A waterfall spectacular lights up the night in Wuyishan
by Martin Palicki
[dropcap color=”#888″ type=”square”]T[/dropcap]he Nine-Bend River in Wuyishan China provides more than just irrigation for the city’s signature crop: tea. It also is the source of legend and lore for the town, and also inspired ECA2’s new nighttime show “The Fountain of Dreams.”
“Every bend in the river has at least one rock that has a story,” explains Jean-Christophe Canizares, CEO of ECA2. “Those stories became the inspiration for the nine sequences of the show.”
Rocks and water are natural partners in Wuyishan. The region’s popular Oolong tea is known as Rock Tea because the plants grow in rocky crevices in the mountain and absorb a mild, mineral-rich rocky flavor.
But while rocks and water can co-exist peacefully, water does not mix with expensive electronic equipment and special effects. It’s a problem ECA2 is familiar with and has encountered before, on such projects as The Big O Show for Yeosu Expo 2012 and the Wings of Time spectacular at Sentosa Island (both honored with Thea Awards) – plus a long line of previous water-and-multimedia spectaculars around the world.
Working in close collaboration with the Wuyishan Culture & Tourism Investment Group, ECA2’s team designed, created and oversaw construction of “The Fountain of Dreams.” Together, they addressed the complexities of language, culture and project management, as well as the challenge of water, during a 12-month planning period and 18-month construction timeline.
Water Water Everywhere
Although 80 performers take the stage during every show, the real star of “The Fountain of Dreams” is water. Up to 10,000 cubic meters of water cycle through a show. Water screens, waterfalls, geyers, misters, and of course water fountains permeate the theater both on and behind the stage, as well as in the audience. And almost all of that water is flowing, spraying, shooting and falling directly above dozens of technical rooms containing thousands of dollars’ of special effects and equipment.
There are four pools of water:
The rear pool is not visible to the audience and is large enough to hold all the water in the show, functioning as the facility reservoir. The front pool separates the audience from the stage and contains an array of water jets and fountains. The upper pool runs along the back of the mountain stage and feeds a series of fountains and the water screen. The geyser pool is small, located at the top of the artificial mountain peak and feeds the 20 meter high geyser.
130 pumps move water throughout the system, which is primarily sourced from a 30m deep well drilled especially for the show. The site also has access to city water as needed.
The Chinese-built pumps perform a variety of functions. Some maintain levels of water in each pool while others are dedicated to special effects. A few pumps constantly cycle water through filtration systems. A large cadre of pumps feed the cascade effect, when nearly the entire mountain turns into a multi-tiered waterfall.
Three separate pump rooms house the extensive system, one each under stage left and stage right, and one large room behind the stage. Two switch rooms provide power for the pumps and for show effects. Pumps are on variable frequency drives. At a max of 50 amps, the pump runs at full power. For many effects, such as the cascade effect, the drives are set to maintain water just below overflow level and when needed during the show, are amped up to create the waterfall effect.
The mist system is run separately. With much tinier nozzles the misters require finer filtration to keep out small particulate matter. Rather than using well water, city water is filtered and held in a separate tank to be distributed by Italian manufactured pumps and compressors.
The Wow Moment
The impressive water systems play a big role in the show’s Wow Moment. Halfway through the production, water starts shooting across the stage in a series of arcs, moving closer to the audience until the water actually starts to surround the seating area. Water cascades down the walls of the theater, rain falls down into rivers that flow between the seating sections, and climbing water jets ascend steps in the theater. The effect is designed to get the audience as close to the water as possible without getting them wet.
The climbing jets are unique blades of water that jump up the levels of the river between the seating sections. ECA2 initially tried using standard round water jets (similar to those found outside Epcot’s Journey Into Imagination pavilion) and grouping them together to make a larger stream. The effect wasn’t quite right, so ECA2 developed a new solution by designing custom made sharp, wide nozzles that create a blade or ribbon of water.
The Wow Moment is captivating, but it’s over quickly. At the end of the show, the Wow Moment water effects are turned back on while people leave, allowing them time to take photos and enjoy the effects.
The Structure and Site (or Up on the Roof)
The Fountain of Dreams is positioned in the tourist area of Wuyishan and opposite a large aquarium currently under construction. The team selected the site (formerly WuYi Square – an open plaza for community gathering) based on its central location and backdrop of mountain scenery. As the site was undeveloped, everything needed to be built from the ground up.
