Creative Opening For 18th Gulf Cup

(Source: UK Sound and Lighting Community Online News, 01/2007)

Dubai-based production company HQ Creative, working in close collaboration with Done Events, delivered a sensational opening ceremony to the for the 18th Gulf Cup in Abu Dhabi, staged in the Zayed Sports City Stadium. 

The show - a 37 minute mixed media spectacular - was the largest ever opening event to date for a football tournament.

It was conceived by HQ's creative director Katie Veira - for the Organising Committee of the 18th Arabian Gulf Cup, which is headed by His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mubarak al Nahyan (also the Minister for Public Works) . 

The performance featured 1200 live performers, 55 horses and an international production team of over 400 people, who worked with approximately 1700 local crew over the build period. The show was enjoyed live by 55,000 excited spectators and a TV audience of 50 million who tuned in to Dubai Sports. 

The task of building the complex technical infrastructure required to stage the event was co-ordinated for HQ by production director Jo Marshall, working with his key HQ team including project manager Jo MacKay, production co-ordinators Ian Greenway, Candice Dalziel, Nadine Manning and site manager Nigel Beaton. 

They had just 43 days from receiving the green light from The Committee to producing a world class ceremony show. 

The Sheikh took a very hands-on role in the whole event attending meetings and proactively articulating ideas. It was more than just a show and an opening, it was a matter of massive national pride. He wanted this to be the most memorable opening ceremony of any Gulf Cup and indeed of any football tournament to date! 

The show contained several technical world firsts - the first seamless fully spherical HD projections and the highest built version to date of ESS's renowned tower system. 

Creatively, the visually-based performance had a lively, contemporary feel. It linked local culture, sport and the environment via a short poem at the head of each section with key-words like ‘passion', ‘speed' and ‘strength'. It did this in abstract and more provocative ways rather than using a simple linking narrative. With the Doha Asian Games so fresh in everyone's memory (and the opening/closing ceremony content not revealed until December), it was also vital that there were no overlaps in this show explains Katie Veira (who presented her original Gulf Cup ideas in February 2006!). 

With such an incredibly short timescale, HQ enlisted the services of Sydney-based veteran ceremonies producer, Andrew Walsh as artistic consultant. Walsh's previous experience includes executive producing the Athens Olympics opening and closing ceremonies in 2004. 

A creative workshop followed between Veira, Marshall and Walsh, together with PIGI projection designer Peter Milne and technical director Nick Eltis who were both brought onboard by Walsh. Here, HQ's original pitch-winning creative was re-worked into a show that was realistic to achieve within the ambitious timescale. This was then approved by the Sheikh. 

A front line production management team was also brought onboard. Chris Hey (covering rigging & staging), Philip "Philby" Lewis (lighting, PIGI projection, video) and Ian "Baldy" Baldwin (audio, comms, pyro & lasers), all of whom were overseen by Nick Eltis. Eddie Esho of Done Events dealt with all the client liaison for general production and technicals, which involved daily meetings, briefings and updates with His Highness as the date approached. 

Eltis describes the timeframe as "insane", adding that it was extremely helpful that so many of the people who were able to join the show production had all worked together before on various ceremony occasions. 

Leading international production companies included Procon (lighting), Neumann & Mueller (high definition 360 degree video projection) and Tarm (lasers) from Germany, Norwest (audio) and the Electric Canvass (PIGI projection) from Australia, Groupe F (pyro) from France and Stage One (rigging and performer flying) and ESS (towers, steel and rigging) from the UK. The Inflatable Event Company designed and supplied the ‘solar' system, ‘flagballs' and the main projection sphere, and the aerialists came from Showtech Rigging, both companies also based in Australia 

The production was greatly aided by the close proximity (both geographically and timeline wise) of the Doha Asian Games in December. It meant that lots of top level technical and production personnel were available once that project was concluded, and there was also a slew of equipment and other resources in Doha - not that this made it any easier to get them to the UAE in a sensible timescale. In the end, four military planes were scrambled to air lift equipment to Abu Dhabi. 

Although the two countries are both in the Gulf, freighting of any description - road, freight, air - between them required endless patience and was the proverbial uphill struggle!. It consumed serious logistics, number crunching and a daunting mountain of paperwork and procedural challenges for HQ's freighting department, headed by Russell Mason. And that was just the kit coming from Doha ... in addition to that, they had gear coming from all over Europe, Australia, Asia and America. 

