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JMarkSnow2012

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  1. A nationwide bid is fine if you assume the Olympics are basically a TV event- but once you start to treat them as a whole bunch of live spectator events, then travel between, say, the North and South Islands of NZ, becomes a pretty significant factor.
  2. Because they're going downstream, they can present a version of the Athens Clepsydra on boats instead of theme-park people movers, with historical periods & events illustrated as they pass the relevant sites
  3. The sixth instalment The Athens 2004 opening ceremony had been minimalist, but austerely beautiful and thoughtful. In the 21st century spirit of opposition to the opening ceremony four years previously, Zhang Yimou, director for Beijing 2008, did something rather startling: he put an austerely beautiful, minimalist performance inside a dynamic, maximalist display of precision mass movement to outdo even Seoul 1988. The 2008 opening demonstrated to Western viewers that Chinese culture had developed over a similar timespan to Greek culture, for the most part quite independently, and on a much larger scale. The duration of the cultural performance returned to the 80-minute standard (effectively all before the Parade), and to the multiplicity of short scenes favoured by Sydney, necessitating an even larger cast. In keeping with the artistic seriousness, however, Nikki Webster was replaced as unifying factor by a concept: the Four Great Inventions (although children were featured at appropriate moments). What made the Beijing ceremony work so astonishingly well was the shapes formed by the mass movement. They used performers as pixels, and their overall beautiful neatness & simplicity worked as well on the TV screen as in the stadium (or perhaps even better, as no stadium spectators had the sort of celestial view of the whole arena available to some of the TV cameras). Technically, the main innovation was the use of an LED floor, which permitted a pictorial equivalent of Athens' Clepsydra parade to run concurrently with the human performances. Two years later, the Vancouver Winter Olympic opening ceremony showed that a roughly equivalent effect could be obtained much more cheaply using multiple computer-coordinated projectors (which in 2008 were used only on the inner wall of the stadium roof) setting a precedent which would be used in almost every Olympic ceremony until Beijing unveiled an improved version of its LED floor in 2022. Incidentally, the recent availability of an HD recording of the 2008 ceremony on YouTube has made it possible to examine and appreciate details like the LED floor images, whereas paradoxically, because of camera limitations in 2004, the Athens ceremony is best seen in SD, a version no longer available on YouTube. There were several further developments in the media world between 2008 and 2010, when planning of the London 2012 opening ceremony began. User bases for social media platforms had grown exponentially, and played a significant part in promoting the Vancouver Winter Olympics; 8k was being developed as the logical format for future flat TV screens which would occupy an entire living-room wall; and most dramatically in the shorter term, live 3-D coverage of sporting events was being provided by various broadcasters around the world. All these developments had potential consequences for the 2012 opening ceremony. Social media had encouraged TV shows to include "Easter Eggs"- seemingly minor elements which alert viewers could interpret and share online. 400 years previously, William Shakespeare had been doing much the same in his plays, which are stuffed full of teasing references. The London 2012 opening ceremony was intended to work in much the same way; the more people shared references they spotted, either during the live broadcast or on later revisits via the increasingly popular video streaming services, the more value they would get from the experience. For example, the official media guide for global commentators never explained how the show was designed to illustrate both the 2012 Olympic slogan "Inspire a Generation" and the 2012 bid slogan "Games For Everyone" which was hidden in plain sight within a very wide interpretation of Tim Berners-Lee's slogan for the World Wide Web "This Is For Everyone". Also, amusingly, the media guide could not name the British company which had created the high-efficiency processor designs used in the majority of handheld electronic devices around the world, so instead a wide variety of sponsor-made gadgets using the technology were shown, and the hint was picked up on social media. In general, the media guide was much less prescriptive than those for Athens and Beijing, which had featured small pictures with captions for almost every incident in the performance. For example, the whole industrial revolution scene got just three captioned pictures plus a general summary and a few statistics. Social media boosted the "For Everyone" concept, turning spectators into active participants. This was most apparent during the concluding firework display, which was shown on TV only from within the stadium and from the air. Video coverage from ground level, at distances ranging from tens of metres to tens of kilometres, was provided by hundreds of personal videos uploaded to YouTube, Facebook etc. There was no chance that 8k would be available to consumers by 2012, though it could be fed to viewing rooms as the original Berlin 1936 Olympic TV coverage had (there were even the same number of cameras available: three). 