Thousands of people gathered along Québec City's newly redeveloped Baie de Beauport park near the St. Lawrence River as part of the ongoing celebration of the 400th anniversary of the city, with live music, acrobatics, a video ball, water screen, special aquatic effects, 260,000W of audio, and 10,000 custom fireworks. Entitled “The Walking Road,” the festivities were filmed for television and also featured a DJ set from internationally known recording artist Moby.
Lighting and visual designer Hubert Gagnon worked closely with artistic designer Olivier Dufour and set designer Élène Pearson to build a stage that could respond to the many needs of the enormous production. About a year prior to the event, Dufour first approached Gagnon with an ambitious storyboard. “The stage had to operate multiple tasks, and a lot of effects that normally don't all go together were put in the same place,” says Gagnon. “I said yes because it seemed like a challenge and something I really wanted to accomplish.” Those challenges included budget issues that triggered major changes in the scenic design up to one week before the show.
The theme behind the celebration centered on an organic structure coming out of the ground with a message of reuniting three nations: people of the water, people of the Earth, and ordinary humans. The stage was constructed with non-symmetrical shapes and forms, and Gagnon wanted to have a lighting system that added to the scenery without using any automation systems. The main vision of the design was to achieve something that was mysterious, natural, and apocalyptic “while blowing the minds of the audience for more than six hours,” he says. “I took a lot of my inspiration from pictures of the underwater world. The shapes and colors are magnificent down there, and there's also an awesome electronic phosphorescent vibe that inspired me a lot.”
Pearson describes her inspiration for the set designs, saying, “The Walking Road is the story of three nations meeting to reach a pact of peace. The big challenge, and, at the same time, the real pleasure, was to integrate everything into a glittering metallic scene with standardized modular elements.”
Another challenge was dealing with a limited stage area and working that into the design. Despite the enormous size of the stage provided by Danaco, there wasn't much space in which to install technical equipment because of the large area required by all the artists, dancers, and acrobats. Also, some of the acts with their respective sets were performing next to the stage or in the background, so those elements had to remain in view. Gagnon explains that a conveniently located hill behind the stage was also used as a part of the set since it fit in with the whole organic concept of the show.
All of the set pieces used by Pearson were created from natural materials. “I had this idea to create ‘membranes’ made from natural fibers attached to the truss towers emerging from the ground,” she says. “They looked like spider webs that emerged magically from the depths of the Earth. At the end, the contrast between the glittering metallic scene and the natural structure was incredible. We used manila rope and integrated a tremendous amount of different knots.” Miles of rope of different diameters were woven together during eight weeks by a six-person team. The design team wanted to give the impression that the steel and aluminum were coming directly from the ground, so some of the weavings were thicker at the bottom and some at the top. Since the material was really flexible, Pearson notes, “it created a pretty cool effect as the wind was blowing and gave a mysterious and festive aspect to the scene.” Gagnon and Pearson also developed a screen made with jute and used cheesecloth that allowed them to hide the steel structure of the stage and other technical pieces while doubling as a projection screen. Gagnon's lighting rig became a set issue as well, as it was visible to the cameras shooting the event. “I decided to make a two-layer rig,” he says. “The higher level was made of black truss and equipped with all the essential lights for keylighting, a bunch of moving lights, and 100 ETC Source Four PAR units with narrow lenses. This rig helped me a lot as a reference and to create a huge blinder effect like a starry night sky. The lower layer was made with a different aluminum curved truss and featured 400 ropes between 4' and 8' long hanging above the stage. These ropes helped to break the metallic look of the truss. Some people even asked if the ropes were [Element Labs] Versa Tubes because of the effect of the moving lights shining on them.”
Recurring rain and thunderstorms, and a lack of onsite programming and rehearsal time, were also challenges for the team. Head rigger Guillaume Tremblay Tardif says part of his job was to keep everything up to safety standards while still realizing “the crazy conception that Hubert did,” he jokes. “For the lighting part, everything was great, but for the rigging part, it was a big puzzle because all the trussing was curved and varied in size, and I was working with a stage where it was impossible to make a diagonal brace. I had to make sure before we arrived onsite that everything was realizable because the schedule was very tight.” Gagnon began visualizing in his office with Cast Software Wysiwyg R22, and all the control systems were networked with MA Lighting grandMA NSPs.
Video came in many forms. An LED screen broken into pieces created a DJ booth for Moby that helped fill the enormous 150' stage. Content was also projected onto a 33'-diameter balloon screen provided by Quasar Vision of France and onto a 90'×30' water screen provided by Aquatic Show. An ArKaos DMX media server linked into this network via Art-Net protocol and controlled the LED screen, while all projection surfaces were driven by a Dataton Watchout system.
The video content for the first multimedia “fable” section of the show was designed by Olivier Dufour, the artistic director for the event, and created by Six Degrés productions to run like a movie narration. Clips were loaded into a timeline on the Watchout system for the first section of the show. For the second part of the show, including Moby's performance, two VJs from Fokus Productions mixed custom-created content and live feeds from a wide-angle camera to the various surfaces. Because the producers wanted to make sure the cameras wouldn't block the crowd's view, several cameras were placed around the border of the stage.
Gagnon's partner at BlackoutDesign, Jérôme Gagnon, was the video director and notes that the use of media servers to diffuse the visual effects was essential. “The balloon and water screens required geometric adjustments, and the very beginning of the show contained a multimedia presentation including sound, lighting, and pyrotechnics synchronized via timecode,” he says, adding that he chose the Watchout because he could “do fast settings on a timeline with three Watchout displays and one Watchout control.”
