The new Holiday on Ice “Believe” show takes the whole concept of ice musicals to a new level of production and presentation, directed and choreographed by Olympic and world Ice skating champion Christopher Dean to great acclaim.
Belgian design practice Painting with Light has created the set, lighting and video designs for this vibrant, colourful and dramatic spectacular which is a contemporary take on Romeo and Juliet transformed for the ice. Two contrasting spheres of existence – upper and lower –clash, contrast and unite in the quest for true love.
Painting with Light’s Luc Peumans imagined the set working alongside his talented team of Paco Mispelters who created the lighting and Michael Al-Far who designed the video.
“It was a fantastic opportunity to show what Painting with Light can do as a full live show production resource,” commented Luc, whose original ideas for the scenic were chosen from a competitive pitch.
Luc and Painting with Light have worked on previous Holiday on Ice productions for Dutch producers Stage Entertainment Touring Productions, but until now, the set has always been more straightforward.
The story is a new version of Romeo & Juliet – living in two separate worlds, the Underworld and the Upperworld. This required a dynamic and contrast rich approach with a lot of motion and numerous different levels to shape the story.
This time it’s physically larger – 28 metres wide - and considerably more sophisticated, comprising multiple layers, platforms and moving parts including two prominent stage elevators, synthetic ice ramps plus a DJ booth that tracks out over the main ice. Almost all of the set and it’s peripheries like the two giant fans and water screen feature over the ice … is clad in curve-able 9.3 mm LED video panels supplied by CT.
Using video as digital scenery enables the mood and action to change dynamically and instantaneously throughout the set, a hypothesis that was at the essence of Luc’s production design.
The visual imagery and ambience of the upper and lower worlds can be created graphically and in great detail to enhance the audience experience, and also on a large scale so everyone can benefit, wherever they are sitting in the venue.
“Video coupled with some classic theatrical scenic elements was the only option to achieve the level of detail required and that allowed us to flip completely from one world to another at the touch of a button” explained Luc, whose first drawings date back to April 2015 after initial meetings with the producers and Christopher Dean who wanted to explore the two worlds theme.
At the first meeting Dean walked everyone through the story, scene by scene, and how he envisioned the scenes in terms of lighting, video and sound! His very clear vision and ability to communicate that so lucidly to the Painting with Light team ensured a smooth work process could evolve.
The lower world is dark, threatening, raw and mechanical, whereas the upper world is light and filled with glitter, glamour and fun.
Above the set, snaking around the roof is a network of inflatable scenic tubes – made by Airworks - which make up pipes for the underworld scenes, adding to the overall proto-industrial feel and extending the set 46 metres over the ice.
Also flown above the ice are three giant 3 metre wide fans housed in LED illuminated surrounds compete with 8 x inbuilt Martin Rush Beams for effects and video surface on the under-belly and sides – which becomes filled with elaborate graphics.
One of these scenic fans piece is fitted with a circular water curtain from Unlimited FX, complete with integral LEDs that were specified by Painting with Light, which looks fabulous highlighting the bursting and cascading water for a pole dancing sequence inside the ‘cage’.
The set and automation – including stage elevators and flying DJ console – was fabricated by creative engineering specialist WIcreations from Heist-op-den-Berg in Belgium.
Paco Mispelters’ starting point for the lighting design was the set, the story of the two worlds and the need to work closely with the video content.
He constructed the cues according to the storyboard using around 150 moving lights, mostly Martin, delivered by Focus Holland and positioned on a network of trusses installed in the roof of each gig.
Fixtures included MAC Quantum Spot LED luminaires which he is very happy with, plus MAC 700 Washes and MAC Aura LED washes for the floor and side lighting. Some MAC Auras are also built into the set – fabricated by WIcreations - at the top of the stage elevators and these light performers standing on the various platforms.
Substantial amounts of LED PARs are dotted around and utilised to light the platforms and the set elements that are not covered in video.
Paco also added plenty of atmospherics including Chauvet Geyser vertical smoke jets which create a CO2 effect and Le Maitre Spraymaster non-propane DMX controlled fire shooters, all running into the grandMA2 console together with all the lighting.
For continuity of lightsource, Martin MAC 3 Profiles were chosen as the five follow spots, with handles mounted on the fixture and the operator in control of the dimmer and iris functions with all the colour and on/off cues coming from the grandMA 2 which was programmed by Arjan Grootenhuis.
Moving and still images are a vital part of the show narrative and of imagining the different worlds, and the physical design includes approximately 220 square metres of the 9.3 mm CTG9 bendable panels – chosen for their amazing flexibility and robust finish.
Michael spent around 5 months creating the content, a process that involved commissioning a concept artist to sketch out the two worlds according to the brief and mood-board, after which the content production process became fully energised.
A 3D modeller then translated the 2D sketches into 3D using Cinema 4D and as the scenes started to take shape, Michael started texturing and lighting the material. They arrived at the production rehearsals in Utrecht, where content was animated, rendered, assembled and finalised on the timeline … over several weeks
The biggest challenge was finding the balance between what was in their heads and what actually worked on the gigantic LED wall explained Michael.
His favourite moments of the show include when female principal Clarissa enters the underworld, arriving in the Forbidden City, bringing - in her wake - colour and happiness! Until then, the underworld was universally grim and dingy, but as that barrier was breached it opened the opportunity of lighting this foreboding mechanical world completely differently. “We added some silhouetted butterflies and magenta and purple floral aspects giving me the great satisfaction of seeing this world thrive under a more up-beat colour palette,” enthused Michael.
All the edited materials are stored and programmed by Painting with Light’s Katleen Selleslagh in a Conlux Pandora’s dual media server supplied to the production by Painting with Light, together with a wireless player with DMX link in the DJ booth. The show is triggered via SMPTE timecode and now it’s on the road, is effectively ‘plug-and-play’ for the operating crew.
“One of the great strengths of Painting with Light is that we all know one another really well, so the creative dialogue between all the visual mediums comes extremely naturally and is a fertile and productive process with a great flow and understanding,” commented Luc who is delighted with the final results.
So is Christopher Dean!
He complimented Luc on being able to get inside his head and make his vision come to life, adding that he was ”honoured” to have been able to work with Luc and the team and he hopes their paths will cross again soon.
‘Believe’ is due to run for two years. Currently it’s overlapping the hugely successful 2014 show, ‘Passion’ which was also designed by Painting with Light.
Photos by Morris Mac Matzen