TPMEA #033 - December/January 2021/22

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Jewel in the crown If ever a landmark typifies the UAE, it’s Ain Dubai. Located on the artificially created Bluewaters Island, the world’s largest and tallest observation wheel is a true feat of engineering and yet another jewel in Dubai’s already bedazzled crown. Funnily enough, I remember lying on JBR beach one weekend in 2012 when a giant dredging boat appeared and started laying the foundations for Bluewaters Island. I certainly didn’t appreciate it at the time while my peaceful beach day was being ruined, but it’s good to see all these years later that the result was very much worth the upheaval. Turn to page 44 to read our tech profile on Ain Dubai’s opening weekend, which saw spectacular light and fireworks shows, along with an evening of music from some of the region’s top talent. The past couple of months have seen a real sea change in the fortunes of the Middle East’s live events industry, with a series of high-profile projects taking place and many more on the horizon. One mega-event that cannot be ignored is, of course, Expo 2020. An all-consuming behemoth that has dominated the region’s news agenda, it’s fair to say that Expo has more than lived up to the hype so far. Considering its size and scale, attempting to bring you a comprehensive report on every facet of Expo 2020 would have been, at best, a fool’s errand. So, while our 22-page Expo 2020 special features extensive coverage, including an interview with Chief Events and Entertainment Officer, Tareq Ghosheh (page 16) and an in-depth tech profile of the events and entertainment offerings (page 24), rest assured that this is just the tip of the iceberg, and the Expo 2020 content will continue to come thick and fast throughout its six-month schedule and beyond. Also in this issue, we profile the Riyadh Season Opening Ceremony (page 38), hear about ER Productions’ new branch in Saudi Arabia (page 52) and check-in with the team at Sharjah Performing Arts Academy to find out how they are training up the next generation of live events professionals (page 56). Enjoy the issue. Peter Iantorno Editorial Director | |


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Dan Bolton reflects on the need for change in the industry and shares news of a new venture.




The latest news from the Middle East, including Sennheiser supporting regional musicians.


An interview with Expo 2020’s Chief Events and Entertainment Officer, Tareq Ghosheh; an Expo 2020 round-up; and an in-depth tech profile on Expo 2020’s events and entertainment offering.


A huge parade and show to kick-off events season.


Opening weekend for Dubai’s newest landmark.




The company opens a new branch in Riyadh.


How will corporate events look in 2022?


Seven Production’s Regional Director discusses life in 4K.

56 – SPAA



How Sharjah Performing Arts Academy is training up the next generation of events professionals.


The latest news from Africa, including an upgrade to MA Lighting’s newest platform for Idols SA.

EDITORIAL DIRECTOR Peter Iantorno Tel: +44 (0)161 476 8360 Mobile: +44 (0)7763 233637 e-mail:

CONTRIBUTING EDITOR Stew Hume Tel: +44 (0)161 476 8360 Mobile: +44 (0)7702 054344 e-mail:

CONTRIBUTING ASSISTANT EDITOR Jacob Waite Tel: +44 (0)161 476 8352 Mobile: +44 (0)7592 679612 e-mail:

CHIEF EXECUTIVE Justin Gawne Tel: +44 (0)161 476 8360 Mobile: +44 (0)7768 850767 e-mail:

ACCOUNT MANAGER Fran Begaj Tel: +44 (0)161 476 8360 Mobile: +44 (0)7852 336728 e-mail:

DIGITAL CONTENT MANAGER James Robertson Tel: +44 (0)161 476 8360 Mobile: +44 (0)7725 475819 e-mail:


ACCOUNTS Lynette Levi / Sarah Miller:





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“The only constant in life is change.” As an industry, the world of events, entertainment and experience is no stranger to change. It’s something that we embrace and live with daily. There’s a constant striving for innovation, new creative ideas, different ways of doing business and then, of course, the evershifting requirements of our clients for whom we facilitate opportunities. Change is part of the fabric of what we do. The pace at which our industry is now changing is more rapid and frantic than ever. Some would argue that the need for change was accelerated by events over the past few years. I certainly would. Some of the best changes in life are those in which we are forced to adopt when we don’t have a choice. Everything happens for a reason. Over the past 12 months, we realised and understood that we needed to change – not just by doing things differently for the sake of being different, but by building a business that has people central to its core values. A business that provides tangible opportunities to those that support us and in turn allows people the freedom to create and express themselves fully in an environment where making mistakes is allowed and learning is celebrated. A business that, at its core, speaks to the values of those that are our future industry leaders. BE Experiential [BE], our new experiential event production agency, was born out of the desire to really do things differently. Launched at the start of the pandemic, the agency has


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“In a world where entertainment was on its knees, we understood and anticipated that lasting personal experiences that connect would come back in force, and we positioned ourselves at the helm for when this comeback got underway.” Dan Bolton, Owner & Director, Dan Bolton Creative Management Agency and BE Experiental.

been constantly striving to push the resumption and change within the creative industry over the past 18 months and is a natural extension to our established Dan Bolton Creative Management brand that is well known for providing talent for projects throughout the region and beyond. In a world where entertainment was on its knees, we understood and anticipated that lasting personal experiences that connect would come back in force, and we positioned ourselves at the helm for when this comeback got underway. Hand-picking a collection of now almost 25


unique, diverse, creative, and inspiring event professionals, the company is proud to represent over 10 different nationalities within a team whose average age is under 35. Our team is so diverse and creative in its DNA and will contribute significantly to the rapid change that our industry is going through – not just now but well into the future. The leaders who will pick up the mantle and revolutionise the way that we communicate and produce experiences are those who are daring enough to take risks, question, allowed to

make mistakes, learn, and change the creative industries for the better. From reconnecting communities with family-focused experiences across Dubai, to the showcasing of incredible authentic culture on the main stage at Expo’s Al Wasl or the deepest jungles of Papua, Indonesia, our new-found, eclectic tribe of storytellers and memory makers are engaging with people, clients, and brands like never before and changing lives along the way. Photos: Dan Bolton



PIXEL ARTWORKS APPOINTS MIDDLE EAST HQ MANAGING DIRECTOR THE MOVE FOLLOWS THE LAUNCH OF THE COMPANY’S NEW IMMERSIVE SHOWROOM IN DUBAI DESIGN DISTRICT. Pixel Artworks has appointed Alex Apthorpe as Managing Director for its Middle East headquarters, based in Dubai. Following the launch of the company’s office and state-of-the-art immersive showroom located in D3, Dubai’s Design District, Apthorpe will continue to expand the range of work across the region, with specific focus on Saudi Arabia and Qatar. He will oversee work for clients including Expo 2020. “Alex has an incredible wealth of experience and knowledge in the brand space in the Middle East, which will be instrumental to our continued growth,” said Pixel Artworks Founder and Managing Director, Tom Burch. “The Middle East is such an innovative

space for immersive technology right now – it’s the perfect time for Alex to join.” Apthorpe added: “Pixel Artworks are disruptors in their field, merging stellar creativity, insights and the latest cutting-edge technology. Brands are perpetually looking for unique ways to engage with their audiences, blurring the boundaries across immersive and digital, and Pixel Artworks achieves this perfectly. I have no doubt that as the world welcomes back in-person experiences, we will see some great opportunities for us to do our best work and grow the business across the Middle East.” Photo: Pixel Artworks

Pixel Artworks’ Alex Apthorpe.




HIPPOTIZER POWERS MOHAMED RAMADAN CONCERT OUTDOOR PERFORMANCE ON EGYPT’S NORTH COAST DRAWS A CROWD OF MORE THAN 85,000. Green Hippo’s Taiga and Karst+ were the media servers of choice for man-of-the-moment Egyptian artist Mohamed Ramadan, whose recent outdoor performance on Egypt’s North Coast saw 85,000 fans gather for what the singer described as “the largest audience attendance in 2021”. To entertain the masses, the region’s largest ever scaffolding stage was erected, measuring 45m wide and 20m high, for a concert that commanded serious attention to detail, with the visuals quite literally taking centre stage among 800 lighting fixtures, pyrotechnics and SFX. The structure was built by event rental partner Hi-Lights Group, which also supplied the 900 sq m of LED video wall that displayed bespoke graphics on an impressive 4K video display with a total of 230,400 pixels. Hi-Lights Group utilised two Hippotizer V4 Taiga and four Hippotizer V4 Karst+ media servers, with an output splitter. For accurate


programming and fast performance, the video team used Hippotizer’s version 4.5.5 software. “We had a great experience working with Green Hippo’s technologies on the production,” said Hi-Lights Group Technical and Operation Manager, Fathy Hussien Hedia. “We’ve been using their products for a long time and trust their abilities completely. Green Hippo products are versatile and easy to use, which encourages technicians to provide the best results possible.” He continued: “Green Hippo also creates with absolute safety in mind, which is very comforting during a live performance with a live audience.” The globally watched concert gave fans a synchronised show design with an abundance of choreographed dancers, physical props and futuristic visuals complementing the hit records. “Being part of a live concert means everything needs to be executed and synced perfectly, therefore we have to use tech that we

trust,” continued Hedia. “This made Green Hippo a great choice for the live environment. They have helped us to be part of another splendid performance in the region.” Elaborating on the pressure of live events and the difference tech support can make, Hedia commented on the manufacturer-vendor relationship found at Green Hippo: “We have a great understanding and respect for each other, which made everything run smoothly,” he commented. “Mohamed Ramadan’s concerts are legendary and, thanks to Green Hippo, our involvement turned out perfectly due to their user-friendly approach. “We wouldn’t have been able to reach the success we did without our team of great technicians, but a huge thank you to Green Hippo for being a supplier for Mohamed Ramadan.” Photos: Hi-Lights Group



VARI-LITE VLZ RANGE ILLUMINATES EGYPTIAN PHARAOHS PARADE HI-LIGHTS GROUP SPECIFIES VLZ RANGE OF LUMINAIRES TO HIGHLIGHT THE SPECTACLE. Vari-Lite’s VLZ range of luminaires were harnessed to light up Cairo’s Golden Parade, which showcased 22 ancient pharaohs as they were transported from the Egyptian Museum to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilizations. The event’s technical production team approached Hamed Arafa of rental house HiLights Group – a Vari-Lite and Strand distributor in Egypt – who proposed Vari-Lite VLZ PROFILE and VLZ WASH fixtures for the project. “Using Vari-Lite products for this culturally significant task was our only recommendation,” said Arafa. “For the huge productions that we helped to deliver, we knew that Vari-Lite produced the quality of light we wanted.” Hi-Lite’s team collaborated with Lighting Director, Maria Younan of Egypt-based Siraj Lighting to design and deliver the event. The team used the VLZ range to light the Hatshepsut Temple, The Sphinx and The Great Pyramids for the promo shots of the Golden Parade. At Tahrir Square and along the entire length of the procession, more VLZ PROFILE, VLZ WASH and VL10 luminaires were deployed. In the same square, Vari-Lite SL BAR 640, SL WASH 350 and SL PUNCHLITE 220 luminaires were used to light

the passage of the mummies. SL PUNCHLITE 220 luminaires were also used indoors for the elegant interior, lighting towering walls, prominent statues and the focal stage area. “What I find most impressive about Vari-Lite technology is its user-friendly design,” Arafa explained. “Our team is well-versed in operating

massive projects, but with the glorious quality of Vari-Lite, we know we can achieve optimum results every time. Each of the fixtures we chose enabled us to deliver beyond expectations.” Photos: Hi-Lights Group


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Sennheiser’s Ryan Burr and Iva Georgieva.