"Timescale was easily our biggest challenge" says Jo Marshall. "We had to go from zero to a show that would stun and amaze in 5 weeks, with only three full weeks on site. Most shows of this size and complexity would be running on at least a 6 month lead time or more!" 

That included everything - booking the artists, sourcing the technical and creative personnel, organising contractors, freight, flights, transport, labour, catering, costumes, paperwork, and getting the stadium ready to stage its biggest and most prestigious ever event.

Towers and Rigging

Once the creative started to develop and aerialists were written into the script, it was immediately obvious that an overhead flying system was needed as well as some sort of lighting positions over the field of play. 

The solution they found was to build eight 70 metre high towers, all at 45 degrees from one another, constructed from standard ESS tower truss located around the outside the stadium walls - of which they're nearly three times the height! 

This allowed Stage One to attach one of their Q-Motion performer flying systems and rig a series of catenery wires to hang a 20 metre diameter circular truss right over the centre of the pitch. The bottom rail of the truss was trimmed at 36 metres, the minimum FIFA requirement for a football match to continue below. 

Just one additional small logistical conundrum on actual opening night was that the tournament's opening match - Oman v UAE - had to commence within 30 minutes of the show ending! 

Seventy metres is the highest that ESS has ever built their tower system, so first came some special calculations to ensure it was feasible. After an initial site visit explains Jeff Burke, they then dispatched a surveyor to Abu Dhabi to double check the accuracy of the stadium plans they'd been given. This prompted the discovery of a whole underground infrastructure of drainage, electricity, gas, water and other services, which severely limited in the amount of chemical fixings they could utilise in anchoring the towers to the stadium. 

Each tower had 24 building anchors plus an additional 6 fully laden containers of ballast, made up from a total of 1100 tonnes of sand and 600 tonnes of concrete ballasting. The anchor work was completed by The Specialists, based in Abu Dhabi, who used Hilti products and were "Absolutely brilliant" according to Burke. 

Stage One installed a 17 axis of Q-Motion system for flying 8 aerial performers in two axes - (up/down and backwards/forwards along the wires), plus a 30Kw electric winch at the base of Tower 5 to raise and lower the central inflatable sphere. This hung below the circular truss and served as the main video projection surface. 

The hub of the Stage One flying system weighed 3.5 tonnes (with steel attached) and was suspended using 2800 Kgs of 22mm steel wire rope and another 1800 Kg of 18 mm wire rope was used for the performer trolleys. The final height of the hub above the field of play was 38.8 metres. 

Also attached to the hub was a radial system of tensioning wires (12 per tower) and they fabricated a specials head for each tower to tensioned the cables as the whole system was erected and adjusted, a complicated operating taking 3 days to complete, described by Chris Hey as "More of a civil engineering exercise than rigging". 

Inside the stadium, they ran 22mm steel wire rope cateneries to hold up the centre truss which was constructed from Total Fabrication heavy duty trussing. It was suspended by four pairs of wires all running back to the towers at no more than 10 degrees from horizontal. The total weight of the trussing (unladen with lights) but including 8 motors was 3800 Kgs. 

Stage One's crew totalled 22 - 12 riggers, 6 technicians and 4 operators - all managed by Jim Almond.


Rigging the rope system also needed four 200 tonne cranes with reaches in excess of 70 metres, which came onsite towards the end of December and were co-ordinated by Ian Greenway. His crane-duty tasks also included locating one that fitted the spec and would also pass underneath a 3.5 metre high sewerage pipe to get inside the stadium! Cranes were also used to lift all the pyro and numerous other kit onto the roof including power distribution, BigLite searchlights and PIGI projectors. 

Production riggers Shane Manning and Richard Estridge (both based in Dubai) oversaw rigging of the 16 lighting trusses around the lip of the stadium roof. They also installed a horizontal safety line around the roof passage, crowned the towers with red flashing beacons, as required by Abu Dhabi Air Traffic control and designed a cantilever and counterweight system for hoisting up a burning falcon pyro effect in front of the main stadium LED screen. 

HQ brought Julian Bentley into the equation to deal with all the event's health and safety aspects.


High definition video and PIGI projection - although working completely independently - were highly successfully incorporated into the show for additional visual diversity and depth. 

The PIGI projections filled the field of play, painting it with patterns, emblems and bold slashes and pools of colour and texturing, proving it's still an unbeatable medium for creating these very specific effects and for covering vast distances. 

