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5 Game-Changing Olympic Opening Ceremony Spectacles

Including fake UFOs, Firework footprints, and Björk's projection mapped dress.

The Olympic Opening Ceremonies are a chance for the host country to hypnotize billions of people watching across the world in one massive, awe-inspiring spectacle. It's an opportunity to ensure that the nation in the spotlight will go down in history, especially if it includes moments of wonder fostered by next-level technology used at such a large scale.  The Sochi Winter Olympics begin tomorrow, and although there have been accounts that the living accommodations are pretty subpar, the project's $50 billion budget suggests that the overall event will be an unforgettable experience. Sochi is officially the most expensive Olympics of all time, prompting our curiosity of what's in store for that introductory sucker punch.  No one will forget the light drums that opened the Beijing Olympics (as well as the LED screen that became an "ancient scroll"), or even when Björk stole the show at Athens in 2004, wearing a dress that turned into a projection map screen. We wanted to look back at some of the most unforgettable forward-thinking, game-changing moments in Olympic history to get you pumped.

The 1964 Olympics in Tokyo: The Emperor's New (Electronic) Groove

Image via Tokyo never ceases to be cutting edge when it comes to technology and spectacles. The 1964 games were no exception, including the first Opening Ceremony event to have a theme song, balloons, skywriting (see the airborne rings above), and even electronic music. To celebrate the introduction of the Emperor, the Olympic orchestra performed an electronic score using IBM computers, an extremely modern performance at such a formal event.  Arguably more important, though, was that the Tokyo Games were the first to use fireworks in the Opening Ceremony, an act that now seems wholly connected to large-scale public exhibitions. Japan literally shot for the stars, and changed what we expect from events of this size. 

The 1984 Games In Los Angeles: Fake UFOs and Reagan

This probably wasn't what Orwell imagined one of the biggest events in 1984 to look like, but the Summer Games included a few odd, seemingly-futuristic quirks. Though part of a Closing and not an Opening Ceremony, a fake UFO flew over the LA arena and landed amidst a cloud of smoke. A fake alien hopped out of the "spaceship" and started the show. The stunt was created by amusement park mastermind, Bob Gurr, famous for designing Disney Land with his group Sequoia Creative Inc. The hoax might be the biggest troll in the history of spectacles, but turning a plane into a UFO is pretty damn cool.

The 2004 Athens Olympics: Björk Steals The Show With A Projection-Mapped Dress

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Björk is a living spectacle. Place her in a situation where the whole world is watching, and of course she'll blow your mind. During the Opening Ceremony in 2004, the Icelandic singer/goddess was the heart of a performance piece called "Oceania," which later became a single on her album Medúlla.


While she crooned, a humongous piece of fabric connected to the singer's dress was draped over the heads of each athlete competing, who had organized in the center of the stadium. As the song wrapped, the giant dress had a map of the world projected on it. This is still one of our favorite uses of projection mapping, and one of the most memorable dresses Björk has ever worn (and that's saying a lot).

The 2008 Olympics In Beijing: Light Drums, Firework Footprints, And An LED Floor

The 2008 Beijing Olympics are considered by many to be the most amazing, organized global event in Olympic history. The ebullient introduction was so intricate and forward-thinking that every other Opening Ceremony felt like it was leading up to this.

There was a light drum countdown, an LED floor, footprint fireworks (which sounds like straight-up fantasy), and a giant "scroll" made using a massive LED screen. Though the subsequent London Olympics were an interesting ode to UK pop culture history, Beijing was special in that it was extraordinary to people everywhere. You didn't have to be from China to be totally immersed in this magical experience.

The 2012 London Olympics: 70,000 Pixel Pads Create A Cosmic Light Show

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The Danny Boyle-curated Opening Ceremony, titled "Isles Of Wonder," focused on nods to the country's rich pop culture history, including a filmed introduction with Daniel Craig's James Bond and a fake Queen getting into a helicopter before the setup transitioned into a live performance where stunt doubles literally parachuted down into the stadium. "Isles of Wonder" actually got imbedded with wonder, however, once the stadium sparked up its massive array of pixel panels.

Over 70,000 pixel panels were placed around the arena, including spots between each seat. These 10-inch screens were connected to a central computer and had colored LED pixels. The amazing part was when the audience used paddles given to them to turn the pixel pads into a twinkling light show. This was one of the biggest uses of LEDs ever, and set a precedent of how the technology can push the boarders of entertainment and spectacle.

While the Sochi officials have stayed mum about the impending Opening Ceremonies, we'll keep our fingers crossed that the winter wonderland will give us a beautiful, unforgettable frost bite.

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