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A worthy successor

A worthy successor

A worthy successor

Following last year’s Golden Jubilee, the UAE National Day celebrations took a more scaled-back approach this year, with AV becoming key

Organisers of the UAE’S official national day celebration always strive to go the extra mile in producing something unique and never-before experienced. The milestone half-century celebration held last year took this to new extremes through the creation of a 19m-high rotating disc-shaped stage. Set in the waters of Hatta Dam in the Al Hajar mountains, it served as the canvas for an audiovisual show choreographed by creative director Es Devlin. At the end of that process, many were left wondering how the Emirate could possibly outdo itself.

The same core companies returning to provide their expertise year after year have not only made sure the technical elements meet ever-increasing expectations, but also let the teams’ creativity flow, embracing ideas they might not be able to entertain unless working at such scale. This year, the celebration revolved around the creation of a fully immersive production complete with spatial audio, performed live by London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and delivered throughout a 100m-long exhibition area at Abu Dhabi’s National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) together with a procession of moving vignettes. The orchestra and 3,000-strong cast shared a grandstand with spectators on either side, representing a departure from the traditional stage setup seen at previous ceremonies. Furthermore, after going live on 2 December, the showcase had to remain open to the public for a further nine days.

For Wonder Works, it was the fifth consecutive year overseeing the design and engineering. Working alongside Devlin and creative agency People, Wonder Works was responsible for bringing its creative vision to life through the technical coordination of a custom grandstand, encompassing two giant end portals with full projection, state-of-the-art lighting and audio. Emirati musicians and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra provided a live soundtrack as the audience followed the story of a group of children who learn about the UAE’s rich culture, present-day achievements and future goals and ambitions.

One of the primary technical challenges for Wonder Works lay in the overhead video strips, which had been designed to give the outdoor setting a more intimate feel. The project included 657 ROE LED strip fixtures, hung from 19 106m-long catenaries. A total of 968m of strips were suspended in the air, with four 30m-tall towers providing support in the middle of the catenary spans. Furthermore, over 1,200 tonnes of ballast were required to keep everything locked down. This undertaking drew heavily on the combined talents of Stage One, Al Laith, VK Scenic, Creative Technology Middle East and the People production teams. The finished system allowed video content to run down the length of the parade, creating the illusion of being inside a portal. Luke Halls Studios was tasked with content creation and Done+Dusted was responsible for the production of the livestream.

Sustainability was a primary show theme this year and, in a bid to reduce waste and save resources, pre-existing objects were used where possible. Having built a trusted network of local suppliers over recent years, People and Wonder Works were able to rely on local scenic specialists to supply the majority of the production’s needs, significantly reducing air miles while supporting local industries. “In an effort to work more sustainably, our biggest challenge was resisting the need to build absolutely everything from scratch and to always use international suppliers,” says Wonder Works co-founder Piers Shepperd. “We are on a journey, but I feel that this landmark ceremony shows that with the right focus and support of the production company and client, you can make massive inroads to the challenges posed by these large-scale events.”

Creative Technology was tasked by People with providing the immersive projection, creative LED and site-wide video system solutions. Its Middle East team was responsible for integrating the huge quantity of ROE strips with a large-scale projection-mapped canvas. The audience grandstand was situated within the 108m-long portal, with projection at one end representing the UAE’s past, and the other its future.

Like Wonder Works, sound specialist Auditoria was again handed responsibility for the design of the audio system and its operation on show day, with equipment supply the responsibility of Agora. A 762-cabinet L-Acoustics loudspeaker configuration consisted of various components to deliver specific elements of the show, divided up into “immersive” and “SFX (special effects)” systems.

The immersive system consisted of four elements: a main L-ISA solution of five Kara II hangs and outfill arrays; an overhead system of 30 X8 loudspeakers used to simulate the sound of a concert hall acoustic environment (triggered with mainly pre-recorded content and some live inputs); personal 4.1 systems formed from more than 300 5XT, 200 X4i, 30 Syva Low and 16 SB15 subwoofers to deliver a high-fidelity nearfield experience; and, lastly, 40 KS28 subs distributed throughout the grandstand structure to provide low-frequency energy to reinforce the music and sound effects content.

