On 12 January 2024, Qatar hosted the Opening Ceremony of the AFC Asian Cup at the 88,000-capacity Lusail Stadium, the largest stadium in the Middle East. Unusually for a football tournament, the ceremony was on an unprecedented scale, comprising a full-size stage in midfield with a set featuring sand dunes, colourful costumes, and stunning visuals around a central motif of giant mirrored petals. Simultaneously broadcast internationally across the Middle East, Asia and Australasia, the 21-minute visual extravaganza, Mirrors, The Lost Chapter from the Book of Kelileh Wa Demneh, was a triumph of theatrical story-telling. Equally impressive was the speed in which it was struck in just 27 minutes by 700 stage hands, in choreography as coordinated as the performers who preceded them, before the first match of the tournament kicked off.

“It was like Superbowl on steroids!” says lighting designer, Roland Greil who, brought in by design and production agency, Sila Sveta, used over 450 Ayrton fixtures as the majority – and main key lighting workhorses – of his design.

“Our aim from the beginning was to create a very theatrical theme and lighting design in keeping with the cinematic approach taken by producers, Katara Studios,” explains Greil. “The show was a hugely complex, spectacular, yet very theatrical piece with a detailed story line and glorious costumes. We needed a rig that could support the beautiful story on stage and create magical looks for 80% of the time, but also to have additional fire power to create some big looks for the remaining 20% for the live broadcast, and to reflect the joy and enthusiasm for the game of football within the region.”

Countering the constraints of stadium rigging positions, Greil worked with technical director Shannon Gobell to develop some “really good” lighting positions, the throw distances of which “bring their own physics with it!”

45 Domino Profiles and 80 Huracán Profiles were rigged around the circumference of the pitch on Level 0 at a height of at 1.6m with a throw distance of 40m-50m. “These immediately gave us traditional theatrical side lighting without interfering with audience sightlines, yet were high enough to fire above the heads of the security teams on the perimeters,” explains Greil. “Side lighting is your biggest friend for those magical looks, and the Domino Profiles and Huracán Profiles were our work horses for key lighting, side lighting and eye-candy for background imagery from here.

“Half way up the grandstands on Level 4 we found another perfect lighting position which we filled with 110 Domino Profiles for more key lighting from a distance of 80m-90m. Domino Profiles are basically an IP version of the Huracán Profile so I was able to use them both as if they were the same light. In the Arabic world, lighting for the live audience is of equal importance to lighting for worldwide broadcast, so getting the key lighting right is the most important aspect of the whole lighting package to achieve both.”

A further 67 Domino Profiles were rigged along two overhead catwalk trusses at a height of 90m-100m providing two high lighting positions from where they could light the audience for background shots, washing them with LED spotlights.

96 laser-sourced Ayrton Cobra fixtures were rigged on top the stadium roof to create aerial beams and extend the effect of the fireworks which were filmed by overhead drones and a heli cam. “We also used the Cobras to create some nice looks that worked from the inside of the stadium, positioning them to build a kind of roof of lights over the open stadium that could be seen perfectly from within.”

On stage, Greil integrated 54 Ayrton Domino Washes into the floor which he used to light the scenic elements, but also to create a ‘beautiful shaft of light’ in between the five mirrored LED petals of the main scenic element.

Traditional follow spots were replaced by a FollowMe system working in conjunction with the Huracán and Domino Profiles on Level 4. “In fact, we were able to calibrate each and every one of 450+ Ayrton fixtures in the overhead rig and choose any light or combination of lights we wanted to act as follow spots,” says Greil. “This was very beneficial for broadcast as we could pick and choose multiple lights to ensure we had the exact perfect angle for both broadcast and the live performance at all times. This was the first performance of a FollowMe system on a major stadium event and it worked perfectly. We were able to follow performers over an entire football field, not just a defined stadium stage, and we replaced what would traditionally have been 12-20 follow spots offering a limited number of angles, with 450 ‘follow spots’ that could be used in an incredibly creative way. It gave us huge flexibility and saved us an immense amount of time in rehearsal too.

“Considering scale of the show, we lit the whole ceremony with relatively few lights,” concludes Greil. “In total there were 54 Domino Washes, 224 Domino Profiles, 80 Huracán Profiles and 96 Cobra, alongside another 244 moving lights, all of which were amply able to cope with the huge throw distances. Thanks to these and a great collaboration between all the departments we were able to beat the challenges of lighting a huge profile event in a stadium.”

All lighting for the AFC Asian Cup was supplied by PRG Middle East.

Text: Julie Harper
Photos: © Katara Studios
Credits:
Lighting Design: Roland Greil
Stage Design & Visuals Creative Director: Artur Kond/ Sila Sveta
Katara Studios Executive Creative Director: Ahmed Al Baker
General Producers: Alexey Rozov & Alexander Us
Katara Studios Executive Producer:  Mahmoud Hamaky
Producer: Magrifa Kamayeva
Show Director: Slava Kualev
Broadcast Director: Marek Mill
Technical Director: Shannon Gobell
Associate Lighting Design: Troy Eckerman
LX Programmer & Studio Associate: Michael Kuehbandner
LX Programmer: Markus Neubauer
Design Assistant & Spot Caller: Tom Levin
Audio Design: Scott Willsallen
Staging & Automation: Stage One
LX Vendor: PRG Middle East
Audio Vendor: Agora
Rigging Vendor: Es:Me

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