THE EKKA SHOW IN 2020
Brisbane’s iconic Ekka show was cancelled this year due to Covid-19 but in a bid to lift spirits, the fireworks show went ahead thanks to the donation of fireworks, audiovisual, lighting and programming by Skylighter Fireworks, NW Group, Chameleon Touring Systems and JLX Productions Pty Ltd.
The Fullscreen Fireworks Show, presented by 7NEWS Brisbane, was specially designed for television audiences to stay home and watch on the telly for the best vantage point.
Over fifty fireworks, lighting, sound and vision crew worked on the event – another example of our industry donating their time, expertise and gear to a worthy cause even though they have been hardest hit by Covid-19.
NW Group’s involvement in the event came about whilst Ray Moss, General Manager for NW Group in Queensland, was having a catch up with Tony Laffan who heads up the entertainment department at Ekka.
“Tony mentioned Max Brunner from Skylighter Fireworks had offered to donate a pyro show on the eve of what would have been Ekka 2020 given the event had to cancel due to COVID restrictions, and in passing that 7 News Brisbane were in negotiation to take the show live to air,” explained Ray. “Ekka has been a loyal NW client for around 16 years so the decision was really a no brainer for us to be involved.”
Skylighter, like the rest of the entertainment industry, is in full shutdown due to COVID gathering restriction (not to mention losing the back end of trading in 2019 through mass cancellations during the devastating bushfires), and Max saw this as an opportunity to give back to the community and, as importantly, bring his team together to work on the project. Both sentiments resonated greatly with Ray and the need to give our people some respite from the endless cancellations and floor-sweeping.
“Mental health and well-being within our industry are so important and something as simple as having a gig to do in times like this cannot be underestimated,” added Ray. “Once I drilled into how they were looking to incorporate and deliver the technical backbone, we soon realised they needed some assistance and happily offered our services.”
Within 24 hours NW Group came to the realisation that what started as a single firework display in the middle of the arena had grown considerably. With that, given the profile it was fast attracting, it needed to be done properly so they not only volunteered to provide audio playback, mastering and time-code distribution but also began planning to add a lighting element.
Josh Finlayson, Luke Symons and Cam Walker made up the audio team with NW Group providing multi-track playback from a dual redundant QLab system keying via midi from a Yamaha QL1 console.
NW distributed time code; SMPTE to lighting and FSK to pyro, as well as the audio track to Ch 7 who did a full OB of the 6pm news bulletin from the site. For those that don’t know much about modern television production, it’s not often they come out of the studio these days so the guys knew this was building to be something special.
NW also provided vision monitors and distribution to the operators, taking program splits from the Ch7 OB truck, and provided show comms across operations fully interfaced back to the Ch7 studio and producer, along with two-way radios to keep the onsite team connected.
“Given the obvious benefits to the wellbeing of having as many people involved as possible, I called Tim Allder at Chameleon Touring Brisbane and Jason Raft from JLX Productions to see if they would like to be involved and both immediately said yes,” said Ray. “Their contribution and response was amazing, having all worked together on so many great projects in the past everyone jumped back into work mode from our COVID slumber. It was awesome to see our talented teams in full flight - which feels like forever since they had the opportunity.”
The one thing that wasn’t made a big deal of in the media, is that all production and pyrotechnic elements were fully 100% donated despite some of the keyboard warrior calls questioning the cost and ‘waste of money’. This was done by all involved to create some happiness and improve mental health within the industry and community at large, an objective that was more than achieved.
“It always amazes me that people and businesses whose livelihoods have been so devastated by the impacts of the current pandemic can continue to dig deeper and give back,” remarked Ray. “It makes me proud to be part of this great industry of ours.”
After a quick download from Ray of what he was envisaging (let’s remember he’s an audio guy!), Tim offered a stock list and Jason wielded his magic consulting closely with Max who had personally collated the music and pyro pre-vis to come up with an awesome design and fully pre-programmed show to enhance what was already a pretty full show with pyro alone.
Both the pyro and lighting were designed from the ground up for television as opposed to the standard Ekka approach of programming for a close-proximity live audience, with all pre-visualisations from key camera locations. The event was live audience free meaning the closed site allowed for larger than normal pyro.
The theme of the show was centred on the heart shape flares in the middle that Max had designed to tie in with a feeling of love for the Ekka community, and the Ch7 theme of Love You Queensland. Jason ran with this adding lighting FX to give added dimension to the heart as well as set the canvas pre-show and as always, pulled it off to tee.
The pyro will always be the hero of this type of event however without a doubt, the lighting additions and Jason’s FX made it that bit more special.
Chameleon prepped the lighting to minimise time onsite with the four rolling trusses fully pre-rigged with fixtures and distro to be completely plug and play – although the heart took a bit longer.
Lighting gear was eight Claypaky Stormy CC, 20 x Sharpy Beam, 12 x Sharpy Wash, 14 x Pixelline 4, 12 x Martin MAC Quantum Wash, 12 x Claypaky Scenius Profile, 24 x ShowPRO IP Hex Pars, 40 x Martin MAC 101 and 14 x ShowPRO LED Duets. Control was MA Lighting grandMA2.
“Echoing Ray’s comments below, our motivation was about not only providing a brief reprieve to Queensland but also bringing our staff together again,” added Max Brunner from Skylighter Fireworks. “Sixteen pyrotechnicians worked on the display in the lead-up and on the day. The feedback about the positive effects on their mental health was great and has had a lasting effect. For us, that was just one of the major factors in donating this show. It was also a way for Ekka to stay at the forefront of people’s minds.”
The whole site was activated, so in all 85 modules over eight launch sites were used including rooftops, light towers and the arenas. Over 2000kgs of fireworks were used delivering approx. 20,000 individual effects. The fireworks used normally are 50mm but because the team had the entire RNA showgrounds they could go up to 150mm. This allowed the fireworks to reach upwards of 270m, giving views all around the city. Specialty shells were used including hearts, smiley faces, butterfly patterns and many more.
Significant wireless technology was used with a backup of hard cabling and a third analogue timecode broadcaster. The show was built specifically for a broadcast audience, so a full simulation was created first. This allowed Jason and his team at JLX to not only see the show but also time the burst of the fireworks to the change of lighting sequences in real-time. The simulation also allowed the Ch7 broadcast directors to change cameras for important moments like the 80m x 70m red heart in the middle of the arena. Allowing this type of collaboration took the display to the next level, with subtle moments of lights and pyro changing at the same time and the fact broadcast could pick up on every moment.
NW Group Crew
Luke Symons, Josh Finlayson, Cam Walker, Ray Moss.
Skylighter Fireworks Crew
Max Brunner, Nick Kozij, Darren Rooney, Harrison Smith and team.
Tim Allder, Ethen Harvey, Troy Spence.
Jason Raft, Zak Harrison, Shanon Barclay, Jakob Kaiser, Jasmine Kennedy, James Kenny, Ryan Sweet, Hunter Shearn (NW).
C&M Productions Crew
(C&M Productions came on board last minute to build the Ch7 news host stage)
Michael Moss, Thomas Neurendorff, Lachlan Goilding.