A good few miles away from the dazzling lights of Dubai, in the secluded spot of Endurance City’s Babel Shams resort - 16,000 people gravitated toward the most decadent dinner they’d surely ever seen...
For the majority of companies on earth, the annual corporate incentive offered by the board usually ranges from a paid-for lunch, to a catered party or perhaps - in some of the more generous cases – a trip of some variety.
It resolutely does not usually extend to a gargantuan effort involving 16,000 employees being flown over to another country, and being hosted in a decadent fourteen night extravaganza in one of the most visited tourist destinations on the planet.
Fortunately for the sales staff of Nu Skin China – the Chinese arm of a US-based skin care marketing company – this was exactly the experience that was afforded them, as –in celebration of the its 30th anniversary - employees from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau were jetted out to the UAE for the biggest corporate jolly the region has surely ever seen.
More than 200 flights were booked for the trip, including two chartered Emirates planes, over 39,000 hotel beds in 40 hotels were reserved, with a staggering 409 buses required to transport this mammoth collective around the UAE.
While these new visitors were treated to the popular tourist staples such as a visit to the Burj Khalifa and Abu Dhabi’s famed Sheikh Zayed mosque – the fulcrum of the ‘Nu Skin Success’ trip from an events and indeed hospitality standpoint = was the epic Gala and Awards Dinner, staged way out into Dubai’s desert at the Meydan Arena in Endurance City, Babel Shams.
With an apparent reliance on the cliché adage of German efficiency, Neumann & Müller Event Technology was one of several German companies that were selected to bring together the two evenings – catering to 8,000 people over two nights.
“They call it a gala dinner but it was much more of an event with food!” enthuses Bill Pugh, senior project manager at Neumann & Müller.
“What’s interesting is that a lot of German companies have been involved in this. UniPlan International are the agency, UniPlan Taiwan won the job, and they handed it over to UniPlan Germany because they were unable to handle the technical side of the job, they sent out all the tenders and N&M won three parts of the tender, the lighting, the video and the comms.”
Pugh’s not wrong in his assertion that simply branding these two events ‘gala and award dinners’ does them a huge disservice.
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Each show was over four hours long, and included music, stunning performances, awards and –naturally – some speeches, all against a breathtaking backdrop, the bespoke creation of acclaimed show designer Andre Verleger, whose impressive list of credentials include grandiose showpieces like the mounumntalBeijing Olympic ceremonies and Dubai’s 2012 New Year’s Eve celebrations.
The first difficulty that N&M came across however were some delays on the equipment arrival, hampering proceedings from the get go.
“70 percent of the equipment used on the show was sourced locally from Dubai and 30 percent was delivered air freight or sea freight,” states Pugh.
“Dubai customs had implemented a new program at the time the sea freight was coming in, so we had a three or four day delay on that, which knocked us back.”
The second, more pervasive problem came in natural form – with Dubai’s meteorological movements throwing many a spanner in the productional works over the course of the set-up period.
“It varied from extremely high winds which were a real problem for us, we had a couple of thunderstorms, we had a lighting strike on one of the lighting towers. We noticed them the next day because we saw the burn marks on the scaffolding, and charring on the ground beside it,” offers Pugh, giving an insight into the complexities such adverse conditions provoked.
“We also had very thick fog which caused problems when we were trying to align the projectors; It got to a point at 3 or 4am on a couple of mornings that we just couldn’t see the screens anymore from where we aligning the projectors and we had to give up.”
With Mother Nature throwing the proverbial kitchen sink at the crew and equipment down in Dubai’s Endurance City, certain provisions had to be made to safeguard the array of equipment on site.
Pugh tells us that the extensive mix of moving lights were weather protected using either acrylic boxes, or –for the ones on the arch over the stage – covered by a something that resembled, in Pugh’s words, “an upside down bath shape” fixture, shielding them from rain.
As you can see from the pictures, two of the most overwhelmingly impressive elements of this particular production were the bespoke arch construct and incredible elliptical screens. The former, supplied by local event servicing stalwarts Al Laith, had been used before, but never that big in Dubai – measuring a staggering 80m by 28m metres.