SENNHEISER SUPPORTS REGIONAL MUSIC SCENE THE PRO AUDIO MANUFACTURER HOLDS QUARTERLY LIVE WORKSHOPS, WELCOMES A NEW BRAND AMBASSADOR, AND PRODUCES A MUSIC VIDEO TO CELEBRATE THE UAE’S GOLDEN JUBILEE. Sennheiser is supporting the region’s music industry with a raft of initiatives, all contributing towards the common goal of achieving increased awareness in the live music and end-user fraternity while supporting the live performance scene in the region. The quarterly live workshop provides both aspiring and established artists the opportunity to explore and understand the technical aspects of live sound and how they can benefit from working with Sennheiser equipment and training. The first round took place on 21 September and the second on 24 November, with 11 local artists in each workshop, given the opportunity to learn about Sennheiser’s microphone and in-ear monitors for live performance, including the newly launched EW-D range. “It was great


to understand how the new wireless systems work and how we can use them on stage,” said guitarist and composer, Niki Mukhi [part of the team behind DXB4BEY, TPMEA #28]. Singer/saxophonist, Kerrie Stirling added: “I’ve always used other brands previously, but today we had the chance to try each different Sennheiser mic one after another and I can see the difference in quality and clarity. It’s definitely something that I will bear in mind when I make my next purchase for saxophone or vocals.” Another string to the Sennheiser bow when it comes to supporting the regional music industry is its Brand Ambassador campaign, which was launched on 17 October in collaboration with Khaleej Times. As part of the initiative, singers from all over the UAE were invited to submit their

entries for the chance to become a Sennheiser Brand Ambassador for a minimum of six months. “We had some fantastic submissions from a range of vocalists from all corners of the UAE among the 150 entries we received during this campaign,” highlighted Sennheiser Trade Marketing Manager, Shraddha Mukul. However, there could be only one winner, and after careful deliberation, the first prize was awarded to singer, Iva Georgieva. As well as being named Brand Ambassador, Georgieva also got the chance to star in a special music video, created by Sennheiser in collaboration with BarCoe Studio and Rhythm of Heart to celebrate the UAE’s 50th National Day. Photos: Sennheiser


EXPO 2020







Hosting more than 3,000 performances over six months, the events and entertainment spaces at Expo 2020 are built to withstand the kind of rigorous schedule that would put even the world’s busiest arenas to shame. As well as a state-of-the-art technical setup and support from some of the best suppliers in the business, the purpose-built spaces benefit from an expert in-house technical team, charged with providing outstanding facilities and support to enable world-class shows to take place at Expo 2020 day after day. Tareq Ghosheh, Chief Events and Entertainment Officer at Expo 2020, is the man charged with overseeing all these elements and more. Here, he shares some insights from his journey so far, talks about the inner workings of Expo’s events and entertainment offering and speculates on the legacy that Expo 2020 will leave for the UAE. What are the main events and entertainment areas on the Expo 2020 site? The main performance area is Al Wasl, which hosted the Opening Ceremony and will host the Closing Ceremony. It also hosts a daytime show called ‘music in the garden’, as well as nightly shows. We have the Jubilee Stage, which is a rock ’n’ roll, music festival-style stage, while the Dubai Millennium Amphitheatre (DMA) is more suited for theatre and dance. In addition to these, we have three smaller district stages, designed to accommodate smaller performances with fewer on-stage performers. We also have an enclosed hall in the exhibition centre, which is great for conferences. Further to that, most of the public areas across the site are spaces for roving and musical acts. How important was it to pick the best suppliers to help deliver the project? This is not a one-company kind of project. We worked incredibly hard to ensure that we brought on the right people for sound, lighting, projection, technical design, staging and so on. These suppliers are the very best in the world, who have helped us design the performance and entertainment areas in the best way possible. One thing that we’re very proud of – and we think this could be the first time it has ever happened to this extent – is that we have some of the best technical and production




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“We always learn from our mistakes and maintain the integrity of the delivery throughout. I think this is very visible in the product that we are delivering now on a day-to-day basis.” Tareq Ghosheh, Chief Events and Entertainment Officer, Expo 2020 Dubai

houses in the world working together all under one roof for a prolonged period during the planning, build and execution stages. How did you go from concept to creation? The concept started from Al Wasl – which was originally an urban garden – and grew from there across all the other venues. The model for Al Wasl was expanded across the site in April 2020, so all the hard work we did in those initial stages paid off when we started rolling it out. Of course, there have been ups and downs and plenty of challenges throughout the process, but we sit on the management of the dayto-day operations, and we guarantee that we always learn from our mistakes and maintain the integrity of the delivery throughout. I think this is very visible in the product that we are delivering now on a day-to-day basis.


What is your process when putting a project out to tender? We use something we call the 80/20 model. What this means is that whenever we float any RFP, we ensure that we own 20% of the process. The first 10% is the creative conceptualisation, the technical validation, the operational optimisation, and the financial management. We give this to the production company for them to come up with a creative treatment and operational execution plan. We work with them hand in hand until the last 10%, which includes the excellence in delivery – it’s at this point that we jump back into the driving seat to ensure that what they are delivering is in accordance with what we planned and what we agreed throughout the process. This is flipped completely when you look at it from a production and a technical point of view, where we own 80% and the supplier provides

20%. That guarantees a seamless delivery from a technical point of view, and as crews come in and out, the house team knows the landscape and the ins and outs of all the venues and the setup. How are the performance areas set up to host such a huge number of performances back-toback, with limited changeover times? When you are operating in a living ecosystem like we are here at Expo 2020, it’s vital to ensure that you can provide world-class entertainment on a continuous basis, with very little provision for rehearsals or changeovers. To achieve this, all our events and entertainment spaces are very different from what you would typically find on a regular house system. We looked at the components that we would need not only to increase efficiency and available performance time, but also to maintain


the integrity of the technical delivery and the ‘wow-factor’ of the productions. Most of the venues, starting from Al Wasl, require minimal to no overlay to run a worldclass event. We have a state-of-the-art technical system in place, supported by some of the world’s best companies including Agora and Neumann&Müller, among others. Then we have our in-house production team at Expo, which helps to keep together the three vital components – productions, show ops and technical – which will facilitate any creative execution in any of these fields. We will have more than 3,000 activations from international participants alone across our events spaces, which is a massive undertaking. So far, it’s working very well. What have been your biggest challenges so far? Every day is a challenge, but one thing that we are particularly pleased with is that we came into a space that was designed by architects rather than event management consultants, and we have been able to turn it into an event-friendly setup that is capable of hosting world-class events with minimal disruption to what was already in place. We created back of house and


logistics spaces that work for us and for the incoming acts, and we ensured that all event areas serve their intended purpose. What aspects of Expo 2020 Dubai are you the most satisfied with? The level of pride in the country because of the quality of the delivery is extremely promising across the board, from top to bottom. We hope that we maintain that level and continue to meet the expectations of the leadership, to continue promoting the same narrative that Dubai and the UAE embodies in everything it does. We always push the limits, and we never give up. What will the legacy of Expo 2020 Dubai be? The legacy is still in the making. Whatever was planned pre-COVID, needs to be altered post-COVID. However, we managed to put several landmarks on the map, which are now global landmarks that the world will look at and continue to be wowed by, day in, day out. I’m sure that the leadership has a plan for this to happen and for this incredible space to continue to be a part of the story of Dubai and another representation of how you can get extraordinary things done, even in extraordinary

situations like the COVID-19 pandemic. This has been a beautiful journey and I can’t wait to see where it takes us. Photos: Expo 2020 Dubai

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PRG POWERS UK PAVILION WITH CUSTOMISED LED TILES PRG TEAMS FROM BELGIUM, CHINA, THE UK AND THE UAE COME TOGETHER TO FULFIL A CHALLENGING BRIEF AT EXPO 2020 DUBAI. Created by world-renowned designer, Es Devlin, The UK Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai is one of the most recognisable among the 192 countries represented on site. A mesmerising coneshaped structure with a 25m-high LED circular façade made up of 2,000 customised LED tiles, the pavilion uses an advanced AI learning algorithm developed in collaboration with Google Arts & Culture, which allows visitors to add their word to a continuously changing ‘collective message from humanity to the universe’ displayed on the LED modules. PRG was appointed by Pico to deliver the engineering of the customised LED tiles through its PRG Projects team, which supported Devlin in her design process for the UK Pavilion, commissioned by the Department of International


Trade and project managed by Avantgarde. Both the indoor and outdoor tiles use SMD LEDs, with the outdoor tiles coloured to match the building finish and the indoor tiles made from flexible PCB to follow the curved shape of the cassettes. “We worked closely with our colleagues in Shenzhen to source the LED components and custom manufacturing,” PRG Projects General Manager, Frederic Opsomer told TPMEA. “Their presence in China was very helpful – especially when borders of the country were closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.” PRG UK then supported PRG Projects in specifying the media servers and worked with the creative team from Luke Halls Studio on several demos to test the software. The entire R&D process took around six months from prototypes

to the final product. Once the geometry of the building was decided, PRG Projects worked with its teams in Dubai, the UK and China to ensure the design and selection of LED was suitable for the conditions that are presented in UAE. “One of the main challenges was, of course, the conditions in Dubai,” said Opsomer. “We conducted several tests in climate chambers and mock-ups to ensure the products specified would perform across the duration of Expo 2020 Dubai.” When it came to the on-site delivery, PRG Dubai led the team as the local contractor and installation provider, with a team of eight specialist technicians overseen by a project manager installing the LED tiles as well as the customised immersive audio system, designed by Polyphonia, over a six-week period. PRG Dubai


Senior Technical Project Manager, Gavin Short explained: “The soundscape is fed through a series of small speakers concealed within the cone, providing an immersive sound experience for the guests. The system is played from Q-Lab and triggered by the video control servers.” Another challenge was the integration of the electronics into the limited space within the cone. “Our team worked with the design team and architects to ensure enough ventilation was factored in during the design and build,” Short said, praising the collaborative process. Opsomer added: “Being able to draw upon our

team’s knowledge, resource and delivery across the group during the pandemic highlighted our strength in delivery. Despite being unable to travel, our teams were able to work across borders and time zones to find the technical solutions that were required to fulfil the design process and delivery onsite.” Describing the project as “one of the most remarkable” he has ever been involved with, Opsomer concluded: “I have known Es for many years, and we have collaborated on several projects together. She is an amazing designer, and this project reinforces her already


stellar reputation. This breath-taking design of evermoving poetry, displayed digitally and integrated to illuminate the façade of the UK Pavilion, was a beautiful challenge for us at PRG, and we are very proud to collaborate with her on this journey of innovation.” Short concluded: “The UK Pavilion is an exceptional and unmissable part of the overall Expo experience, located in the Opportunity District and is clearly a space that will inspire visitors to the site.” Photos: Alin Constantin Photography





