Olympic light show – the biggest pixel screen and more

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Despite some questionable musical performances, interpretive dance, and George Michael singing ‘Freedom’ to a group of North Korean athletes about to head back home, the most impressive thing about last night’s closing ceremony was the light show from the stands themselves.

Eagle-eyed viewers would have noticed throughout the duration of the athletics the small black paddles with 9 LEDs placed next to each seat in the crowd, these were subsequently used by visualisation specialists Crystal CG to transform the crowd into the biggest lighting rig imaginable.

A team of 17 at Crystal CG’s special London offices worked for over three months to create the digital spectacle on the screen of 634,500 individual LED pixels, built by Tait Technologies with a resolution five times that of HDTV and a height of 413 feet.

Over 10,000 pixels wide, the animations have required huge amounts of computer rendering and 24 hour IT support. To make it all happen, Crystal assembled an experienced creative and production team of local talent. The animator skill sets had to be extremely versatile and include complex 3D design and programming, as well as character and stop frame animation.

The system runs on a Barco FLX system and pixel mapping was carried out through the Avolites Media Ai Infinity Server, supplied and programmed by Immersive.


As each act and song was confirmed, Crystal assigned a small team to create test animations and then executed full production. This included shooting catwalk models in high-end fashions, filming drifting clouds over London and flicking paint onto rooftop canvases.

Having featured in the opening ceremony too, its director Danny Boyle, said: “Every Olympic ceremony aims for a major technical breakthrough. Our remarkable audience pixels have opened up amazing new images, effects and spectacle, but most of all they have enabled our live stadium audience to be part of the ceremony in a way that’s never been possible before.”

Unlike the opening ceremony, the closing ceremony has had no stadium rehearsal time. Since the sporting events finished last night, the closing ceremony team has been working hard to transform the Olympic stadium’s field of play into an arena stage show with multiple stages and screens.

Not content with creating spectacle at the opening and closing ceremonies, Crystal CG also developed vast amounts of the other digital content; from the initial architectural visualisations plans that helped with the design of the Olympic Park; to the fly-through videos seen on the TV coverage as they moved from one event destination to another, to the screens that flashed up ‘New World Record’ at the events.

At the venues themselves the brief was to bring ‘sports presentation’ to life to create information, entertainment, anticipation, surprise, drama, celebration and multi-sensory experiences. Crystal created more than 2,000 animated graphics, totalling over 260 minutes of content for Olympic in-venue sports entertainment shown over a range of screens of various shapes and sizes in all venues across all Olympic events.

A wide range of technology was used, from initial storyboarding using Adobe Illustrator, to Cinema 4D, Autodesk 3ds Max with Vray for rendering, and Autodesk Maya using Mentalray.

Crystal CG’s creative director Darren Groucutt, said: “The creative challenge was to bring a lot of content and ideas to life in every venue of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Every spectator should feel part of this unique experience from walking into the venue to the climax of the action.”

As a result, all this content added a huge amount to the overall vibrancy and excitement of the sports on show, making London 2012 the first truly digital games.


In addition to all of the above, Darren and his team also found time to create this blistering music video for the Chemical Brothers track Velodrome – commissioned especially for the track cycling event. Enjoy!


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