This report looks at art as the fusion of light, motion graphics and music as applied to large-scale environments, seen in the recent Vivid festival held in Sydney. It focuses on the technology, production, conceptual and collaborative processes behind the event’s major installation project, Lighting the Sails, held at the iconic Sydney Opera House, produced by key event contributors the Spinifex group and sound designers and musical composers Heavenly Antennas.
Vivid Sydney is a public art event, which uses large-scale, light and sound installations, and 3D projections as the core medium. This spectacle of light and sound transforms iconic architecture centered around Sydney’s Circular Quay and Sydney Harbour into a connected, nighttime gallery of moving masterpieces, painted with an ever-changing palette of light and colour.
The Lighting the Sails installation, projected onto the Sydney Opera House’s white tiled canvas was the centerpiece of this year’s Vivid festival. The seamless sequence of visual projections, aptly titled Play was created by Australian based sound artists Heavenly Antenna and motion graphics agency The Spinifex Group. Their fifteen-minute, audiovisual, architecture-meets-art installation started like most computer games we’ve all played, with a simple play button. This launched a multilayered three-dimensional, fun-filled visual adventure through a world of innovative, graphically immersive sound and design scenes, seamlessly connected from one story to the next.
Lights, camera, Utzon.
Spinifex (2013) Creative Director Richard Lindsay says that “Sydney has a diverse and vibrant creative culture, but it’s important to see the lighter side of life. This is a fun piece, and the Spinifex team had a lot of fun creating it”. They might have had fun, but the production qualities and scope of the project required a group of dedicated specialists to produce it. In fact the Credits from The Spinifex website (Spinifex.com 2013) show that there were a team of digital and media arts professionals including Creative Director Richard Lindsay, Executive Producer Nik Goldsworthy, Art Director Jonny Old and others, along with a motion graphics team including Jamie Tufrey, Will Skinner, Matt Lock, Dan Harkness, Chris Zwar and Joe Webber, plus a team dedicated to 3D graphics in Pepin Portingale, Nick Hunter and Nathan Rule, who all played a part in producing the various visual aspects of the projections.
Richard Lindsay says in an interview with ABC (2013) that the project was broken up into independent sections that seamlessly evolved from one to the next, individuals or small teams were dedicated to creating these sections so that they could feel proud and take ownership of them, not feel overwhelmed or part of a production line. Jonny Old (Lead designer) said that the tricky thing about designing the installations for the Opera House sails was that there were no common lines, so every piece had to be a bespoke design to get it to fit the architectural aesthetics, and that rounds and rounds of sketches were created onto templates of the sails to see what images would work, and fit best (ABC Art 2013).
The technicalities of projecting images onto these large scale, three-dimensional structures require a huge level of technical research and specialization, Hai Tran (head of Technology for Spinifex Group) in an interview in 2013 with Gizmodo stated that there was a lot of delicate image blending needed to project the images onto the whole canvas. “Normally you’re projecting light from one point onto the front of a flat display, but the Opera House curves away and around so we need to do a lot of tweaking. We start off with a building model, and we normally have to get that laser scanned because buildings change over time. There are 15 guys working on getting the building exactly right. Tech guys, designers, scanners. They get the best 3D model they can get hold of, right down to the tiles on the Sails. Once we do all that, we map it onto the shape of the building. We need to warp the projection across 17 projectors spanning a width of 6000 pixels wide to ensure a high enough viewing resolution. We work on a massive scale and mesh warp it to fit the canvas we work on”.
In addition to the breathtaking visual projections, Vivid Sydney called for an audio experience that would entertain the crowd’s aural senses as equally as the gluttony of visuals their eyes were treated to. The challenge of allowing the crowds the same auditory experience meant making sure they had access to the audio wherever they were viewing the spectacle from. This meant that the technology to deliver this experience had to be accessible and audible on a mass scale. Thousands of people needed to be able to hear and watch in perfect synchronicity, across an extremely large viewing area. The Spinifex group, event organisers and composers went to great lengths to ensure the infrastructure to deliver those sounds were available to the huge Sydney crowds by erecting mobile listening posts, fitted with speakers and distributed them widely around key event locations.
The clarity of audio was one thing, but it was integral that a synergistic creative thread was carried through the sound design, and that the entertainment value the sounds created needed to be on par with and compliment that of the visuals. This required contemporary sound design and music that would appeal to a large demographic, exciting and understood by people from all walks of life was a mandatory requirement. This required a team of sound designers and composers who had a track recorded in producing these sounds and music on a similar large scale. Music composers Heavenly Antennas provided the sound design and music for Lighting the Sails.