Genelec has joined forces with Business Finland to showcase its Smart IP networked loudspeaker technology at Finland’s Snow Cape Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai. A total of 84 Genelec 4430 Smart IP loudspeakers are incorporated into the pavilion, including a 10-channel immersive loudspeaker array that reproduces specially commissioned sound art by Finnish composer Emilia Takayama, entitled The Land of Snow. Seventy-four 4430 Smart IP loudspeakers have been installed in the pavilion’s exhibition area, configured as a custom immersive array,


while the other 10 4430s are handling The Land of Snow sound art content in ‘The Gorge’ area of the Expo 2020 Dubai building. The entire system is fed via Dante and powered using standard PoE+ network switches, and was designed by Genelec and commissioned by GSL Professional in Dubai, Genelec’s local distribution partner. The system installation and programming were handled by Audico Systems from Finland. Photos: Genelec




Two curved INFiLED DB3.4mm LED displays with a total size of 104 sq m have been installed at the Finland Pavilion at Expo 2020. JKMM Architects engaged DXB Live for the setup and integration of the system, and the two companies worked together to create a cuttingedge, seamless curved LED solution that fits to perfection the theme, technical specifications, and overall impressive design of the pavilion. “To achieve and ensure the requested seamless curve, our R&D team customised our standard DB cabinets to eight different curving angles including the hanging bars,” commented INFiLED Regional Sales Manager – Middle East,

Samer Otaibi. “Creative installations are in our DNA, and we are delighted to see the result and be part of this impressive project among others at Expo 2020.” According to Otaibi, one of the main challenges was that the screens had to be hung from hanging bars, which required a lightweight, robust, yet high-quality product. “DB series is easy to install, and features exclusive black LEDs offering vivid colours, high contrast and stunning image quality,” he added. “We’re very proud of this project, which will impress thousands of visitors.” Photo: INFiLED











With the aim of ‘connecting minds and creating the future through sustainability, mobility and opportunity’, the remit for Expo 2020 Dubai is both ambitious and far-reaching. As well as original and innovative pavilions offering immersive cultural experiences from each of the 192 participating nations, the Expo site is also flush with events and entertainment areas, showcasing everything from opera and theatre to national day celebrations, parades, and concerts from A-list stars. The main performance areas on the Expo site are Al Wasl Plaza, which hosted the Opening Ceremony; the Jubilee Stage, which is tailored towards music-based shows or festivals; and the Dubai Millennium Amphitheatre (DMA), which is geared towards theatre and dance performances. When it came to designing and building these areas, no time or expense was spared, with Expo 2020 Chief Events and Entertainment Officer, Tareq Ghosheh travelling all over the world in search of the perfect partners. One such partner was Wonder Works, led by Piers Shepperd, which was appointed as Technical Consultant for the events and entertainment areas. “Piers played an integral


role in the journey,” Ghosheh recalled. “He was the second person who I met when I started my journey on how to make this happen, and ever since, he has been an extremely insightful resource. He and his extended team have been an important part of our wider team.” Wonder Works’ initial role was in developing the technical design and co-ordinating the technical systems for Al Wasl. However, the remit expanded rapidly into developing concept designs for other stages and venues across the Expo site. These concept designs were then turned into detailed packages with scopes and specifications, which were used as the basis for many of the technical contracts. “We started working on Expo in early 2019, with [Production Manager] Rebekah Hanbury, one senior CAD designer and I supporting the EVE team in Dubai,” Shepperd revealed. “The scope kept increasing as the scale of the project became clear. Our ambition was to create fantastic entertainment across the site in multiple venues every day that Expo is open – that requires a huge amount of planning and design capacity. We rapidly increased the team and, for several months of 2020, we had all nine

of our employees and several freelancers working full-time on the project.” As the scope of the project increased, Wonder Works Co-Director, Jeremy Lloyd, became involved. “Jeremy tends to focus on technical coordination and design for music touring events – Ed Sheeran and Roger Waters, for example – but as the scope expanded to include the Jubilee Stage and Dubai Millennium Amphitheatre, as well as the three district stages, Jeremy took on the former whilst Ben O’Neill dealt with DEC Hall and the district stage design,” Shepperd stated. “I remained overall project lead and continued overseeing Al Wasl and DEC Hall with Rebekah. Jeremy and I are both used to running multiple projects in parallel, and we have a really talented and enthusiastic team with support from a small team of freelancers.” Shepperd’s team worked with EVE on the outline concepts for each stage. “Once these concepts were approved, we quickly moved into the detailed design and engineering, before creating the RFP packages for the various contractors,” he explained. This process involved a series of designs in 3D AutoCAD and Rhinoceros to present renders, 3D CAD drawings and


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composited photos. “Ben O’Neill did a 3D laser scan survey of each venue using our Trimble SX10, which allowed us to have great visibility and understanding of how each object would integrate within the site.” Led by Ghosheh, the senior EVE team comprised: Executive Creative Director, Amna Abulhoul; Production & Operations Vice President, Kylie Mcomish; Ceremonies and Programming Vice President, Kate Randall; and Technical Vice President, William Ainley. “Tareq has assembled an extremely strong and focused team,” Shepperd stated. “Although he sets very high standards, he acknowledges that creating world-class entertainment takes work and he is realistic in his expectations.” ‘THE FULL GAMUT OF SKILLS’ Delving into a few specific highlights, Shepperd recalled the challenges of working on the DMA and Jubilee stages. “Both of these stages allowed us to show the full gamut of skills that we have at Wonder Works,” he stated. The most prominent


scenic feature of the DMA is a large ghaf tree (the national tree of the UAE), which winds its way around the proscenium arch above the stage. “For the DMA, we worked closely with Amna to refine the concept and then commissioned renowned sculptor, Jacqueline Pyle to make a scale model of the ghaf tree. We then took a 3D scan of the tree model, scaled up to full size, and engineered the façade structure to support it.” On the ground, Rebekah Hanbury’s broad role covered everything from production management to creative lead on the stage delivery, supporting the Expo 2020 Creative team. Wonder Works Staging Manager, Nick Evans worked closely with EVE’s Gavin Taylor in liaising with and supporting the scenic and structure suppliers, namely VK Exhibitions Decor Industry (VK), who supplied the tree, as well as Al Laith, who supplied the stage and roof, to ensure that the design could be delivered to site on budget and on schedule. VK General Manager, Nilesh Kariyal looked back on what he described as an “intense”

process. “In the early stages, we had to convince the creative team that we would be able to produce something that looked realistic,” he commented. “We created the tree from fibreglass, and the final appearance and texture was exactly what the client was looking for.” Dubai-based VK was also engaged to supply scenic work for the other stages. “We worked very closely with Wonder Works and the creative team from Expo,” Kariyal revealed. “The Jubilee Stage was another great success. We managed to achieve a beautiful mother-of-pearl finish to the façade that at first didn’t seem possible.” In the end it was VK Managing Director, Radheshyam Jangid, who came up with the solution, which involved making a mould from CNC-cut plywood, then adding fibre coating, before applying the final finish. “It turned out very well, which is great, because the Jubilee is one of the most happening stages in Expo that everyone is talking about.” Wonder Works Production Manager, Rebekah Hanbury praised the VK team. “They have been impressive from the beginning,” she said. “Some


of the 3D machining work they took on was very complicated and they handled it excellently. It’s been an open collaboration and quite a journey, and we’ve been happy to support them.” With VK, as well as Al Laith and Unusual Rigging (which handled all the production rigging across the events and entertainment venues) all contributing major elements to the events and entertainment spaces, it’s clear that the onus has been on appointing suppliers that are either based in Dubai or at least have a UAE presence where possible. “It’s hugely beneficial for us to work with local suppliers because it means everything is much quicker, more cost effective and sustainable,” Hanbury reflected. Kariyal concluded: “Being a local contractor, it’s hugely satisfying to work on such a highprofile project. We’re glad that we were trusted, and we have not let the client down.” ‘FLEXIBILITY AND RESILIENCE’ Each of the events and entertainment spaces is equipped with a top-of-the-line technical

solution that, according to Expo 2020 Vice President Technical – Events and Entertainment, Bill Ainley, will more than meet the requirements of a large proportion of the incoming productions over the course of Expo’s running time. “The overarching ethos of our approach to delivering a technical solution in all of these spaces was to work with technical consultants from around the world to help us to come up with a hybrid house system to support at least 90% of incoming productions,” he told TPMEA. “We knew that this would be over-specified for most of the programming, but it means that there will be some flexibility and resilience in the spaces.” The main idea throughout the specification process, Ainley explained, was that incoming productions and agencies would be able to come into each space and everything would be up and running, ready to use. “There’s very little in the way of transition time, resets and strikes required because we need to maximise not only the event time in the spaces but also the rehearsals as much as


possible,” he said. “We’ve got a vast scope of programming across the six months, so it’s really just making sure that people can come in and they’re going to have near enough everything that they need already there for them so they can concentrate on delivering their event. “The way that the delivery is structured across each of our stages and spaces is that a delivery agency sits above the technical suppliers,” Ainley continued, describing the operational structure. “We’ve engaged with international and local production houses and promoters to take on the turnkey responsibilities for delivering each of these stages and spaces. “They also take on the responsibility for the planning of all of the events that are coming through those spaces, including the validation of technical riders, making sure that they align with the house system and if they don’t, then they allocate, and traffic manage the uplift planning to ensure that these productions are coming through fully supported.” With such a packed schedule, overnight transitions are vital. “That’s

