Of all the moments of breathtaking pageantry that made up the opening ceremonies of the Olympics in Beijing, the synchronized fireworks simulating footprints was a high point for many. They started miles away from the stadium and then, viewed from the air, created the appearance of giant footprints marching to the stadium.
“This is not some computer animation you’re seeing,” Bob Costas told us as we watched, amazed. And that’s true. Well, except for the part about it not being a computer animation. (Update Tues morning: The NPR media critic this morning played the tape. It wasn’t Costa. It was Lauer. His actual words were, “this is almost like an animation.”)
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.
“Seeing how it worked out, it was still a bit too bright compared to the actual fireworks,” he said. “But most of the audience thought it was filmed live – so that was mission accomplished.”
He said the main problem with trying to shoot the real thing was the difficulty of placing the television helicopter at the right angle to see all 28 footsteps in a row.