presented almost insurmountable challenges in rigging, projection, and sound reinforcement, however, and was sensitive to changes in barometric pressure, temperature, and wind conditions that caused it to rise and fall continuously 1.3 m (4’) during the course of the ceremonies. Furthermore, it limited the total hang in the stadium to some 150 tons.

“We were in a somewhat inhospitable environment that generated a lot of technical issues, just in terms of gravity alone,” said Paraschuk. “Because it was an air-filled venue, we were limited in the amount of equipment we could physically hang from the ceiling. The engineering of the rigging, which was handled by Riggit Services in Vancouver, was a technical nightmare. We had to be very careful about where the rigging points were located, and how we articulated the entire rig in order to get to where we needed to be. We also had to deal with the issue that the ceiling breathed. This caused nightmares in focusing, because it was moving all the time, and so all of our flown elements, and their relationships to the projection and the lighting were encoded,” he said.

“The victory ceremonies every day between the Opening and Closing Ceremonies required an entire additional set of truss masking to be hung in order to create a kind of concert bowl in the venue. The intent was to have it look like a different space on television, and this impacted greatly on our ability to maintain focus and continuity for the Closing Ceremonies, let alone physically rehearse the Closing Ceremonies. Our target for the bowl was 25,000 seats for the victory ceremonies. The full seating in the venue is 55,000, and we expanded the lower bowl lower for opening and closing so the total capacity was about 65,000,” Paraschuk said.

The fabric roof let in so much daylight that programming and rehearsals for the Closing Ceremonies could be conducted only from midnight until dawn, following the conclusion of the daily victory ceremonies and pre-programming for the following night’s headline talent. “The lighting department worked 24 hours a day, with some individuals putting in 16 hour shifts, and that turned out to be more ambitious than we had initially anticipated,” Dickinson said.

Read the full story in the April issue of Lighting & Sound America.