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the best way to maximise the potential of our daily programming,” Ainley described. “Most of the systems are already here in house and readily available, so we can make sure that all our overnight transitions are about the incoming productions getting the opportunity to assimilate themselves into the space, do their final stages of programming and rehearsal.” This is all backed up by a set of WYSIWYG suites for each of the primary stages and spaces. “We also have a couple of audio suites in Al Wasl, which allow us to do the pre-programming before anyone arrives on stage,” he added. “It’s a standard operating system but on a larger scale.” So far, the intention that 90% of incoming productions would be able to fit within the house systems has been achieved. “We have had around only 5% to 7% of productions that have required an uplift in some way, shape or form,” Ainley reported, adding that in most cases, the additions have been for elements like an orchestra, requiring more backline. “It’s also about trying to find efficiencies in transitions and additions on an act-by-act level, which then makes it a lot easier to manage the programming throughout the day.” AL WASL PLAZA The beating heart of the Expo site is Al Wasl Plaza – a huge domed trellis structure measuring 130m in diameter and 67.5m in height, equipped


with a fully integrated 360° immersive projection surface, as well as an extensive lighting rig and booming audio system. The projection system features 252 Christie D4K40 RGB laser DCI projectors, which are housed within 42 projection pods. Inside each pod, six projectors are split into two discrete video channels, with the three projectors for each channel converging for increased brightness and redundancy. As well as the projectors, each pod contains a Thinklogical Dual Channel Fibre RX, two DVI distribution amps and a Ubiquiti EdgeSwitch 16. In addition to that, some of the pods contain Panasonic AW-UE150K PTZ, BirdDog 4K HDMI and disguise OmniCal cameras, as well as Ubiquiti UWB-XG Wi-Fi BaseStations and Riedel Bolero antennas. The immersive experience is further enhanced by 27 audio arrays, each comprising 16 L-Acoustics KIVA II, as well as six subwoofer arrays of four KS28s, housed in bespoke speaker pods. L-ISA takes care of the signal processing and placing or tracking of the audio ‘image’ within the space. The specialist workflow necessitates the provision of two scaled-down versions of the 27.1 channel system to provide pre-production and content validation facilities in-house, on site. Content is controlled from the basement level, with a packed equipment room featuring an arsenal of 16 disguise gx 2 media servers, as well as the Thinklogical video matrix, CMS, centralised

network, and other back-end equipment required for the system to operate. The gx 2s are split into three categories to ensure highavailability video playback. Two are ‘directors’, 11 are ‘actors’, and three are ‘understudies’. The directors are used to control the actors and create new shows, while the actors are used for media playback and connected to the 84 projector outputs, leaving one channel dedicated to the trellis LEDs. The understudies, as the name suggests, are on standby to be promoted into the place of the actors in case of any issues. A NewTek IO system allows physical inputs to be patched into the disguise system, routed via NDI, for subsequent picture-in-picture display on the projection. There are Barco ImagePro 4Ks in this loop to allow for signal conversion or scaling of the content prior to it reaching the NDI stream. Creative Technology Middle East (CTME) was awarded the AV integrator contract to provide the installation of both projection and audio. There are 2,685 LED SACO V-PIX 8s embedded into the trellis structure itself to further enhance the immersive effect. The venue contains similarly impressive lighting and audio overlay systems, designed by Woodroffe Bassett Design’s Adam Bassett and Auditoria’s Scott Willsallen, respectively. With Al Wasl Plaza featuring numerous performance areas, the lighting setup is a world away from the standard rock ’n’ roll-style rig.


11TH MAY 2022

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A total of 28 Robe MegaPointe and 73 GLP impression X4 Bar 10s surround the main stage, with a further 24 MegaPointes and 24 GLP impression X4s available as deployable floor equipment, and 24 Vari-Lite VL10 BeamWash fixtures on rolling carts to be used as required. Ayrton fixtures are a feature of the setup, with a main truss of 14 Perseos equipped with Follow-Me performer tracking, combined with lighting towers of 32 Domino and 16 Shamal fixtures (also with Follow-Me). The upper section of the trellis is adorned with 106 Elation Professional Proteus Maximus profile fixtures, with 53 of the same fixtures covering the bottom. The projection pods meanwhile utilise 82 more Proteus Maximus, as well as 84 SGM P-5 TWs, 168 Ayrton Pereos and 84 Dominos. The B stage, dubbed ‘Stage of Nations’, is designed to host the National Day ceremonies and cultural performances for each of the participant countries. This features its own inbuilt lighting, with four Studio Due Par LED 300 Pro RDMs, 12 Terra Plus M RDMs and 33m of LED Flex Duro Flex RGBW60 built into the stage. The performance areas are surrounded by gardens, which are lit by over 30,000 bespoke LED and strobe fixtures. Atmospheric effects are provided by eight MDG ATMe haze generators, eight theFANs, and four theONE stadium hazers, while the whole


system is controlled by an MA Lighting grandMA3 full size console, with a grandMA3 light console on hand as backup. The main stage L-Acoustics stereo audio system comprises six flown arrays of four A15 loudspeakers and four KS21 subwoofers; plus two flown arrays of three A10 loudspeakers, all hanging from a circular overhead truss; 24 SYVA loudspeakers, mounted on custom poles around the perimeter serving as delays to the central PA; two further SYVAs mounted on custom poles serving as a portable audio system as required; and 36 X4i loudspeakers built into the central Al Wasl stage as front fill. Two DiGiCo SD7 Quantum consoles equipped with Waves SoundGrid Extreme Server C DSP units and running a Rational Acoustics Smaart v8 Acoustic Management System control the mix from FOH. The monitors system comprises two L-Acoustics 108P and two Neumann KH 120 loudspeakers, with two Merging Technologies Ovation playback systems, complete with Ovation Mass-core 128 Platinum licences. A huge selection of microphones is on offer, including: Neumann KMS104, KMS105 and KM184; Shure SM57 and BETA 58A; Sennheiser E901, E902, E904 and MK4; and AKG C414. A Shure wireless microphone and in-ear monitoring systems are also in operation, with eight channels of Axient Digital, plus eight channels of PSM 1000 IEMs. “The technical overlay has been really well

considered,” said Shepperd, reflecting on the collaborative process. “You don’t see messy cables or miles of truss everywhere. You walk into Al Wasl and you’re not aware of one of the world’s largest audio systems hanging right above your head. It looks effortless, yet it’s taken a lot of effort to get it looking that way – it’s a credit to everyone involved in the project.” ‘BUILDING SUSTAINABLY’ Stage One was responsible for manufacturing and installing a series of stage builds, including the central stage, incorporating a doughnut revolve and automated scenic traps, integrating with the house stage lift, a carefully considered overlay hoist system fully respecting the architecture of the trellis, plus numerous broadcast camera towers distributed within Al Wasl Plaza gardens. Having worked on many large-scale shows over the years – including the UK’s awardwinning pavilion at Milan Expo in 2015 – it was a task that was well within the capabilities of the UK-based company. However, the real challenge, according to Stage One Managing Director, Tim Leigh, was designing a stage that would work not just for the Opening Ceremony, but for the six months of Expo and beyond. “The main consideration from a stage engineering point of view was that we were





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designing something that is built to last, but we had to configure it to deliver against the creative intent of the Opening Ceremony, which hadn’t yet been finalised,” Leigh explained. “We also had to keep in mind that the daily shows would require something different, which hadn’t yet been determined either.” After being provided detailed concept drawings by Wonder Works, Stage One worked closely with the technical consultants and Expo’s in-house Staging team, led by Miguel Negrete, to find the best solution possible to satisfy both the technical and creative aspects of the scheme. “As people who serve the creative industry, we absolutely hate putting any constraints on a design,” Leigh noted. “We want our friends on the creative side to be free to be as imaginative as they wish.” To achieve a durable build, Stage One experimented with a range of stage surface materials. The project required a material that would deal with extreme heat and humidity, could be painted with an intricate design, and that would withstand months of rehearsal then live performance traffic. Eventually, a rubberised compound that is traditionally used in sports halls was chosen. The compound was mixed and floated in layers to give an even finish. Another challenge of the project lay in its location, under the world’s largest immersive projection dome. “We had to be particularly

mindful when connecting our rigging to not interfere with or impact on the projection paths,” Leigh stated. “We made ongoing adjustments to our build to accommodate changes and tweaked cues and automation motion paths as things progressed in order to meet the show’s developing requirements.” One scenic element Stage One needed to account for was a giant LED planet, which featured in the Opening Ceremony. Created by UK-based show design studio, NEWSUBSTANCE, the planet was hoisted into position by nine winches and revealed by 28 automated hinged traps in the stage. “We know that the creative journey is always an evolution of sorts, and while there are always technical challenges associated with integrating new creative elements into an existing scheme, we’re well experienced at finding solutions,” Leigh commented. Like most of the stages and platforms that Stage One builds, the 23m circular central stage was designed and manufactured in pieces so it could be assembled quickly once on site. The addition of curved ramps either side allow for performer access, and the doughnut revolve on the outer edge enables cast to be transported around the perimeter of the performance area. With safety always a priority, a handrail was included, which rises automatically to protect performers from the deep central void. There’s





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also a touch of glamour, with the surface of the stage incorporating 2,400 individual 3mm RGB LEDs to create a starfield effect. As well as the main central stage that now sits inside Al Wasl Plasa, Stage One created not one but two exact replicas, which enables rehearsals to take place in separate venues, leaving the main stage free to operate a full schedule of programming throughout Expo. Commenting on the Expo site in general, Leigh praised the “high quality of execution” throughout. “It was fantastic to have a look around Expo and see what has been created,” he commented. “The Middle East is a very important market to us. The UAE especially is an extremely creatively driven nation that loves the spectacular. We’re proud to be invited back into the region once again and we are keen to continue working and building sustainably in the country in the future.” ‘THE DIVERSITY OF OUR PLANET’ With the stage set and the myriad systems set to go, the much-anticipated Expo 2020 Opening Ceremony took place on 30 September. Aside from the 3,000-strong audience inside Al Wasl


Plaza, millions across the globe tuned in to view the eagerly awaited event. Music from the likes of Andrea Bocelli, Ellie Goulding, Chinese pianist, Lang Lang and Saudi singer, Mohammed Abdu, backed by a beautiful live orchestra, combined with a cast of more than 1,000 performers and volunteers, and a sensory overload of powerful visuals beamed across Al Wasl Plaza’s dome, contributing to a spectacle of masterful artistic collaboration. Scott Givens, Executive Producer, Expo 2020 Opening Ceremony and President of Five Currents, who co-curated and co-produced the show with Artistic Director, Franco Dragone said: “We picked artists that had songs that belonged in the ceremony and that tied in with Expo’s themes. We wanted to represent the world; to be plural, and to reflect the diversity of our planet. I’m proud of the combination of talent that we’ve brought together to do this and the way they’ve executed the story.” After the spectacular, TPMEA caught up with Technical Director, Nick Eltis, who was brought into the project by Five Currents in April 2021. “My first task was to wrap my head around the creative and get a handle on what had

been agreed in regard to the physical build of staging and scenic,” he recalled, speaking from quarantine in his Sydney hotel room, having recently returned from Dubai to his native Australia. “The elements with a long lead time are critical and always the first things that need to be in place. Then all the other technology areas follow on from there.” Having been involved with some of the world’s largest productions over the years, Eltis – who has worked with Five Currents for more than a decade – is well-versed in juggling the creative and practical sides of a project. “In parallel with the practicalities, it was also important to take stock of the creative at an early stage, assess what I think is achievable and tally that against what had already been agreed,” he said, noting the fact that he had worked with many of the team involved in the Expo project many times before helped speed the process along. “Those long-term relationships help with the shorthand of getting things done quickly.” According to Eltis, the experience of working with the in-house Expo team was open and collaborative. “They had a large influence over the creative. After all, it is their show, and we are


working to deliver what they want to show the world. It was important that they maintained that level of creative control. We ensured that they were engaged at all stages throughout the process, signing off on designs, samples, prototypes and then the final build.” When it came to appointing suppliers, Five Currents has a stringent tender process. “We tender everything as part of our commercial due diligence,” Eltis revealed, explaining how the specialist knowledge of each individual supplier is crucial to the overall success of the project. “We come up with requirements, but we don’t necessarily dictate the specific construction methods, or provide a fully technically realised design package, because we would be missing out on the specialist knowledge of the people who build these things for a living every day. They may come up with better ways of doing it that we may not have thought of.” The fact that the Opening Ceremony was

the first event inside Al Wasl Dome and would be followed by six months of continuous events provided an extra challenge for the team. “We were the first of 183 days of shows, so we were testing the procedures and systems that were put in place for the long haul. Working in a venue that is designed to facilitate six months of daily consecutive performances rather than just one opening ceremony meant that we pushed the space and facilities to their maximum potential.” Recalling some of his favourite moments from the show, he referenced the large LED planet. “That was particularly challenging because of the small area inside the stage that it had to emerge from and be packed back into. The guys at NEWSUBSTANCE did a great job at squeezing every millimetre out of it,” he said, adding that the team was able to make the planet look even more effective by figuring out a way to power it and trigger the content playback onboard. “It was originally supposed to have an


