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Sydney sails reflect local light

Bruce Ramus takes on project at famed opera house

Turning the iconic sails of the Sydney Opera House into a canvass for light and images was the main task, but doing it in way that reflected kindly on the environment was a challenge in itself.

Local lighting and imagery ace Bruce Ramus visited his hometown last week fresh from Vivid Sydney, a two-week festival of music and light touted as the biggest of its kind in the southern hemisphere. Ramus was there to help bring the opera house to life with the images of legendary musician and artist Brian Eno.

Ramus had been working with the Sydney Opera House since October as a design mentor, and was asked to help branch Eno's visuals to larger-than-life images on the sails. It took a number of projectors set up at different distances on both sides of the opera house, and intricate mapping of the architecture of the sails to project the visuals.

"I consulted on the design of the projection system, how and where that would be situated, how it would be powered and how bright it would need to be. Basically, the design of how the images got onto the sails," Ramus said in an interview from his home on Gambier Island.

Even though it took a heap of energy, organizers wanted to keep the event as green as possible.

"It was a pretty big challenge to power it green but still make it bright enough to be meaningful," Ramus said. "That was the biggest problem. We could have done it with half the projectors, but my take on that was either do it so that it looks good, or don't do it."

Ramus added the imagery and light systems were powered by bio-diesel generators and carbon offset programs were used.

He said it's a mindset that many festivals and concerts are adopting. Not that the glitzy days of Popmart - one of four U2 tours Ramus worked on - are gone, but events are now seeking the eco-friendly stamp of approval. Useful are more efficient lights and low-emission travel, but a totally carbon neutral show is not yet a reality.

"The biggest carbon expense is actually the audience coming to the gig. It's a bit tricky, even if the band or the client offsets absolutely everything they do."

Ramus said the Sydney experience was unique in that his role was purely to consult on the visuals, rather than work through the production.

And at a time when one would expect him to be embarking on the new U2 tour, he's foregoing the rigors of the road to spend time with his two-year-old son, as well as pursue other projects, including continued work with the opera house and consulting on a new building at Simon Fraser University. He also just completed a show for the rock band The Fray.

But Ramus also has ideas to bring his massive displays down to Earth, or at least to the community level. He recently had an informal meeting with the Oceanfront Development Corporation on what he does and the smaller-scale use of digital technology.

A pioneer in the use of digital displays, Ramus said he feels that in many cities the technology is being misused. For example, he cited the proliferation of corporate-run digital billboards that reflect nothing of a community's identity.

"It's an interesting avenue of discussion that I find myself drifting into now. I find it important to be addressing the public policy issues of how cities can talk about this because I'm sick of seeing televisions everywhere that are running commercials. I don't want my city to be one that just looks like Blade Runner."

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