The building’s façade is stark, with minimal ornamentation. Once inside, guests ascend stairs to see that they are covered by a gigantic cantilevered roof that not only protects them from the elements, but houses an array of the show’s special effects equipment.
The roof appears to float above the seating area with no support poles obstructing views. The client was initially skeptical the design would work and asked for additional support to be designed into the structure to exceed engineering requirements. The roof is 70 meters wide and has enough open space inside the structure to comfortably walk around in. Catwalks connect the various effects housed in the roof including lighting, piping for the shower effects, and on top of the roof, two fountains that spray across the entire stage during the Wow Moment.
Below the seating areas, rehearsal and costuming space is available for the cast, and a long tunnel traverses under the front pond to the backstage area beneath the mountain.
Sound and Light
Although water is the star of the show, it’s the collection of A/V equipment that helps make that star shine. Above and behind the seating area, four rooms are dedicated to show control,projection and lighting.
Seven Christie Roadster HD20K projectors provide mapping coverage for the front of the mountain façade. Three are doubled up for redundancy and the seventh is mounted vertically to cover the top of the stage left peak only. The mountain is composed of concrete, dyed beige-pink to enhance the projection mapping. As the color is mixed into the concrete, there is no concern of peeling or deterioration over time.
The show control room houses all the A/V racks as well as the computers running Medialon’s show control software, designed with a custom ECA2 interface. It allows the tech team to start the show but also perform troubleshooting and alter effects even in the midst of the show. Should a strong wind develop during the production, for example, the team could reduce the strength or duration of effects to keep audience members dry, rather than cutting the effect completely, which gives the operator more flexibility and provides the audience and cast a more consistent show experience.
ECA2 selected Medialon show control because it is “stable and easy to customize, allowing for communication back and forth between modules,” explains Gael Picque, ECA2’s Technical Production Director.
Each of the two lighting rooms contains a full color laser projector and a Phaenon X moving light. Additional lighting support comes from two side lighting rooms flanking both sides of the front pool, 8 LED lights in the roof, and three tech rooms behind the set. Of those three, the center room houses more lasers and projectors to light the water screen.
To keep the wet elements separate from the technology, ECA2 built the entire theater structure with a double skin. Think of it as a room built within a bigger room. Should any water find its way in, it is funneled into the area between the skins to ensure dry space for the equipment.
To help monitor the tech, as well as detect any potential leaks, every control room contains a show control rack that provides data on temperature and humidity that interacts with the show control system, triggering an alarm if anomalies are detected. Sensors connect to the racks with CAT5 cable or wirelessly, and then each rack connects via fiber to show control.
Additional effects for the show include fireworks, a 2000-liter tank of compressed air to launch the geyser and 12 flame locations scattered around the stage. Based on two shows per night, the flame system can run on two barrels of Isopar™ fuel for six months.
Fountain of Dreams Overview
The Fountain of Dreams pays tribute to the nature of Wuyishan, in particular recognizing the waters which carved out these incredible mountains and the famous river with its nine bends.
One night, a modest bamboo boat carrying three young men returning from a fishing expedition becomes grounded on a tiny island near a mysterious mountain whose terraces seem to have been sculpted by some ancient civilization. The men plan to rest there when a voice calls to them – it is the enchanting
voice of Water! Suddenly nymphs appear and the waterfall awakens. Yang Yang, the youngest fisherman, falls asleep. The audience enters his dream wherein water reveals its secret to us. It traces the nine bends in the river to praise the nine virtues of the waters of Wuyishan.
The Fountain of Dreams reclaims local legends and summons mythical characters from the region: Peng Zu the Immortal, Ouyezi the blacksmith, as well as timeless Chinese characters like Jiang Taigong, the old fisherman known throughout China.In this way, The Fountain of Dreams sparkles with originality, yet feels familiar to any Chinese visitor.