‘umbilical cord’, but I thought that it would look much better without. We got there in the end.” Another notable scenic element was an 8m-tall tree which, again, had to pack into an understage storage area of less than 3m. Augmented reality was a feature of the broadcast, with UK-based Bild Studios collaborating on the project. Various elements such as waterfalls and butterflies were incorporated into the show design for the athome audience as well as VIPs in attendance viewing through local screens. “The technology for the AR had to be overlayed and integrated with the existing broadcast systems, with wireless tracking added to cameras and disguise servers handling the tracking and real-time rendering. The AR had to work in with the projection where we utilised the full resolution of 27K for the dome,” he explained. According to Eltis, there was a conscious effort to broadcast the AR in 4K rather than HD.




“Technical Manager, Greg Kershaw and I drove that,” he recalled. “Rendering the content at 4K at 50 frames per second in real time – particularly with the vines and waterfall effects – pushed the technology to its limit. It was monitored throughout the creation process and ensured that it never dropped below 50 frames.” With the AR elements only visible to some members of the audience and the viewers at home, the creative team had to tread a fine line between utilising the technology to its full potential and not leaning on it too heavily for the narrative of the show. “It’s a change in mindset because you don’t want to overuse the technology,” Eltis said. “The team needed to understand both the capabilities and limitations of the technology and be conscious of the fact that the content that was visible in the room needed to be engaging enough that it could stand up on its own without the AR elements.” Overall, Eltis was pleased with the achievement. “The show was well received, and we were able to deliver a significant global event during what was an extremely challenging period for the whole world. It was hard work, but


it was exciting, interesting and a great pleasure to be able to help the people of Dubai start their journey during the six months of Expo.” And while Eltis had only just got back to Sydney, he was already looking forward to returning to Dubai. “We’ve already started work on the Closing Ceremony and I’ll be back in Dubai to work on that in the New Year,” he concluded. ‘WHAT A GREAT BUNCH OF PEOPLE’ As well as the impressive show inside Al Wasl Dome, Five Currents contracted renowned fireworks choreographer, Eric Tucker to design a sitewide fireworks show, which was realised by Dubai-based FLASH ART. “Our scope on this project was purely technical,” began FLASH ART Senior Project Manager, Piotr Szablowski. “We contributed ideas of how to put Eric Tucker’s design into practice.” The design saw five aerial shows with positions spread venue-wide, from the extreme left to the extreme right of the Expo site. “There were two clusters of positions on Ghaf Avenue, which runs through the middle of Expo, as well as three rooftop positions around Al Wasl Plaza,”

he described. While the setup and orientation of the fireworks was “quite simple”, according to Szablowski, the most challenging aspects of the project were “procedural”. He explained: “There were a lot of stakeholders, so accommodating all the various procedural requirements was a challenge. The creative concept had to keep evolving – as did our approach – practically until the day of the show.” However, working with the Five Currents team was “an absolute breeze”. He added: “This was far from their first rodeo, and they accommodated all our requirements even better than we could have imagined or asked for. My lasting memory of the project is what a great bunch of people they are. They had a huge task with the Opening Ceremony, and they pulled it off in style.” Photos: Expo 2020 Dubai

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Riyadh Season kicked off in style with a grand Opening Ceremony featuring an eclectic lineup including Cuban-American rapper, Pitbull and WWE star, The Undertaker, as well as an extravagant opening parade – complete with a display of more than 2,760 drones – witnessed by a bumper in-person audience. MediaPro International was appointed by SELA to deliver a full turnkey production for the main stage, as well as the overall technical AV production elements of the parade route. The first task of the delivery revolved around the main stage, which will be active for the duration of Riyadh Season, hosting multiple international performances and remaining in situ until February 2022. Led by Harold Fernandes, MediaPro’s Concept and Design team worked with SELA to fine-tune the stage design, keeping it as close as possible to SELA’s original concept while ensuring it could accommodate the various purposes that would be required of it. “This process had our various departments – from audio, lighting and video, to rigging and trussing – working closely with our senior show


designer,” said MediaPro COO, Shaam Pudaruth. The mammoth construction featured large LED screens, hundreds of lighting fixtures, and multiple scenic elements, while the riggingorientated design saw the stage cantilevered from a massive 100m scaffolding structure. “Safety, as always, was the top priority,” he added. “We had to keep in mind that this rig needs to remain in place until February 2022 and ensure it is supported accordingly to withstand the weather conditions over its longterm use. Once we had planned the rigging and finalised the connection between the stage and scaffolding, the rest was straightforward.” The MediaPro team started groundwork in the first week of October, with a handover due by 20 October. “The pre-planning had started weeks before that,” Pudaruth noted. Video elements dominated the main stage design, with 1,567 panels of Absen PL 4.8W Lite and XL Lite deployed. A total of 563 panels of PL 4.8W XL Lite were used to create seven LED ‘fingers’ either side of the stage; the central screen was made up of 368 panels of PL 4.8W Lite; while the design also featured circular

screens outside the LED ‘fingers’ comprising 636 panels of PL 4.8W Lite. Content was run through 10 NovaStar MCTRL4K video processors and managed by a Barco EC-210 large event controller. The setup boasted an equally imposing lighting rig, with 44 Martin by Harman MAC Viper Profiles lining the top and bottom of the stage to create striking ‘big beam’ looks, as well as a multitude of Robe fixtures, including 172 MegaPointes and 23 Spiiders. A further 80 EK Lighting R3 LEDs and 22 Martin by Harman Atomic 3000 LED-based strobes rounded off the rig, which was controlled via an MA Lighting grandMA2 full size console, with a back-up on standby for show day. Atmospherics were handled by four Reel EFX DF-50 Diffusion Hazers, four DF-500 Digi Fans, and four Smoke Factory Fan Foggers. L-Acoustics K Series was the PA system of choice, with 48 K1s, 16K2s, 24 KARAs and 40KS28s covering the main stage outer and front fills as well as 12 KARAs and eight SB18s used as side fill. A further 40 V-DOSC loudspeakers were deployed for the delay PA. Control came from a Yamaha CL5 mixing console. MediaPro also

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provided a Shure PSM 1000 IEM eight-in-one kit, as well as a range of Shure microphones including 52A, SM57, Beta 57A, SM58, Beta 58A, 91A and Beta 98S. The MediaPro Main Stage team included: Tim Dunn and Yogesh Malhotra, Production; Harold Fernandes, Concept and Design; Vishal Kannan, Video; Tejay Yeo, Lighting; Sudhakar Madulla and Nithin Simone, Audio; and John Ellers and Lee Irving, Rigging and Trussing. ‘INCREDIBLE SPECTACLE ’ MediaPro was appointed by BWS-KSA to fulfil the technical requirements of the opening parade, which took place over a 530m route leading towards the stage. “We treated the delivery of the main stage and parade as two separate productions, even though both were part of the Riyadh Season Opening Ceremony,” Pudaruth revealed. “Deployment was done in a staggered manner, with multiple project managers handling both clients and ensuring that the different schedules with regards to load-in and rehearsals were adhered to, and expectations were met.” According to the COO, one of the main considerations for the parade delivery was the spread-out nature of both the parade route and the audience seating area. “We provided adequate lighting to highlight the key elements of the show along the entire route from the grandstands, which were


positioned more than 50m away,” Pudaruth described. “The audience were seated on eight bleacher-style seating areas spread left and right across the route.” Each of the eight bleacher seating areas benefitted from 14 L-Acoustics K2 loudspeakers, six KS28 subwoofers and two X15 stage monitors, ensuring full audio coverage. Two DiGiCo SD7 Quantums were deployed for FOH and monitor mixes. “We also catered for IEM and radio mic coverage solutions for the complete route,” Pudaruth added, indicating the use of Shure PSM 1000 and Axient Digital systems. “This was easily achieved using our range of RF venue long-range transmitters.” A huge lighting rig was provided to highlight the entire length of the parade, including 60 Robe BMFL Blades, 100 MegaPointes and 100 Spiiders. A further 40 Claypaky Scenius Profiles, 100 SGM Lighting P5s, 60 GLP impression X4 Bars and 100 Color Imagination LED Blinder 4100CW fixtures, as well as two Robe Robin BMFL FollowSpots and two Lycian Super Arc follow spots completed the rig. A total of 20 Le Maitre MVS Haze machines, 10 ANTARI Smoke machines and 10 DF-500 Digi Fans provided atmospherics, while the system was controlled by two MA Lighting grandMA2 consoles, with an extra grandMA2 and WYSIWYG workstation situated in the previsualisation suite. Six 6m by 4m LED screens were spread along the parade route, made up of 288 panels of

Gloshine LS 8.33 outdoors LED tiles. Reflecting on the delivery, Pudaruth struggled to hold back his excitement. “Thinking back to the pre-planning stages, it was amazing to see the concept played out live with international A-class performers and the incredible spectacle put together by BWSKSA with a massive live audience,” he beamed. “Since COVID-19 hit the Middle East and the world, the GCC has not seen anything quite on this scale. The opening of Riyadh Season signals the start of large-scale events in the region, and we are proud to have been a key player from a live technical production perspective.” The MediaPro Parade team included: Darell Adams and Nikhil Kotian, Production; Richard Hopper and Diljith Divakaran, Video; Seminov D’Souza and John Pathrose, Lighting; Nitin Kurup, Audio; Johan Ellers, Rigging and Trussing; and Jose Fali, Account Head. BWS-KSA engaged Creative Technology (CT) to deliver a complex solution of LED wrapped around three of the parade’s floats, as well as a multi-display control system. The setup comprised more than 250 sq m of LED across all three floats in various bespoke configurations. All three floats had custom-made cubes adorned in LED, which were used as stage platforms for parkour stunts. Each float had its own system control along with multiple cameras allowing the floats to navigate through the parade, creating a fully wireless integrated system. CT provided a fully



redundant system for all three floats consisting of 4K NovaStar processing and Dataton WATCHOUT servers to manage the display systems to create a seamless canvas displaying lifelike imagery. The video system was triggered via lighting control systems through TelNet. According to Lead Video Engineer, Krystian Piotrowski, the biggest challenge was the “complexity” of the structures, which were built on the flatbed trucks. “Riyadh Boulevard float was challenging to construct as the centre tower screens had to be pre-built, placed in carefully via a crane, and then mounted into position. Due to its complex design, it required careful management from start to finish to ensure all the LED panels were aligned.” Chad Smith, Project Manager for CT Middle East, was pleased with the delivery. “I had six dedicated server operators and LED engineers working on this project for over two weeks and I could not have asked for a better team,” he said, reflecting on his experience on the project. “We overcame all anticipated challenges and delivered beyond our client’s expectations. I would like to thank Balich Worldwide for trusting CT to be part of this historic moment in Saudi Arabia.” Photos: MediaPro International











