Having worked on 7 Olympic Ceremonies since 2004, Wonder Works director Piers Shepperd was honoured to be given the role as consultant technical director for PyeongChang 2018. It took 4 years of planning, creative development, designing and supporting a highly talented PyeongChang Ceremonies team to bring together a cast of 2000 volunteers, 1280 drones, and 20,000 fireworks for the largest show on earth. Michael Hogan at The Telegraph wrote:
“South Korea considers itself the world’s digital hub and technology was deployed to stunning effect. Augmented reality figures sprang to life, wi-fi torches were waved and the laser light show was gorgeous. It was downright breathtaking when 1,200 illuminated drones assembled into a snowboarder, then morphed into the Olympic rings.”
As technical director, it was Piers’ job to develop a ‘ceremony fit’ team to realise this creative vision whilst also being resilient under pressure. Piers said:
“My role wasn’t prescriptive. It was about building awareness of how other Ceremonies had managed risk and tackled the issues common to all major events….You can’t afford to have 400 people on the payroll for six months, so for a technical director it’s about creating an effective team, fast. This scale of event is rare, so I focused on getting back to basics – regular communication and education on how technical production should run.”
But nothing could prepare Wonder Works for the extreme weather conditions that they had to endure in the weeks leading up to the event. During the installation and rehearsal period in PyeongChang, wind chill brought temperatures down to minus 25 degrees Celsius overnight, making these the coldest Winter Olympics on record. Piers was on site from November 2017 and had to experience the full effect of these unprecedented conditions. The diesel for generators waxed up and batteries needed constant recharging. Snow flurries hid the field of play choreographic marks leading to some difficult rehearsals, and the icy winds meant faces and fingers had to be protected from potential frostbite.
The heated political backdrop in which the Olympic Games were taking place was also a major consideration. With the Games happening in a country still technically at war with its neighbour, there was a lot of uncertainty around how the Ceremonies would play out. Thankfully the Opening Ceremony marked a show of unity for the Korean peninsula, with both North and South Korean teams marching side-by-side under a unified flag, despite months of high tensions between the two nations. This history-making moment was reported by The Washington Post:
“It was aspirational, dreamy, idyllic…The director’s artistic touch framed a meaningful celebration, but it would not have graduated to powerful without some real humanity. That happened when North and South Korea marched into the stadium under a unified flag…waving little white flags featuring an image of the countries’ peninsula in blue and basking in rock-star applause.”