The SFX system was comprised of three elements: a ground row of 13 X8 loudspeakers on either side of the performance area for spatial content related to floor projection and cast movement; a flown row of 13 A10-Wide mounted at a high level along each side of the space for spatial content related to objects moving and for music SFX; and a stereo system at each end of the space for any sounds related to projected content on the portals. Each array consisted of six K2s.

“Reinforcement of the music and narration content was based around the acoustic centre of the orchestra to ensure time alignment between the acoustic sound and the reinforced sound,” explains Auditoria’s Scott Willsallen. “Meanwhile, the SFX systems were arranged to exploit the linear nature of the venue and provide localisation to key moments.”

Positioned behind the orchestra to provide monitoring for the players via wired and wireless IEMs, a dual-engine DiGiCo SD7 and a pair of SD-Racks captured the live music. The L-ISA system was placed above the orchestra and received 96 inputs from the SD7 consisting of sub-mixed stems of the live orchestra and pre-recorded stems from a Merging Technologies Ovation replay system. The loudspeaker arrangement consisted of 36 outputs and a separate sub-bass output. “Our approach was to sub-mix the orchestra to stems for delivery to the FOH and broadcast consoles to simplify mixing and also to provide a repeatable situation between the show venue and rehearsal venue,” adds Willsallen.

In contrast, control of the primary speaker system was via a mirrored pair of DiGiCo Quantum 7 consoles with an L-ISA II processor per unit connected using MADI, together with a pair of Out Board TiMax SoundHub processors, which delivered the immersive audio effects throughout the L-ISA system. The distributed system of ground-stacked and flown speakers was loaded into the geometrically aware TiMax PanSpace, which automatically calculated levels and delays for the different layers of TiMax’s Image Definition objects. SoundHub was used to control and position the show’s diverse sources: the live orchestra in combination with music playback and spatialised soundfield effect elements.

The main FOH audio control room was located remotely, far from the arena. To accommodate this, dedicated TiMax outputs were allocated to provide control room spatial monitoring that matched the placements and movements of content in the actual arena. A separately networked TiMax client control computer was located at the arena space during rehearsals. Using this, Willsallen and Out Board’s Robin Whittaker, who was onsite to assist with the TiMax setup and spatial programming throughout, were able to audition and select the most effective spatial events for hard-programming into the show. “We created three room engine presets based on a large, warm concert hall,” notes Willsallen. “They were assigned to snapshots and used to suit the different compositions throughout the show.”

“Thankfully, the flexible TiMax workflow made it easy to rapidly program and audition highly-effective spatial events to meet the show’s fluid and diverse creative challenges as they arose,” continues Whittaker. “Furthermore, it was great to be involved with a production of such magnitude and significance, and brilliant to have the invaluable support of the Agora and Auditoria audio teams.”

Supplied by Encore, a sizeable complement of more than 1,000 lighting fixtures was deployed to meet lighting designer Bruno Poet’s intricate design, with 51 placed on either side of the portals. This included fixtures from Astera (AX2, AX3, Hydra Panel, Pixelbrick and Titan Tube) and Elation (Proteus Lucius, Proteus Maximus, Proteus Rayzor 760 and Razor Blade) in addition to Ayrton Perseos, Robe Forte follow spots, GLP FR10s, SGM P6s and ETC Lustr3s.

“Control was handled by four MA Lighting grandMA3 full-size consoles and four MA3 Lites in combination with 15 grandMA3 processor units,” notes Poet. “In addition, we used Zactrack Pro servers for automated tracking of the cast and props, both for lighting and projection. This was crucial to the success of the show.” The Zactrack system included 20 Anchors covered in fabric to blend in with the set and a further 75 tracking tags. The ROE LED strip fixtures were controlled by a disguise d3 media server.

“The biggest challenge was that the convoy of props, vehicles and people had to keep moving across the field of play at show speed in every rehearsal, and it was very time-consuming and complicated to reset,” adds Poet. “We were always having to light moving objects. Nothing in the show ever stopped.”

In this period of UAE Centennial, a five-decade plan that started in 2021, the country is moving towards a new chapter of growth designed to ensure prosperity for generations to come, and the National Day procession was intended as a visual showcase of that goal. With show themes spanning sustainability, renewable energy, food security, clean air and space travel, a bigger production than the Golden Jubilee would not have necessarily been the right approach. To the relief of all involved, the 2 December procession was considered a roaring success, with more than a million viewers tuning in to watch the official livestream and the ADNEC close to capacity the following week.

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