Dubai has a new landmark and, in typical UAE fashion, it’s another record-breaker. Standing at a staggering 250m tall, Ain Dubai is the world’s largest and tallest observation wheel. Located on Bluewaters Island – a feat of engineering in its own right, having been built from reclaimed land off the coast of JBR – Ain Dubai opened its doors to the public to much fanfare on 21 October. Y Solutions – the event management team behind Yas Marina Circuit – was entrusted with the delivery of the opening weekend, which included a dazzling light and fireworks show, as well as a stacked roster of regional stars featuring on the RAS Sessions, organised by Flash Entertainment. “It was a proud moment for us to host such a celebration to officially welcome the world, allowing so many visitors the chance to experience what Ain Dubai has to offer,” said Ain Dubai General Manager, Ronald Drake. “We were thrilled by the response from our guests, who loved the unrivalled and unforgettable social and celebratory experiences as well as the range of


entertainment, all set against the stunning view of Dubai’s dazzling skyline.” The origins of the project date back to long before the wheel had been completed. “I was appointed in June 2013 as lighting designer for the LED effects lighting on what was then known as the Dubai Wheel, under contract to the wheel manufacturing contractors, Hyundai Contracting and Starneth Engineering,” said Lumitect’s Durham Marenghi, talking to TPMEA as the dust settled on the opening weekend. According to Marenghi, the concept of the schematic lighting design was to “enhance the architectural and engineering form of the wheel by delineating the structure by light radiance”. As the structure is quite skeletal, Marenghi pointed out: “There is no truss to light as there is on the London Eye or the High Roller in Las Vegas. We made the physical shape seen during the day visible in light by night.” In the first instance, Lumitect contacted Australia-based specialist LED lighting designer and manufacturer, Illumination Physics to design

a series of fixtures that could stand up to the brutal conditions that they would be subjected to on the exterior of the wheel. “We asked for a ‘Gulf spec’ series of fixtures, as the exterior temperature on the wheel surface can reach up to 77°C,” the LD revealed. “As most electronics start to fail over 50°C, we came up with a system whereby all the electronics were in cooled boxes on the wheel, with no onboard electronic components in the fixtures themselves. Philips presented a system with a thermal protection approach similar to that used in their street lighting whereby the LEDs come on at a lower level then brighten as dusk gives way to night and the site cools,” he added. “In the end, the client favoured that approach.” Signify specified its Color Kinetics ColorGraze MX4 for the wheel’s rim lighting, as well as its iColor Flex LMX for the capsule and spoke lighting. “The control system came from Pharos, as we had originally specified,” added Marenghi. Having worked on more than his fair share of large landmarks over the years, Marenghi



“When you talk about fireworks, you must remember that it’s about as abstract as it gets. We can throw stains of colour or light in support of the architecture, music and lights, but they will always dictate the flow.” Piotr Szablowski, FLASH ART.

recalled how Ain Dubai brought a unique set of challenges. “The biggest challenge compared to other big wheels was the physical scale; at a quarter of a kilometre in diameter, physical access, weight tolerance and the flexing and stretching that the wheel undergoes as it turns, provided a major challenge,” Marenghi said. After three years of work, the schematic design was finally complete by 2016. All that was left for Marenghi and the Lumitect team to do was watch and wait patiently to see the fruit of their labours in action on opening weekend. ‘THERE’S NOTHING LOUDER OR BRIGHTER’ Ain Dubai’s long-awaited opening weekend came on 21-22 October, with Y Solutions and Ain Dubai’s in-house production team presiding


over an audio-visual spectacular in celebration of Dubai’s newest landmark. Dubai-based Snap Productions was appointed as the technical services provider for the event, lending its expertise – along with some additional equipment to augment Ain Dubai’s house setup – to ensure the smooth running of the project. Snap Productions’ Project Manager, Aaron Merchant, picked up the story. “This was a slightly unusual project for us in that most of the equipment used for the event was owned by Ain Dubai,” he explained. “We provided the technicians for the load-in, show weekend, and dismantle, as well as some limited accessories to complement the rig.” The project was split into two main parts: A lighting and fireworks show on 21 October,

followed by an evening of live music on 22 October. For the lighting and firework show, the wheel’s architectural lighting system was utilised to play various messages and patterns on the spokes of the wheel, with fireworks from FLASH ART complementing the display. “While the light and fireworks were timecoded, we executed the audio playback manually from the side of the stage during the show,” Merchant revealed. “We managed to execute it with just 250 milliseconds of delay – on a manually executed show, I can live with that.” Load-in for the show started a day later than originally planned due to a VIP visit prior to show day, however, according to Merchant, the team was able to pull the time back thanks to the positivity and collaboration of all involved.


“It was hard graft leading up to that moment [the light and firework show], but we found an extra gear, pushed hard and it all came together,” he reflected, fondly. “The show was executed flawlessly, and the result speaks for itself; the audience was thrilled by the whole thing and there were smiles all around.” Y Solutions engaged FLASH ART to deliver the firework display. “The brief was open-ended,” began FLASH ART Senior Project Manager, Piotr Szablowski. “We have known the Y Solutions team for a while, and we have a good understanding. They were happy for us to propose a display that offered the best photo opportunity and value for money in the timeframe.” When asked about his favourite moments of the show, Szablowski was quick to point out the abstract nature of the medium. “When you talk about fireworks, you must remember that it’s about as abstract as it gets,” he proffered. “We can throw stains of colour or light in support of the architecture, music and lights, but they will always dictate the flow.” He also stressed the importance of restraint. “When we want to ‘stomp our feet’, so to speak, it’s hard for anything

to shout over us – there’s nothing louder or brighter than some of our effects, so we must be mindful of that and mind our surroundings.” ‘ABUNDANCE OF TALENT’ The second day of opening weekend saw Flash Entertainment take over the stage, hosting a series of stars from the region in a platform it called RAS Sessions. “Regional Artist Spotlight (RAS) is a platform developed by Flash Entertainment to support the regional music scene by providing artists the level of promotional opportunities you would usually associate with international artists,” began Flash Entertainment Vice President of Marketing & Communications, Helen Mellor-Mitchell, explaining the concept. “We feature one artist per month and work with our partners, Virgin Radio Dubai, What’s On and Anghami, to provide them with radio interviews, music airtime, magazine features, playlist features, and much more, to grow their audience.” After featuring eight artists, Flash Entertainment was ready to bring the platform to life and conceptualised RAS Sessions as a live performance arm to the initiative. “Virgin Radio


Dubai were heavily involved in the opening of Ain Dubai, and we worked with them on an event concept featuring RAS Sessions as a headline content element,” Mellor-Mitchell added. The RAS Sessions stage’s lighting setup comprised 33 CHAUVET Professional COLORado 1-Tri Tour LED PARs, eight Martin by Harman MAC Quantums, as well as a range of Claypaky fixtures, namely eight Axcor Wash 300s and 12 Axcor Beam 300s, controlled by an MA Lighting grandMA3 light console. “The COLORado 1-Tri Tour has been a workhorse as an LED par can since the COLORado series was launched in the early 2000s,” noted Chauvet’s International Sales Director, Stéphane Gressier. “Our COLORado products continue to be an industry standard for events and rental companies, as well as installations.” The audio system of choice came from d&b audiotechnik, with 18 T10 loudspeakers, four J-SUBs, six D80 amplifiers and four M4 stage monitors, controlled by a Midas M32 console with DL32 stage boxes. “Ain Dubai’s equipment was all top-level stuff, which made it easy when it came to the



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“The Emerging Talent Competition and RAS Sessions share the ambition of supporting the development of the regional music scene. Not only do we see this is our corporate responsibility, but with more focus on the region’s talent, there will be increased appetite for events with regional artists, which can only be a good thing.” Helen Mellor-Mitchell, Flash Entertainment.

programming and running the show,” Merchant confirmed, noting that Snap provided two additional Absen P3 LED screens, with content running through Resolume, as well as some Shure ULX series wireless microphones, which the performers and MC used. While Flash has been working on the RAS Sessions concept since the platform launched in March, with the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, the possibility of showcasing the concept to the public quickly became a realistic one. “Working with Virgin Radio Dubai and Ain Dubai, we were able to bring the concept to life relatively quickly and everyone involved with the event – from stakeholders to artists – were delighted with the outcome,” Mellor-Mitchell commented. Flash Entertainment has been supporting regional talent since the inception of the Emerging


Talent Competition as part of the Yasalam AfterRace Concerts in 2015. “While the Emerging Talent Competition supports up-and-coming talent, RAS serves as an ongoing platform to help alreadyestablished artists take their careers to the next level,” Mellor-Mitchell explained. “Both initiatives share the ambition of supporting the development of the regional music scene. Not only do we see this is our corporate responsibility, but with more focus on the region’s talent, there will be an increased appetite for events with regional artists, which can only be a good thing.” This event was the first of many RAS Sessions that Flash Entertainment hopes to produce. “We are working closely with our featured artists to explore more opportunities with them, under the Flash Entertainment umbrella of events, as we make good on our word to nurture and support

the abundance of talent this region has to offer and really put them in the spotlight.” Summing up her experience on the project, Mellor-Mitchell concluded: “Flash Entertainment takes our position in the regional music and entertainment ecosystem extremely seriously and places great focus on supporting its development. “It was very rewarding to give our featured artists the opportunity to be involved in the opening of the region’s biggest and newest landmark and have their music heard by thousands of new fans at Ain Dubai.” Photos: FLASH ART, Flash Entertainment

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Having worked with some of the biggest artists in the world including Metallica, Kylie Minogue, Muse, Katy Perry, and many more, ER Productions is a well-known name within the live events sphere, specialising in lasers and special effects. It’s a name that most from the Middle East will also be familiar with, with the company working on numerous large-scale events in the region, including the Dubai Canal Opening, The Dubai World Cup and MDL Beast in Saudi Arabia. Seeking to cement its presence in the region, the company has now put down roots, opening a permanent base in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. “The


