The summer season at Warwick Castle presented back-to-back challenges for Full Production, called upon by event producer Pixel Artworks to provide lighting, crew and expertise for the historic venue’s two big visitor attractions – Dragon Slayer and Sundown Spectacular.
Warwick Castle, owned by Merlin Entertainments, hosted the two family-fun attractions in the spacious castle courtyard, just a few days apart in August. Pixel Artworks brought in Full Production having worked with them on a number of previous projects. Full Production’s director of live events and touring, Marc Thornton, served as lighting designer and led the company’s team under the guidance of Pixel Artwork’s production manager, Joe Kelly.
The first show, Dragon Slayer, had two acts: the first – a live action extravaganza complete with knights on horseback battling dragons and monsters – was a “full-on medieval experience”, says Thornton. Running nightly over a 10-day period, it told the legendary tale of the trials of valiant hero, Guy of Warwick. This large-scale show required theatrical-style lighting (programmed on an MA2 by Harry Williams) to cover the action not only on the 27m wide main stage, but also along the side and central aisles among the seated audience, numbering 2,000 each night.
A timecoded section of the show saw the story complemented with projection-mapping on the castle walls, from specialist company QED, with content created by Pixel Artworks. “During the projection-mapping, we were essentially using the lighting to reflect what was being projected, colour-matching to make it feel more immediate,” says Thornton. “So, if a wall falls down in the projection, we accentuate that with lighting effects over the audience. It makes it feel closer, more immersive.” In fact, Act Two required around 120 lighting cues to match the intricacies of the 25 minutes of projection content.
One challenge was that in such a protected space, the use of mounting structures was strictly forbidden, so fixture placement was limited to the castle roof and walls. “All the lighting positions had to date from the 14th century, or whenever it was,” notes Thornton with a smile. “And we had to ensure that we weren’t blocking the all-important projections. So, it was about finding the right lights for those jobs.”
Thornton opted for SGM G7-Spot moving head fixtures to do the lion’s share of the courtyard coverage, chosen both for their power and weather protection, while G-Profile Turbo heads were used for keylight. “I was very pleased with those, they gave the performers a really nice skin-tone,” says Thornton.
Six Ayrton Cobra moving heads were used as sky beams to help visually frame the stage space, while 16 colour-changing Astera PixelBricks, battery-operated and wirelessly controlled to avoid cable runs, lined the stage itself.
After Dragon Slayer, the Full Production crew of Mat Spencer, Alex Davies, Alex Hummel and Shaun Graham were partially rotated, with Seb Hancock joining Thornton, Spencer and Davies for the turnaround for Sundown Spectacular, just three days away. This second event would change down a gear, with live music, DJs, food tents, entertainers and a fireworks finale. As such, it would have a different dynamic, which meant a new set of demands on production.
Production changes included the reduction of the 27m stage to a 5m festival-style stage, for which Thornton’s crew added a small floor package. While the majority of the G7-Spots and G-Profiles stayed where they were, the six Ayrton Cobras were divided to frame the space at opposite points of the couryard, and the team placed a large number of SGM P-5s – the RGBW, IP-rated LED wall-washers – around the periphery to illuminate the walls away from the projection, “in the areas where the audience weren’t for Dragon Slayer, but would be for Sundown,” says Thornton.
Lighting programmer and operator for the Sundown Spectacular, again using the MA2, was David Abra. The show was mostly busked by Abra, apart from the last 40 minutes when the lighting was timecoded to match the 40-minute soundtrack, to which the firework display was also timecoded. For that 40 minutes Abra programmed 160 cues – in one night.
These productions included cutting-edge sound design and audio setup from another specialist in its field, Autograph Special Events. Led by Andy Hedges, Autograph supplied a 5.1 surround sound system, mainly made up of d&b audiotechnik Y-Series (“our go-to loudspeaker for this kind of event,” says Hedges), with programming and playback design by Adam Taylor, to deliver the immersive audio and aural imaging that were the perfect accompaniment for the surrounding visuals.
“These were great projects for us,” says Full Production’s managing director, Steve Richardson. “For a start, they gave us a chance to try out some new tech – Dragon Slayer was the first time we’d used the Ayrton Cobra fixtures. It has to be said, the phosphor laser engine is quite something – it seems to keep going forever, with an infinite focal range. And of course, it was a real pleasure to work with Pixel Artworks and Autograph again. Thanks to them, and to Marc and our fantastic team who helped bring these challenging jobs together in such style.”
Pixel Artworks’ Joe Kelly comments, “Full Production played an integral part in making Dragon Slayer and Sundown Spectacular huge successes by designing, rigging and programming the lighting elements for both events. Warwick Castle is a beautiful yet challenging place to rig lighting fixtures and equipment. However, Full Production carried this out with ease. The final result for both events looked fantastic.”
Photo: Alex Davies