The opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Olympic Games staged in the Beijing National Stadium (the Bird's Nest) exhibited two of the most impressive events seen and heard in recent history.
The events provided a superlative showcase for China to demonstrate the creative ability of its skilled professionals, in conjunction with the world's leading technicians from the lighting, sound, broadcast and production industries.
Numerous, manufacturers, suppliers and professionals were involved in constructing the ceremonies. With too many to mention individually, S&S showcases several of the contributors to see how they participated.
Beijing Olympic Games chief lighting designer for the opening and closing ceremonies, Sha Xiao Lan, says he spent a great deal of time in creating the lighting design.
"The Olympics was not only for the Chinese people but for people all over the world, so we had to satisfy not only the Chinese, but people from all countries. The problem was that people from different places have different tastes in aesthetics and this was the major issue to be considered," states Sha.
He researched past Olympic Games to determine what the enhanced technical dynamics of the Beijing Olympics should be and then employed the most advanced technologies and products to actualise the opening and closing ceremony designs.
Although the Olympics gained nationwide support, Sha says that the budget for the lighting design was less than that of the Doha Asian Games.
"Many well-known manufacturers and suppliers promised they would do whatever they could to provide whatever we needed and I was deeply touched by their generosity," he says.
Once he knew the dimensions of the Bird's Nest (14-metre high by 500-metre long brim), which provided a perfect arena for positioning fixtures, Sha says he designed the lighting elements accordingly.
"The Beijing Olympics was to be transmitted in a high definition digital signal, so we needed the lighting fixtures to be highly uniform in colour temperature," he states.
"According to our plan, we needed approximately 2700 moving lights, which were unprecedented. Martin, Vari*Lite and many other well-known brands attended the bid and we had to choose the most suitable and reliable ones."
Sha says the Martin MAC 2000 Wash was chosen because it was the most stable fixture, with the most uniform colour wash available on the market.
Martin Professional was the largest automated lighting manufacturer represented at the Beijing Olympic Ceremonies.
The workhorse of the massive automated lighting system, the largest single automated lighting system ever assembled for a single event, and the largest Martin rig ever, were MAC 2000 Wash and MAC 2000 Wash XB moving head luminaries.
"We used about 1200 of the MAC 2000 Washes in the opening ceremonies, which was also unprecedented. No event has ever used so many units under the same brand before as far as I know," Sha claims.
About 90% of the Washes were used to light the performance area, the ceiling of the stadium and the audience, while 110 Washes were used to add backlighting for the audience area.
"I was very impressed by the MAC 2000 Wash's speed and accuracy in movement and positioning. In the ceremonies we used wash light to position, which is rare, and the Martin fixtures' performance has been excellent; this is widely acknowledged by my colleagues," he informs.
"These fixtures were indispensable in achieving the goal of satisfying everyone. Without these fixtures none of our ideas would have been possible."
With more than 90,000 spectators in attendance for the opening and closing ceremonies and millions around the world witnessing it via live broadcast, the event was perhaps the most watched television event in history.
The man responsible for the control system and broadcast lighting for both ceremonies was Australian veteran lighting specialist Paul Collison, who has a wealth of experience in large sporting events, including the Commonwealth Games, Gulf Cup, Asian Games and Rugby World Cup.
Collison says that lighting for live broadcast can prove to be a challenge for an event the size of the Olympic Opening Ceremony.
"The performance area was huge and when the audience area was added into the background there was almost a full square kilometre of surface area to light," he states.
"Even though the show, at times, was orientated to one side, the cameras could have been pointing in any direction - I had to always be aware that every area of the stadium was a part of the show."
Collison says he was exceptionally happy with the colour and quality provided by the MAC 2000 Wash XBs adding that they coexisted well with the other 900 plus standard MAC 2000 Washes.
"We used them (Wash XBs) out wide on the level three balcony position to get some extra kick in from the sides when the performances were orientated towards the VIP/on camera side. They also had a slightly longer throw to the centre of the field from that position," he claims.
"All of the Martin fixtures performed very well under trying conditions. The heat and humidity were extremely hard on the fixtures. Not to mention the amount of dust they encountered during the final stages of the construction for the Bird's Nest."
Despite this, he says the fixtures worked well and that he had a much lower fault rate with the Martin fixtures than any others in the system.
Lighting personnel began initial installation of the fixtures in March with most of the MAC luminaires rigged in the roof of the stadium and several hundred lining an upper balcony.