Middle East has been part of our growth plan for almost five years,” began Creative Director, Ryan Hagan speaking from the company’s HQ in London. “We have been producing shows in the region for some years now, always shipping equipment from London. This simply isn’t practical moving forward, so it was an obvious decision to build on our already trusted client base and presence in the region.” As well as there being more potential regional work, Hagan explained that several of the world tours that ER has worked on over the past few years have included dates in the Middle East, such as the Backstreet Boys’ last global set

of tour dates. So, it became even more tempting for ER to pursue a more permanent stock of local equipment to cater for the ever-increasing demand in the region. While the UAE might have been the natural choice for ER’s Middle East base, according to Hagan, the opportunities in Saudi Arabia have become abundantly clear. “We’ve kept a close eye on the development of Saudi Arabia’s 2030 Vision plans. That as well as the uptake in interest in our services within Saudi Arabia saw us quickly reverse a lot of our planning and select Riyadh as the base for ER Productions Middle East. There are a lot of great opportunities in the pipeline



ER Productions Creative Director, Ryan Hagan.

already, so we are incredibly excited to be part of this vision.” While Saudi events will undoubtedly benefit from the new facility, the goal for ER’s new outpost is to service the entire Middle East region, with Hagan pointing to events such as the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar as the level of event they could provide a better service to. “Saudi Arabia is very interesting as it is just at the beginning of its journey when it comes to live events,” stated Hagan. “Things are changing fast and investment is only going to gain traction as we get closer to Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030.” From his own experience, the Creative Director explained how setting up the new branch was a fairly simple process once they had officially registered the company. “Admittedly, the warehouse situation in the country at the moment is not catered to the requirements of the production industry, but the entire infrastructure is improving at a rate of knots,” he remarked. ‘A FLYING START’ After such a tough time for the live events sector, it might not seem like the ideal time to be starting a brand-new, international branch, but from ER’s standpoint, it was all about preparing

for the increased demand. “When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it felt like a cliff edge, with all tours being cancelled and a lot of gear coming back to the warehouse,” Hagan described. “However, we didn’t want to just sit down and wait it out. We turned our attention to growth, training as well as R&D.” He explained it was a “blessing in disguise”, as this forced time off gave the ER team a chance to really focus on these three factors while the attention was not on live events. In the past year-and-a-half, the ER team has worked on five new products, two of which have already come to market – the Kinekt AS and LaserBlade 2. Hagan also revealed that the company’s training offerings, with a greater focus on creativity, saw a vast improvement in programming skills and methods across the entire show technical team. “Every tech was able to take a control system home, including a lighting desk of their choice,” Hagan described. ER then supplied weekly programming challenges from different design scenarios, from concerts to corporate events to mapping, all using different music genres. “Using Depence2, the company would all log on to Twitch every Friday evening and watch all the work produced. It was a great success and a

great way for us all to keep in touch, support each other and fine-tune our creativity and learning.” Aside from training and R&D, this forced downtime gave ER the opportunity to focus on the company expansion – namely the Saudi Arabia branch. “We will have in the coming weeks 40 crew on the ground in Riyadh with full support from our London Headquarters,” stated Hagan while outlining ER’s plans. “We aim to invest in Saudi Arabia and ultimately employ locally,” he added, noting that the company has already got off to “a flying start” in the region, with jobs booked all the way up until May. The opening of a new office in Saudi Arabia is perhaps yet another indication of the changing nature of live events. “There’s usually a quieter period for touring in January and February, but this is no longer going to be the case for the next two years at least, as we play catch up with all the events that have been postponed since March 2020,” Hagan speculated. With increasingly unpredictable demand throughout the worldwide industry, ER’s decision to open a new base in the Kingdom and cater specifically for the Middle East could well prove to be a shrewd one. Photos: ER Productions





“In 2020, we saw a new event type rise out of the ashes caused by COVID-19 – the new, fast-growing market of virtual events. In 2021, hybrid events were added to cater for a mix of in-person and remote speakers and audiences, continuing the growth albeit at a slightly slower pace. However, what will happen in the years to come? A July 2021 market research study from Grand View Research (GVR), Next Generation Technologies: Global Virtual Events Market Size & Share Report, sheds some light on the topic. The study quotes a global market size for virtual events of $94.04bn in 2020, with an expected compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 23.7% from 2021 to 2028. For the MEA, this research paper values the market at $6.74bn in 2020, with a CAGR of 24.8% from 2021 to 2028. The research includes virtual as well as hybrid events. “The everyday events segment is anticipated to witness the fastest growth from 2021 to 2028,” the report says. “Virtual platforms are used for everyday events such as regular team meetings, discussions, recruitment processes, target/sales meetings, and informal talk sessions.” GVR also examines different applications for virtual and hybrid events, segmenting the market into exhibitions/tradeshows, conferences, summits, and other applications. “The ‘exhibitions/tradeshows’ segment captured the largest revenue share of over 30% in 2020 and is expected to maintain its dominance over the forecast period,” the report states. “The ‘others’ segment, which includes virtual events such as job fairs, concerts, meetups, webinars, and keynotes, is anticipated to


witness the highest CAGR of over 25% from 2021 to 2028.” The study also forecasts that the conferences segment will “grow substantially, owing to the various advantages offered by virtual platforms, such as instant scalability and control, easy data collection and measuring of results, global reach, and reduced costs”. All of this seems to be in line with the industry’s sentiment that virtual and hybrid events are here to stay. From my own conversations with clients throughout 2021, I heard many pro virtual/hybrid arguments – the most important ones being that they are more cost effective, reach more people, are more sustainable, and can cover regions that are still suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, all of this is mere theory and has little to do with the actual decision-making processes in agencies and corporations when it comes to hosting their next event. The US market is extremely eager to produce virtual and hybrid events, even when in-person events are possible with few restrictions. The market has accepted that remote components are a valuable extension of the event portfolio. The acquisition and distribution strategies are becoming more and more elaborate, utilising combinations of (multiple) in-person venues with remote components (studios and remote callers) and adding an increasing number of distribution channels and program variations for remote audiences – gaining reach and traction with specific content for specific target groups, adding value to in-person and remote audiences. The Middle East market is acting significantly differently. The tendency here is to ‘get back to the ballroom as quickly as we can’ and, honestly, it is fun to be back on site and to be in the same room with the audience, speakers, talent, and colleagues from different departments. After all, the only remainder of the COVID-19 era are often half-hearted webcasts. It is natural that the focus shifts once you are back on site. The in-person production must take precedence in terms of organisation, production, and cost, but what do we lose by producing in-person only? What damage do we do to our event by broadcasting poorly executed webcasts? Ultimately, emotion gets the better of us all – we want to be back at in-person events no matter if we are supplier, agency, or end client. However, emotion alone is not necessarily the right driver to make decisions about corporate events. Back to the market research, GVR says that everyday events are a massively growing segment. In the Middle East, the industry created outstanding virtual events throughout the pandemic. Now it is about finding the right balance for in-person and remote WOW. For virtual events, this is about a solid, interesting, targeted and capturing way of production and programming. This must include a reduced complexity of the technical production as well as a fast and easy availability of resources for the execution. For hybrid events, it is about integrating their production with the in-person production at a reasonable price without jeopardising the quality and thus creating a second-class remote audience. Photo: 3Monkeys




As the world becomes more connected through technology, viewers expect high-quality, live access to everything from news and sporting events, to concerts and ceremonies. With 4K UHD TVs now making up the majority of large screen sales worldwide and 4K broadcasting quickly becoming the norm, broadcasters are facing increased pressure to differentiate and deliver engaging live content for UHD screens. This task becomes even more complex when streaming 4K video at low latency over IP networks – especially over the internet. However, if done correctly, it presents the possibility for broadcasters to introduce live 4K services while lowering production costs. “Advances in video encoding, especially HEVC, make it possible to stream 4K UHD content over a standard internet connection,” began Seven Production Regional

Director, Lara Ghanem-Cunningham. “HEVC can reduce the size of video streams by up to 50% compared to H.264 [also known as AVC],” she added. “When broadcasters use HEVC video encoding for remote production workflows, they can keep bandwidths low while sustaining quality levels of streaming for live television production, in both HD and 4K.” Latency is an all-too-common problem for live broadcast production. “Too much latency during the start of broadcast contribution will result in higher latency further down the workflow,” Ghanem-Cunningham explained. “Similarly, with HD content, broadcast engineers and remote production managers need to guarantee that 4K video encoding latency levels are under half a second or less.” To combat this, Ghanem-Cunningham recommends cameras that support high frame rate recording, such as the Sony FS5 and Panasonic AW-UE100 4K. “Ideal for 4K and HD streaming, the Sony FS5 offers High Frame Rate (HFR) cache recording at Full HD 10-bit 4:2:2 image quality and a frame rate of up to 240fps. Higher frame rates of 480fps and 960fps are also possible at specific resolutions, which allow for the highest quality of live images, reducing latency,” she noted. “Additionally, Panasonic’s AW-UE100 4K Robotic Camera is designed to support highbandwidth NDI for low-latency transmission of high-quality 4K 60p video, and SRT for high-quality and stable transmission. It is also compatible with 12G-SDI output for use in a wide range of situations, to include live streaming

events.” While eight-bit colour may work for standard HD content streaming, 4K UHD requires 10-bit colour to support wider colour spaces and HDR. “If you wish to provide your viewers with the best viewing experience, you need to include the option of switching between eight or 10-bit pixel depths, as 10-bit colour over internet workflows can provide enhanced viewing for both HD and 4K,” she explained, recommending Sony’s PMW-F55 camera, which “produces thrilling cinematic images, thanks to the full-size 35mm CMOS sensor that renders every scene with extraordinary colour, contrast, and ultra-low noise even in challenging low-light conditions”. Although 3G SDI connectors are more than capable of capturing live HD video from HD cameras, for an enhanced broadcast experience, four 3G SDI connectors or a 12G SDI input is required. “The EVS XT4K Production Server provides the optimal 12G SDI connection. With four 4K connectors, it handles all 4K replay requirements in an ultra-reliable, ultra-fast workflow, from ingest to playout.” Finally, Ghanem-Cunningham noted that the foundation of 4K content is all about delivering a great viewer experience. “When 4K stream quality is affected by unreliable internet links, the viewing experience is compromised,” she said. “It’s important to reliably stream 4K content using a secure transport protocol when streaming over the internet. Using SRT to encrypt video in the AES-128 and 256-bit standard also ensures valuable content is kept away from prying eyes.” Photo: Seven Production




SHARJAH PERFORMING ARTS ACADEMY CHAMPIONING HOMEGROWN TALENT IN THE MENA REGION, SHARJAH PERFORMING ARTS ACADEMY IS WORKING TO PRODUCE THE NEXT GENERATION OF LIVE EVENTS PROFESSIONALS. Historically, the live events industry in the Middle East has not been known for its wealth of homegrown talent, with incoming international acts and even locally based production houses hitherto tending to employ technical crew who learned their craft elsewhere. However, looking to change that is Sharjah Performing Arts Academy (SPAA) – the only dedicated performing arts academy of its kind in the Middle East, aiming to produce the next generation of talent, both on stage and behind the scenes. SPAA offers a range of undergraduate courses, including BA Production Arts – a four-year programme that aims to prepare the stage managers, technicians, and production


designers of tomorrow. “The students get a taste of everything, from lighting, audio and video, to stage management, event management and scenic construction,” began Programme Leader, Jacqui George. “It’s so important that all the students get a good understanding of all aspects of live event production.” In the second year, the Production Arts programme is built upon three main strands – Technical (light, sound, video), Stage Management (show calling, stage and production management), and Design Realisation (scenic painting and construction, props, costume making and maintenance). “This is when the students get the opportunity to diversify and explore more specialist topics,” George explained.

