The IDEX opening ceremony is a theatrical show like no other on the planet. From the military jets screaming overhead and sinister drone swarms creating unpredictable skirmishes, to the fast moving armoured vehicle pursuits occurring amidst intense firefights on the ground – there was adrenalin pumping action to be experienced every second for the 25,000 visitors who came to watch the live action show over the five days it ran. Packed with movie grade special effects, pyrotechnics and working waterfalls, the blockbuster style performance took place in a 60m x 350m custom stage set built over a car park overlooked by a grandstand in Abu Dhabi. Protec delivered everything from the initial creative concept and narrative to the original set design, graphics, build, complete show delivery and coordination completely transporting the audience to an active ‘war zone’ where the story takes place.
Engaged for the fourth consecutive time to create and produce this grand opening ceremony for IDEX, Protec pulled out all the stops to ensure that the 14th edition of IDEX was one to remember for all the right reasons. With IDEX celebrating its Silver Jubilee year, the stakes were expectedly high and the pressure to deliver this ‘mother of all shows’ proved to be the catalyst for Protec to step up and deliver beyond all expectations…again. Where else would you see a live piece of drama that involved perfectly synchronised fighter jets & military aircraft all tying in with explosions and firefights on land and sea? This kind of big budget show is like watching the climax of a movie live in front of your eyes and has no room for error.
The show began with a mix of local heritage performances followed by local and international military parades to welcome the crowd before the main part of the show. The scene was set for an exciting battle enactment of a fictitious scenario where an elite military group representing the Land Forces, Special Forces, Navy and Air Force were deployed in a coordinated and synchronized manner to deal with rebel militia. Working closely with senior representatives of the Armed Forces, Protec introduced modern and advanced military techniques augmented by VR, AI, robotics and SATCOMS. It also incorporated underground battles and other asymmetric warfare trends with futuristic counter defence systems in a live demonstration like no other in the world. It was a technology demonstration worth the dedicated staging set that Protec built up for the show, which left audiences and special guests struck in awe on all five days this show was run. In this fictional scenario conceptualised by Protec, armed militias have seized an abandoned military base near a mine depot. The militias have been smuggling arms by sea and through a hidden underground network of tunnels connected to a long range missile facility. A combination of ground, naval, air and other specialised units equipped with futuristic counter defence systems are deployed in a coordinated and synchronised manner to deal with the threat.
Tanks and armoured patrol vehicles repeatedly roared onto the stage from both sides carefully choreographed to create nail biting suspense. Apaches, Blackhawks and jets screamed overhead sending vibrations through the crowd while the battle was even taken underground into the mine tunnels taking the audience on a vicarious journey into the future of warfare. Friendly armed forces used modern and advanced systems & techniques augmented by virtual reality, artificial intelligence, robotics, unmanned systems and satellite communications to locate and monitor militia movement. The friendly forces eventually seize control of the situation after fierce firefights on ground, at sea, in the air and underground to bring stability and security to the area.
This year’s live military demonstration was attended by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Commander of the Armed Forces, senior government representatives from the UAE along with visiting heads of state and foreign dignitaries including the Chechen Republic leader Ramzan Kadyrov, Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Also in attendance were Crown Princes of all the emirates, defence ministers and senior military officers from over 100 nations, head of delegates (heads of state) and other senior officials. This influential audience were treated to a breath-taking, all-action display that highlighted the capabilities of many divisions of the UAE Armed Forces.
Eddie Andradé, the show’s creative director explains, “This year, our main challenge was to introduce futuristic elements in a realistic way without going overboard. This meant I had to do some serious research before breaking away into the creative angle of the show. With the knowledge I managed to gain from this research, we introduced reconnaissance and attack drone swarms & boat swarms, underground warfare, modern robotics, futuristic counter defence systems as well as virtual reality into this ‘modern battlefield’ setting. Putting it all together is always quite complex though. This show involves jets and helicopter fly pasts that have to be timed to the precise second to match up with the action sequences on the staging area performed by armoured vehicles, infantry, special effects that include large pyro explosions on land and on the mountains, water explosions, vehicle explosions, etc.” He continues, “This involves intense coordination between the show caller, action director and stunt choreographer, special effects crew, stage managers, video, audio, cameras, the Navy, the Land Forces, the pilots, the Airport, the air bases, air traffic control, road traffic control, the police and civil defence.”
Protec’s founder and CEO – Stephen Lakin, who was in charge of building the entire scenic set along with Project Manager Pieter Smuts said, “Under the temporary venue that Protec built, were the exhibition centre's utilities and drainage systems which had to be protected by the weight of the military vehicles, some which weighed in excess of 60 tons. Therefore it had to be built up to 1m above the existing surface, graded up with sand and road base”, said Lakin. Protec also built a temporary 60m long x 30m wide x 1m high ‘water inlet’ which held 2million litres of water on which jet boats were run to get involved in the action. Lakin adds, “We added 2 large working waterfalls that we built into the set along with artificial greenery to complete the scenic visual of the mine quarry and the jungle. We also used military tracked vehicles and trucks that we own, for the show. I bought these vehicles to be used in theatre shows like this one and also for use in the film industry, so this show was the perfect opportunity to use them with great effect.”