Fully spherical HD was used - probably for the first time - onto a 10.2 metre diameter inflatable sphere hung underneath the central truss. The main sequence of HD projection was a major element of the show's visual narrative, stitching together metaphorical images of speed, diversity, athleticism, passion, power and others linking sports people with natural elements and wildlife. 

Munich-based Neumann & Mueller supplied all the HD kit and expertise, fresh from having worked with HQ Creative on the DIFC 2 (Dubai International Financial Centre) event at the end of 2006. Here they projected across the whole of DIFC's iconic arched building in HD video with amazing results. 

Katie Veira and N&M's Klaus Ostermaier worked on the Gulf Cup content, the final versions of which were produced at N&M's studio in Munich. 

The HD sequence kicked in just before the pyro and laser finale, and was beamed onto the inflatable sphere using 12 Digital Projection 30 SX machines, stacked 3 high (overlaid) at four positions around the stadium. They were on special platforms about half way up the seating stands.- all at 90 degrees to each other. 

Ostermaier spec'd the system, which was tech'd on site by a crew led by Martin Singer. Each group of projectors sent a quarter of the full image to the sphere, and the seamless wrap-around of the flat artwork was achieved using a Pandora's Box control system, developed by German-based Coolux. "It was absolutely the best option for the job" comments Ostermaier. The Box also stores all the content, which is played back - to timecode triggered DMX - from a GrandMA lighting console. 

The biggest challenge actually on the night was keeping the sphere still and in precisely the correct position for the video sequence, with variables like the wind and the vibrations across the flying system caused by other moving elements like the planets (solar system) and flag-balls as they ran along the track. 

The N&M team also supplied the three house LED screens (two - in the north and south stands - at 3:2 and one - in the east stand - at 6:9 ratio) with two separate signal feeds - the DVI signal supplied by fibre optic cable. 

Sydney-based Peter Milne was in Doha and embroiled in the Asian Games events when he received the call about this project, and popped over for a day for the aforementioned predation summit with HQ Creative, Walsh and Eltis. 

Not surprisingly, he cites the miniscule window of opportunity to produce artwork in time as the main challenge, which also had to factor in the upcoming Christmas and new year holidays! 

He collaborated closely with Katie Veira on the content, which was turned into PIGI artwork and films by his company, The Electric Canvass. Because of the fluid nature of the creative when they initially met, a degree of flexibility plus some contingency for ‘unknowns' had to be incorporated into this artwork, which was no problem for a PIGI guru like Milne. 

The effects were primarily atmospheric, filling out the vast pitch space, and PIGI was a vital layer in the show's imaginative matrix. 

The 12 PIGI projectors were positioned on the roof of the stadium. Four were on a custom built scaffold platform on the eastern side (opposite the Sheikh's enclosure). They all had double rotating scrollers on the front, each loaded with approximately 10 metres of film per projector, containing about 50 frames of artwork. 

Milne operated the show using PIGI's OnlyCue PC-based playback system and worked with a crew of five. 

He made a flying visit to Abu Dhabi when returning to Sydney at the end of the Asian Games to undertake a laser survey of the Zayed sports City Stadium. This was necessary as they had no accurate CAD drawings available of the venue, and with a time pressure of just 5 days to install and commission the system - including getting kit up on the roof, in position, lined up and fired up ... there was no room for errors.


Lighting designer Paul Collison's brief was "Fluid" considering the intricacy of the show, but understandable in the context of available time in which to build a real WOW factor show. 

Luckily he was able to use MA's WYSIWYG-type programme MA3D to come up with a design that he was confident would work on the first day he walked into the stadium ..... on 20th December. 

He says that normally he would have concentrated further on how it should be lit as a broadcast event, but part of his brief was to present the show as a theatrical spectacle in the stadium for the 55,000 people enjoying it live and direct. 

He focussed first on the 66 metre performance space, and then went on to highlight the stadium's arched and rounded architecture with 55 Martin MAC 2K washes that pointed up and filled out the undersides of the roof arch, " It's the kind of gesture that really states where you are" he elucidates, adding that he deliberately chose to keep the audience lighting subtle. 

Ten metres back from the periphery of the main performance space on the ground, he placed 32 custom made lighting trolleys, each containing two MAC 2K Washes and two Clay Paky Alpha Spot 1200s. He used the Alpha Spot's bar gobo when lighting the performers to help avoid drowning out the PIGI projections. The MAC 2 Washes in these positions did an excellent job of illuminating the aerialists when they were in full swing, along with the follow spots. 