Main show structure: A mountainous set 70 meters wide, 20 meters high
Theater size: 70 meters wide, 30 meters high
Mist installation: 7 series of misters
Laser installation: 2 x 25W ROGCB, 2 x 20W ROGB
Flame generators: 12 units FG 50 with a flame height 12M
Water installation: 11 robotic moving jets (8 x 20M high, 3 x 30M high), 47 straight jet water cannons (44 x 20M high, 2 x 30M high, 1 x 40M high), 26 arch jets (18 x 20m, 6 x 30m, 2 x 40m), 12 climbing jets, 12 shower special effects (from 12 to 17m high), 1 water screen (60m X 20m), 1 water curtain (8m X 4m), 6 giant overflow cascade effects on the mountain
Geyser installation: 5 airshoots, 20m high
Video projection: 2 projectors Christie 35K for the water screen, 7 projectors Christie Roaster 22KHD for the mountain mapping
Lighting installation: 74 donuts 96 LED for moving jets, 193 RGBW 48 LED PAR for water effects, 40 moving LED JB Lighting A12, 62 1000W submersible PAR, 30 moving heads spots FineArt II 1500, 8 moving heads BEAM FineArt II 1500, 4 sky tracers AutoLT 5000, 36 PAR Led FineArt 390DG, 6 Bars Led Griven
Pyrotechnics installation: 64 Firing modules
Putting it all together
The story of The Fountain of Dreams is the dream of a young fisherman. The voice of the water of Wuyishan leads the fisherman through the legends of the Nine Bend River.
According to Canizares, Chinese audiences don’t need a love story or a good versus evil plot. Instead, they are drawn to stories where everything is excessive and exaggerated, creating a story that is larger than life. “You also have to be very explicit in your storytelling,” explains Canizares. “Typical Chinese productions will include text captions or narrative support. Because the language is so interpretive, we have to be much more descriptive and supportive in our storytelling to be sure we are conveying the proper meaning.”
The issue of language is more than just that of translation. Chinese is a rich and luxurious language, but meaning can often depend on mood and inflection. Different people will often translate the same text quite differently. To help combat this, ECA2 had show text reviewed by a team of translators.
“Our industry needs to improve at developing foreign language context for entertainment,” says Canizares. Towards that end, ECA2 conducted concept testing with Chinese audiences to refine content. “It’s still an ECA2 show,” explains Canizares, “but at the same time it’s distinctively Chinese.”
Chinese audiences also prefer a longer show than Western audiences. ECA2 typically designs shows around 20 minutes but developed “Dreams” to be 48 minutes on request of the client, Wuyishan Tourism Board.
Located in Fujian province, Wuyishan is already a Chinese tourist hotspot. With over 9 million tourists visiting in 2014 and more expected after the June 2015 opening of the Shanghai-Fuzhou high speed rail that includes a stop nearby, the city is investing in its tourism market, hoping to add additional nights
to visitor stays.
The city added Zhang Yimou’s “Impressions of Dahongpao” show in 2010 which focuses on the region’s tea production and caters to a mature demographic. Last year, Impressions brought in over 500,000 guests, netting 8 million RMB in taxes for the town and over 10 million RMB profit for the show. Officials expect “Fountain of Dreams,” with a wider appeal, to exceed those numbers.
The town has also offered price discount promotions to the region’s scenic areas. And the increasing access Chinese families have to cars has led to a continued uptick in visitor attendance.
Fountain of Dreams is one piece of the city’s eight attractions open or under construction for increased tourism:
–Fountain of Dreams nighttime show
–WuFu Flower Park, a 10,000 hectare flower garden featuring a special lotus flower
–Tianhong Polar Aquarium Park (opening summer 2015)
–A historical holy place tracing the roots of the Cultural Revolution
–Wuyi Palace – Song Dynasty street
–RV/ Camping village
–Cultural Tea Road experience in Xaimei
–Zhuxi historical cultural development
The region is best known for being designated an UNESCO World Heritage site and the natural landscape associated with the surrounding park. The addition of tourist destinations seeks to extend visitors’ stays and lure more of the additional 40,000 passengers per day the high-speed rail will bring to the region.
The client was very involved in the process. Wuyishan Culture & Tourism Investment Group was an entity created to operate the show. ECA2 designed the show, but the client completed the build and sourced materials. ECA2 provided oversight for the process, but in some ways, acted more as an integrator during the install.
Materials sourcing, for example, was sometimes difficult. Naturally, the team tried to source Chinese products wherever possible, but Canizares says finding a local product that met the specification requirements sometimes proved to be more expensive than importing, particularly for high tech components.
“The secret to success for this show was effective project management and continual communication between all parties,” says Canizares.
The client agrees that the show, and the process, have been a success.
“The opening has been very successful,” says Ms Guo, President Wuyishan Culture & Tourism Investment Group, “The first time we saw the design, we questioned if it could really be so beautiful, but the reality is more beautiful than the design.”
Mr Zhong, General Manager of Wuyishan Clearwater Festival Tourism Cultural Ltd Co agrees: “It’s beyond our expectation. If you don’t come see the show you can’t fully experience it.”