Mandylights light mountain range for Parrtjima

Posted on Monday, December 11th, 2017

The Parrtjima Light Festival is held in Alice Springs, Central Australia, and showcases the oldest continuous culture on earth through the newest technologies.

Through a spectacular world of light and sound, contemporary and traditional Indigenous stories and artwork are brought to life under the night sky on an unprecedented scale.

Illuminating the epic 300-million-year-old MacDonnell Ranges and spilling into Alice Springs Desert Park, Parrtjima is a breathtaking outdoor gallery experience presenting local artwork, culture and stories, with interactive installations the whole family can enjoy.

The sheer scale of the lighting on the MacDonnell Ranges makes Parrtjima Australia’s longest-ever light show installation stretching for two kilometres.

Mandylights were contracted by AGB Events, creative consultants and producers of Parrtjima, to tackle this incredible light installation and they worked closely with the local indigenous Arrente people to ensure its success.

“We wanted the entire two kilometres of content to be as animated and moving as possible,” explained Richard Neville, managing director of Mandylights. “We also wanted the event to be more theatrical than the previous year, consequently we designed a six and a half minute long light show that moved from lighting positions around the localized viewing areas, then up into projected images across the ranges and finally across fixtures that we scattered over the sides of the mountains which were able to shoot back towards the viewers.”

With such an enormous canvas and a ridiculously long throw of between 400 metres and one kilometer, fixture choice was paramount. After testing a few contenders, Richard decided upon eighty Robe BMFL Spots to project onto the ranges along with twenty Robe Spiiders placed on top of the ranges to project light back onto the viewing areas.

The installation process was not easy with day temperatures over 40°C plummeting to -1°C at night. Dust and wind was a constant leaving the lights full of red dust at the end of the event.

“Basically we were up against every possible environmental condition you could imagine!” said Richard. “We worked with MPH Australia out of Melbourne as they have a really good Robe inventory and Matt Hansen and his team absolutely smashed the entire project. We couldn’t have done it without their support … even when asked to walk lights hundreds of metres into snake and dingo-infested scrub.”

The rich red of the rock and the dark green of the foliage doesn’t make the MacDonnell Ranges the best projection surface but fortunately there had not been much rain beforehand so much of the grass was bleached almost white.

The lights were choreographed to an aboriginal soundtrack so it was necessary to create meaning with the projections and to represent the culture.

“It wasn’t just a matter of throwing lights and patterns onto a mountain, we really went out of our way to communicate the concept that the local people and Rhoda Roberts, the curator, wanted to convey in the show,” added Richard. “Obviously there are some colours that read really well and others not so well, so we ended up with quite a limited colour palette but that kept the show looking really smooth creatively.”

Mandylights retrofitted a 20ft shipping container as a new, interactive control space. During the time the show wasn’t running, the local people could enter the control room and control the Robe BMFL’s with simple hand movements. Within the container there was also an area where the MA Lighting MA2 light console sat with a couple of large screens so that people could see how the control worked.

“It was a really cool experience to bring the lighting control element into the festival,” remarked Richard. “While people were waiting to have a go at controlling the lights, they could look at the console to see how the cues were running and how the lights were moving. So it wasn’t just a case of 100 lights off in the distance doing a light show, people got to see the timecode working and how the interactive control worked. It was a very rewarding experience to see heaps of aboriginal children entranced by this.”

As well as lighting the ranges, Mandylights lit the scrub and saltbush in the foreground immediately around the viewing areas. The festival site featured many light artworks with Mandylights on hand to assist the artists.

Parrtjima means the shedding of both light and understanding on a subject, something that Mandylights successfully achieved.