3-D, on the other hand, was a developing market which could benefit massively from high-quality coverage of the Games. However, one thing which had already been definitively established was that shooting everything in 3-D and broadcasting only one eye's view for viewers without the appropriate equipment satisfies nobody. There would have to be two separate camera teams, shooting in very different styles, for every event broadcast in 3-D, including the opening and closing ceremonies (also two control rooms, two commentary teams, etc.). Finnish broadcaster YLE's expertise in track & field coverage had been demonstrated in the inaugural IAAF World Championships in 1983, and their producer Raimo Piltz was appointed to oversee the work of a Korean production team in the Seoul 1988 Olympics. As the idea of a neutral, international host broadcast organisation for the Games developed, YLE ultimately became responsible for all TV coverage of events in the main stadium at every summer Olympics. The Athens and Beijing opening ceremonies had been designed around the limited rehearsal time available with the YLE camera team, who would not arrive in the host city until shortly before the Games. London 2012 Ceremonies' Executive Producer for Broadcast, Hamish Hamilton, demonstrated that Danny Boyle's ceremony proposals made no such concessions, and the camera team would need to rehearse for much longer. Documentation on the discussions with the IOC about this does not seem to be available, but I wonder if the original suggestion was for YLE to provide the 3-D coverage, and a specialist team to be brought in for the main feed. The IOC insisted that the main coverage of protocol elements such as the Parade of Nations and the Cauldron lighting must come from the YLE team, so it seems likely that there were, in the end, three camera teams, two of which were only used for part of the time. The insane complexity of the 2012 show was part of the 21st century opening ceremony tradition of opposition to the predecessor. So too was the decision to rely as much as possible on true volunteers without either military or performing arts training (though this was also another example of the "For Everyone" principle). The use of a slightly raised performance area to hide inflatable and kit-build scenic elements was not so much oppositional as a budgetary necessity, given that a 2008-style deep basement would extend well below the level of the adjacent rivers. Perhaps the most influential of such oppositional decisions was the appearance in each major scene of dark themes, up to and including death. Overall, the ceremony had most in common with Sydney 2000, except for its use of extended stories with featured characters rather than mass movement vignettes. Even the "Glastonbury Tor" hill was a version of the elevated platform seen in Sydney and other pre-2004 ceremonies. The most significant showing-off extravagance was without doubt the provision of LED "pixel paddles" beside each seat. Attempts to use battery-powered radio-controlled units had failed, so hundreds of kilometres of wiring had to be installed so that each paddle could have its own full-time connection. In the context of the London stadium, however, the expense was fully justified, because the minimal roof coverage meant that most seats were visible in aerial shots. The paddles also provided the main visual attraction for stadium spectators at the closing ceremony, which rarely featured large groups of performers. Finally, did the 3-D work? Yes it did; the visuals were highly praised by those who saw them (though broadcasters who chose "youth-oriented" commentators for their 3-D coverage did themselves no favours). On the other hand, no it didn't, because only the polarised lens projection system used in cinemas for 3-D is bearable to watch for long periods. Only about 1 in 200 viewers watched the opening ceremony in 3-D, and some of the subsequent 3-D sport events were hardly seen by anybody at all. Over the course of 2013, broadcasters around the world quietly wound down their 3-D projects. TBC
  4. The fifth instalment ... A key feature of the whole Sydney 2000 Games was the emphasis on providing a great experience for visitors, which was reflected in the opening ceremony. Barcelona 1992 had established the principle that an Olympic opening ceremony should feature whatever types of stadium performance experiences the host nation (and indeed the host city, to which, after all, the Games were officially awarded) could create to show itself to the world*. Sydney 2000 supersized the concept, with the longest artistic segments in Olympic history, and one of the largest ceremony casts ever assembled (despite the nation of Australia having a population under 20 million at the time). Those statistics are directly linked, because Sydney chose to feature a large number of short performances, each requiring its own stadium-scale cast. Preparation for the ceremony involved years of investment in performing arts education. It's only when you try to use it for something other than track athletics that you start to appreciate how ridiculously large an Olympic arena really is. To accommodate a field-sports area within an 8-lane, 400-metre running track requires an arena around 190 by 120 metres, so a spectator in the middle ranks of seating beyond one of the rounded ends of the track will be over 100 metres from the centre of the infield, and athletes or