Happy Birthday Golden Gate Bridge

The 75th birthday of a famous urban icon calls for a big celebration, such as the dramatic lighting and fireworks extravaganza held on May 27, 2012 to mark the exact day the Golden Gate bridge opened in San Francisco in 1937. “The most amazing thing was the scale,” says Don Richards of Foghorn Creative, producer of the event, which spanned not only the bridge, but also an area three miles by two miles over the San Francisco Bay.

“Everything started at the bridge then expanded out, with lights and fireworks on the barges and the bridge itself,” notes Richards, who points out this was the first time pyro was ever loaded onto the roadway and towers of bridge itself. The pyro portion of the show was by Pyro Spectaculars by Souza and included a 4200’-long cascading effect that ran between the towers of the bridge.

Check out the video:

To spread the show out around the bay, some of the lighting and fireworks were on five barges, two of which were 200’ long and traveled up the waterfront like a traveling show, so that people around the bay could all see, and not have too many people all crowded into the same place for safety measures. And in case that famous San Francisco fog rolled in, the show could move out of its way.

“The biggest challenges were the technical challenges of coordinating the lights, fireworks, and audio in the show to within a 30th of a second,” adds Richards, who explains that the soundtrack was broadcast via radio station KFOG, with SMPTE time code simultaneously sent to the site via ISDN telephone lines and broadcast wirelessly to pyro and lighting barges. “The timing of the code was offset to account for a one-third of a second lag in the phone lines,” Richards explains. “The lights were literally dancing to the music.” The entire communications structure was designed and implemented by BCT Entertainment, which also handled the time code to the various pyro locations on the bridge and the water, and radio communication for the crew.

The only lighting units used for the event were 75 7kW Syncrolite fixtures, with 25 on the bridge (west sidewalk) and 50 on one of the barges, like 75 birthday candles for the party, one for each year of the bridge’s history. “The Syncrolites helped create a rock show environment with bright, compact wet-rated fixtures that were outside for a week,” notes Richards. The lights on the barge had to be installed via crane, along with generators and a 9' mirror ball.

Programming was done via two MA Lighting grandMA consoles, with a W-DMX wireless DMX system used with very high gain antennas to send the signal from the console to the fixtures on the bridge (five clusters of five units) placed over one mile apart.“We used a 21dB dish antenna to get from show control to the bridge for zones 1 & 2 then to go from 2 to 3, 3 to 4, and 4 to 5. Zone 4 to 5 was the longest run and at zone 5 we had a 98% to 100% signal,” explains Jeffrey Smith of Syncrolite, which provided the Syncrolites and wireless DMX. BCT Entertainment provided the grandMA consoles, and the SMPTE and FSK time code.

Norm Schwab, principal designer for Lightswitch, adds that the Sycrolites are “the only light punchy enough and with reliability that you can find in any great quantity in the US.” The entire show was ‘pre-vized’ at Prelite in San Francisco using wysiwyg, with a five-mile-wide staging area rendered including the bridge, the moving barges, and key areas of land including Marina Green, Crissy Field, and Alcatraz. “We spent five days at the Prelite offices, using wysiwyg for its ability to render the beams of the Syncrolites up to a mile in length” Schwab says. “The bridge was open to traffic except for the event itself, so we had to make sure the show was locked in other than touch-up focus before load in.”

Not only was the lighting on the barge bright and powerful, it also recreated the "Scintillator" effect—a giant fan array of search lights—used for the 1915 Pan Pacific and 1939 Golden Gate International Expositions. “We really wanted to do an unconventional pyro and lighting show,” notes Schwab. “We wanted to make it more theatrical, with specific moments mapped out to the music to take advantage of all the elements either working separately or together. But we had to spend our money very wisely. The Bay Area is prone to unpredictable weather, especially fog, so we had to be careful not to put all our eggs in one basket as there was a 50% chance you couldn’t even see the bridge.” Thus the moving barges, and dramatic interplay between the bridge and the barges, bringing the bridge back in visually for the finale…with the addition of foghorns.

The show’s grand finale, “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” was heard with an array of all golden fireworks. “We lit the “Scintallator” on the 200’ barge with the 50 Syncrolites in gold over the bridge, and fanned them out or moved them to create a gigantic column of light that lit up the sky with pyro shot through it. From any angle a great view,” says Schwab. “It reminded me how stunning the bay area is as a fabulous theatre stage.”

At the top of the show, the architectural lights on the bridge were turned off to let the people know the show was about to start. “We couldn’t see the crowd from where we were, but heard the cheering of several hundred thousand people,” adds Schwab, who notes that they couldn’t hit the water, marine mammals, or bird-nesting areas with the lights. We had to be respectful of the environmental impacts of our event.”

The producers praise the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, The GGB District, The Port, The Presidio Trust, The City and County of SF, The Coast Guard, and The FAA for their role in the event. “Everyone had one goal in mind,” concludes Schwab. “Everyone loves the Golden Gate Bridge, and this celebration made people felt proud about the bridge and reconnected to the Bay Area.”

Golden Gate Bridge 75th Anniversary Fireworks Celebration from KFOG Radio 104.5/97.7 on Vimeo.

Client: The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District and The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy

Executive Creative Producer: Foghorn Creative, Don Richards

Executive Producer: Foghorn Creative, Rick Voigt

Lighting Design: Lightswitch
Norm Schwab, Principal Designer
Mark Gilmore, Barge Lighting Director
Paul Efron, Bridge Lighting Director
Adam Rechner, Associate Designer
Ryan Bauer, Assistant Designer

Erik Docktor, Programmer
Tom Thompson, Bridge Programmer

Dave Hatch, Production Electrician
Eric Fedler, Assistant Electrician

Labor IATSE Local 16 Hughston Engineering

Jack Calmes
Jeffrey Smith

Mirror Ball, Impact Lighting

Generators Catepillar Donnie Harris

Previz Prelite: Tom Thompson, Mike Robertson


BCT Entertainment, Chad Brook, Brian Longhofer

Lighting Gear
75 7kW Syncrolites (25 on Bridge West Sidewalk/ 50 on Barge)
4 MA Lighting grandMA consoles
6 60 KVA Generators (Bridge)
4 240 KVA Generators (Barge)
1 9' Mirror Ball
700' of Truss on Barge to hold lights and Mirror Ball
1 W-DMX Wireless DMX System
1 wysiwyg Previz System from Prelite

Total draw on lights: 810,000 watts
Total brightness: 27,000,000 lumens

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