Yellow faced angel fish, theatrical prop, painted fibreglass/ aluminium/fabric/internal lighting, used in 'Deep Sea Dreaming', Opening Ceremony for the Olympic Games, Sydney, 2000, designed by Dan Potra, made by Fleur Burrows, Jenna Hann, Sara Laborde and Catherine Olsten, painted by Nic Burton and Joanna Pinkiewcz, Ceremonies Workshop, Eveleigh, Sydney, 2000
Made from fibreglass and aluminium, this Yellow Faced Angel Fish was one of several large props to feature in 'Deep Sea Dreaming' - a theatrical segment in the Opening Ceremony for the Sydney Olympic Games. Hoisted on lines high above the stadium, the sea creatures transformed the airspace into a large, fantastical world beneath the ocean. Prop designer, Dan Potra, developed these props and led series of tests to determine the best methods for their operation, particularly during strong winds. Weight restrictions of 150 kilograms per line eliminated any chance of animating the structures through the aid of a performer or an internal mechanism. However, wind currents above the stadium were essential in filling the props with air, creating the impression that the fish were swimming through the ocean.
In mid 2000, prop makers and scenic painters constructed the Yellow Faced Angel Fish at the Ceremonies Workshop at Eveleigh. Here, they made the body from aluminium tubing, stretching lime-coloured fabric across its frame. Cast in fibreglass, the head featured a gaping mouth with a small protruding fish tail - attempts to animate this proved unsuccessful. The main tail was hinged for incidental movement.
Described by the NSW premier Bob Carr as 'the greatest spectacle Australia has produced', the opening ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games took place at Stadium Australia, Homebush Bay on Friday 15 September 2000. Though the ceremony featured anthems, speeches, oaths, flags, pop singers and a marching band, its daring conceptual sequences ('Deep Sea Dreaming', 'Awakening', 'Nature', 'Tin Symphony', 'Arrivals' and 'Eternity') will be remembered as the major imaginative works. Each segment commenced without interruption, following on from the last to form an overall narrative. The purpose was to project a national image to a worldwide audience, to form the world's vision of Australian culture. This image embraced tolerance, social progress, multiculturalism and reconciliation, as well as nature, history and creativity. Designed to stimulate emotional responses from the audience, these segments delivered a refreshing mixture of youth, naivety and larrikinism.
After the horses from the 'Welcome' segment left the arena, the first narrative sequence, 'Deep Sea Dreaming', began. The 'hero girl', played by the 13-year-old Nikki Webster, skipped onto the arena in a pink sundress. She applied sun cream to her nose, stretched, lay on her beach towel and dreamt of the ocean. Her dreams afforded the director of this segment, Meryl Tankard, the opportunity to transform the stadium into a deep ocean. Eleven cables were used, strung 45 m above the arena across the 111 m space between the grandstands on either side. The hero girl soared high above the arena in a special lift harness, swimming and somersaulting through the ocean, among giant sea creatures. Translucent jellyfish drifted past her, and then various banner fish, sea-dragons, an eel, a mantaray, a ground-based worm, a nudibranch, a Spanish dancer, squid, lion fish, even a fearsome barracuda. Of the 800 people involved in this segment, 150 were schoolchildren taking the part of a giant school of fish. This object was worn by one of these children. The hero girl was sucked slowly downwards among a swirling mass of fish until white-ochre spirits took charge of her and carried her to the stage where the tribal dancer Djakapurra Munyarryun, the Songman, guided her through the following segments of the ceremony.
Segment designer, Dan Potra, developed the 'flying fish' and tested the cable system that featured in 'Deep Sea Dreaming'. The cabling - a series of eleven 'fly lines' - was connected to the stadium roof truss and to computerised winches that controlled the props' movement. Each line could bear a maximum weight of 150 kilograms.
Supplementing the design process was a series of tests that helped refine the fish the cable system and props. The fish prototype was simple in design, consisting of a 4.5 metre windsock that was fitted over an aluminium frame and attached to a 1.5 metre fish head model. Steel plates on the head lowered the centre of gravity, forcing it to lurch forwards and filling the windsock with air. Seemingly, the fish swam through ocean currents caused by crosswinds.
During the initial cable tests, the temporary lines were connected to a golf cart that enabled the pick-up line to be moved to and fro. These tests gave rise to questions of safety, particularly during strong and unpredictable winds. However, props master, Al Martinez, conducted wind tunnel tests at Sydney University to prove the reliability of this system. Testing three 'flying fish', he devised a plan that would be implemented in the event of strong winds.
Together, these testing processes helped to refine the fish and cable system. Though the windsock principle was maintained, the fish themselves were enlarged and their external features were substantially stylised.
Operating from the Ceremonies Workshop, Fleur Burrows, Jenna Hann, Sara Laborde and Catherine Olsten constructed the 'flying fish' while Nic Burton and Joanna Pinkiewcz applied the painted designs. The fish heads were cast in polystyrene and coated in fibreglass, with the casts being removed after the fibreglass had dried. The head of the 'Yellow faced angel fish' was unique in design, featuring a protruding lower lip that was hinged to the jaw via an extended rod. At one end, the rod attached to a counter weight (concealed by the lip), and at the other, it connected to the head via a spring, causing the lip to move with the fish.
Bent aluminium tubing formed the main body structure whilst Delron plastic made all the primary connections and strengthed the overall design. Fibreglass rods created the cross sections and fixed the upper and lower fins to the body (these were sewn into the covering material and pinned into Delron joints). Side fins, which were attached to a hinged joint, were positioned below and behind the fibreglass head. The tail was hinged for incidental movement while a small fishtail was positioned protrusively within the fish mouth.
Covering the structure, stretch material enhanced the fish-like appearance and complemented the sheer, luminous fabric that embellished the fins. The surfaces were adorned with glitter, sequins, paint and other applications.
This prop was hoisted above the arena during 'Deep Sea Dreaming' - a segment in the Opening Ceremony for the Sydney Olympic Games. The ceremony was held at Stadium Australia, Sydney Olympic Park, on 15 September 2000.
Made for and owned by the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, and donated to the Powerhouse Museum after the Games.