by Jason Allen.
OPTO Projects are a relatively young Melbourne company directed by Scott Opie and Simon Toomer that provide bespoke lighting solutions for unusual projects, with a specialisation in set electrics. CX spoke with Simon Toomer about where the company came from and where it’s going…
I started my professional lighting career in Brisbane in the late 1990s, mostly working in theatre, which took me around Australia and on to England. Following this I wanted a new challenge, and an opportunity came up to work on the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games within the Ceremonies Team.
I met a lot of great contacts during the course of that job, which led to being Senior Production Manager in charge of costume and set electrics on the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010, employed by the ceremonies team put together by David Atkins Enterprises. Since then I’ve worked on multiple ceremonies all over the world.
Trouble = Opportunity
Scott’s career path was quite similar to mine, our path first crossed working in the musical theatre scene and continued into the ceremonies world. During this time we both had observed that scenic and set lighting was often an afterthought; it was rarely considered how to make it reliable or tourable.
When Scott and I were working together on the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, we found ourselves repairing set lighting problems caused by poorly done work. We also noticed the same thing touring with theatre shows; we’d get a lot of set electrics that wouldn’t pack down, they were built to work for one season and weren’t thought about again.
We’re talking Christmas lights stapled across joins of a set, underrated wiring, subpar connectors – the kind of standard you wouldn’t expect to see on a professional show.
We would often have to fix or adjust set electrics as it just wasn’t being built properly. We saw a gap in the market for someone who could do things effectively without compromising quality and decided to start OPTO.
We now provide designs and products for musicals, events, and unique experiences. These are usually bespoke or one-off items. Creative directors and designers tell us what they want – an effect or concept – then we implement it.
For example, we provided a lighting solution for SimpleMotion’s swings made for the installation ‘Freedom of Movement’ at Sydney’s Vivid 2017, and Balooga Entertainment’s Buddha puppet at Melbourne’s White Night Reimagined 2019.
Our most recent major theatre work includes the venue refurbishment, house lighting, smoke and haze effects for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and scenic electrics builds for School of Rock and Come from Away.
You Want What?
Our most ambitious project was for the 2018 Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast. The creative brief was to create a field of stars. As these also had to be struck within four minutes to allow for the athlete seating, it presented quite a challenge.
This resulted in 7,000 individually programmable LEDs mounted onto a flexible pole with a base plate that could easily sleeve into each other. Originally the stars were all going to be wired together, but by modifying PixMob’s wristband technology, OPTO designed and managed the build and deployment of the star field with each ‘star’ being battery powered.
It was quite the logistical challenge as each star had to be laid out in a specific order and have all 14,000 batteries changed multiple times but the effect was quite spectacular.
OPTO Product Pipeline
For Matilda the Musical, the late, great Richard ‘R2’ Pacholski wanted some strobes around the proscenium and contracted us to design a solution. We made something practical and he was happy with the result.
Richard then worked on We Will Rock You, and wanted something similar with more control and flexibility. We took our original concept and developed it further into our Pixel Strobe product, which is durable, tourable, and the first official product we sold.
In addition to our custom projects, we have been busy developing and sourcing a variety of products such as our optoLED line of LED strip designed for the entertainment industry. We have some new products on the horizon – all I can say is watch this space!