Spectacular finale for the Branchage Film Festival on St. Aubin's Fort
Following a three-year hiatus Jersey's Branchage Festival returned this September, successfully stamping its mark on the island's cultural landscape once again, culminating in an unforgettable ground-breaking projection show for the festival finale.
The theme of this year's festival was "Make Your Own Island" so in keeping with that theme QED decided to take it rather literally using projection mapping technology to transform St. Aubin's Fort and the island upon which it stands. With a specially commissioned live score from electronic pioneers Radiophonic Workshop and animations by NOVAK the event was one of the most extraordinary projection mapping projects ever undertaken.
"From start to finish the challenge was extreme" said QED Director Paul Wigfield. "At first we didn't know whether it would even be possible. We had to cover the whole island otherwise it would not have looked impressive enough when viewed from such a distance and at high tide. The range of viewing positions from the shore varied between 600m and 2km".
After three trips to the island to survey, scan and conduct initial projection tests, Project Designer Dan Gray devised the innovative technical solution which involved deploying a network of projectors and servers placed both on the island and the shore. By covering all the visible faces of the island he designed the intricate digital canvas for the animators NOVAK to create the visual content and for Radiophonic Workshop to compose the score.
Commenting on the challenge Dan Gray said "Working out the projector coverage and designing the UV template was without question the most complex technical puzzle I've ever had to solve. It wasn't until my initial visit that the full scale and size of the fort became apparent. I'd been studying various photographs taken from the internet but until I actually stood on the island it hadn't been apparent as to quite how large it was. It took me quite a while to come up with a solution for the projection as it wasn't immediately obvious how to achieve projector coverage on all the faces without ending up placing towers in the middle of the sea. In the end the solution hit me on the flight home - to actually use the island's unique shape with its breakwater to enable us to cross project back onto itself!
With the projection and coverage solved the next challenge was how best to map content onto the fort. There were various options available but rather than optimising content for the single perspective of the yacht club we had to look at the island from the same 180 degree viewpoint as the audience. Having scanned and modelled the island we then flattened out the model to a 2D UV template for the animators to create content that would flow around, inside and outside all the various faces. This created an end result which looked fantastic from any viewing angle."
The creative challenges presented to NOVAK were also unique - to design a bespoke 25-minute piece that could tell the same story from wherever it was viewed, even though each viewpoint would be totally different for everyone watching from the shore and for those watching from boats.
Elliot Thomson, Creative Director at NOVAK said "QED are always pushing the barriers of what can be achieved through projection mapping, and when the reality of the project sunk in we knew the opportunity to work on such a project should be grabbed with both hands."
"Creatively the canvas threw up a few challenges - where does one wall end and another start? How to create a coherent image, which can be seen from 2km away? How do you keep an audience stimulated 20 minutes into a performance? We were lucky in the fact that we knew that not only were the production team behind the projection capable of doing a project like this but also having the Radiophonic Workshop to bounce ideas off was truly inspiring, making it a pleasure to create something fitting to the island. We were given free rein to do what we believed would work at this scale, utilising tried and tested mapping techniques but adding in some of our signature ideas. All in all we wanted to create jaw-dropping visuals relating to Jersey and something that everyone who was there to see it would never forget."
The show began with outline traces emphasizing the architectural features of the island and animated blocks of colour representing the flags of France and the UK. Taking reference from the opening musical credits of Dr Who the main fort tower was then transformed into the Tardis whereupon the audience were taken on a journey inside it where historic footage from the Jersey Film Archive was mixed with the retro-futuristic animations of the working interior of the Tardis.
Whirling coloured lights then moved across the Tardis gradually increasing in number to create a vortex of colour and shapes that enveloped the entire structure. After reaching its peak the vortex gradually slowed and dissipated to reveal a sub-aquatic environment of lost ships, broken hulls covered in barnacles and seaweed inhabited by shoals of tropical fish and giant deep sea monsters.
Rising from the deep the island transformed to reveal a sparse beach scene where features and structures began to appear. A wash of brightly coloured flowers covered the whole facade, gently billowing in the wind, and as the wind's strength increased the flowers were blown away until none were left. Out of the darkness spotlights appeared, searching across the island's surface, gradually increasing in number to reveal red, white and blue sections which climaxed to form a single light revealing the entire fort in a wash of red, white and blue.
