Chiswick House - Son et Lumiere
Wednesday, 3 October 2001
Chiswick House is an historic 18th century home whose walls no doubt have tales to tell of its many fascinating inhabitants. The house was designed and built by the wealthy Lord Burlington, who was an amateur architect fascinated with the classical period; hence the lines of the house are simple and elegant - a perfect canvas for the projection of stunning images to recall the spirit and lives of those associated with the glorious building.

Ross Ashton from E/T/C UK was the man responsible for the creation of an absorbing 35-minute Son et Lumiere that recalls the halcyon days of Chiswick. Famous figures such as King George 1, Handel and Alexander Pope all succumbed to the charm of the House and it was these that inspired Ashton and his collaborators: "When I was first presented with the idea of creating a Son et Lumiere about Chiswick House, the trickiest part was figuring out who would be the narrator. There are so many amazing characters associated with the house, but we finally decided on Lady Burlington as she had witnessed so much and survived most of her family."

Ashton spent a great deal of time absorbed in the archives of English Heritage searching for images that would recall the rich history of the house. Many of these images and drawings were black and white, which Ashton then converted to colour on a Mac. To maintain the integrity of the piece, the decision was taken not to include any visual effects other than the projected images, which cut through the blackness of the night sky onto the façade of the house, with striking colour and clarity.

E/T/C UK specializes in using the existing architecture to add to the impact of its projections and Chiswick House, with its columns, tall windows and stately lines, proved itself a willing canvas. The images were made to fit the architecture perfectly so that individual aspects of the façade could be accentuated. To do this, Ashton used two PIGI Rotating Double Scrolling slide projectors to achieve the spectacular images, which were 23m wide by 15m high.

By using two scrolling projectors, the images can scroll across and through each other and can act independently or interface to create startling effects. Travelling mattes were used to great effect with the faces of various gentlemen appearing to morph into each other and at times re-emerge. Ashton storyboarded the whole show and it took him three weeks to create the 40 metres of film that the event required. One of the challenging aspects was determining the speed of the projections to give the Son et Lumiere the stately, yet engaging, pace it required.The recorded voice of actress Beth Hayward created a witty voiceover with incidental period music allowing the audience to drift back in time as the story unfolded. Canegreen provided the sound system which consisted of eight Meyer MSL 4s, eight Meyer PSW 2s and two Meyer R2650 Ps. Control was via BSS Soundweb running on a laptop PC and playback was direct from the hard disk of a Mac.

As you may have seen in the trade press, Ashton issued invites via his ads for anyone to attend, a move he views as preferable to a dry demonstration in a warehouse, and who could argue with the impact of a live show? Judging by the reactions of the public and invited guests, the move provided E/T/C UK with a calling card second to none.

Jacqueline Molloy

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