Issue 27
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All Light on the Night

Sydney Embraces New Year’s Eve – and seals it with a kiss.


21 February 2013

Text:/ Cat Strom
Photographer: David Clare/First Light Photography

The City of Sydney’s New Year’s Eve fireworks display is the world’s largest and most technologically advanced, drawing larger crowds than Paris, London and even New York. An estimated one billion people around the world see the result of 15 months of hard work by the production team.

This year Kylie Minogue took on the job of creative director, working with the theme Embrace, which was all about acceptance, tolerance, fun and above all, love.

The night began when the words ‘Welcome to Sydney’ were projected on the pylons of the Harbour Bridge in 16 languages, representing Sydney’s top migrant populations and tourist nationalities. These projections, provided by the Technical Direction Company, were later replaced by New Year’s wishes from around the world through a Telstra-supplied (and moderated) feed of the City of Sydney’s Twitter stream.


The 2012 bridge effect was the most complex and sophisticated ever created, using 365 individual circuits and approximately 16km of rope light to create the vibrant Embrace icon and the highly anticipated part of the night – the secret bridge effect that is only revealed after the midnight display. This year it was a pair of red lips that read out a countdown to 2013 before puckering up for a kiss; the effect has been a highlight since the mid-1990s when a smiley face appeared.

Lighting designer for the event (which included the bridge, the Lord Mayor’s Party on the Opera House forecourt and the Dawes Point VIP party) was Mark Hammer using a rig supplied by the Production Resource Group (PRG). This year Hammer had to contend with an interactive light show as the City of Sydney developed a special smartphone app with Telstra that lit up people’s phone screens in tandem with the colour lighting of the bridge and Opera House. Four Embrace-theme coloured light shows took place on Sydney Harbour Bridge – in magenta, yellow, purple and blue – as thousands of mobile phone screens lit up in synchronised colours.


“At the appointed times people’s phones would flash certain colours and that triggered a lighting sequence on the bridge, at Dawes Point and at the Lord Mayor’s Party,” Hammer explained. “This year’s design was more specific than in the past, so timing and sequences were very important as we had extra fixtures lighting the bridge. Matthew Tunchon and I spent a week and a half programming offline at PRG and synchronised our show with time-code so the looks would trigger with the various pyrotechnics and projection settings.”

Bridge lighting fixtures comprised 20 PASEF CM7001 7kW Searchlights (sub-hired from Chameleon Touring Systems), 12 PRG Bad Boys, 16 Vari-lite VL3500 profiles and of course, all that rope light.

“As in the past, the main bridge light effect is made up of a rope light design that sits centre of the bridge and is controlled through dimmers located on the bridge itself,” Hammer said. “It’s amazing what you can do with simple rope light, in fact a lot of people can’t believe the main effect is just rope light.”

The bridge lighting was operated on the night by Matthew Tunchon using a MA Lighting grandMA console. Luken Smyth also used a grandMA for the Lord Mayor’s Party, as did Scott Rogers at Dawes Point.

PASEF 7kW xenon searchlights going up.
Ten 7kW PASEF searchlights washing the harbour bridge. Photographer: Mark Hammer
Searchlights washing the base of the bridge.
Stage rig bumping in.


The Lord Mayor’s Party takes place on the northern Sydney Opera House forecourt area and Hammer described it as fairly tricky: “It’s half-indoors as they have an existing tent which isn’t very lighting-friendly at all. It has a very low roof, which is sloped in some areas and peaked in others. Fortunately the Opera House had some clamps which we could use this year and that helped. You need an array of lighting equipment to make it look good. There’s quite a bit to light as there are set elements, drapes, bars and sponsor lighting”.

Hammer relied on a lot of LED fixtures for this area including Philips Color Kinetics Colorblast12 and Colorblaze48 LED washes, LED PARs, and Martin MAC101 LED moving head fixtures. Added to that were Clay Paky Sharpys, Martin MAC2000 profiles, MAC TW1s, Sunstrips and a large quantity of profiles and fresnels.

The party had live-to-air elements as well as themes and scheduled entertainment including formalities, hosting positions, and party and back of house lighting considerations, making for a very busy few hours. The event required a three-day setup for lighting, including rehearsals.