The content creation process was inextricably linked to the technical design which laid the foundations for the bespoke animations and musical score to be composed. Having created a 3D model from the scan data the UV map was produced, and using 3D simulation at each stage of the process it was possible to verify that the piece would hold together from all potential audience viewpoints.
Although 3D simulation proved that it could work in theory, the practical challenges in deploying the projection solution were just as immense. On the island the visitor centre became the hub from where most of the projectors were fed, and on the mainland the roof of the yacht club provided the main control position. To link the two sites 1km of 12-core fibre-optic cable needed to be laid under the sea - for Technical Production Manager Dave Voyce this represented probably the most unusual technical challenge he had ever faced.
According to Dave Voyce "Working around the tides was a unique experience - with no opportunity to test the viability and integrity of the link in advance we needed a totally robust solution to withstand the undertow - so we just had to get it right first time. We made as much use of the causeway as possible, drilling multiple fixings for secure anchorage, and then running the cable up the harbour wall and along the quayside to the second control position on the roof of the Yacht Club. We laid 5km of fibre multi-core cabling to link all the projectors with signal and control, providing nearly 30km of fibre channels all in all.
On the island the projectors were positioned so that they cross-projected onto the various faces in order to create the seamless canvas. Mains power on the fort was extremely limited so a generator was towed onto the island to run sixteen Christie HD18K 20,000 lumen projectors fitted with 1.16-1.49:1 short throw zoom lenses, and an additional generator on the shore fed four Panasonic DZ-21K 20,000 lumen projectors fitted with 8.0-15:1 ultra long throw zoom lenses.
"We chose the very best technology for each aspect of the job - the extraordinary long throw Panasonic lenses enabled us to hit enough of the fort from long range at sufficiently high resolution, and the versatility and ruggedness of the Christies were ideal to weather the elements in the exposed conditions on the island" said Dan Gray.
The AV control comprised two d3 4x4pro and four d3 4u v2.5 media servers, two Lightware FR-33 32x32 DVI matrix switchers and two QED/ThinkLogical 15-channel fibre systems with on-board output monitoring on all channels provided by two Harris Predator II 16-input DVI multi-viewers. Gigabit fibre control enabled the projector line-ups to be done remotely from all positions around the island and on the shore.
Working in shifts the installation took six days and nights to complete, but it had to come out in only six hours otherwise the equipment would have been stranded on the island for an extra day. Travel between the shore and the island was only possible by boat for most of the working hours.
On the night an estimated four thousand people gathered in and around the village of St. Aubin to watch the show, but without doubt those sailing around the island had the best views. The occasion brought together thousands of art and music lovers, and created a truly magnificent moment in Jersey's history, leaving the island with wonderful visual memories and a bespoke musical composition that Mark Ayres of Radiophonic Workshop stated "now belongs to Jersey", adding "we were more than delighted to be asked to contribute to a memorable festival in wonderful surroundings, with splendid weather and lovely people showing us great hospitality. We hope we did the Island justice - it's not an experience we will forget in a hurry".
QED Director, Paul Wigfield concluded by saying "I'm absolutely thrilled with the results. Projection mapping an island is something that I've always dreamt about doing, so I'm indebted to Branchage and the people of St. Aubin for helping us to make it happen in reality."
Whilst on Jersey, a small camera crew captured the complex processes involved in an event of this scale and documented how QED, Branchage, Novak Collective and Radiophonic Workshop all worked seamlessly to create a visual and auditory spectacle that will be remembered for years to come. This video can be found in the top right hand column of this page. We hope you enjoy!
Technical CreditsDan Gray, Project Designer, d3 Programming & Operation
Dave Voyce, Technical Production Manager
Rob Millard, AV Technician
Martin Dewar, AV Technician
Mike Snarr, AV Technician
Ian Yeomans, AV Technician
Mark Harris, Production Technician
Craig Dunbar, Production Technician
Jo Gardner, Production Technician
Production CreditsPaul Wigfield, QED Production Director
Chris Bell, Branchage Production Manager
Mike Pedley, QED Online Development Manager
Rebecca Coley, Branchage Media Manager
Neal Law, Video Engineer
Aerial PhotographySteve Boudains, S. Boudains Aerial Photography Services
Mark Loane, C5 Alliance