Although London-based Tal Rosner has worked with the New York Philharmonic, the Rolling Stones and Louis Vuitton, nothing could really prepare the BAFTA Award-winning artist and creative director for creating the video content for the XXII Commonwealth Games, or Birmingham 2022, the international multi-sport event for members of the Commonwealth of Nations.
More than 4,500 athletes from 72 nations and territories competed in 283 medal events at the games, which were broadcast worldwide to 28.6 million viewers on the BBC’s TV channels and streamed a Games’ record-breaking 57.1 million times on the BBC digital platforms.
Rosner and his team at Tal Rosner Ltd. provided video direction and design for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England’s Alexander Stadium. For the spectacular open, they created three hours of video content, including one hour for the athletes’ parade and imagery accompanying musical headliner Duran Duran. For the closing celebrations they delivered two hours of video content for a star-studded pop-rock concert with a surprise appearance by Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath.
“I’m accustomed to growing content from the computer screen to large surfaces, so that experience was very helpful, but nothing compares to the magnanimity of scale of the Commonwealth Games,” says Rosner. “You have to be very methodical approaching an event of this size and scope. I’ve worked extensively in theater and opera and, as with those disciplines, the Games were an extremely collaborative process. This was not a solo act.
“All the visual materials for the opening ceremony came out of creative meetings, brainstorming, workshopping and collaboration with Director Iqbal Kahn as well as the Heads of Departments for music, choreography and set design. Things came to life very organically, which I highly appreciate.”
Video design played an integral role in the opening ceremony complementing the complex show narrative, music and choreography; highlighting the colorful athlete’s parade; and underscoring such traditional moments as the national anthem and baton relay.
“My goal was to create something that looked and felt unique and original, that was visually stunning and striking and pushed the narrative in unpredictable ways. I wanted each section of the story to have a strong visual landmark,” Rosner explains.
Two prominent video display surfaces featured in the opening ceremonies, which took place as afternoon sun gave way to darkness. An LED ring encircled the stadium’s track encapsulating the show action taking place on the field and running like a electric current, always alive and connected with the events. It was composed of specialist outdoor, waterproof LEDa and measured more than 260 meters in circumference with a pixel resolution of 33,408 x 192.
One end of the stadium also had a massive telescopic, wedding cake-style tower comprising four levels with different architectural treatments. When fully extended the tower featured 250 square meters of ROE BQ4 LEDs. The base of the tower, which served as the main stage area for presenters, was partially ringed by a water-filled canal and had seven brick arched LED windows. The second and third tiers had wrap-around LED windows of varying sizes while the top tier had one continuous band of LEDs.
“The playfulness and physicality of the kinetic tower structure was very meaningful to the storytelling, with strong choreography of the way things moved on the screens,” says Rosner. “Since Production Designer Misty Buckley nested the LEDs within scenic, that allowed me to go a bit more contemporary with the visuals since the scenic structure seemed to ground them.”
The tower and ring coordinated visually to support the open’s stirring narrative, which told the story of Birmingham through history. Video transformed the tower into a kinetic piston as the city became a hub of early industrialization. Fire and flames danced on the screens as people rushed to save precious manuscripts in the Central Library blaze of 1879. The city’s famed 35 miles of canals were celebrated by diving acrobats who disappeared into the water around the tower only to reappear on video inside the tower complete with water bubbles. And the cultural diversity of Birmingham today was reflected in vibrant colors and patterns representing the multiplicity of communities residing in the city from West Indian to Punjabi.
One of the most challenging parts of any sports opening ceremony is how to make the parade of athletes stand out. “We put a lot of energy into animations of the flags, the national colors and country names on the tower and ring to make the athletes’ assembly fun,” Rosner recalls. “As the sun went down the space lit up with video as the athletes entered the stadium.”
Video design also supported the closing ceremony’s high-energy pop-rock performances that sent everyone home on a high note. Video content was coordinated on two display surfaces: an industrial tower of stacked, four-sided LED screens on stage, and an LED-wrapped riser on one side of the stage.
“Each performance needed a strong look that fit the band and the song, so these were very one-on-one, customized video sequences,” Rosner explains. Ozzy Osbourne’s surprise appearance with Black Sabbath was only revealed a week before the closing ceremony necessitating a rapid creative and technical turnaround.
Rosner not only directed the video team for the Games but also served as a hands-on team member. “I love the craft,” he says, “and our team was small enough for everyone to have a real sense of ownership. In the animated sequences I made I felt I left my physical mark on the show.”
The team utilized Cinema 4D and the Adobe suite of software for their work with After Effects Rosner’s tool of choice for animation and mastering and the NotchLC codec deployed for rendering. For content delivery Creative Technology (CT) utilized their custom G1 server platform running Pixera software.
“The success of this project was, as always, due to the strength of the team, which was comprised of very talented creative individuals,” notes Rosner. “Our Technical Director David Shepherd worked on 3D and systems and Nick Joyce was Systems Manager from the Commonwealth Games side.”
“With a project of this scope you’re always working under pressure, but the Commonwealth Games offered us many pockets of free thinking and creativity,” Rosner reports. “We hope the deep attention to detail we gave to the animation sequences came across as well thought out conceptually and visually.”
About Tal Rosner Ltd.
Tal Rosner is a BAFTA Award-wining artist and creative director whose work spans orchestral music, theater and dance alongside large-scale projection mapping and brand/commercial ventures worldwide.