Here is a study as to how we lit the Rio Olympic Closing Ceremony. First some history of a deal that was made between the Brazilian Organising Committee and the IOC when it was put forward that the Games in 2016 would be staged in the city of Rio. The IOC, I believe, made it a condition that the soccer finals should be held in the iconic Maracana stadium and, as this was where the Ceremonies where to be staged, this had a major and unique impact on our work.
For the first time in recent History, certainly since I lit my first games in Torino in 2006, the Closing Ceremony was to be performed without any form of rehearsals in the stadium itself. We were tasked with creating the lighting for an event to be viewed by an estimated 3 billion people, without any scenery, performers, props or stage and, on a highly technical show with mass choreography and large scale projection; no Dress Rehearsal whatsoever.
What could possibly go wrong!
So to rise to this challenge I needed a very good lighting team indeed which consisted of Nick Collier – TV lighting director, Andy Voller – lead programmer along with programmer Ross Williams and Brazilian programmer Paulinho Lebrao, Chris Henry – spot captain, Jennie Marenghi – lighting team manager, and last, but by no means least, my Brazilian Associate lighting designer Joyce Drummond.
Once the Opening Ceremony had been well rehearsed and performed it was time to take a break whilst the stadium was prepared for the Olympic soccer finals. We had a new creative team headed by Queen of Carnival Rosa Magalhaes and choreographed by choreo chart superstar Bryn Walters.
The iconic Box City was history and indeed the whole of the Opening Ceremony scenery, field of play cover and floor lighting and sound had been removed during the transformation of our venue back to a soccer stadium and the pitch had even been re-turfed for the forthcoming soccer finals. The athletes were to be seated around the field of play and we had a new performance and protocol stage. Even the fantastic cauldron sculpture had been moved to the other end of the stadium.
Also in the change over the guys from our rental company Agora had re rigged to my Closing Ceremony lighting design which became 360 degrees after the removal of the massive Box City set at the Southern End of the stadium. As for the Opening Ceremony we were to combine light and projection and focus accurately onto the performers but with absolutely no rehearsal or focus sessions with any cast, how did we do this?
The real heroes were Master mass choreographers Bryn Walters and Claire Terri and their team who produced extremely accurate choreo charts exactly mirroring that with which they rehearsed with the performers in the adjacent marked out car park. Once the evenings game had finished our technical team, captained by James Lee and having negotiated permission to actually walk on the grass, covered the pitch with four large sheets of parachute silk.
We then projected the choreo charts onto this surface at exactly the right scale and then focused our lights onto the accurate positons marked on the projected chart for each scene. The lighting and projection for both the Ceremonies were applauded for their seamless integration and it is little realised that this fusion begins well before the event in the dark hours of our nightly programming and line up sessions.
We were most fortunate that our choreographic team led by Bryn and Claire are extremely experienced in these events and understood our process in so much as that, should any final tweaks be done to their positioning of cast after our focus, they knew that these performers would be standing in the dark on the night.
So we were as well prepared as circumstances could possibly allow and I witnessed the bizarre spectacle of a Dress Rehearsal being performed in daylight in a car park next to the stadium. There is something most surreal to see a thousand or so performers dancing in complete silence as they hear their music and placement instructions through in ear monitoring. Anyway after a few inevitable tweaks to our lighting overnight and all our homework done we were set to go.
We had been very lucky with the weather up to now but on the day of the show we had a biblical storm which was strong enough to blow away some of the dimmer room walls on the roof and had our trusses and flown PA swaying quite alarmingly.
Our safety teams were monitoring this closely and we came very close to the stadium being evacuated. Once again cool heads in our Ops team held steady and we opened Pandora’s box as each sequence unfolded before us, our audience and our viewers.
The bad weather also grounded our two camera helicopters for the overhead shot of the stadium and a live image of Christ the Redeemer. When Colour matching the Christ formation to the real object I told Bryn that the statue might be shrouded in cloud so we should pre-shoot it, it never crossed our minds that the helicopter taking the shot would not even be able to fly.
The grand Finale was Carnival time and we had to have a huge float so, even with the small portals to the stadium which are designed to allow access for at best a large tractor, I had lobbied our Carnival Queen Rosa to weave her magic and there it was! Actually one intrepid helicopter pilot finally took off to get the final firework shots and we completed the Greatest Busk on Earth!
Photos courtesy of Cerimônias Cariocas