The VIP Party takes place at Dawes Point at the base of the southern pylon. From there the selected few had a ringside view of the bridge and the pyro shooting from it. This party also had its own live-to-air elements as well as themes and scheduled entertainment. Equipment used included Martin MAC700 profiles, Philips Color Kinetics Colorblast12 LED washes, Sunstrips, profiles and fresnels.


For the 13th consecutive year the fireworks display was designed by Foti International Fireworks, led by director Fortunato Foti, and required a pyrotechnical crew of 45. Foti is a carbon-neutral company that uses carbon credits, low-environmental-impact fireworks and recycling.

As well as ascending from seven barges and the bridge, fireworks were also launched from the rooftops of seven city buildings and, for the first time, fireworks were launched from 10 jet skis as moving fireworks platforms. Approximately 11,000 shells, 25,000 shooting comets and 100,000 individual pyrotechnic effects were used in the display, which was made up of seven tonnes of fireworks. Sixteen shipping containers of equipment, weighing 120 tonnes, were needed for both displays.

Fourteen computers running FireOne fireworks firing and choreography systems digitally launched the fireworks from the bridge, barges and buildings, shooting 10,000 cues. More than 60km of wire and cables linked the launch computers and there were 130 firing points on the bridge itself.

“Each location had its own computer and when it receives the time-code, it triggers the fireworks so everything is in sync,” Fortunato Foti explained. “FireOne gives us an integrated firing system design that combines all the previously separate functions, involved in creating a fireworks display into one system.”

This system of hardware and software simplifies the process; from choreography, to product selection, to time-code synchronisation, to field setup and finally to firing the display.


With more than 1000 accredited personnel working on the night, reliable communications is a priority and for the first time The PA People were contracted after Chris Dodds, managing director, proposed a different design strategy from previous years. Investigations were made into using existing fibre infrastructure around the city to have a solid network backbone.

Based on a network-centric approach, The PA People provided data and communications including Clear-Com Eclipse Matrix, V-Station Panels, and Tempest full-duplex for communications, network time-code, audio transport via Dante utilising Yamaha’s new CL Series consoles, MAnet for lighting and much more. This was managed via an extensive layer two network incorporating multiple transport methods. Single- and multi-mode fibre, Free Space Optics laser links, and 5GHz and 2.4GHz wireless provided connectivity between more than 20 HP switches.

Clear-Com’s Eclipse Matrix systems were deployed throughout the key sites including one Omega, two Medians and a PiCo. Paul Barrett, communications manager for The PA People for the event, used Clear-Com Eclipse Matrix units in a distributed fashion to allow easy deployment of more than 25 Clear-Com V-Series key stations. These were deployed and connected either directly or via the V-Stations native IP interface. More than 40 duplex repeaters were used for the event, with all units interfaced to the Eclipse Matrix systems. These repeaters provided coverage to over 200 Motorola handheld radios.


In addition to the Eclipse Matrix, Clear-Com’s full-duplex Tempest system was used at the Sydney Opera House, notorious as one of the most challenging RF venues in Australia. Tempest is based on a robust frequency-agile 2.4GHz system. The PA People used Tempest’s new roaming feature, which allows belt packs to move between bases without any user intervention, and according to the client, Tempest performed flawlessly.

Continuing on the network-centric design, broadcast audio transport was delivered via the native IP protocol Dante. The PA People used Yamaha’s new CL Series consoles which have onboard Dante support, and the Yamaha RIO stage boxes to deliver audio between the control room and the Sydney Opera House, the location for the Lord Mayor’s Party and the host broadcaster.

Over this same infrastructure, The PA People provided PRG with Ethernet-based MAnet lighting connectivity to locations including the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Opera House and the control room.

Sydney New Year’s Eve producer Aneurin Coffey said the organisation of the event was a dream run: “It was great to see everyone pitch in and work hard to achieve such a successful night and make our big dream a reality for the 1.6 million people around the harbour”.


Production Resource Group (Australia):
The PA People:
Technical Direction Company:
Foti International:


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