Fourteen BigLite 4.5Ks were positioned around the roof and used to produce stunning aerial framing effects. Sixteen 10 metre trusses were strung around the lip of the roof to provide more lighting positions for illuminating aerialists, field of play action and audience.. 

On the circular truss, which he describes as "Right where it's needed and a great tribute to ESS and Stage One in getting it there" were 24 Alpha Spots and 24 MAC 2K washes. 

He controlled the show using a GrandMA console. With fibre optic backbones running around the roof and the floor of the stadium, they broke out to Ethernet using MA NSP nodes (which can expand up to 64 DMX universes to one console) which he describes as "An absolutely rock solid system". 

Lighting equipment was supplied by Procon, all of it coming from Doha, apart from the 8 Lycian Followspots, and Collison's design was based around what was available from that gig. The total fixture count was 280 MAC 2K Washes, 88 Clay Paky AlphaSpot 1200s, 48 VL 3000 Spots and the 14 BigLites. 

His moving light count totalled 419, with 48 directly above the field of play on the circular truss. 

The challenge, as with all departments, was the (lack of) time. Procon supplied all the kit, and their account handler Jan Krieger hands it to HQ Creative who he says, "Did a great job in laying the groundwork for us!". 

Procon pulled a crew of 24 from Doha. It took 10 days to get in, rigged and ready for the first rehearsal and their site team was led by technical director Mateus Rau and crew chief Daniel Steffe.

Lasers & Pyro

The two other technical visual departments were lasers and pyro - lasers were supplied by Tarm from Germany and Pyro by Groupe F in France. 

Tarm have worked with HQ Creative on many other shows in the Gulf and were asked to contribute to this one with atmospheric and beam effects including audience scanning and big sweeping laser looks across the pitch. 

The show was designed and operated by Tarm's Kai Kasprzyk, and there were two big laser moments. The first was creating a water style effect as 230 ‘sock-fish' school children ran - almost floated - across the pitch with illuminated ‘sock torches'. The other was combined with pyro and lighting in the spectacular two and a half minute visually extravagant finale. 

They ran 8 air cooled laser systems, all based on the east side of the field of play, facing towards the Sheik's box and the VIP enclosure. Four green 5 Watt systems and 4 full colour 8 Watt RGBs ... plus 32 smoke machines dotted around the pitch - taking no chances with the unpredictable wind! 

Each laser had its own computer control, and the 8 channels were linked via fibre optic to the Laser Animation controller which was controlled by timecode. 

Pyro was designed by Jonas Bidault - Groupe F are renowned for being among the most innovative pyro ‘imagineers' on the planet, and Bidault also designed the 2006-07 London new year's Eve display that wowed millions. 

He received an initial brief from HQ for this show and went from there. It started with some fundamental strategic cues early on in the proceedings, culminating in an intense burst of activity for the 2.5 minute finale. 

Timings once again also affected the design in that they had to order and freight the effects whilst the show creative was still evolving and therefore build in an amount of contingency that would allow for changed and adjustments to the script. The final elements only emerged when he arrived on site for the last time, two weeks before the show. 

As you can imagine, freighting explosives to the Middle East also required intense levels of documentation, scrutiny and health & safety regulations. 

Pyro was placed all around the stadium roof, 56 points of it, with a large concentration on the east side above the scoreboard/large LED screen and on the trussing circle. Thirty-two flame jets surrounded the perimeter of the field of play in between the lighting trolleys. For the finale, a cocktail of serious high aerial effects stationed 600 metres outside the stadium were montaged into the display. 

The roof pyro was manufactured in Spain, custom designed for the show, some of the effects came from England and the high firing aerials were sourced in China. There was an assortment of colours including some specific requests for reds, greens and whites to represent the UAE flag during the national anthem. 

Groupe F's 15 pyro crew started to rig 5 days before the show.


The sound system took advantage of the house EAW system which was augmented with equipment supplied by Australian-based Norwest Productions, who also did the Asian Games, so had gear to hand that could be sent on from Doha. 

In Abu Dhabi, the sound installation and set up operation was overseen by Adrian Riddell working with his team of 8 crew from Norwest. They were given the show's music track (created by music producers Christo Curtis from Australia and Mohammed Yanaz from Abu Dhabi) which was taken into Pro Tools for final editing and the addition of timecode. It was then transferred into a Pyramix hard drive playback system for the show. 

Timecode was sent from the track to all the various departments needing it - pyro, lasers, lighting, projection, show callers, etc. 

