Spectacle ahoy

Creative agency Imagination joined with the Royal Australian Navy to produce a show of the same calibre as the spectacle it is most known for, the New Year’s Eve celebrations at Sydney Harbour.

The International Fleet Review in October 2013, was one of the largest public events to have been held in Sydney and featured a choreographed fireworks and lightshow. Imagination was commissioned to handle all communications platforms for the event, including print, advertising, mobile apps as well as management of the outdoor spectacle.

Winning pitch

While Imagination’s creative flair at Sydney’s NYE extravaganza is well known in the city, the fleet review had to be markedly different. This meant that it couldn’t merely rely on the Harbour Bridge as the show’s centrepiece, or on fireworks as the main entertainment, and that other forms of technology would be needed to bring the harbour to life. Instead, the warships became the focal point.  

The highlight event was scheduled to take place precisely 100 years after the historic First Fleet entry to the harbour on October 5,1913, when those moments would be re-enacted. Working with naval historians, Imagination created a seven-act narrative of the navy’s history, finishing with a 30-minute lightshow from 28 land-and-ship locations, projections onto the Opera House sails, harbour bridge pylons and the National Maritime Museum roof. Fireworks were launched from across seven warships, the harbour bridge, three rooftops and seven barges.


Heath Campanaro, creative director at Imagination, described how the RAN event was unique to anything they had done before. “With some of our events, like NYE, we can roll out a pre-set formula of a concept. With the Navy though, none of the parts had been simultaneously executed before. For instance, we projected onto the opposing side of the Opera House, which had never been done before, we closed the bridge down, we coordinated radio transmissions across the harbour between every vessel and aircraft involved, and the show was broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) with two helicopters and 13 camera positions.” 

Captain Nick Bramwell of the RAN, who directed the event, said, “For the first time, we fired pyrotechnics off the decks of seven RAN warships and included RAN helicopters and RAAF [air force] fixed-wing aircraft into an event. The need for precision in positioning and timing of the ships’ movements and aircraft was highly weather dependent too. Luckily, the conditions were ideal.”

Imagination set up big-screen LEDs at key locations around the harbour so that the public could watch events on the water and the fireworks show. Ford Australia partnered with the IFR, funding broadcasts of the on-water show to outdoor screens and on Youtube. 

The upshot

The pyrotechnics and lightshow attracted 1.7 million spectators around Sydney Harbour, and clocked record ratings for ABC. The Youtube broadcast drew over 2 million views online, while open tours of a dozen warships saw over 50,000 visits from people over two days. The extravaganza also resulted in Imagination coming top in the Best Achievement in Design, Look or Theming category at the Australian Event Awards  2014

“Reactions to the event made the experience immensely rewarding,” says Captain Bramwell. “It truly was a ‘one in one 100-year’ event – the spirit of cooperation achieved between the agencies and organisations was especially memorable and critical to the spectacular success of the event.”


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