Protec’s staging department built all the supporting features and props. A working replica of a ship that was seen on the video screens during the show as part of a VT was built and was used in the water feature as part of the action. The vessel, built in Protec’s Dubai facility was built with steel frames and timber and had cabin for 6 crew in it. The department also designed and built some of the futuristic counter defence props, a motorised ‘ballistic missile’, all the scenic structures, entrance features, etc., and were ably supported by the painting department that made it all look very realistic with extremely detailed finishing.
The hills and quarry rock facades themselves were built out of base scaffold structures with carpet fascia and fibre glass that was painted to resemble rocky and moss/grass covered mountains and finished off with artificial greenery and landscaping for the jungle area. The structures themselves had to be strong enough to withstand powerful pyro explosions at various heights, soldiers’ zip lining and a lot of personnel movement. Over 400 tonnes of ballast was used to secure the structures which worked well with the high and dangerous wind speeds experienced especially during the build-up.
Two 16m x 9m LED screens were built into the upstage structures with access to work behind them and a 30m x 10m LED screen was built between the two upstage structures. These screens showed a combination of live camera and pre-filled filmed edits and animations to support the show.
Head of Video at Protec, Scott Walker, explained how a live show like this was delivered, “Video content was run from Protec’s disguise (D3) media servers and through our Barco E2 to switch between graphics and live inputs from our cameras. Signal was run with a full redundancy of Neutrik 12 core fibers through our Lightware MX frame 32 x 32 matrix.” He added, “The biggest challenge for the video team on this show was the syncing of pre-filmed content with the live action of the show as everything had to be timed to perfection with the various aircraft fly-bys and military ground vehicle action.”
The SFX team designed and produced all the pyro ‘explosion’ effects as well as one of the highlights of the show where a car was ‘blown up and flipped’ dramatically right in front of the awe struck audience.
The audio package provided by Protec included 40 x L-Acoustics K2 in blocks of 4 ground stacked with L-Acoustics SB28 subs positioned between each set of two K2 stacks. Protec’s Head of Audio, Ed Ross explained, “We ran a dual redundant fibre network using Digico racks running digital outs and Optocore SANE units running analogue outputs to the LA8 amplifiers, this complemented our use of the SD10 mixing desk with SD-RE redundant engine which meant we could lose kit or connections anywhere in the network and not lose audio or control at all.” Ross continued, “For communications we used a Clearcom matrix and a selection of control panels, helix net belt backs and Motorola digital radios, these were integrated with Riedel RiFace units for seamless communication across platforms.”
When asked about the process of creating a show like this, Andradé said, “I’ve always enjoyed creating live shows. The challenges, the pressure and the unknown quite simply get negated because I love this job and how I somehow manage to get totally immersed in the process. This particular show is unlike any other I’ve worked on and it does entail a lot of research to be able to concoct a theatrical production that is entertaining yet realistic. It’s not as simple as using your imagination to deliver a war movie styled show. It has to be realistic because the bottom line is that this is a live military demonstration that has to use correct military methods and procedures and it also has to be practical from an event production standpoint. It was interesting this year though from a creative standpoint to incorporate some futuristic technology into the show including AI, VR, robotics, etc. It was also great to work the pre-filmed video edits and animations into the show content. Pre-filming in itself, as always with IDEX is interesting but fun because we use our own crew and cast of real military personnel as actors. We have to remember that this show is performed entirely by the UAE military personnel…no professional actors or stuntmen or stunt drivers. We find locations; script the films, direct, shoot, edit, etc., all on site. It is guerrilla filming and editing which is always challenging but the results were fantastic in the end. What really makes it all a lot easier is the support from an extremely skilled team that share the same passion, have the experience and dedication that’s needed and working for Protec for the last 8 years I’ve learnt that nothing is impossible at this company that has a never ending supply of resources that makes this process not just easy…but enjoyable.”
The complete production for the IDEX 2019 Opening Ceremony was, according to the client and event organisers (IDEX LLC, GHQ and ADNEC), the best they had seen and experienced in the exhibition’s history which didn't just meet the brief but went well beyond expectations.
Humaid Matar Al Dhaheri, Group CEO of ADNEC had this to add:
“When it comes to putting on an elaborate and eye catching event, we couldn’t have been in more capable hands than those of the Protec Team. We at ADNEC can confirm, that for IDEX’s Silver Jubilee Opening Ceremony, we were not disappointed. From the professionalism of the team in planning this spectacular event, to execution, they certainly delivered everything they set out to do and more. Everyone who attended the Opening Ceremony was not only wowed by the whole spectacular, but were all sitting on edge waiting on what was coming next. It was an event that will have everyone talking for a long time to come!”