To achieve the projections on the balloon, two Christie Digital S+20K projectors were placed inside the air-filled semi-transparent polyester balloon. “It was the first time that a double convergence was made in a Quasar Vision balloon,” says Jérôme Gagnon. The two Christie S+20s projected on a mirror system to allow the diffusion of the video on two-thirds of the balloon's surface. “It was a really big challenge to align the two projectors inside of the sphere, and we needed a lot of patience to do it correctly,” he adds. The temperamental weather also produced a lot of wind, so the balloon was anchored by tying it at the top and on four points along its circumference.
As for the water screen, a Christie Digital Roaster S+25K projector set up near the ground provided rear-projection, so the crowd wasn't distracted by the hotspot of the lens. “This screen was really hard to achieve because there was a lot of wind every night when we wanted to test it,” says Jérôme Gagnon. “We couldn't do it when it was windy because the water was not staying in place, and it was going directly on the ground. Fortunately, the weather on the actual night of the show was perfect, without any wind or rain, and the visual effects made by the water screen were incredible.” White characters on a black background represented the people of the water, and the contrast and projection through the water screen gave the impression of 3D images.
Behind the stage, a Christie Digital S+20K projected on a 20'-diameter half sphere for “a monster of the Earth” effect, for which Jérôme Gagnon used a lens with a ratio of 0.73:1 “because the background of the scene didn't allow me to realize the desired effect,” he says. All the projectors were connected to a ChristieNet network, so the video director could keep track of parameters such as the temperature inside the balloon and the light shutters. Because of the weather, the team only had the night before the show to test all the projections. “Fortunately, during this time, we could set the images with the Watchout system. This media server was a really good choice because it was easy to use and its timeline was useful for the direction of the opening of the show,” says Gagnon.
All the rain and wind couldn't spoil the feeling of accomplishment for the creative team. “I am really glad to have brought my ideas and vision to this show that provided a lot of emotions and pure fantasy for everyone involved,” says Pearson. “I am impressed to see how the technology, in combination with colors and textures, can give a show a human expression.”
CREDITS & GEAR
Producer: PR3 media
Original Creative Concept: Olivier Dufour and Ghyslain Turcotte
Artistic Director: Olivier Dufour
Lighting Designer and Visual Designer: Hubert Gagnon, BlackoutDesign
Video Director and Video Project Manager: Jérôme Gagnon, BlackoutDesign
Video Content Creator: Six Degrés and Fokus
Director of Photography: Gestion ECL
Stage Director: Ghyslain Turcotte
Set Design: Élène Pearson
Sound Designer: Jacques Boucher
Technical Director: John Myles
Moving Light Techs: Pablo Cruz, Alexandre Lévesque, Louis-Charles Poudrette
Head Rigger: Guillaume Tremblay Tardif
Teksho Account manager: François Paradis
Solotech Account Manager: Martin Chouinard
Solotech Project Manager: Yannick Blais
Sound, Lighting, Video, Rigging: Solotech
LED Screen: Teksho
Water Effects: Aquatic Show
Video Balloon: Quasars Vision
Stage Structure: Danaco
Staging: Show Distribution
2 MA Lighting grandMA
1 MA Lighting grandMA light
3 MA Lighting NSP
1 ETC Express 48/96 Console
5 ETC Sensor+ 48×2.4kW Dimming Rack
1 ETC Sensor+ 24×2.4kW Dimming Rack
16 Vari-Lite VL3500 Spot
24 Vari-Lite VL3000 Spot
28 Martin Professional MAC 2000 Wash XB
20 Martin Professional MAC 2000 Profile
60 Martin Professional MAC 600
62 Martin Professional MAC 500
20 Martin Professional MAC 300
30 Martin Professional Atomic 3000
60 Philips Solid-State Lighting Solutions/Color Kinetics ColorBlast 12
2 Robert Juliat Cyrano 2.5kW Followspot
4 Robert Juliat Aramis 2.5kW Followspot
14 6-Lamp Bar ETC PAR Source Four PAR
126 ETC Source Four PAR
32 Altman Stage Lighting ZS-3 Zip Strip
4 Altman Stage Lighting ZS-1 Zip Strip
40 Altman Stage Lighting Focusing Cyc
24 F.E. Lighting 20-Lamp Blinder
4 MDG Max5000 DMX Fogger
2 MDG Max3000 DMX Fogger
2 MDG Atmosphere Touring DMX Hazer
8 Solotech Chrome Truss 16"×16" 45°
14 Solotech Chrome Truss 16"×16" 37.5°
16 Solotech Chrome Truss 16"×16" 30°
9 Solotech Chrome Truss 16"×16" 22.5°
62 Solotech Folding Black Truss 8'
10 Solotech Folding Black Truss 4'
12 Arcofab Chrome Truss 16"×16" 8'
8 Arcofab Chrome Truss 16"×16" 4'
4 Arcofab Chrome Truss 16"×16" 2'
60 CM 1-ton Motor
1 ArKaos DMX Media Server
4 Dataton Watchout Show and Media Control
1 Christie Digital Roadster S+25K
3 Christie Digital Roadster S+20K
8 TekPanel LED Screen 18mm Resolution
48 TekPanel LED Screen 36mm Resolution
1 90'×30' Aquatic Show Water Screen
16 60' Aquatic Show Water Jet
30m Aquatic Show Fog Tube