The show FOH sound was mixed on a Yamaha PM5D by Ian Shapcott. Right beside him on the control platform at the back of the western stand was Ewan MacDonald, mixing the monitors on a Digico D5 console. This included over 750 in-ear sets and a system of 8 field of play wedges. Both consoles were patched up to do both FOH and monitor mixes, so one could take over in case of an emergency. 

The 750 plus IEM FM receivers were looked after by Ian "Baldy" Baldwin, production manger for sound, comms, pyro and lasers. The FM receiver feeds were divided into three levels - Level 1 (10 Shure PSM 700 systems) for headline talent, the conductor, aerialists, etc; level 2 (40 Shure PSM 200 systems) for specialised ground-based performers, and Level 3 featured proprietary PA People badged FM receivers, made available to the mass cast including the painters (630 painters created a 12 metre wide portrait of the Sheikh ‘live' on the pitch right in front of him - in 2 minutes - choreographed by Wanda Rokiki). 

Shure UR4D radio mics were used for the marching band (The Abu Dhabi Police Band) and the soldiers with rifles(cadets and soldiers from the Abu Dhabi Police and Military Academy) were also mic'd up. 

Some special RF amplification was applied to amplify the signals and transmit them at a boosted power rate. RF interference was a serious issue, and one of the 8 Norwest audio crew was dedicated to scanning and monitoring all the frequencies in use. 

Norwest also supplied a separate Bose 403 system to the Sheik's enclosure, all the back-of-house relays and a stereo feed to the TV broadcast trucks. 

It was also a huge challenge distributing and attaching 750 receivers to people who don't normally use them, complete with instructions in English and Arabic - a diligent task that was handed to the cast management team. 

PA People from Australia looked after all the comms including 200 portable radios and 40 cabled comms packs. They used a Clearcom Matrix system with radio-based antenna systems and combiners that interfaced to the matrix. There were 12 concurrent radio bases in operation and another 20 interfaced simplex channels, giving coverage all around the stadium and up to 2Km outside it. They also provided an optical link from the back of the grandstand to the off-site pyro firing range on the east side and a satellite downlink for data services to the control room area.


Power aficionado Alan Dearie of Glasgow, Scotland-based Essential Show products looked after this domain for the HQ team, using a combination of house power and generators. 

The stadium has a 1000 Amp 3 phase supply in the roof and another one on the ground, so is quite well endowed with electrical juices. 

They brought in eight 200 KVA sets from Caterpillar Abu Dhabi which were all run as stand alones for the performer winches, one positioned at the base of each tower. 

Dearie and his three LX crew worked with 4 locals to distribute power around the site including to the control room areas, catering and the performer villages.


The Inflatable Event Company were tasked with building 8 planets, 8 flag balls and the central projection sphere the week before Christmas - for a January 4th delivery - when the normal lead time would be 6 - 10 weeks! Rob Waddell and his team pulled all the stops out to make it happen in their Sydney workshops, and then flew to Abu Dhabi with a crew of 9, where they worked closely with Stage One. 

The balls measured 5 metres in diameter. The inflation system for each sphere was internally mounted, so the balls could be pre-set in 5 minutes. Weighing less than 50Kgs, they were filled with cold air and the pressure maintained by the internal motor, giving them their floatability.

As soon as the show came down the pitch clearance team - co-ordinated by Dean Jewell - swung into action, peeling back the protective covers over the pitch and clearing the debris which ranged from horse poo to pyro fall out to props on the running track. All this was achieved in an impressive 7 minutes .. ready for the first match of the tournament to kick off.

Happy Endings!

This show flew by in spectacular style, a dynamic collage of eye-candy, action and excitement combining ideas, colour, culture and seat-edge anticipation of what might come next. It very much set the tone for the Gulf Cup and has already become a major talking point in the region. 

Jo Marshall says "The strategic importance and stature of a world class opening ceremony cannot be underestimated. The end result in the timescale was a massive tribute to everyone involved - from the creative team, show directors and producers, technical expertise and crew, specialists and cast, right down the many, many locals who put their hearts, energies and knowledge into helping us get the show on." 

He adds, "It was a real ‘experience' for HQ Creative to work with Andrew and his team, and a great exercise in international relations. It was the biggest event we've produced to date, and we are now looking forward to new challenges on this scale". 

Eddie Esho states, "His Highness and the Organising Committee were really happy with the results, which makes the gruelling round-the-clock work schedules and the many other challenges all worthwhile." 

They weren't the only ones, the crowd went completely wild at the spectacle unfolding before them, and Dubai Sports registered record viewing figures.

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