The main lighting supply for the ceremonies was provided by China Central Television (CCTV), with several lighting sub-suppliers also contributing.
MA Lighting's consoles enabled 2342 DMX controlled fixtures and 45,000 parameters to transform the Bird's Nest stadium into a sea of lights.
Three grandMA full-size, plus three grandMA full-size as backup, two grandMA light as well as 46 of MA's NSPs controlled the sophisticated lighting network during the two ceremonies.
Collison says he started patching and designing the network in March.
"One session ran the wash lights in the roof, the second ran all the other wash fixtures in the system and the third session ran all of the profile and spot fixtures," he says.
"Once we had decided on the partition, it was down to the patching business. I started with trying to match the lamp model number with its ID. For example, the Vari*Lite VL3000 spots start its fixture IDs at 3001, the Clay Paky Alpha Wash 1200 at 1201 etc. Once this process was done it was time to assign DMX addresses."
Collison states it was important for the system to maintain "redundancy".
"This was required throughout multiple aspects of the system, both in the software (for example, the Rapid Spanning Tree protocol) and other parts, like redundant power supplies in the switches, the ability to pass information and data passively and the actual fibre optic cable itself needed to be of military grade," he states.
Collison gave all the fixtures a position in the grandMA "3D world" for the pre-programming sessions.
"This gave us the chance to use the wireframe visualiser in the grandMA as well as being ready for grandMA 3D to come online. Each session only had two user profiles. One was for the operator, the other for administration," he informs.
The pre-programming studio was set-up at the Beijing Olympic Committee Headquarters, which Collison says existed in various modes.
"The one I liked the best, was the programming session that ran the visualiser on a plasma screen in front of me. This, combined with a projector fed from grandMA video, with each session blended into form one picture worked a treat," Collison claims.
He says this process allowed the team to see their programming at work, which greatly aided the process.
Creative director and media artist Andree Verleger from Germany was in charge of the video system used to construct world record for the largest HD video projection at 492m by 14m high.
The composition was driven by 110 High End Systems Axon Media Servers using v1.4.0 software, which were controlled by three High End Systems Wholehog 3 consoles, using 37 universes of DMX.
The ring around the inside of the top of the stadium was fitted with 21 groups of triple stacked projectors: 86 Christie Roadster Projectors, of which 78 were fitted with High End Systems orbital heads, and 63 Cinema Christie projectors.
PR Lighting was one of the few appointed suppliers of lighting fixtures to the Olympic Games Opening and Closing Ceremonies, with more than 200 Century Colour 2500 and XL wash light fixtures specified to illuminate both ceremonies.
While the fixtures of all other suppliers were used in combination with each other in order to achieve the optimal lighting effects for the specific sequences in the Bird's Nest, PR Lighting was used as a stand-alone brand.
Hundreds of PR wash lights were selected to function independently to produce magnificent lighting effects to the very top structure section of the vast Bird's Nest.
Sha says he was very impressed by the excellent performance of all the PR brand products, which gave him full confidence to specify PR Lighting fixtures for both the opening and closing ceremony.
Robert Juliat provided projectors for the ceremonies, including Eight 4000W Lancelot followspots/Long throw effects projectors.
They were used for gobo projection and to highlight major events during the ceremonies, including the lighting of the Olympic flame.
Eight 2500W Cyrano followspots were also used for surrounding events and medal ceremonies in other venues during the Games.
For the audio companies the opening and closing ceremonies proved to be the most technically complex yet and for the first time, the event was broadcast live in high definition and surround sound.
At the heart of the production was Meyer Sound's Matrix3 audio show control system, which managed all technical aspects of the performance, including audio, motion control, pyrotechnics, and lighting.
The Meyer Sound system was designed by event technology specialist Gary Hardesty of Sound Media Fusion.
As Beijing Olympic Ceremonies chief designer of audio systems and technology consultant to Olympic partner Panasonic, Hardesty explains that the venue's complex acoustics were rife with potential reflectivity issues.
"This was the stadium's first event, so the acoustics were a complete unknown," he informs, adding that the large stage compromised potential loudspeaker locations, making it virtually impossible to use conventional non-powered systems."
"With more than 56 high definition TV cameras in the venue, I needed to design a system that was low visibility, kept as much energy off the field as possible, and yet would deliver the kind of sound you'd expect for an event of this magnitude."
Hardesty called for a distributed system comprising multiple stacks of three Meyer Sound MILO line array loudspeakers on the field of play to cover the two lower levels and to augment the new Panasonic LA3 line array speakers covering the upper level seating.
