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Sat 16 Jan 2010 04:00 AM

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Blast off

We all saw the launch of the Burj Khalifa go off with a bang, but what were the main challenges in creating such an explosive ceremony? CW talks to Prisme International CEO and artistic director Pierre Marcout.

Blast off
CEO of Prisme International Pierre Marcout.

We all saw the launch of the Burj Khalifa go off with a bang, but what were the main challenges in creating such an explosive ceremony? CW talks to Prisme International CEO and artistic director Pierre Marcout.

Eight weeks ago, Pierre Marcout and his team of event architects were given the task of producing a ceremony that would be witnessed by billions of people across the globe - a show that would dazzle, mesmerise and mark a defining moment in history.

It was an event that would not only see the opening of the world's tallest building, but also the unveiling of two of the biggest kept secrets in construction.

Their task was fuelled with pressure but, for Marcout, it was a dream come true: "For three years, I have been dreaming that I would design the inauguration of the Burj and now I have," he says.

Marcout started his first management role in 1981 for the Sonepar Group, overseeing the lighting of large-scale buildings. In 1987, he created the company "Prisme 3". His first large scale show was in 1993 for the inauguration of the Mosque Hassan II in Casablanca. In Dubai, his work includes the grand show for the opening of the Shopping Festival, Dubai World Cup and the Dubai Airshow.

But, it was the Burj Khalifa, which created the biggest challenge for Marcout: to devise a show that would captivate a worldwide audience but last just 11 minutes, so where did his ideas stem from?

"I wanted the audience to hear about the story of the Burj through different elements, such as light, water, fireworks and the projected images to support the naration of the story," he explains.

The construction phases of the tower were highlighted through Marcout's designs, starting with the projected image of the Hymenocalis desert flower - the architect's inspiration for the design of the building - onto a 1000m2 screen.

The height of the building wasn't the only record breaker revealed on the night - a 72,000W light projector, the biggest ever used, illuminated the structure during the ceremony.

In addition, 320 space canon projectors - the most canon projectors used in one event - created a shadow effect on the outline of the tower.

Backstage, kilometres of wire linked computers, so the Prisme International team could synchronise the lighting and fireworks with other elements of the show.

"I was a little like an orchestra conductor, in the sense that it was my job to give the signal to my staff to control each aspect of the show at a given time."

The inauguration of the ceremony appeared to have run like clockwork, but according to Marcout, it could have gone terribly wrong.

For instance, the firework display was not practised before the ceremony, leaving the Prisme International team just one take to get it absolutely right.

"We obviously didn't want everybody to see the show before the launch, so there was a lot of tension before the inauguration because we wanted everything to work in the right frequencies," adds Marcout.

An area of 200m was cleared around the tower to ensure the safety of the public when the 10,000 fireworks were set off.

"The massive challenge for me was when Sheikh Mohammed and his staff were signalling the launch from an area where there were fireworks. We had to make sure that there was no possibility that the fireworks would go off so we disconnected this area until it was cleared."

Another last minute challenge was incorporating the new name of the world's tallest building into the show. Only three members of his company knew about this revelation.

"I wanted for the music to be very dynamic in order to build up to the unveiling of the new name and the exact size of the building. We incorporated the new name into the narration shortly before the launch, so it was a surprise for my staff too."

The renaming of the tower has attracted a lot of debate among the international press, but, for Marcout, the change is positive.

"I think it's a good thing because this tower is not only for Dubai, it's for the UAE and I think the country should encourage the world not to make comparisons with Dubai and Abu Dhabi - it is one nation."

Whatever the public's reaction to the Burj Khalifa itself, the launch ceremony certainly had people talking for all the right reasons.

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