“All of the bits of the arch are stripped pieces of heavy duty 3-point steel trussing, and they put a wedge shaped fillet in between each piece to make up that art shape,” states Pugh. “So depending on how big that fillet is they can make the arch 150 metres or only 50 metres, it was quite an interesting little system they’ve got there and you can hang a huge amount of weight out of it as well.”
Some of this weight included the numerous lighting fixtures that were individually hoisted up by hand by riggers – “literally on rope and annexed to outrigged steel pipes attached to the arch so we could hang them vertically, it was a very slow process” adds Pugh pointing to the ridiculously high arch.
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“The reason for that was the arch was a different height diameter to a normal piece of truss, so there was no way to directly attach it – you had to use a different kind of pipe to do that. The lighting designer wanted all of the lighting to hang initially in its position vertically, which would give him more options for using it on the stage.”
With the arch prepared, the focus was hinged on a pair of remarkable elliptical screens, measuring around 32metres across by 12 metres high– providing quite literally the aesthetic centrepiece of the entire show, supplied by Showtex and unveiled for the very first time at this event.
“It was suggested by the technical director of the event to Andre Verlager that it would look good and he took it from there,” says Pugh. “Then it was incorporated into his creative design for the show and then we had to come up with a way of projecting onto it while it moved. It was unique and hasn’t been done before.”
Moving up and down ‘inside’ one another, these immense curved efforts showcased the shows ‘story’, played out in Taiwanese, involving bespoke content centred around the overarching symbols of the show; fire, water and air. All made possible by an intricate projection process executed by the N&M team.
“We had two sets of projectors, one on each side of the elliptical screens –each set comprised of seven in total, seven Panasonic EZ 21 projectors,” says Pugh.
“We projected on to the elliptic when it was in the raised position – or in other words its trim height of 18 metres - and used that as the top edge. Our projection was actually 32 metres wide but 18 metres high, and the screens moved within that projection.”
Indicating a complicated looking bit of kit, Pugh continues. “The exciting thing is the D3 server moves the content as the screen moves. So if you take the screen and move it, the content moves with it – and it warps it on to the surface. It doesn’t have to be a flat screen; it just wraps it on to the screen.”
This showpiece ingredient was stylishly supported with two 16 x 9 IMAG screens either side of it, and while they displayed some ‘show content’ to integrate the whole package, these screens were primarily placed for live video content, offering the audience shots of the people on stage, award winners, the orchestral backline and speech givers.
Now, naturally no show of this magnitude would be complete without the obligatory pyrotechnic parade, which over both evenings was showcased on three separate instances - before, after and during dinner -with Pugh and his crew providing the timecodes for the displays.
“The start of the very first show part, featured people walking in, the orchestra playing, the singer performing songs which went over to intros and thank yous, and pyro was installed all the way through the arch, running through it several times,” states Pugh.
“After the first show part it went to the awards, this featured fireworks going off all the way through the arch, and all the way around the inside the arena.”
And despite the wholly eclectic nature of the production, the spectacle was capped off in traditional fashion with a five-minute firework show, synchronised with music - leaving all the congregated diners a sensory experience that should stay with them a lot longer than their flight back home.
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“It’s the largest project I’ve ever done in Dubai, and I’ve done some large ones,” answers N&M’s senior project manager when asked how this latest event compared to his previous project experiences.“But it was very easy to work within the arena at Babel Shams and site infrastructure was really good.”
Looking at the now vacant site – it’s hard to believe that such an event was executed here mere weeks ago, especially in the middle of such an arid desert plain.
“I think working directly together in the course of a production is absolutely essential,” offers Pugh in summary.
“If event managers, architects, sound engineers and lighting technicians all sit at the same table during the conception phase of a project, creative ideas and ways of making them reality can really be harmonised. ”
As the 16,000 lucky employees who dined at this very spot in Dubai last month will attest, proof of this sentiment is very much in the productional pudding.
The Corporate Trip
- 200 flights were booked to transport the Nu Skin employees to the UAE
- 39,000 hotel beds in 40 hotels were used to house these visitors
- 409 buses were used to carry this collective around the UAE
The Gala Dinner
- 25 kilometers fiberoptics & 30 kilometres power cabling was used on the nights
- 1000+ lighting fixture including 400 movinglights were utilised to illuminate the arena
- 190 TETRA digital-trunk radios with reach of 8km+ were employed for client guest services
- $20 million, the estimated income the trip bought to the Gulf