Hardesty says he took special care to ensure the systems would integrate successfully.
Providing powerful low end were 700-HP subwoofers, arranged in cardioid pairs and topped with an additional MILO cabinet focused on the lower level audience. Hardesty reports the system's relatively diminutive size belied its power.
For Hardesty, one of the most critical aspects of the system was the performance and reliability of Meyer Sound's Matrix3 audio show control system, which was not only used for virtually all audio outputs, but provided the time code for the entire event.
"It's hard to overstate the importance of Matrix3 in the system," he says.
"All the audio, from the console outputs to the WildTracks hard disk playback, was routed through the Matrix3. But, even more importantly, time code from the Matrix3 system triggered the entire event - sound, lighting, projections, pyrotechnics, video - every single aspect of the show was dependent on the Matrix3 system."
Lighting Designer: Sha Xiao Lan
Programmers: Feng Bin, Wu Guoquing, Huang Tao
Control System and Broadcast Lighting: Paul Collison
Follow spot caller: Xiao Lihe
Lighting Assistants: Quan Xiaojie, Zhang Wei, Wang Zhiyi, Wang Tong, Ma Jiebo
Lighting production companies
CCTV - Central China Television
In conjunction with: Quan Jiang, Shang Hai Television, Gong Ti, Bei Ao and Feng Shang Shi Ji
980 x Martin MAC 2000 Wash
162 x Martin MAC 2000 Wash XB
112 x Clay Paky Alpha Wash
308 x Vari*Lite 3500 Spot
316 x Vari*Lite 3000 Spot
180 x Vari*Lite 3500 Wash
12 x High End Systems SHOWGUN
20 x Ushio 2k Xenon Follow Spot
16 x Kupo Super Sol 3k Xenon Follow Spot
204 x PureLight City Colour
32 x FineArt LED Par Can
46 x Sliver Star LED bank
MA Lighting - grandMA
Three sessions ran the control of the lighting elements for the ceremonies consisting of three grandMA full-size consoles in multi user mode, while two grandMA light consoles acted as remote surfaces for focusing.
Session 1 (Red): 15921 parameters, 834 fixtures, 14 NSP
Session 2 (Green): 13503 parameters, 884 fixtures, 16 NSP
Session 3 (Blue): 15987 parameters, 624 fixtures, 16 NSP
Software - E.S.P Vision and MA3D
Hardware - MA Media PC NVidea Geforce 8800GTX
MA Video System
Three graphic input cards overlayed the displays from each session in to one
HP Pro-Curve 2626 Field Switches
Main Switch HP Pro-Curve 8212zl
Kilometres of Multi Mode Fibre
110 x High End Systems Axon Media Servers
86 x Christie Roadster Projectors 78 were fitted with High End Systems Orbital Heads
63 x Cinema Christie Projectors
3 x High End Hog III Control System
Projection production company
Creative director: Andre Verleger
Projection Operators: Dennis Gardner, Stephen Kellaway
Renkus-Heinz self-powered PN102/LA line array system
20 x Renkus-Heinz ST7/94 self-powered three-way loud speakers
2 x Renkus-Heinz ST7M/64 self powered loud speakers
2 x Renkus-Heinz ST7M/94 self powered loud speakers
6 x Renkus-Heinz self powered DR18-2 subwoofers
JBL VerTec VT4888DP-AN powered mid-size line array
JBL VerTec VT4882DP-AN powered mid-size subwoofers
JBL VerTec VT4880 full-size subwoofers
JBL VerTec MS-26 fill speakers
Meyer Sound MILO high-power curvilinear array system
Meyer Sound 700-HP ultrahigh-power subwoofer
Audio technology and distribution
400 x Crown Audio I-Tech amplifiers
3 x MediaMatrix NIONn3 processor with MM AEC4 acoustic echo cancellation card
Shure ULXS4 wireless microphone system
Furman PM-PRO E Series II and AR-2306 power conditioners
5 x redundant OPTOCORE rings
OPTOCORE X6 16IN and X6 16OUT AD/DA converter modules
OPTOCORE DD32E device system
Meyer Sound Galileo Loudspeaker Management System
Meyer Sound Matrix3 audio show control system
Renkus-Heinz CoEntrant Technology
Peak Audio CobraNet audio technology
Soundcraft Vi6 console
Yamaha M7CL digital console
Audio rigging hardware
Allen Products ATM fly-ware