NEW YORK – The iconic Cunard Line was looking for a way to celebrate the 175th anniversary of its first transatlantic crossing, when Kelly Easterling approached the company with an idea that was outside the box — or perhaps more aptly outside the ship! Easterling, the creative director and principal designer at Quantum Theatricals, proposed creating a dynamic lightshow set to music off the side of the 1,132’ Queen Mary 2, the company’s flagship ocean liner. Much to the delight of the massive crowd in New York harbor on July 14, this is precisely what he and his dedicated team wound up doing with help from 50 intensely bright Legend 230SR Beams from CHAUVET Professional.
The 230-watt Legends were the only fixtures used on the ocean liner for the magnificent lighting display. (Four other movers were on shore as part of the show.) Positioned alongside the railings of the port side promenade deck, the fixtures cast rapidly moving and vividly colored beams across New York harbor and into the sky during the 8-minute show, which began at 9:30 in the evening as the ship held position in front of the Statue of Liberty.
“It was an impressive sight,” said Easterling. “Our goal was to celebrate the rich history of Cunard and point ahead to its exciting future with a show that was as breathtaking and majestic as the famous ships that sailed under the Cunard banner. We produced the show for two perspectives: the passengers aboard the ship and the people gathered in Battery Park in lower Manhattan. We saw it as a ballet of light choreographed to a sweeping musical score. The show received an incredible response!”
Kelly and his lighting designer Richard Chamblin counted on the intense output (96,000 lux at 15 meters) of the 50 Legend 230SR fixtures to create an impactful display for their light-and-music ballet in a “theater” that was really one of the world’s largest harbors.
“One of the biggest challenges in this project was the distance of the ship relative to Battery Park where the crowd gathered,” said Chamblin. “When this project was being developed we knew the ship would be anywhere from a quarter to a half mile off shore. With that kind of distance we wanted to make sure that the lights would be bright enough to stand out. The biggest deciding factor for us in choosing this fixture was its brightness. The Legend 230SR easily out performs its competitors in lumen output.”
The LDs also singled out the Legend 230SR Beam’s 8-facet prism for creating vivid, colorful looks on the harbor’s nearly black night water. “We relied heavily on the Legend’s prisms during the show,” said Chamblin. “At the distance we were using the lights, gobos and zooming features aren’t what’s called for — but the prisms in these fixtures created some really nice looks when we used the water as a palette to illuminate.”
Overcoming the distance between the ship and the onshore audience was only one of the challenges that Quantum Theatricals faced when pulling off this historic project, which Easterling and his team began working on in March. “When we presented the idea of creating this show, the Cunard executives were very intrigued,” said Easterling. “However everyone was wondering if it could be done. There was a tremendous amount of conversation and research undertaken to ensure that we would have the necessary time and money.”
Among the biggest challenges faced by the design team was to ensure that the lightshow, which was timed using SMPTE time code on the ship, and the music sound tracks at Battery Park would be triggered at exactly the same moments. “We couldn’t run a cable from the park to the ship – and streaming SMPTE was not reliable enough,” said Easterling. “So we commissioned a custom GPS triggering system that utilized GPS time clocks to trigger the start of the show both on land and on the ship at the exact same moment in time. The clock sent a trigger to the control consoles on the ship and in the park at precisely the same time, so we wound up with the lighting effects on the Queen Mary 2 being perfectly synchronized with the soundtrack at Battery Park.”
The New York appearance of the Queen Mary 2 marked the final stop in a three-country tour that celebrated Cunard’s 175th anniversary. Retracing the July 1840 journey of the company’s original RMS Britannia, the QM2 began its crossing at South Hampton, then stopped in Liverpool before setting forth to Halifax, Nova Scotia, then on to Boston and New York.
Capping off this transatlantic journey with an amazing nighttime spectacle required an incredible degree of coordination before the first Legend 230SR Beams were ever turned on. Among the agencies that cooperated to make the show possible were the US and Canadian Customs, The US Coast Guard, the City of New York, and the Federal Aviation Administration.
“Given that the lumen output of the Chauvet fixtures was so high, we were required to contact the FAA at JFK moments prior to the performance to get clearance and then contact them again following the show to notify them that we had finished,” said Easterling. “This was done so that the Air Traffic Control Tower could notify any aircraft in the area of the show and warn them of the bright moving lights. Additionally, we worked closely with Cunard’s UK team to develop a marine plan that detailed the exact longitude and latitude of the ship for the show, which was then approved in advance by local and federal agencies.”
Like any project of this magnitude, the Cunard 175th Anniversary required a tremendous team effort. “We’re all quite grateful to our Canadian Production Manager Shaw Fortis, who really coordinated the gear and logistics. His insight and guidance kept the show on track and on budget,” said Easterling. “Solotech and Christie handled our Canadian rentals (we loaded the show onto the ship in Halifax), and WorldStage handled the shore-side support in New York. All of these companies were splendid to work with. Finally, Earlybird Visual took care of our pre-visualization of the show and did stellar work.”
After the anniversary celebration, the Queen Mary 2 sailed out of New York harbor while Easterling, Chamblin and the rest of the Quantum Theatricals team took a step back to appreciate what they had accomplished. “When you’re in the middle of the project you’re too preoccupied with things,” said Easterling, “Now I love looking at the photos and videos of that night.” Apparently a lot of other people do too. Shortly after the celebration ended, an image of the Legends in action on the Queen Mary 2 was the number one photo in the Huffington Post’s “Pictures From Around The World.”
Photo Credit: Associated Press