"A unique, stunning, wonderful evening and one that will stay in my memory for years to come."
Sandra Mangan, North West End

Conceived by Alex Rinsler, Director of Lightpool Festival, Light Odyssey was a technical and creative collaboration between QED Productions, the BBC Philharmonic, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and an incredibly talented team of digital artists, to mark the official launch of Blackpool's Lightpool Festival 2018.

Music that changed the world when it was written was experienced in an entirely new light by the sell-out audience in the Empress Ballroom at the Winter Gardens on the evening of October 18th. The spectacular 90-minute show of the breath-taking projected animations and live performance by the BBC Philharmonic was also recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3.

"When Alex first approached QED with the idea for Light Odyssey it was clear that the scale of the creative ambition was as great as the technical challenges involved. It was an opportunity to push the boundaries of projection mapping and to produce a unique and very special entertainment experience." said QED Director Paul Wigfield.

"The Empress Ballroom is one of the largest ballrooms in Europe and also one of the most ornate. The magnificent chandeliers could not be removed and they were also positioned in an irregular layout, so it was an enormous challenge to work out how to cover the ceiling without casting any shadows and to create a workable template to suit the needs of all the animators.

We knew that the technical solution would be a bit of a mind-meld and that it would require a very accurate model for the content creation and also some near impossible projector positions and angles. On initial site visits it was a simply a question of eye-balling all potential projector positions and deciding whether it was actually achievable. Once we had established that it might be possible we decided to scan and model the Ballroom and thereafter we were able to plan the projector layout and design the UV template for the artists."

Alex Rinsler said "In Blackpool we are blessed with some of the UK's most beautiful spaces, which were created as palaces for entertainment at the end of the 19th Century. We were inspired by the work of Czech digital art collective The Macula, now Hyperbinary Studio, and our aim for Light Odyssey was to use the best tools of the 21st century to bring this unique heritage to life, and create a cultural event that's thrilling, accessible and completely new. We certainly achieved our aim."

Although the projection spectacular required extraordinary creative and technical vision it was only made possible by utilising the very latest in media server and high brightness laser projection technology. The projectors had to be positioned anywhere and everywhere throughout the ballroom, even amongst the audience seating and the orchestra. In the end it required 24 projectors to cover everything, comprising of sixteen Panasonic RZ31K and eight RZ21K laser projectors. The 30,000 lumen RZ31Ks covered the largest areas of the ceilings and facades, with the 20,000 lumen RZ21Ks filling in smaller areas. The chandeliers precluded any cross-projection onto the end walls, so two pairs of blended RZ21Ks with ultra short throw 0.36:1 mirror lenses were deployed on the upper balconies in order to gain the required coverage.

The Panasonic 3-chip DLP laser projectors provide the highest light output of any other projectors in their class whilst using less power. They also run extremely quietly which is a very important consideration when the audience are sitting so close to the machines. Having laser light source engines meant that it was possible to mount them in any orientation and at the most jaunty of angles.

"Realistically speaking it's impossible to completely back-up something like this due to the physical restrictions involved, so the projectors simply have to be totally reliable. It's a 24 piece jigsaw where any missing pieces would have broken the entire continuity of the digital artwork and so we just had to put our faith in the Panasonic projectors." said Paul Wigfield.

The content was pre-visualised and played back on-site using four disguise 4x4pro media servers fitted with quad DVI VFC cards. The 48 individual 1920 x 1200 resolution outputs (main and back-up) were fed into a Lightware FR65x65 DVI matrix switcher and then distributed to each projector using QED's bespoke fibre system which provided both signal and network control. Harris Predator II 16-Channel DVI multi-viewers enabled monitoring of all the projector signals from the control position, and the disguise media server line-up was achieved using QED's KVM Xtreme remote fibre system in order to enable the team to digitally warp and stitch together the digital canvas by hand.

Although the animation template was 10,000 x 3,813 pixel resolution and nearly an hour of full motion video content needed to be produced, all the artists rose to the challenge and were not only able to deliver within incredibly tight timescales but also equally impressed with their differing visual styles and musical interpretations.

"Light Odyssey has been an extraordinary journey, living up to its name in every sense. It was made possible with support of public funding by Arts Council England, and we are so grateful to them and the other partners for having the faith to support this creative ambition" said Rinsler. "We are in discussion with a number of venues in the UK and on the Continent to continue this voyage of light - it's a huge collective effort that we believe spells the future for orchestras and heritage venues seeking to introduce new generations of audiences to classical music".

Certainly Light Odyssey will be remembered by all as the night when the Empress Ballroom came to life in a riot of colour and sound.

Light Odyssey Programme

Claude Debussy - Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune
Animation: Matt and Rob Vale

Camille Saint-Saëns - Danse Macabre
Animation: Nick Azidis and Rosie Staff

Barber - Adagio for Strings
Animation: Joe Mason

Leonard Bernstein - West Side Story - Symphonic Dances

Aaron Copland - Fanfare for the Common Man
Animation: Dan Shorten

Camille Saint-Saëns - Bacchanale from Samson and Delilah
Animation: Florian Rabl

Ralph Vaughan Williams - English Folk Song Suite

Benjamin Britten - Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes - Dawn/Sunday Morning
Animation: Ruth Taylor

Benjamin Britten - Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes Moonlight/Storm
Animation: Guildhall School of Music and Drama

QED personnel

Dan Gray
Harry Ricardo
Dave Voyce
Andy Coates
Mike Snarr
Ben Heliczer

Lightpool Festival

Alex Rinsler
Philip Holmes

Projection Equipment

16 x Panasonic RZ31K 3-chip DLP laser projectors
8 x Panasonic RZ21K 3-chip DLP laser projectors
4 x disguise 4x4pro media servers
2 x QED KVM Xtreme remote fibre KVMs
1 x Lightware 65x65 matrix switcher
2 x Harris Predator II DVI multi-viewers
24 x QED DVI/Ethernet fibre channels

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