Let the Games Begin

Let the Games Begin

Dove bike at the 2012 opening ceremony

Suttirat Larlarb

Suttirat Larlarb

All eyes are on Sochi, Russia, for the opening ceremony of the XXII Olympic Winter Games.

That includes Carnegie Mellon University's Suttirat Larlarb, who won an Emmy Award for designing the opening ceremony of the London Olympic Games in 2012.

"The challenge for Sochi — and for every new design team — is always the previous ceremony," said Larlarb, who is now an associate professor in the university's School of Drama. "Sochi has to do something spectacular and memorable, something that sets it apart from the opening ceremony of the previous Winter Olympics."

Larlarb said when you design an opening ceremony, you build into it a challenge for the next one.

"As a designer you don't really try to outdo the last one, but you do want to wipe the slate clean with what people expect, so you go back to ground zero," Larlarb said.

Larlarb was part of a team selected by award-winning film director Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire," "127 Hours") to bring to life the opening ceremony of the London Games.

Her role was much broader than making costumes, sets and props.

"It was the four of us — myself, another designer, a writer and Danny as our creative leader — brainstorming two years before the event and then executing our ideas and our vision," Larlarb said.

High on the team's priority list was to seamlessly blend the protocol with the cultural showcase.

"We didn't want to go from a live event to a really dry ceremonial procession," she said. "We wanted the show to have fluidity, so that people wouldn't want to change the channel or take a bathroom break."

Larlarb said the team injected the show with "everything wonderful about Britain's quirkiness," which meant the Queen of England appeared to enter the stadium via a parachute jump with cultural icon James Bond. In reality, a stunt professional doubled for the monarch.

Larlarb's favorite part of the show — and what she also calls the proudest moment so far in her career — was the symbolic release of the doves of peace. A traditional portion of the Opening Ceremony, she modernized it by incorporating Britain's love of cycling.

The result: dove bikes, whose riders wore lighted dove costumes and circled the darkened stadium floor. A single rider soared to the ceiling on high wires.

"We had an amazing engineering team who worked out the exact movements to imitate doves in flight, and you felt the energy of that no matter where you were in the stadium," she said.

In fact, Larlarb was so impressed with the enthusiasm of all of the young volunteers, it inspired her to teach. She joined CMU's School of Drama — which is celebrating its centennial
in the fall of 2013, but she plans to continue to work in the field as well.

"The field is changing so much, and you need to maintain relevance," she said. "What I like about the drama professors at CMU is that we're all mentoring our students into a field that we have command of ourselves."

Larlarb wants her students to remember the joy of what they do and how they contribute to a bigger process.

"I want them to learn that doing their jobs is more than just picking things off on a laundry list of tasks," she said. "I want them to understand that they have the opportunity to leave an impression on the audience, and that they hold the potential to profoundly affect people's lives through their work."

Related Links: College of Fine Arts | School of Drama | Five Questions with Larlarb | CMU Emmy Award Winners

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