Heavenly Antennas is a music and sound production house, catering for Film, television and advertising with a track record of producing sound design and composing musical scores for a multitude of television Series, with over 350 television commercials, and 45 films and documentaries under their belt. The key creatives at Heavenly Antennas, who contributed to the sound aspects of The Vivid Festival include Mixer, Sound Designer, Composer and multi-instrumentalist Josh ‘Schoix’ Wermut. Josh worked under Beatles engineer Richard Lush on hundreds of television projects, before becoming a successful freelance producer based in London, working in the genre of urban dance music. While in London he worked with acts including Roots Manuva, Estelle and Kanye West. His work in the UK took him to Sydney were he continues to work with recording artists including Daniel Merriweather, Steve Spacek, Mark Pritchard, Jade Macrae, Tyrone Noonan, Luke Dickens, Aya Larkin, Tina Harrod, Human Nature, Disco Montego and others along with composing musical scores for Australian Television programs including Bondi Rescue, Guerilla Gardiners, and Recruits 1 & 2.
Creative Director and composer Kyls Burtland was the second Heavenly Antennas contributor. Kyls graduation from Sydney’s AFTRS in 2002 and was nominated Emerging Talent of the Year in 2003 by Margaret Pomeranz & the Film Critics Circle. Amongst her many achievements she was highly awarded for writing the ABC TV Theme rebrand music, winning her a New York Gold Promax in 2007, has collaborated with Spinifex to create an musical score and installation for the Shanghai World Expo and wrote the closing song for the Doha games. She also scored a feature-length documentary, Sons & Mothers, directed by Chris Haughton, and has produced tracks for television commercials for clients including include Disney, GIO, Suncorp, Bingle, and AAMI. She currently has a song on high rotation on Triple J, with Tigertown and is the only person to have won Australian Songwriter of the Year twice. (Heavenlyantennas.com 2013)
An interview with online Blogazine The Orange press (2013) published in May 2013 Heavenly Antennas talk about the collaboration with Spinifex group and their contribution to the Vivid Sydney Festival, in the interview Josh Wermut states that “In the past, the installations have been a bit smaller, whereas this year is going to be a bit longer – around twenty minutes – and you’ll be able to hear the music through either short wave radio, on the ‘net or at a couple of places around Circular Quay where you can hear the sound design and watch the show. We’ve set up a few places where hopefully people walking around can discover it”. When asked about the collaborative process with The Spinifex Group they went on to say that they had worked “on this kind of rotating system where they do a bit and hand it off to us and we do a bit and hand it back to them. It’s a bit like that old paper game where you keep folding it and folding it and it ends up as this really strange figure. I mean we had a really long talk about the concept at the beginning and I wish I could talk about it but you’ll have to wait. What I can say that is that it will be extremely colourful and playful. One of the things we’ve loved about this job is that they really gave us a lot of freedom. We got to decide how we were really going to marry the visuals to audio aspect, so we’re doing a really electronic and orchestral score as a result. We’ve really been focusing on a marriage between highly electronic sound design and orchestral music”.
The combination of world class sound design and musical composition along with mesmerising motion graphics, all from Australian based artists proved to be quite successful, in fact this collaboration resulted in record crowd numbers, never before seen in the history of the event. In the humble words of the Vivid Sydney promoters (2013) “Vivid is an event, which colours the city with highlights including the hugely popular immersive light installations and projections”. Hugely popular could well be an understatement, as this year’s event attracted 100,000 people in the opening weekend alone. Last year saw 500,000 attendees over the entire 18 days the event was held. In an interview with Sydney Radio Station 2UE, published by the Sydney Morning Herald (2013), the Sydney Roads and Traffic Minister Duncan Gay said that the weekend crowds were similar to those seen on a typical New Year’s Eve event held in the same area, and the huge leap in crowd numbers on the previous year resulted in unforeseen pressures placed on roads and transportation facilities.
ABC Arts 2013, Lighting the sails of the Sydney Opera House with Spinifex viewed 10 June 2013, http://www.abc.net.au/arts/stories/s3771924.htm
Gizmodo 2013, Lighting the sales behind the scenes, viewed 8 June 2013, http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2013/05/lighting-the-sails-behind-the-scenes-on-vivid-sydneys-most-ambitious-project/
Heavenly Antennas, 2013, About, viewed 8 June 2013, http://heavenlyantennas.com/about/
The Orange Press 2013, INTERVIEW: HEAVENLY ANTENNAS, viewed 10 June 2013, http://theorangepress.net/2013/05/interview-heavenly-antennas/
The Spinifex Group 2013, Lighting the Sails, viewed 10 June 2013, http://www.spinifexgroup.com/vivid/
Sydney Morning Herald 2013, Blindsided by the light: planners stunned by finale crowd, viewed 11 June 2013, http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/blindsided-by-the-light-planners-stunned-by-finale-crowd-20130610-2nzl0.html#ixzz2W0nV0CwM
Vivid Sydney 2013, Media Centre, viewed 11 June 2013, http://www.vividsydney.com/media-centre