How do you even describe what “Magnatron” was? Well the Official line is it’s a 10 story high “Skill Tester” (inspired by the arcade game) built on the lawn of the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that it’s the worlds largest “Skill Tester” game ever to be created! Magnatron uses a 30m high construction crane as it’s lifter, while a huge 18m High enclosure was built from truss to create the enormous scaled stage area! Acquiring its name from the large Electro Magnet used to pick up prizes inside the enclosure, the magnet weighed in at 750kg by itself so everything about this project was huge! Ultimately, 14 contestants got the chance to pit their “depth” perception skills in front of a live crowd during the middle of the AFL Grand Final (round1), using Magnatron! As far as I know, this was a world first! Using an enormous construction crane as a “game’s machine” was an incredible idea! That idea was born from the minds of two young gentlemen from Clemenger BBDO Melbourne – Luke Thompson & Seymour Pope who came up with the concept!
A year or so ago I took part in another grand Carlton United Brewery (CUB) project called “Drop the Bomb“. Like that project, Magnatron is a very large scale, publicly viewable media stunt that took place in realtime on the day. This type of production is very exciting but also very stressful because you only get one chance at it! So the build up of the filming of the event was filled with many technical issues. I was pretty keen to get a time lapse rig on to the project pretty early on. It was always going to take a while to physically construct the “Skill Tester” and I knew that production costs would be prohibitively expensive if we were to film the entire thing with crews etc. So I put in a call to a friend to enlist the help of Sydney based EONFX, who provided the semi permanent Time Lapse Rig installation. I wanted that camera to run 24 hours a day at 1 frame every 15 minutes, so that we could see the transitions from night to day and back again in quick succession. The position of the camera had to be placed so that we could not only clearly see the construction process but also make use of the giant icon in front – the MCG!
After several visits to the company constructing the Crane and the Magnet, the creatives and I made up a list of places where we wanted to position cameras to record the event. The list was extensive. As the pre production continued, it was clear that Channel 7 (a local TV network that was broadcasting nationally for the AFL) would come on board to assist the Production by committing some of their resources to the project. Channel 7 were now planing to do some live crosses to Magnatron during the course of their live telecast of the game. The benefits to us included access to their helicopter, a remote camera head mounted inside the enclosure of Magnatron and several roving cameras around the perimeter. One angle that was always planned was a view from the Magnet looking down onto the prizes (hopefully). Because the Magnet was so large my initial concern was the effects of Electromagnetic radiation effecting our cameras. We opted for a small camera to be mounted onto the magnet, which could record in a self contained fashion. Wayne Daisley, Channel 7′s Technical Manager, offered up his Gopro HD Hero for testing and to our surprise, the camera not only survived but performed flawlessly! So it was decided that a Gopro Camera would be mounted using a magic arm to the Magnet on the day!
For me, Magnatron is as much about the construction of the worlds biggest “Skill Tester” as it is using it! For that reason, I wanted to record the construction process in a similar fashion to those documentaries you see on Nat Geo or Discovery channel like “Mega Builders”, “The Worlds Toughest Fixes” and the like! They often punctuate the story line with sped up motion, time lapse and wide angle lenses to achieve a grand look! To be honest, I don’t know how else you could record such an event because the shear scale at which the construction took place pretty much dictated the wide angle lenses and time lapse photography anyway! So it wasn’t too hard to achieve that feel. initially I was toying with the idea of shooting with Shift and Tilt lenses to make the “Magnatron” look like a child’s toy but I felt this could work against the actual scale of the life sized project. So ultimately, I spent many early mornings playing with the construction crew at the MCG site, taking hours of Time Lapse footage. This was in addition to the Time Lapse rig we mounted permanently at the site on a tower.
“The Tower of Power”
As all projects commence, there is usually some delay that causes things to be arranged at the last minute. This project was no different. Jason Byrne, Clemenger BBDO Melbourne’s Senior TV Producer pretty much dealt with constantly shifting sands and demands from the Creatives and yours truly! To his credit, he handled that job incredibly well. One of those demands was the “Tower of Power” as it became known – a 12 meter high tower which supported our semi permanent time lapse rig! Standby props man and all round good guy, Peter Blackwood was called in to help out in this department! Initially I had asked for a lighting pole to be placed into the ground at a given spot at the MCG. It soon became obvious that this was a very high profile location where everything we did had to conform to extreme safety rules, union conditions as well as MCC/MCG management rules etc. The whole backstory of the approval process would take up so much of this blog entry, that I’m going to give you only the brief version! We eventually were granted permission! However, we had to conform to a standard approved by an Engineer, all with only a day or so notice! Peter Blackwood managed to locate a construction company that had two sections of an industrial sized crane, with engineering approval tickets etc, which we could have delivered to the MCG site quickly! Jason and his team of guys at Clemenger handled the rushed approvals, while Greg Dunn and EONFX in Sydney rushed to prepare our time lapse camera! Greg and I coordinated the technical requirements and we opted for a Solar powered rig, with a mobile broadband modem installed – all controlled from EONFX’s proprietary system. The camera we ended up installing was a Canon 550D. Set at Aperture Priority in Jpeg mode, we uploaded every image to a custom website for backup. In addition, the files were stored inside the camera rig on two mirrored laptop drives! As the equipment made it’s way to the MCG site, the Magnatron construction crew were about to break ground. I arrived early on 6/9/2010 to film the fencing going up as Peter Blackwood began to dig holes in the ground for the foundation of our tower! The following day, the trucks started to arrive with our massive crane base! A totally massive overkill for our tiny package but it got the job done! It had the added benefit of being incredibly stable so the time lapse footage needed virtually no stabilisation at all! In addition it had easy access to the top with an inbuilt ladder and safety rails! Once all the sections had been craned into position, Peter built some hoarding at the base to be able to safely lock the public out. A high fence was also installed. He provided lifting ropes & pulleys to help replace the car sized batteries every so often, as well as places to store safety gear etc. It was a truly magnificent setup! Our only alien on the tower was a nesting Magpie, who insisted on flashing it’s ass at our cameras a few times! The irony is incredible if you want to read the tea leaves on any of this – Collingwood (commonly referred to as the Magpies) had made it into the Grand Final for the first time in decades. I took it as an omen of some sort?! Any case, that Magpie wouldn’t give up even when we installed some anti bird spikes onto of the camera!
