Australian digital design and production specialists Digital Pulse in Sydney has produced
spectacular content to complement David Atkins Enterprises’ visual narrative for the opening
ceremony of the 12th Arab Games in Doha in December.

‘Journey to Light’ was a visual animation experience projected over a massive stadium projection surface.  It celebrated Arabic culture by delivering a message of unification, peace and freedom for the 21 participating Arab nations.

The project follows Digital Pulse’s success in developing the screen animation for the Australian stage production of ‘Hairspray’.  In Doha, the team was again working with David Atkins Enterprises to create fully interactive content for the high quality mobile LED screens that allowed the cast to interact with visual elements.

Two Projection Systems
The Arab Games opening ceremony at Khalifa Stadium involved a similar process that required Digital Pulse to create content compatible with two systems - the projection and the LED, which were run by different companies and servers. The story illuminated the central performance arena as well as the entire circumference of the stadium using a contiguous LED screen installed behind each seat. In total, 86 projectors video-mapped 126,000 cubic metres of floor and seating area that was utilised as a backdrop.

Brett explained, “One of the challenges we faced for ‘Hairspray’ was how to create visual assets that moved seamlessly from one system to another maintaining a consistent size and appearance. In ‘Hairspray’ the side LEDs had a different dot pitch to the middle screens and this was also the same for the Arab games with the LED being a different resolution from the projections.

“The projection system was run by ETC in France, who specialise in the automation of giant image projection. Their Onlyview software ran the 86 projectors. A separate company ran an Addict server for the LED array. Onlyview uses MPEG 2 for playback and Addict uses a specific QuickTime codec for real time playback.”

Workflow Design
Brett stressed that, first and foremost, setting up workflows was the key to the project. Ensuring all steps of the production process would feed into subsequent processes with a minimum of fuss was essential. “Part of this process was analyzing and specifying appropriate software and hardware resourcing. We used a variety of commercial available software on this project including Maya and 3ds Max, with Krakatoa and Fume FX for the particle effects. All compositing was done in After Effects CS5.5 using a number of plug-ins,” he said.

“Our primary workstations were HP Z800s featuring dual 3.46GHz hex core processors, 48GB ram, Nvidia 4000 graphics and solid state drives. Secondary workstations were dual processor MACPros. Our render farm consisting 25 dual core processor machines running between 16GB and 48GB of RAM was running around the clock on the project for a large part of the three month production period. Our team produced over 150,000 output files which were then converted into the appropriate formats for each system.”

The mapping of the 86 projectors, which each had its own projector, was handled by ETC who monitored and controlled alignment. The content’s camera viewpoint produced the stereo effect, which was designed with previs. The output resolution for the projection component was 5344 x 3328 pixels. The LED array was a different resolution, so in order to ensure the LED presented the visual assets consistently as they crossed from one system to another, the working canvas size had to be around 9,000 pixels – in other words, they needed to work with 9K data.

Timecoded Interactivity
“A ceremony is a very tight ship and every element is rehearsed many times prior to the actual event,” noted Brett, explaining how the interactive moments with the performers were achieved in the live production. “For this event all departments worked from an early stage with SMPTE timecoded animatics which included the soundtrack. As adjustments to the soundtrack were made, the animatic was updated and distributed to all departments  - including us at Digital Pulse.

“We used the animatics from the outset but it was also essential that we developed workflows that would easily facilitate change as the process continued – or rather, as easily as changes to 9K files could actually be made! Once our media was completed and projected, the performers would then rehearse interaction with the media under the direction of David Atkins and his team.”

Because the story revolves closely around the local culture, it is quite different from what an Australian audience would expect to see, and this added a further, interesting challenge for the team. Brett said, “David Atkins and his team provided us with cultural references, storytelling and mood frames. We conducted our own research to ensure that the approach we were taking was appropriate before presenting it to our client. It was a collaborative process that culminated in us sending a team of five people complete with workstations, servers and render blades to Doha for the last couple of weeks before the event to fine-tune the content and make any adjustments.”

The end result was a projection of an Arabic tale that celebrates the desert as a land of prophecy and light, brought to life for the 40,000-strong audience and over 6,000 athletes by a cast of over 3,250 dancers, musicians, athletes, horsemen and
Words: Adriene Hurst
Images: Courtesy of Robbie Klaesi