London Welcomes in 2021

Global brand experience agency, Jack Morton develops a remarkable citywide display, working in partnership with the Mayor of London’s office and a dedicated team of experts.

In a break from regular tradition, the team from Jack Morton and some of the live event industry’s best-known companies and creatives joined forces to produce a 10-minute New Year’s Eve show, designed for home-viewing and created in collaboration with the BBC. Jack Morton’s creative team worked with On the Sly for music production, Titanium Fireworks for pyrotechnics, and SKYMAGIC for the swarm drone sequences. Lighting was designed by Durham Marenghi, with Paul Cook assuming the role of Associate LD and Programmer.

Marenghi called on the expertise of Lights Control Rigging, ER Productions, the Signify team, Atelier Ten and the Illuminated River project, Armadillo and Tower Bridge, Stadium FX at Wembley and Woodroffe Bassett Design at The Shard to integrate the citywide effects into a memorable light show.

The origin of the project dates back to September, when the Mayor of London announced the New Year’s Eve fireworks display at the London Eye, which Marenghi had been creating with Jack Morton Worldwide since 2004, was to be not going to be taking place due to the impact of COVID-19. Instead, the GLA Events team asked Jack Morton to support them in developing an alternative format for broadcast, in order to publicly thank the NHS, care staff and key workers for their efforts over a very challenging year. The brief was for a light show beamed across the city’s skyline and landmarks across London.

WYSIWYG aficionado, Pedro Marcé Socias was commissioned to develop a model of central London, including The Shard and both banks of the river as far as Tower Bridge, and create a virtual fly around the site showing lights and lasers in action for an imagined event. An additional key operational element was to ensure the lightshow – utilising expertise from SKYMAGIC, ER Productions and On the Sly – was delivered safely, limiting the attraction of crowds in these days of social distancing.

The planning was deployed in secret and spanned several sites. The combined GLA and Jack Morton operations team established permissions on various public sites active for short periods of time so, should crowds gather, the extent of the show would not be revealed. This required complex timecode synchronisations across all sites to ensure a seamless broadcast output. This was not a singular lighting design effort.

At a very early stage the GLA and Jack Morton contacted Real Estate Management (UK) Limited, the asset manager for The Shard to seek their involvement. They sat down with Woodroffe Basset Design to discuss how they might incorporate their annual seasonal ‘Shard Lights’ display into the event. Here, they came up with the idea of using The Shard spire as a clock face. Lighting and lasers were added to levels 67 to 87 and controlled using a GPS timecode clock to sync The Shard to Big Ben and the other landmark sites in the show.

Through the GLA’s introduction, the Illuminate River project was approached as its installations from Westminster Bridge to London Bridge were approaching completion. All bridges were illuminated in NHS blue, programmed by Atelier Ten, and London Bridge had its own specific time coded sequences to match the light array above it on the bridge pavement. The lighting sources had originally been spread across the central London area bridges. As the design developed and became subject to some ‘value engineering’ LCR was commissioned to create a demo system of 84 fixtures at a site in Docklands where aspirations for an aerial display could manifest. The figure of 84 came from Marenghi’s calculation that for a seven-colour rainbow, at least 12 high-power sources per colour were needed.

Tests gave proof of concept and proved an important factor in the event’s success would be the correct camera and light focus angles to maximise visibility – so the BBC engineers for the night were also invited to the test. After much discussion about permissions and practicalities of deploying this number of fixtures in central London, and the need to keep things under wraps, the eventual system saw all 336 fixtures mounted in an impressive line across London Bridge.

A total of 168 Claypaky Mythos 2s – in weather domes – and 168 Elation Proteus Hybris fixtures were rigged by Lights Control Rigging and managed by Rob Watson. The fixtures were arranged on top of a steel deck across the bridge in a staggered line – like the Svoboda light curtain concept – 160m long and controlled by Paul Cook on his ChamSys MQ500 console.

All crews had to fill in a daily health declaration and were COVID-19 tested before and after the event. Strict social distancing was observed and face masks were worn throughout. Trucks were even flat packed by LCR specially to allow socially distanced handling of equipment.

Other lighting elements included Tower Bridge with some time coded show cues programmed by Armadillo and a rainbow on the Wembley stadium and arch programmed by Stadium FX. There was a complication in sending broadcast from Wembley and the O2, which involved a one second and three frames offset due to the satellite link delay. However, “Delta did an amazing job keeping everything connected”.

Using WYSIWYG, the team created animations of lighting pre-programming for the Jack Morton storyboard as the show developed to include fireworks and drones and an impressive array of lasers from The Shard and Tower and London Bridges from ER Productions. Cook also created multi-view animations of the various camera views, which were rendered to allow the BBC to create an accurate camera script for the event, given the team was relying on trying to fire lights and lasers as close to the camera angle of incidence as possible.

It wasn’t just the lights on the various buildings in the capital producing eye-catching looks, with a fleet of drones also playing a pivotal role in the production. SKYMAGIC used a staggering 300 drones for the performance, which now stands as the UK’s largest drone show. The display over London’s River Thames featured a series of key design motifs including: The Nightingale, Captain Sir Tom Moore and Sir David Attenborough’s turtle, as well as a humorous nod to the all-too-common phrase from a year of video-calling, “you’re on mute”.

SKYMAGIC Creative Director, Patrick O’Mahony, commented: “It is an honour and privilege to play a part in this most special of New Year’s Eve shows. It has been a long-held ambition to bring our drone light show to London and working with such a great team at Jack Morton to deliver this has been an absolute pleasure.”

Jack Morton Production Director, Jim Donald, added: “This spectacular and moving experience was only made possible by the outstanding collaboration and dedication of the entire extended team. I am delighted that we were able to work with SKYMAGIC, who have demonstrated why they are one of the world’s leading drone light show companies.”

The display across London’s skyline was a poignant message of remembrance, hope and optimism, both for the coming year and for the future of our planet.

This article originally appeared in issue #257 of TPi, which you can read here.

Photo: Patrick Straub