By the third and fourth year, students spend most of their time working on productions – both internal SPAA shows and external placements. “Sending students out to do external placements is a chance for them to get practical, hands-on experience and build up their CV for when they graduate,” George noted, adding that the abundance of world-class venues and productions in the region provided a wealth of opportunities. “We’ve had students on placement at Dubai Opera, and one who production managed a Saudi Film Festival.” When George started at SPAA in September 2018, the facility was still a building site. Since then, she has seen the academy grow and witnessed the setup of a world-class facility. “We



have L-Acoustics systems and LA8 and LA4X amplification in the main auditorium and rehearsal rooms, Allen & Heath digital consoles and stage racks, Shure radio microphones and accessories, as well as a stock of Shure, Sennheiser and sE Electronics wired microphones,” she stated. SPAA also boasts two Pro Tools-equipped recording studios, Van Damme stage boxes and infrastructure, an MA Lighting grandMA3, ETC Gio, education licences for both WYSIWYG and Vectorworks, Luminex switches and nodes, Avolites dimmer and distribution as well as a range of lighting fixtures including Robe DL7, DL4 and Spiiders and Arri L70C and S060 SkyPanels. “We’re in a period of investment now over the next five years where we are aiming to bring the facility up to industry standards,” George said. Of course, even the best technical setup in the world is useless without the right people in place to teach students how to use it. “It’s not just about having the kit and resources,” George explained. “Students get really excited by having these amazing pieces of tech to play with, but the industry contacts are even more important so we can make sure that what we’re doing is in line with what is happening in the professional side of the industry. If we can know and understand what the leading companies and productions are looking for in terms of employees, then we can create that circle where one feeds into another.” Having worked in stage and production management for more than 20 years prior to starting her role at SPAA, George knows firsthand the range of skills and level of dedication required to make it in the industry. The Programme Leader has overseen an influx of tutors with strong industry background and years of experience, including John Parkhouse, Nick Wheeler, Candeta Bishop, Andrea Forde and David Filshie. “We’ve also been working closely with Creative Technology UAE General Manager, Lee Forde and the rest of the Creative Technology team,” she added. “They have been a huge support.” ‘OUR DOORS ARE OPEN’ With a strong focus from leadership in the region to promote homegrown talent as much as possible, some SPAA students are already finding themselves in high demand on the professional circuit. “We’re seeing some of our students get a lot of requests before they have even graduated,” George revealed. “One in particular from Dammam, Saudi Arabia, is already extremely busy back in the Kingdom and we have to help them manage their time wisely, so they are able to get as much experience as possible and take as many opportunities as possible without affecting their studies here too much.” She added: “It’s no secret that historically there hasn’t been anywhere near enough homegrown talent coming out of the region. His Highness [Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Member

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“It’s no secret that historically there hasn’t been anywhere near enough homegrown talent coming out of the region. His Highness realised that and is helping to address the issue. The demand is there – it’s all about building up that talent base in the region.” Jacqui George, Sharjah Performing Arts Academy.

of the Supreme Council, Ruler of Sharjah and Academy President and Chairman] realised that and is helping to address the issue. The demand is there – it’s all about building up that talent base in the region,” she said, reinforcing the need to manage expectations for both parties to ensure that placements are beneficial for both students and organisations. Now onto its third cohort of students, SPAA takes in would-be live events personnel from far and wide. “We have students from as far across as Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Saudi,” George revealed. “We’re fortunate that full scholarships with fees, accommodation


and bursary are available for MENA region students.” Like the rest of the world, SPAA was forced to take its teaching online in February 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, with the right COVID policies in place, George was pleased to report that they were able to return to in-person teaching from September 2020. “Everybody learned something during the pandemic, and we have kept a few of the working practices that we adopted – WYSIWYG and Vectorworks training, for example, is easier to teach online,” she shared. “There’s only so much that you can learn in theory before you need the practical experience, so we’re delighted

that students are now able to get hands-on experience once again.” Student intake at SPAA has grown year on year – something which George is keen to continue. “We had to pause a lot of our outreach due to COVID-19, but we are now able to get back out there and spread the word, letting people know both inside and outside the UAE what we can offer,” she concluded. “Our doors are open, and our aim is to take on more students from further afield and further strengthen our connections with the industry. Photos: SPAA


THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS Electronica pioneers and their crew take to the stage for the first time since late 2019 for a headline show at Latitude

NEVILL HOLT OPERA d&b audiotechnik Soundscape recreates an opera-house experience in an outdoor environment

CIRCA WAVES Brixton Academy welcomes back live music and roadies after 18 long months of enforced inactivity


GORILLAZ 517 days in the making








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After years of work, the renovation of Faith Dome – the South Africa headquarters of the Faith Broadcasting Network – is complete. Set inside the cavernous space of a former wool warehouse, the indoor arena holds a staggering 10,500 live attendees, making it the largest in the Eastern Cape. Stage Audio Works (SAW) was commissioned to design and integrate a state-of-the-art audio, lighting and rigging solution for Faith Dome. The company has been involved since 2013, although it was only in the past 18 months that the plan accelerated towards the client’s 360° vision, which places the stage and the PA system in the centre of the arena. “It was important for us to


have a central stage as it truly places the focus of worship in the midst of our congregation,” commented River Group Founder and CEO, Dr Andre Robert. “It’s more democratic than a traditional front-to-back organisation and allows everyone to remain connected and involved with the worship experience.” Although this makes sense in terms of presenting a grand visual spectacle for live production, it posed a considerable challenge to the AV integration for several reasons. “From an acoustic perspective, the sheer size of the space is a factor to be reckoned with – in particular the extreme height of the room, which necessitates a PA system that provides comprehensive

vertical coverage,” observed SAW CTO, Nathan Ihlenfeldt. “We ruled out a traditional line array, as the number of speakers required would have interfered with the client’s broadcasting setup and stretched the budget. For this installation, d&b audiotechnik’s A-Series augmented array technology was the perfect fit in terms of directivity control, sonic quality, and price range. Notably, this project marks the first A-Series installation in Africa.” SAW opted for eight augmented arrays of three AL60s flown from a custom-built square truss, itself flown from the ceiling at an impressive height of 13m. To handle low end, four hangs of four V-SUBs are flown from a second square truss


inside the first. In order to reduce cable runs, the amplifiers for the subs and the main PA are housed neatly in custom amp racks situated on top of their respective trusses. “It’s an unusual solution, but given the constraints we were working with, keeping everything together solved several issues,” admitted Ihlenfeldt. “One of the most crucial elements of our brief was to ensure that the PA would not impinge on camera sightlines,” he explained. “Consequently, the system is 13m above the floor. In fact, the bottom of the PA is higher than the top of the screens!” Four large screens are housed in a custom-built cuboid truss structure flown over the centre of the stage. The sub array is flown directly above that. “The height was a defining factor in our choice of A-Series as our priority was vertical coverage over long throw. Just three cabinets per array gave us the coverage we needed for the first

two rows,” he continued. “The rest of the arena is covered by 16 high-performance 10S point source loudspeakers flown at strategic locations throughout the space, along with several more for front fills on the stage.” A further consideration was routing flexibility. “The design enables parts of the system to be muted or switched off to keep the sound focussed where it’s needed and not playing to empty parts of the building, which would cause unnecessary reflections,” Ihlenfeldt said. “It also means we can manage signal output in relation to the band, so they aren’t hearing themselves through the arrays directly facing them.” SAW was also responsible for the integration of the lighting system designed by Cape Townbased creative production company, Bad Weather. A Cameo solution illuminates the main arena, supported by interspersed Zenit floodlights, all controlled by an ETC Hog 4 console. Finally, truss


design was also important. SAW designed and manufactured a trussing solution comprising two concentric squares and an outer rectangle to house the PA and the lighting, plus the central cuboid structure to accommodate the screens, based on the company’s Stage Plus OV truss. “Even though this was a tricky project to execute, we are proud of the outcome,” concluded Ihlenfeldt. “It stands as a testament to our team’s ability to improvise and adapt within the constraints of a specific brief and budget. Our industry expertise and wide experience in the worship market means that we are well positioned to provide solutions to ministries of all sizes. We look forward to when restrictions ease and people are able to experience the magnitude of the Faith Dome first-hand.” Photos: Stage Audio Works





For this year’s Idols SA, Visual Frontier’s Joshua Cutts and Andre Siebrits specified an MA Lighting grandMA3 lighting control platform and, for the first time on South African TV, operated it in MA3 mode to run their spectacular lighting design for the final televised segments of the popular and highprofile singing competition. Other ground-breaking aspects for this year’s broadcast shows included a move away from the State Theatre venue in Pretoria after several years decamping to Studio 10 at the Urban Brew Studios in Johannesburg. With that came the need for a completely different aesthetic approach and treatment. “The objective was to ensure it looked amazing from all camera angles,” explained Cutts. Knowing the show and its demands, and being experienced grandMA users, the two felt it was the right time to deep dive into the power of grandMA3. Over 200 moving lights plus other LED fixtures and some conventionals, all adding up to 17,000 parameters and 34 universes of


lighting control, were run using one grandMA3 light console with a grandMA3 XT as tracking backup. These were running over a fibre network comprising one grandMA3 processing unit L, three grandMA3 4Port Nodes, one grandMA3 8Port Node and two MA Network Switches. Cutts and Siebrits have worked together on the show before, but this year was the first that the lighting is a co-design. Effectively a ‘bare stage’ production with black gloss floor and upstage LED screens, this starker look meant that while lighting had to work harder, it could energise all those negative spaces to create true depth and properly multi-dimensional environments in which to present the different artists. Siebrits is engaged in most of the programming. Creating a polished and unique show for each artist after having minimal onstage or rehearsal time with them and their songs means speed is of the essence, and some weeks there are up to 14 songs of lighting to program. In terms of grandMA3 features that he could immediately appreciate after using the system

for only a short time, Siebrits enjoyed the flexible playback options – being able to have four different playbacks on one fader. “This makes a huge difference, and everything becomes much more accessible,” he commented. The pair see grandMA3 as the way forward for future lighting control, as well as that of potentially many other visual elements connected via the same network. They were both “hugely impressed” by the “outstanding” tech support they have received from MA whilst working on this project, especially from Luke Chikkala and Brand Manager, Daniel Kannenberg who have been “amazing”, all helping to smooth the transition from grandMA2 to grandMA3. DWR Distribution’s Duncan Riley stated: “It has been a great learning process for all of us, and Josh and Andre’s enthusiasm and commitment to making it happen and their willingness to make the switch on such a major show has been fantastic.” Photo: Duncan Riley


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22/10/2021 09:16