Matt Loader's Olympic Story... Marking Three Years Since The London Olympics‹ Back to Blog
It's hard to believe, but the London Olympics took place this time three years ago.
Artem was the single biggest contractor for the London 2012 Olympics Ceremonies, with projects for the Opening Ceremony including the giant puppets - Voldemort (who rose to 20m high), the Red Queen, Captain Hook and Cruella De Vil - the giant sleeping baby (head 10m x 6m), a lightweight, flown, full-size replica of a modern family home (from which Sir Tim Berners-Lee eventually appeared), molten metal effects from the large crucible... to name just a few!
I had a chat with Matt Loader, one of our Senior SFX Technicians, whose memories of Artem's Olympic projects are as vivid as ever - amazing, considering he and the rest of the team were heavily sleep-deprived, working day and night, for the best part of a year.
Here is Matt's story:
'From what I can remember, I was first brought on to the whole Olympic project to run the supplying of smoke to the top of the large inflatable chimneys. It was a good opportunity to invest in some new, very large smoke machines, for which, throughout the next few weeks, we were designing lift-able mounting platforms, two large cable reels to hold not only the power for the machines, but also the safety rope, so that if the wind picked up, the chimney wouldn’t just tear off the base and fly around the stadium!
The most memorable moment with the chimneys for me was having to climb up inside each of them while they were inflated. They were lifted using the stadium's aerial system, but simultaneously inflated using four large wind machines at each of the chimneys' bases. Climbing inside though a small hatch barely big enough for a child was interesting, but once inside, it was great. Looking up inside this huge tower with the wind swirling around me made me feel almost like I was flying. If only I wasn’t petrified about getting my knots right for the safety rope!
I was basically down at the stadium installing for around 6 very long weeks, running the wiring and firing systems for each of the chimneys, as well as helping out with other projects as they arrived. Although enclosed, the stadium feels very open once you’re in the middle of it, and the wind can really pick up. We were frequently told that if it was even the slightest bit windy, the show couldn’t happen. We had to try and stop the lightweight house from blowing away on several occasions. Unfortunately, one time, none of us were there to stop it, and it went crashing into one of the walls around the outside of the stadium. From then on it became a real fixer-upper!
We did a lot of strange things for the show, but personally my weirdest part was to blow wind up to the Union Jack at the top of the flag pole for the National Anthem, using one of our large 3 phase wind machines. Felt a bit bad revving it up as everyone was singing!
I think the best “call home” moment for me came when Paul McCartney came in to sound check for show night. Everyone in the stadium stopped, and even the offices emptied out. He sang a couple of songs, and then went into the obligatory ‘Hey Jude’. Everyone was singing along, and he carried on for about 10 minutes. Was like it was our own private thank you gig, I even gave my wife a call to listen in on it!
Once the rehearsal shows came around, things really started picking up pace. With the rain cloud, Toby Stewart (another Senior Technician at Artem) and I would move from our starting positions under the central stage, and work our way past several other colleagues dotted around the place, and up to the roof through several secure doors and stairwells. On the first rehearsal night, however, unbeknownst to us, all the access doors were locked in the stadium to stop members of the public accessing the roof. This resulted in Toby and I sprinting around to each access point in the stadium, tackling at least 100 stairs for each door. We worked clockwise around the stadium. By the time we reached the 6th/7th door, we were exhausted, but still sprinting away. We finally heard from the floor manager on the radio that the only open door was door no. 11, the first door we would have come to had we gone the other way! We ran like mad to reach it, only to hear our cue for the cloud as we were climbing the final ladder! We made sure we had our own key from then on!
The rain cloud ran into some issues on the night, however, which we thankfully just managed to overcome. The hose became caught on a flying cable as it was being moved out, and when you have 60M of fire hose working its way out filled with water, it becomes VERY heavy, and it became stuck VERY quickly. The aerial guys were screaming at me, I was screaming down the radio, and we were seconds away from our cue. I told Toby on the pump to run it as hard as he could, I turned on to the cueing channel and fired! Success! It lasted all of the 5 seconds it needed to last. Such relief.
Thankfully, EVERYTHING worked as it should on the night itself. The rain cloud signalled the last part of mine and Toby’s roles for the night, so we watched our colleagues run around with the puppet beds from the safety of our bird's nest on the roof. Once the athletes started to make their way in, we could all relax, and we were lucky enough to find some empty seats right at the front from which to watch the rest of the show. Nigh on 6 months of work, thousands of man hours, and we all just sat there taking in the incredible firework display.
The show finished, and we headed home. The trains were rammed, but because we were all in our show blacks, everyone knew we were crew for the show. Strangers were coming up to us and shaking our hands, telling us how amazing it all was, and what a great job we had all done. Finally job satisfaction!
It really was a once in a lifetime opportunity for us, and it really is something to tell the grandchildren. Just nice to see all that hard work paid off to make one of the greatest live event shows ever!'