Dubai-based events company, HQ Creative, was again responsible for producing the DIFC anniversary event staged in the shadow of the iconic Gate building, in the heart of the city's DIFC District. This year's spectacular featured a line-up which included opera group Il Divo, Mozart in Arabic, a 95-piece symphony orchestra and a 350-strong choir.
"Previous shows we have organised here have been situated on the opposite side of the Gate. This year we switched sides for a different perspective," explains Jo Marshall, director of production at HQ and the show's executive producer.
While the Gate provided a spectacular backdrop for the event, the location also presented the production team with a number of significant challenges.
With the temporary venue located directly above a basement shopping centre, glass light-wells, which filter light into the retail facility, presented unexpected issues given that they were located directly where the scaffolding stalls for the choir were to be positioned. To solve the problem, the crew bridged the glass and spread the structure's 140 tonne weight at each end of this bridge. A total of four tonnes of production equipment had to be flown over the site and a 300 tonne grandstand constructed from scratch.
"The venue is actually a great place to work," says Marshall. "DIFC has a fantastic security team and building management team. We held daily meetings with them to discuss our progress and to flag any potential problems. They've always been very understanding, which is remarkable given that each year we come and turn their world upside down.
The production's audio equipment rider was supplied by Dubai-based Delta Sounds. The two main front-of-house (FOH) PAs were flown 23m in the air, with their positions carefully calculated to avoid interference with the projection sight lines.
Delta used an L-ACOUSTICS dV-DOSC system, consisting of 24 dV-DOSC units for the main arrays with 12 Kudos and 12 SP218 subs. Two Yamaha PM5D desks were used FOH for the orchestra mix, while Il Divo's engineer Chris Pyne brought in his own Digico D5. Onstage, Delta supplied another PM5D console with a Yamaha M7CL responsible for the choir sub mix. In terms of sourcing video and FX technologies, the production team were forced to look futher afield.
"Generally, we try to source all of the equipment locally. However, on this job, we were dealing with a single projection surface of 3200sqm, which required the use of 24 projectors. Each projector also required the same lamp balance to counter hotspots on the screen," explains Marshall. "We couldn't source enough gear locally so we had to go to a German supplier.
Marshall says one of his main priorities for the show was to ensure the visuals achieved an even greater impact than previous years, which had focused mainly on throwing images onto the front of the arch.
German events consultant Neumann & Mueller (N&M) was once again contracted to develop a video hardware and software solution for the event. N&M's Bill Pugh and Klaus Ostermayer sat in on the initial creative meetings held last March, and were also involved in the technical workshops convened by HQ over the summer.
Marshall and Pugh settled on the width of the projection field after performing a sightline test of the venue. This involved moving backwards from the proposed stage area, until reaching the point where the clear line of sight from the audience grandstand was lost. This left them with an area 174m wide and 18m high, giving a total surface area of 3132sqm. The fabric was hung across the DIFC buildings at the rear of the stage. At 9800 pixels wide by 1,050 high, it represented one of the largest video projection screens ever constructed.
The screen was fed by 24 Digital Projection 30SX machines, complete with beam shapers, stacked in groups of four inside six FOH towers. An additional two near-field strips of projection on the lower stage left and right wings were each fed by three Hardware For Xenon film projectors.
Each projector was linked to a Barco Encore presentation system running a beta version of Encore software.
A central section of the projection surface was a 20m x 24m Kabuki drop masking the choir. Its sides were guided by Showpipe, a rail system for curtain tracks, conventionally used horizontally, but used vertically for the first time here to provide a continuous line of fabric across all the buildings. The drop was also tensioned between the truss above and the stage below. With Kabukis long considered the poisoned chalice of any show, Jo Marshall stepped forward and took responsibility for 'pushing the button'.
This was a perfectly executed operation on the night. A Showtex Electric Kabuki system was used, where the circuit is permanently closed, so it stays up in a power failure situation. Needing just two seconds of power to release, the cloth glided off a series of highly polished aluminium hooks to reveal the choir behind.
UK-based lighting designer Nick Jevons again took the reins as lighting director for the show. Following the previous two years with the DIFC Gateway as the centrepiece, this year he faced a completely new set of design challenges. Jevons' design demanded that many of the lights be suspended literally in mid-air, a challenge which was overcome efficiently by the rigging department, with whom he worked closely to calculate weight limits. He also required powerful fixtures for high impact effects and to light such a vast space. In response to this he specified a total of 34 3K and 7K Alpha One Falcon Beams among other fixtures.
Upstage of these, another truss boasting six bars of six pars was used for front lighting the choir while another truss spanned the rear of the stage with an additional three bars of six. These were used to washlight the choir which produced a mottled effect when mixed, underscored by a soft tungsten texturing, a marked contrast to the xenon bulbs of the searchlights. For cross lighting the orchestra and stage, two trusses containing a total of 10 High End Systems StudioBeam PC wash lights were flown off the existing building structures each side of the performers.
The front audience truss featured 12 MAC 2K spots, five 3K Falcon Beams and 12 5K fresnels, six pointing at the stage and six focused on the audience. The lighting package was rounded off by four follow spots.
The show was programmed by Jevons and Michael Baganz, of N&M, onto a GrandMA console, operated by the latter.
Ultimately, Marshall says that producing a show in an improvised venue for a corporate audience of 2500 comes down to great team work and communication between the crew.
"I'm really lucky because I've worked with great production crew in the past," he says.
"People who've done the rock 'n' roll side and who have also done a lot of corporate work. So they understand that the edge of the stage must look absolutely perfect, the orchestra risers have to look absolutely beautiful, everything from the moment you walk in the door has to look stunning.
"The last thing you want is a corporate client who has invested a lot of money in an event, complaining because you didn't pay attention to all the details.
"We have a mix of corporate experience and the kind of music industry 'get on and fix it' attitude in this team, which makes for a perfect working environment.
FOH PA System
24 x L-ACOUSTICS dV-DOSCs.
12 x Peavey SP218s.
12 x L-ACOUSTICS KIVAs.
12 x Kudos.
3 x Yamaha PM5D consoles.
1 x Digico D5 console.
4 x L-ACOUSTICS KILOs (low frequency extension).
1 x Yamaha M7CL console.
30 x AKG SE300 microphones (choir).
54 x DPA 4060 microphones (string section).
38 x Schoeps CMC5 microphones (remainder of orchestra and soloists).
1 x Sennheiser ME36 microphone (speeches).
14 x Audio Analyst PR12 monitors.
8 x L-Acoustics MTD 106s.
8 x EAW JF200 12-inch + 1.4-inch monitors (for choir foldback).
8 x L-Acoustics ARCS (for side fills).
28 x 3K Alpha One Falcon Beams.
6 x 7K Alpha One Falcon Beams.
20 x 2K Martin Pro MACs.
3 x 3K Alpha One Falcon Beams.
54 x various PAR fixtures.
10 x High End Systems StudioBeam PC washes.
12 x 5K Fresnels.
1 x GrandMA console.
6500 sqm white polystretch material (doubled over for the screen).
24 x Digital Projection 30SX projectors.
6 x 7K Hardware For Xenon film projectors
1 x Barco Encore presentation system.
Dataton Watchout multi-display software.
25m x 20m stage.
3000sqm black masking fabric.
640 x sofas.
48 x mirror balls.
1530 x fireworks.
4 x C3 liquid flame spinning wheels.
8 x scissor lifts.