performers in that location will appear about 1 degree high. Therefore, if the stadium video screens are also in the rounded ends, the same spectator will be unable to see the screen next to them, and the 7.5 metre high image of a performer or athlete on screen at the opposite end, over 200 metres away, will only appear about 2 degrees high. Compare the recommended height for home TV viewing, 20 degrees, and it becomes apparent that "jumbotron" screens are no substitute for spreading performers over a wide area. In addition to its large cast, Sydney attempted to reduce the maximum viewing distance by offsetting its screens to the ends of the stadium's side-roofs (i.e. the corners if the stadium had been rectangular), alternating the jumbotrons and scoreboards, which had previously been placed side-by-side at the ends of the arena. Atlanta had struggled with the need to present both local culture and centennial Olympic history, so Sydney opted for a fairly straightforward chronological progression, cleverly framed by the dream-journey of young Nikki Webster. Very significantly, where Atlanta had irrelevantly and irreverently co-opted Native American symbolism to help portray the one theme in local history which was globally well-known, Sydney made indigenous Australians the heroes of Nikki's story, and ultimately the heroes of the whole ceremony thanks to an elegant choice of Cauldron-lighter. There were also some technical improvements, such as the use of roof-level cables to create "flying" effects, plus an early use of very large-scale projection to create the Dove. In effect, Sydney perfected the ceremony format which Barcelona pioneered- almost. Both Atlanta and Sydney suffered embarrassing hold-ups with mechanical elements of their cauldron-lighting, but Sydney's was forgiven because of its mechanism's epic ambition. The Parade of Nations in 1996 had taken about 1 hour 55 minutes for 197 teams; Sydney crammed 199 teams into 1 hour 50 minutes. This meant that overall, for the only time in Olympic history, Sydney's cultural performances (if you include most of the song "Heroes Live Forever" which accompanied the extended symbolic dove release) took up roughly as much time as the Parade. This worked well for the stadium audience, but some critics suggested it was too much for TV, perhaps partly because on the typical screen of 2000, a stadium-scale spectacle is reduced to a smallish rectangle. Dimitris Papaioannou, artistic director of the 2004 opening ceremony, was one of those who held that view, and he began what became a 21st century trend- that each Summer opening ceremony was defined by its opposition to the one before it. He assumed that the stadium spectators, mostly Greek, would be happy with anything that portrayed their culture, even presented on the tiniest scale ... ... because again, the vast TV audience would be experiencing the ceremony in that small rectangle, much better suited to displaying an individual than a crowd. Papaioannou decided that the ceremony should be filmed as if taking place in a studio, mostly using close-ups of small groups of performers; stadium scale would be provided by mechanical and pyrotechnic effects. He also drastically reduced the length of the cultural performance, to about three-quarters of an hour, only 40 minutes of which preceded the Parade. Remarkably, by no means all of this short performance was about Greek culture. Instead, using the theme "Birthplace," Papaioannou implied that Greece was the source not just of the Olympics but of geometry, love, and even life itself. The introduction of 140 bpm club choons from Dutch DJ Tiësto for the Parade had a surprising effect: with just two additional teams, the Parade was nearly ten minutes longer than in 2000. The main technical innovations in 2004 were the introduction of a stadium basement, from which large props could be raised by the Sydney-style overhead cables, and the flooding of most of the arena to represent the Aegean Sea. The "Clepsydra" historical parade was not an innovation but an adaptation of an old street carnival feature; in keeping with Papaioannou's "TV studio" policy, the parade was abandoned as soon as the last wagon had passed the TV cameras, sited next to the entrance. * On the topic of performance experiences, I should have mentioned in the last instalment that the 1992 and 1996 ceremonies both added Caribbean carnival to their repertoire of celebratory styles. TBC
  5. Except that it was only the timing of a BBC commentator's remark which implied a specific connection with 7/7. In reality, the Memorial Wall showed departed loved ones of stadium spectators- and the significance of its precise position within the ceremony, just after the big celebration of teenage romance, was that in Shakespeare's "The Tempest" that's where Prospero makes his famous "our little life is rounded with a sleep" speech. The underlying theme of this whole "pop show" was actually best illustrated in Calabasas, California, on January 26, 2020.
  6. Same time zone, but hundreds of kilometres closer to the Land of the Midnight Sun
  7. Hence the need to watch the whole thing from start to finish!
  8. Unfortunately, if you want the ceremony to be live in local prime-time, and you happen to be fairly close to the Equator, you don't get that option, because at any time of year the sun will set, rather rapidly, within an hour of 6pm. On the other hand, in Paris the summer sunset is almost after prime-time, getting on for 9-45pm. You just have to make the best of what you've got.
