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Modern Lighting Technologies and the Olympic Opening Ceremony

I found the televised opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympic games in London thoroughly engrossing and a spectacle for the eyes. No small part of the visual effect was the incorporation of modern lighting techniques into the performance. No longer satisfied with direct spotlights and pyrotechnic explosions, we have entered a new era where the technological advents in lighting play a central role in celebrating the opening of the games to the world.


The show the Chinese put on in Beijing in 2008 was a hard act to follow, especially when the UK budget of $42 million was less than half of what the Chinese spent on their opening ceremony. Credit the Chinese with incorporating LEDs and image projection into the panache and flash of these memorable presentations. They showed the world what could be done with imagination and innovation in lighting effects.


For the London ceremony, the design vision of director Danny Boyle was witnessed by an estimated 62,000 in the Olympic Stadium and a billion people worldwide via the television (that is a technical accomplishment in itself). Each seat in the audience was equipped with a 10-inch square electronic paddle fitted with nine full-color LCD squares, each controlled by a central computer. These devices broadcasted flashing visual effects that wrapped around the circumference of the tiers of the Stadium, including images of a 1960s Go-go dancer, a train in the London Underground, and a representation of the birth of the internet (where the inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee spelled out “ This is for everyone ” in 40 foot tall characters). The audience also danced with the paddles to create a waving, twinkling effect. Truly the largest interactive Electronic Message Center that the world has ever seen (the animations were designed by the London arm of Chinese animation company Crystal CG).


Another striking use of LEDs was in the “casting” of the Olympic rings, offering the illusion of molten steel pouring down a trough and into the rings, complemented by erupting sparks and hissing steam. The shots from overhead were indeed magnificent. Of course, the usual spot accent lighting was used throughout, but the sources were so discreet that the result seemed quite natural.


My interest was further aroused during the tribute to Britain’s National Health Service, when they wheeled out what must’ve been a hundred hospital beds, complete with children and nurses. It took me only a short while to realize that light was coming from the bed covers; an internally illuminated comforter. This accomplished an illusion of warmth for the kids and when viewed far from overhead, a moving canvas of lights as the beds were wheeled around the enormous floor of the Stadium. I don’t know how they did it, but someone really took an imaginative step in design and engineering. Heck, the kids even bounced on their bright white beds.

The last overwhelming perception of light had to be the Olympic Stadium itself, brought into our living rooms with towering shots from aloft. It seemed to shift and morph in color and intensity, changing character with each phase of the story being told, another golden ring cast in the shimmering lights of London.

Sure, there were spotlights and there were plenty of exploding, cascading, sizzling fireworks to retain the familiar. But the true glory, especially to an old sign guy, belonged to the modern lighting technologies and the way they were presented. I can close my eyes now and see the glimmer, the fanfare and the hope of the world gathered on one stage. Skip Moore, President Bill Moore & Associates Graphics Inc.

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© 2020 by Bill Moore CA Lic# 598853-C45

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