Melbourne has had it’s wettest winter in many years, breaking a long running drought with plenty of rain! So much so that areas in country Victoria were heavily flooded for a week. Why am I telling you this, well our Time Lapse rig wasn’t connected to the power grid but rather it was self contained with 2 x 20W solar panels and two deep cycle 12v batteries! The inclement weather did stretch the friendship on a few occasions with the solar system and caused us to climb the “Tower of Power” to exchange the batteries with a spare set. A large metal dog box was lifted to the top of the tower which contained our spares and supplies. Lifting two heavy batteries to the top of the tower was made possible with a rope and pulley system and a zip up tool bag. The rest was hard muscle work to carefully lift the heavy weight 12m in the air! I did it several times as did our team members Tom Davies & Stu Heppell. I knew that the Power levels in the batteries would become an issue and to help me sleep at night, especially when I was sent to Sydney on another job for a couple of days, I decided to build an iPhone App to help maintain the system. The iPhone App was installed only on a few phones as a “Developer” and not put onto the App store but it basically allowed access to a Log file which recorded the Battery Voltage levels and the last recorded image. That way I could preempt when a battery change was necessary and also see that the last image had indeed been recorded and uploaded to the website! Not to big note myself as a guru programmer, but the App was incredibly useful and worked perfectly!
For some it was a full 12 months and for others only a month however, we all had finally made it to the testing day. Magnatron had completed it’s building phase but had to be tested before being made ready for the event! So a day of fun was organised for the CUB crew and many had a crack at trying to use Magnatron! It was definitely harder then everyone expected but possible! I could see a big difference on the construction crew, especially Darren Brink from Kennovations, who looked visibly more comfortable. He and his crew did a magnificent job of assembling the components that make up Magnatron, which included many fail safe systems like backup battery units and generators, should the main generator fail. This prevented the Magnet from “Letting go” of it’s payload, in the event of a power failure! Hopefully those guys will write up a blog entry on the construction but it was all pretty impressive stuff. 17 tonnes of heavily reinforced concrete had to be poured to stabilise the base of the Magnatron crane! All that concrete had to be removed directly after the event, leaving the surrounding parklands in an untouched state!
For me and my team, it was all about trying to recreate the day as best we could. All the prizes, $100,000AU in total, had been assembled into custom built cages and were now on the stage. So one by one we lifted them with the Crane and Magnet, recording each lift with my GoPro camera. It was also the first time we saw the major prize – a Toyota Hillux being lifted completely over the top of the 18m staging structure! Pretty amazing sight!
Our small team consisted of two other cameramen using DSLR cameras as capture units. They included Stu Heppell, who operated a 7D camera supplied by on set Editor Alister Robbie. Jaque Fisher operated another 5D MKII as did I, while we also enlisted the help of a P2 camera for a static wide angle view. That camera was left on it’s own mostly although Stu was responsible for keeping it safe. Tom Davies was our runner who resupplied us all with cards and batteries. Back behind the curtain was Alister Robbie. He had set himself up inside a hired van with his edit suite equipment and still donning a safety vest, he processed the footage and pre selected material for the the next days broadcast! Others on the day included our fearless leader Jason Byrne and his offsider Julian Costanzo. Both Luke and Seymour were also instrumental on the test day. Outside of our main team but still vitally important were the guys from Traffik in particularly Nick Harvey, Clemenger’s Mick McKeown and Sonia von Bibra, Darren Brink from Kennovations, “Dutch” the construction sites safety officer and many others. In all it was quite a large team.
The big day – 25th of September 2010!
After a huge build up towards “the day”, Saturday the 25th of September came around and everything was ready to go! The construction crew had completed all the testing successfully and we had recharged and downloaded our cameras in preparation for the stunt! My first job for the morning was to follow the induction of the contestants to the construction site and to place the last camera – another GoPro HD onto the scissor lift where the contestants were due to compete from. That camera would point directly at them as they looked up to witness the awe of Magnatron! It would also record their reaction as they became aware of their results, so it was pretty important! For the rest of the day, we ran around with our DSLR rigs and captured the joy’s and failure of the contestants one by one! All said and done, the production was a massive undertaking, requiring many hours of time-lapse, technical meetings and recci’s, and good old fashioned diplomacy! All up 100,016 people who attended the Grand Final saw the spectacle! 3.4 million watched it live on television! It’s been viewed Online in it’s countless forms many times! While not my normal kind of work, I think Magnatron was successful! There is a Youtube Video on CUB’s Channel here