15 May 2023

'Where the impossible appears right before their eyes' - Shellharbour's Blackbutt Forest to host The Enchanted Forest

| Dione David
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Projection of a face on a tree

Laservision, the Aussie company behind some of the world’s most amazing light and sound shows, is bringing its brand of magic to Shellharbour’s Blackbutt Forest. Photos: Laservision.

When Shellharbour’s Blackbutt Forest Reserve comes to life with The Enchanted Forest experience, its designers will be looking out for something specific.

While visitors immersed in the vibrant journey of installations glue their eyes to the dazzling laser effects, interactive projections and holograms, Laservision CEO Shannon Brooks and the team will be looking for their reactions.

A gasp, a widening of the eyes, a point of the finger is what they’re after – a sign that the literal thousands of hours spent planning and implementation have paid off.

“We once overheard someone saying they had goosebumps while looking at one of our shows,” he says. “That brings a tear to our eyes.”

People walk through colourful Laservision light show in a forest

Often, multiple pieces of tech are needed to deliver a single outcome.

At the same time, making that work invisible is a big part of the job. Shannon says the moment you see the tech behind the amazing visuals, it’s like a magician revealing a trick.

“The magic disappears,” he says. “I remember going to Disneyland as a young boy and thinking, ‘Wow – how do they do that?’. That wonder is a precious part of the experience.”

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The undulating, textured, living backdrop of Blackbutt Forest poses a unique set of challenges.

For starters, much of the technology used for Laservision’s productions does not come natively in weather-proof housing.

“We spend a lot of time designing enclosures to ensure no water ingress,” Shannon says.

“Then using elements of the natural environment, camouflage, positioning and so on, we hide the tech. We have lots of experience adapting to different environments to create the wow factor – it’s what we love doing.”

First raised by Shellharbour City Council pre-pandemic, The Enchanted Forest is the latest in Laservision’s Luna Light Journeys series of immersive, interactive, multisensory nighttime experiences.

As artistic director, Juan Zubiaga dreams up an overarching narrative and then the team gets to work using an arsenal of cutting-edge light and sound technology to bring it to life.

Often multiple pieces of tech are needed to deliver a single outcome. Among hundreds of lasers, led lights and sound devices, this might include special effects such as mist, water screens and fountains.

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Months are spent devising ways to physically manifest Juan’s vision in sound and light, creating custom visuals and soundscapes and navigating the logistic challenges of the unique natural environment and limitations of the tech. It will be fine-tuned right up to the opening night.

In the case of The Enchanted Forest, audiences will follow an original folktale of a mystical stag who awakens magical elements along the trail.

“It’s about transporting the audience – infants, children, teens, adults and older generations alike – into this alternative space where the impossible appears right before their eyes,” Shannon says.

Girl looks at lit-up tree at Laservision lightshow

A good light and sound show is about transporting the audience into an alternative space where the impossible appears right before their eyes.

It’s a delicate art form, and the aim is not to overwhelm the senses but to take the audience by the hand and lead them through a delicate dance of human emotion.

“Typically these shows require 11 to 16 activations along a trail that’s maybe 1.6 to 2 km long. But delighting your audience the whole way is not about giving everything away at the beginning and then maintaining it at 100 per cent the whole time,” Shannon says.

“It’s about inviting them from one moment, one space, one experience to the next, and that requires variation. It calls equally for soft areas, shadow sculptures, the use of negative space and dark areas that bring down the emotional experience before you levitate them again. That’s the journey.”

A colourful projection of a frog on a mushroom

Laservision’s Luna Light Journeys take thousands of hours to create.

Unlike Laservision’s famed permanent installations all around the world – such as Hong Kong’s “Symphony of Lights”, Dubai Festival City’s “Imagine” and Marina Bay Sands Singapore’s “Wonder Full” – this experience is almost as fleeting as a mystical stag in the woods.

The Enchanted Forest runs from 19 May to 11 June at Shellharbour’s Blackbutt Forest. Sessions run from 6 pm for between 45 minutes and 1.5 hours and low sensory sessions are available.

For more information or to buy tickets, visit The Enchanted Forest.

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