The Parisian Macau: Grand Opening

Dan Shipton, Black Skull Creative

When you need to open your $2.5 billion hotel with enough bang to stack up against the half-sized Eiffel Tower that serves as one of its main landmarks – what do you do? Call Black Skull Creative, of course. TPi’s Ste Durham caught up with Dan Shipton to discuss how he helped to realise the “best opening ever” in Macau.

It’s fair to say that this isn’t a run of the mill assignment – how did you originally become involved and what were your initial visions for the project? Was there a core team involved in the design phase?

We began work with Hong Kong-based event agency Uniplan in February 2016. Our starting point was to create a one-off spectacular unlike anything Macau has seen before.

As the show was the Grand Opening we wanted to fully integrate the design into the architecture of the building and we felt using the structure of the half-size Eiffel Tower the resort had built outside their hotel was the perfect way to do this.

The extensive pitch process lasted months before we were finally awarded the job. At that point we had to mobilise our team, which included Imagine Believe to practically realise our vision, Bryte Design to look after lighting, Michael Sharp to take care of costume and Blink TV to deliver content. All of our amazing team worked extremely hard to deliver this huge show in 10 weeks in a space that had never been used before, with only concept drawings to go on!

Were there any set pieces that were particularly challenging and did you have to employ any innovative tech or design to overcome this?

Creating a theatre-style space outdoors, within the complex geometrics of the Eiffel Tower and in typhoon season made the engineering of all the elements an extremely complex process – that was even before we got into the detail of the show!

One of the greatest challenges was for the finale where we wanted a hot air balloon to fly to stage carrying our leading man. In order for the client to sign off the budget for this idea we needed to guarantee that the stunt could happen in all weather up to and including Typhoon Level One. We looked to some expert engineering from our partners at Showtech Australia, combined with the support of the designers of the Eiffel Tower structure itself who managed to overcome the issues, giving us the wow moment we had been dreaming of.

Did you have to take care that the show was equally impressive to both the cameras and the crowd below? How was this accomplished?

From conception of the show we were always aware that, due to the sheer scale, the live audience would be reliant on IMAG to see close ups, not to mention the fact that many of the audience would be watching this on TV or on the relay screens down the Cotai strip. From a legacy point of view we also knew that the show would live on through the footage we captured and so we worked closely with the in-house team at Sands (who were providing the broadcast set up) to make sure that we were getting the right coverage.

From a creative point of view one of the benefits of working with Blink and Bryte Design is that we all have a very strong understanding of putting on performances designed for camera and so we were able to drive the Sands team harder than they were used to and got really good results. Of course, the crowd watching got a very special experience because only when you were sat under that huge Eiffel Tower did you fully appreciate the scale of show and what we had managed to achieve.

Photo courtesy of Uniplan

How were decisions made on technical suppliers and kit? Did they have much input in what was used?

Macau rarely gets to host events of this scale and complexity, so the suppliers that can deliver are far and few between. Creative Technology’s global presence and expertise made them the obvious choice to deliver the video and audio elements of the show, whereas JK Brothers are Macau’s only sizeable lighting and rigging company. Some things however, like the high-end automation from Showtech Australia and comms systems from Delta Sound Dubai are simply not available in the region. Tom Attenborough, our Technical Director, had to called on his trusted suppliers from around the world to pull these aspects together.

Cate Carter, our Lighting Designer, worked extremely closely with Tom in order to achieve her design. Local availability of equipment in the region with the added challenge of the weather and the unusual structure meant there were a number of changes along the way. That said, with a flexible approach and local expertise from Imagine Believe, they were able to develop and adapt the design to work within the environment as the project progressed without too many creative compromises.

Did you encounter any technical difficulties during either the build or show?

Sometimes cultural differences can be the biggest of challenges – especially when it comes to doing things that are not entirely within the ‘norm’ of a theatre or arena show – but the biggest problem was definitely the weather conditions. Rain during the build and rehearsal resulted instantly in the site shutting down with both plotting and rehearsal sessions being cancelled with the assurance that “the rain will stop in time, don’t worry”. Luckily it did indeed stop raining and with a very fluid schedule and a lot of added pressure we were able to deliver a great show.

How does this show differ from more straightforward rock ‘n’ roll show? Is this something the team was just as well-versed in?

This was totally different to a rock ‘n’ roll show in so many ways! Luckily the Black Skull team has a wide range of experience in putting on a variety of shows including Olympics ceremonies, arena shows, experiential shows in weird and wonderful venues, and even theatre shows. We also collaborated with a great team at Uniplan and Imagine Believe to help us over the challenges of putting on a show in a different market.

From a technical point of view, the complex structure of the Eiffel Tower and the garden over which we had to build raised infinitely more intricate variables than working within the (usually) straightforward environment of an arena space. When you add to this the fact that our load-in started on a building site where power had not been completed and we were unsure if our rigging points would be completed and rated in time (they were, with two days to spare), as well as incomplete fibre and CAT6 patches, the venue was certainly a challenge!

Local labour laws in Macau, and the shortage of the local expertise to deliver a one-off event of this scale, definitely increased the build period required and necessitated a lot more ‘micro management’ than usual. Lastly, once the building was open and we had a de-rig to do, we had to do it in total silence and tidiness – the stage and grandstand space (holding 1,000 VIP guests) sat on the forecourt of Macau’s newest five-star resort, and arriving guests could not be subjected to the sight of trucks or a half-dismantled structure!

All of this, however, fell well within the experience of the team and we pulled off a great show that the client believed was the “best opening ever in Macau”.