Nearly 50 years after the film Ben Hur, starring Charlton Heston and winner of 11 Oscars, the epic story of the Jewish Prince has been brought back to life in France with a spectacular show at the Stade de France over five evenings starting from September 22. The World Cup stadium at the gates of Paris hosted 400 actors and extras who recreated the naval battle, the gladiatorial combats and the famous chariot race.
The main challenge for lighting designers Christian Bréan and Jacques Rouveyrollis was to cover with light the over 11,000 m2 of surface area of the stadium – which was for the occasion without the traditional grass and covered in compacted red clay.
“The lighting for this mega-spectacular required detailed study of the placing of the projectors around the entire oval that roofs the Stade de France” – the two lighting designers told us. “Many technical lighting calculations had already been made at the start, we had to visualise right from then the effect that we wanted to achieve, also as moving and installing a lot of projectors at a height of 40 metres is certainly not an easy undertaking! We had to plan the combined action of all the projectors, remembering that the light beam of each projector had to cover an average distance of 80 metres. It needed at least a year’s work to plan and implement the lighting design.”
The installation of the entire Lighting System complex in the vast stadium was carried out by Procon that, together with the Belgian Blue Squares Company, supplied the 180 Clay Paky Alpha Spot HPE 1200 projectors.
The choice of Alpha Spot HPE 1200 projectors was made after precise tests and preliminary objective comparative assessments were carried out on the huge St Denis pitch.
First and foremost a 1200 W product with great lighting power and able to cover the whole surface required in a uniform way was indicated. Bréan and Rouveyrollisperformed countless lighting and optics tests on various projectors and the Alpha Spot HPE 1200 emerged as the ideal tool for the purpose.
Next a product was sought that could have the special dynamic and creative effects essential for some scenes of the show, for example in the scene with the ship the area becomes an enormous blue sea with waves in motion. “We achieved the desired effect by combining several overlapped gobos, as well as the prisms and rotation of the animation disc. It is certainly useful to be able to have so many graphic solutions in one projector. It really must be said that the effects section of the Alpha Spot HPE 1200 is truly rich”.
Christian and Jacques have magically created a work of mediation between the style and the expectations of the director Robert Hossein, who has great cinema and television experience, and their own background in lighting theatrical and live events. This is a show that combines many types of spectacle and in which even the huge audience of the Stade de France is involved in interacting to become part of the show.
The few decorative scenic elements are a typical feature of the show. The majority of the scenography was created through light and color, elements that allow an evocation of the hot desert atmospheres, the pale mauve harshness of rocky mountains and the scarlet colors of the Arab quarters. Light has also been used to fulfil the basic task of directing the public, now lighting them, now perfectly leading them inside the arena.
The tonality of the color obtained was the meld between the light beam from the projectors and the reddish color of the earth of the stadium. “We had to implement a programme of colors very much “on sight”, as the original color never corresponded to that actually obtained on the ground” said Bréan.
“Another factor to consider”, he continued, “is that in the theatre color forms the background, or in any case is mainly used on vertical walls perpendicular to the stage floor, while here the color is directly on the ground. In other words, the scene is the surface of the arena itself. Also the ground lighting must be balanced in a way that is visible and homogenous from every line of sight. Making a mistake in a combination of colors or diffusion of light would be seen immediately by any spectator inside the stadium. My work has been greatly helped by the Alpha Spot HPE 1200 projectors that, although subjected to constant stress, showed great reliability and versatility in use.”
This mega-spectacular was shown in the Stade de France for a week and aroused a greatly favourable consensus on the part of critics and public (all parts of the stadium were full every day!). As well as the 400 actors, the 150 technicians employed in the production were at work for more than a year to renew, in our times, an always epic, fascinating and glorious story and spectacle.