Diriyah Gate Development Authority
Diriyah...The Royal Inauguration
Nov. 20, 2019 - Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
EVI Leads a Global Experiential Team to Produce the Royal Inauguration of Diriyah...
Birthplace of the Saudi Kingdom
Origins...The Jewel of the Arabian Peninsula
Trading routes, hundreds of years old, crisscross the Arabian Peninsula. Caravans, weary of distant travel, seek respite from the heat. Traditional gathering places signal the joy of arrival, the promise of rest and rejuvenation under a starry desert night. One shimmering oasis beckons with special allure, saying “stay...this is home...here a kingdom will be born”. A visionary tribe heeds the call...a prosperous city blossoms. Beautiful dwellings, hand molded from the rich mud of the earth, form a place called “Diriyah”...the jewel of the desert...the birthplace of Saudi Arabia.
Today, just across the river, the city of Riyadh bustles with seven million people. As the nation opens its doors to modern travelers in a grand Vision 2030, His Majesty King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud places a special emphasis on origins. A student of history, he wants to share the story of Saudi Arabia as one of the world’s great gathering places, and he knows where it begins.
Rebirth of a Historic Gathering Place
In 2010, Diriyah was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. An extensive archeological restoration was begun, meticulously bringing the original mud-city back to its former glory. The project is the cornerstone of a mission to transform the area into a global tourist destination.
In 2019, with the restoration completed, His Majesty King Salman and HRH Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman Al Saud called for a royal inauguration announcing the rebirth of Diriyah to the world. For Jerry Inzerillo, Chief Executive Officer of the Diriyah Gate Development Authority, the challenge was enormous. To accomplish his goals, he would need to partner with one of the world’s top experiential producers. His search led him to Executive Visions of Atlanta, Los Angeles and Dubai. Under Inzerillo’s direction, EVI Executive Producers Michael Marto and Omar Saab assembled and led an International team representing dozens of nationalities on a far-reaching mission more than a year in the making.
An epic, one-night Opening Ceremony became the focal point…and fulfillment of the dream would require a complex, multi-fold initiative involving the highest levels of talent in creative development, technical engineering and mega-scale project leadership.
If These Walls Could Talk…
Walking the sacred grounds of Diriyah for the first time, the team experienced an otherworldliness, a spirituality akin to encountering the Egyptian Pyramids or the Acropolis. Ancient voices filled the air, uncovering secrets of culture, lifestyle and art. The take-away was an awakening to historical time and place…the recognition that every concept be grounded in reverence and authenticity.
Amongst the ruins, the creative vision presented itself. The walls and corridors of the “mud city” had stories to tell, revealing themselves as a powerful and unique visual canvas. The sheer scale and technical challenge of such an idea was daunting, but it was the true path forward. The walls of Diriyah must speak for themselves.
The creative team huddled in Riyadh under the tutelage and storytelling powers of Dr. Fahd bin Abdullah Al-Samari, secretary-general of the King Abdul Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives, and His Excellency Mr. Ahmad bin Aqil al-Khatib, Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage.
They emerged with an enchanting storyline…a captivating tale exploring the Seven Gates of the Saudi Kingdom… from ancient origins…to present times…to visionary future. In the following months, that story would serve as the foundation of a spectacular Inauguration Ceremony incorporating amyriad of creative elements.
The overall creative direction envisioned many ‘voices’ playing their part in a chorus of layered and interwoven disciplines, each playing a specific role in support of the overarching narrative.
Painting with Pixels
To bring the story to life, the visual design team spent months designing a massive collection of original animated content. The content would be delivered via 3-D projection mapping on the shapes of Diriyah’s mud walls. The intricate structures were pixel-mapped, edge to edge, top to bottom, yielding a projection surface nearly three soccer fields long…225,815,040 pixels per frame.
The model used to develop the projection surface contained 65,000,000 polygons in the mesh, which was produced using a combination of drones and lidar scanning techniques. From the beginning, the idea was to apply dynamic visual motion to every direction and plane of Diriyah’s surfaces. Every sequence of content was designed for movement and dynamic impact…a horse galloping across the city…a Formula One car racing through the vista…a rocket ship blasting skyward.
In the end, the location was painted with a striking display of cinematic projection mapping to tell the visual story of the kingdom’s history. Nearly 7 billion pixels of content per second were projected, eclipsing 8 trillion pixels total for the show.
Let There Be Light
Like all of the show elements, the lighting design process was highly collaborative, fueling the holistic approach. A unique function of lighting was to provide scale, context and depth to the vista, visually reminding the audience that this is a living, breathing town, not just a two dimensional piece of scenery.