  9. By all means use clips to illustrate particular points in discussion, but what I meant was "If you want to discuss an Olympic opening ceremony, find a full-length video, start at the countdown, and keep watching until you reach the end." Since the 1980s they have all had structures, and increasingly the structures themselves have had significance. For example, NBC's decision in 2012 to replace the scene immediately before the Parade with an interview pretty literally tore the heart out of the ceremony, and was probably a key factor in creating the myth that the 2012 opening was basically a big pop show.
  10. The 2016 opening ceremony told the history of Brazil over the past billion years, and warned of a deeply troubling future. If you want to discuss these events, you really need to stop introducing yourself to them via clips.
  11. Probably- but the same idea had been used in 1948 at the University of Mississippi homecoming football game. They displayed a Confederate flag ...
  12. The fourth instalment ... First a little more about sunset. Local sunset times can be affected both by latitude and longitude. Latitude matters most in politically-dictated time-zones which are wider than 1/24 of the Earth's circumference; for example Barcelona, Paris and Atlanta are all beyond the western edges of their "natural" time-zones, so local sunset is an hour later than you would expect. Longitude matters most in countries furthest from the Equator, so that the longest day of the year in Atlanta or Sydney is about 4.5 hours longer than the shortest, whereas the longest day in London is about 8.8 hours longer than the shortest. Before we return to the progression of Summer opening ceremonies, I'd also like to mention the elephant which isn't in the room. Olympic opening ceremonies have always been intended to convey the spirit of Olympism, and the spirit of the upcoming Games. Only the Parade is purely "about the athletes" and the ceremonies are absolutely not supposed to be about sport in general. That's what the sport events are for! We have seen that the Parade was conceived in the era of cinema newsreels, but thanks to an ever-expanding field of competing nations, became a growing problem once the opening ceremony started to be experienced primarily as a live TV event. Hence the decision in the 1970s to encourage expansion of the "spirit of the upcoming Games" theme to a more general presentation of the host nation's culture. Throughout the 1980s this took its inspiration from the sort of performances seen much earlier in association with other sport events: marching bands, drill teams, cheerleaders, and their Korean equivalents. But now it's 1992, and the Winter Olympic opening ceremony at Albertville in France has taken some stylistic hints from Seoul 1988, boosting the artistic credibility of the performances. As the capital of a nation subsumed within a major nation-state, Barcelona takes that principle to a new level, using the ceremony to depict Catalonia as a cultural powerhouse worthy of global respect. That is achieved in the 1992 daylight performances both by literal presentation of the work of local cultural icons, and by the introduction of a climactic, stadium-filling drama performance telling the legendary story of Barcelona's foundation. The post-Parade, post-sunset protocol section of the ceremony is peppered with performances and interludes, before the Paralympian perfection of the Cauldron lighting introduces a 25-minute bonus of more traditional acrobatic and musical performances, culminating in a firework display. You can see the influence of Seoul and Barcelona very clearly in the Atlanta 1996 presentation of the city's culture and history (or rather, the culture and history of another nation subsumed within a major nation-state) but the celebration of the centennial Games provided an opportunity to combine the "spirit of Olympism" and "spirit of the host nation" in segments such as the tribute to Martin Luther King, and the singing of "Citius, Altius, Fortius" by Jessye Norman. Another element which was becoming standard by 1996 was the combined length of the various cultural elements: over 80 minutes in total, though the balance of pre- and post-Parade elements was gradually shifting to lengthen the pre- and shorten the post-. Atlanta chose to start during twilight, over an hour later by local time than Barcelona but perfect for east coast TV prime-time, which meant that the post-Parade segment occupied the Late Show slot. In Sydney 2000, closer to the Equator and further from the longest day, even a start at Barcelona's early time would be in twilight, so they opted for full darkness throughout, while still starting earlier, by local time, than Atlanta. What that permitted Sydney to accomplish will be considered in the next instalment. TBC
  13. That'll teach me to be light-hearted. So, if we're doing this the hard way: That of course is only even potentially true for tickets within the same nation. For the Olympics, held in different nations every Olympiad, ticket pricing is always about what the market will stand. So yes, average revenue per ticket issued in 2000 was about $82.24, against just $51.20 in 1996. In 2004 it was, according to the same IOC marketing reports, exactly $60.00 per ticket, which is a little perturbing. Way down to $28.46 in low-income, low-tourism China, but then up to £120.49 for 97% sold-out 2012. Back down to $51.77 in 2016, the last Summer Games where ticket sales meant anything.
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