I haven't seen this in the U.S. press yet, but many non-American outlets are circulating a report that one of the dazzling effects in Friday night's Olympic opening ceremony was faked. This was the dramatic series of timed firework explosions that ran the entire length of Beijing's "Imperial Axis,"* from Tiananmen Square in the south up to the Olympic Green. (For instance, this report on the 08:08:08 blog.)
Every part of the ceremony had its symbolism, and this one obviously underscored the lineage from old imperial China to the renascent China that was holding the games. The perfectly-sequenced explosions began near the area of Mao's mausoleum, in Tiananmen; directly north through the emperors' Forbidden City itself; then on steadily toward the Bird's Nest stadium where today's Chinese leaders and attendant foreign dignitaries were sitting.
But it turns out -- apparently -- that the event producers were worried enough about visibility and other practical concerns that they produced computer-graphic simulations of how the timed explosions should look, and then spliced that info into what was shown on the big screen inside the Bird's Nest and to billions of viewers world wide. According to one account:
Gao Xiaolong, head of the visual effects team for the ceremony, said it had taken almost a year to create the 55-second sequence. Meticulous efforts were made to ensure the sequence was as unnoticeable as possible: they sought advice from the Beijing meteorological office as to how to recreate the hazy effects of Beijing's smog at night, and inserted a slight camera shake effect to simulate the idea that it was filmed from a helicopter.
This is not a big deal, and there was enough genuine dazzle in the ceremony to satisfy anyone. But interesting-if-true.
UPDATE: Some US viewers have written to say that NBC made an indirect allusion to the artifice of this display. Eg, "You're looking at a cinematic device, it's actually almost animation." OK. But still interesting I think.
* An under-appreciated, must-see site in Beijing is the Urban Planning Museum, near the old Beijing railroad station not far south of Tiananmen Square. Like its better-appreciated, must-see counterpart in Shanghai, it has a vast scale model of the city showing every single building, road, alley, etc. Among the city features it reveals is the continuity between the old imperial layout and the new Olympic structures.
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