When the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo came to the Westpac Stadium in Wellington, New Zealand in February 2016, production supplier, MJF Lighting, decided the scale of the production warranted new followspots and invested in four Robert Juliat Merlin 2500W HMI followspots specifically for the spectacular show.
“There were no quality 2kW HMI followspots available in New Zealand to match this event, with all previous shows of this scale and high production standards having relied on units out of Australia,” says MJF’s CEO, Michael Farrand. “It was time for a change.”
Farrand had previous experience with Robert Juliat followspots on the AC/DC tour, which UK-based Neg Earth had supplied with 4kW RJ Lancelot followspots. “I had the opportunity to talk to the touring tech, and find out first hand just how reliable the RJ product was,” Farrand says. “Feedback from actual users is always far more valuable than any pitch from a salesman or brochure, and my experience proved the RJ range of followspots actually deliver everything they purport to do, and more.” It was with this in mind that MJF chose the RJ Merlin to fulfill the remit for REMT.
“The Merlins are beautifully engineered,” Farrand continues. “The design has been thought about and the guys at Robert Juliat have obviously consulted thoroughly with the people who use the product. They’ve thought about everything: the balance of them, where the controls are located and how they go in and out of the roadcases. Every little detail has been thought about.”
The four RJ Merlin followspots were positioned on the roof of the stadium, 26m above the field, in two purpose built huts that were craned up into position. The installation took a week to complete and included a life-sized replica of Edinburgh Castle as the backdrop to Paul Collison’s lighting design.
Collison was very impressed by how the Merlin followspots performed. “The Merlins were amazing and an ideal fixture for the Military Tattoo,” says Collison. “Their size meant they could be effectively used in a tight position on the roof above the field, and the way they cut through the arena wash to help us pick out individual talent was incredible. I've been a fan of RJ fittings for a long while, particularly their optics, but I was incredibly impressed with the output of the Merlins. They really made lighting the show a pleasure as we could rely on them to compete with hundreds of other fittings even though they (the Merlins) were throwing over 100m at times. To my knowledge, there is no competitor that comes close to the quallity of RJ.”
Robert Juliat are as careful to design for the comfort of the operators as they are for the designers and technicians and were very happy to hear the feedback from Head Followspot Operator, Katie-Jane Bowen. “There are many features on the Merlins that I found extremely useful,” says Bowen. “One of my favourite features was the dimmer control position and the percentage reading on the display. This enabled me to be able to call my team to match the exact output with ease to balance our pickups perfectly without guesswork. The positions on both the dimmer and the iris are placed so that the operator does not have to shift their weight to access these controls, allowing for smooth and steady operating. From a full body clean shot to a perfectly formed pin spot at the far end of the stadium, the beam is beautiful and the precision in the controls is long awaited for.”
Collison observes that the well-designed features had a beneficial effect on the performance of the spot operators: “I felt the ergonomic user features also meant a higher quality or work from the operators,” he confirms. “Once the operators became accustomed to the RJ way, they executed their cues flawlessly. This was quite a feat, when you consider that the temperatures at show time often dropped below 10°C and wind speeds across the roof averaged 30knots with gusts of over 50knots.”
Merlin may have been designed as a giant touring unit, but its size proved no hindrance to the operators: “I am a small girl, and seeing the size of these units was a little overwhelming in the anticipation of rigging them,” says Bowen. “But the lift points and handles are positioned extremely well for easy lifting and rigging, even within a tight space. With assistance of only one other, I was able to comfortably lift and set these up as desired.
“Operating the RJ Merlin for me was an absolute dream. I have operated a lot of different followspots over the years and in every single situation I have had to learn as an operator to adapt and compromise, make the best of what I had to do the best job that I could. For the very first time I found there was no compromising or adapting with the Merlin. The movement is incredibly smooth, the balance could be made to be almost perfect for centre stage position, and control was precise and beautifully simple. At long last, here is a followspot that is built to compliment the art that an operator can truly contribute to any performance.”
“Katie-Jane’s comments are among the greatest compliments we hope to have at Robert Juliat,” says RJ CEO François Juliat. “Merlin seems to have hit the spot in ruggedness, performance and operability that we had designed it for. We are extremely happy to hear the comments from everyone involved in this production.”
The Robert Juliat Merlin followspots were purchased by MJF Lighting from RJ distributor Show Technology. The MJF team for REMT consisted of Head System Tech/Engineer, Blair McLaren, System Tech, Shamus Jackson, Head of Lighting, Michael Farrand, and Head Followspot Operator Katie-Jane Bowen, with lighting design by Paul Collison of Eleven Design, Australia.