To accomplish that goal, the design wove lighting into the fabric of the ancient site itself, filling the roads, alleys and buildings with illumination, bringing the town to life with light. Fixtures meandered through the architecture of Diriyah, allowing the creative team to guide the audience’s attention through the vast space. Lighting extended the reach of the spectacle into the sky above the town, as brilliant, vivid beams punched columns of color into the night. Dynamic lighting enhanced the spectacle of the cast, highlighting everything from the beloved Ardah dance… to the Bedouins (and camels!) as they entered Diriyah. The magnificent orchestra was carefully woven into the vista too, ensuring not only guests at the event but also the millions watching at home could enjoy the musical virtuosity that accompanied the production.
There were three key elements to executing the lighting design – planning, planning, and more planning! EVI took the responsibility of integrating the lighting fixtures and miles of cable into the UNESCO World Heritage site very seriously. Working diligently with local authorities, the team made sure the 4,000+ fixtures, some of them the size of a small automobile, were installed with great sympathy and care for the site, while ensuring that the audience saw light, not lights!
Extensive use of cutting-edge previsualization both in the US and on site in Saudi Arabia allowed the lighting team to program the extremely complex show to the millisecond ‘off line’, and provide visual ‘proof of concept’ for the EVI team and the clients at Diriyah Gate Development Authority.
A cast of hundreds acted out the story in a magical performance choreographed by legends from the world of dance. The pieces centered on traditional Saudi culture like the traditional Ardah dance, revealing volumes about of the history and art of the region. Each cast member was outfitted in authentic costume which was custom designed and fitted onsite. Travelling caravans of Bedouins and Camels filled the streets portraying the majestic arrival of the original settlers. The movement, color and drama of the live troupe brought the rebirth of Diriyah to the very essence of its human origins.
Flight of the Falcon
Falconry is a tradition in Saudi Arabia practiced with passion and joy. The falcon is the revered national bird. UNESCO has even declared falconry a living cultural heritage. No portrayal of the Saudi Kingdom could be considered authentic without showcasing its historical significance.
The symbolism of the falcon was extremely important, so it had to be represented in a truly imaginative way. To fulfill the vision, a massive carbon-fiber, projection-mapped Falcon was created as a central character in the storyline.
Controlled by 24 performers, the falcon worked like a giant puppet. With a 50 foot wingspan, it made an awe inspiring impression. Utilizing the Blacktrax system, the falcon was outfitted with 53 stringers, allowing it to be tracked and projection-mapped with ultra-precision. Eight projectors painted the bird with beautiful, real-time content as soared on a majestic journey across the ages.
The Diriyah Suite…an Original Sound Score
To complement the visual story, EVI commissioned the masters of Hollywood film music to compose an original soundtrack. An emotionally-charged symphonic suite was written and produced, filling the night sky with sounds to illuminate each of the Seven Gates. “The Diriyah Suite” was recorded at the famed Air Studios in London with members of the London Symphony Orchestra. The music was performed live at the opening ceremony by the Prague Symphony Orchestra, accompanied by a host of Saudi Arabian musicians playing traditional middle eastern instruments. In the coming years, the “Suite” will live on as the official soundtrack for the UNESCO Site as visitors gather from around the world.
With the event elements in production, another major phase of the project was solving how to accommodate the audience and position them for viewing the experience. Royal Family, Regional and Global Dignitaries and Global Press combined for an audience of 1,000.
In response, EVI served as the architect, master planner and site developer for multiple physical structures including a welcome center, holding area for the Royal Family, a Gala Venue and a massive, Royal Viewing Pavilion.
Perched over Diriyah, the Royal Pavilion was a spectacle of luxury box seating, placing the Royal Family and guests front and center in the experience.
To accommodate the crew of 2,000 from 50 countries, the team built a two square kilometer production village. From roads, civil works, landscaping and telecommunication systems…to sanitation, power and lavish interiors…every detail of the massive infrastructure was accounted for.
The event strategy included a large scale pre and post-event cross media communications campaign. Components included social media, print, broadcast media, and outdoor via billboards, public transportation and airport. The event itself reached an audience of 30 million via broadcast on Saudi TV, MBC and other International Rebroadcasters. Promotion of the event was integrated with a global campaign focused on the recent allowance of tourism e-visas as part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 Platform.
Instagram: Intl, GCC, and Local social media influencers 786,752,910 global impressions.
Instagram: Remote Intl influencers 12 million additional impressions
Snapchat Filters: 11 million uses/views in Riyadh alone.
DGDA Twitter: 46 posts during launch campaign 1.4 million direct impressions, 116 million secondary impressions via 3,700 retweets
Press Release: 1.3 billion global impressions
KSA/GCC Press coverage: 1,609,276,804 impressions
Traditional media: (CBS News Travel Detective, Bloomberg, CNBC, Forbes, Travel + Leisure, A/R Voyageur, Arab News, etc.) 216 million impressions.
The enormously complex project will go down as a landmark event for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the realization of its Vision 2030 initiative. For EVI and its extensive team of collaborators, the creative, technical and project management accomplishments have pushed the boundaries of international experiential production.