New Year 2021: The virtual alternatives

New Year 2021: The virtual alternatives
New Year celebrations are going to be very different this year. With the risks of large crowds gathering due to Covid-19 fears, organisers around the world are looking for alternatives to replace or support the traditional gatherings and fireworks displays we all know and love. Reece Webb finds out what three famous venues around the world can do to ring in the new year in the most responsible and creative ways possible.

Times SquareNew York, USA

With Times Square being closed off as the world rings in 2021, the world-famous Times Square New Year’s Eve is turning to virtual celebrations to bring the iconic ball drop celebrations to life to viewers around the world.

Most people by now are no stranger to virtual events, so an app-based experience could just be the way to go. 

A virtual ‘world’ of Times Square has been created alongside a broadcast app to allow users to experience the Times Square celebrations, as Tim Tompkins, president, Times Square Alliance, explained: “This year there will be significantly new and enhanced virtual, visual and digital offerings to complement whatever limited live entertainment or experiences – still in development -- will take place in Times Square.

"Because any opportunity to be live in Times Square will be pre-determined and extremely limited due to COVID-19 restrictions, there will be the opportunity to participate virtually wherever you are. Because more than ever in these divided and fear-filled times, the world desperately needs to come together symbolically and virtually to celebrate the people and things we love and to look forward with a sense of renewal and new beginnings.”

London – UK 

London’s famous fireworks display attracts visitors from all over the globe but faces a radically different experience this year as its traditional fireworks display is canned over concerns of large crowds gathering in the heart of the city. 

In a statement, A spokesperson for the Mayor of London said: “We are currently working up plans to ensure that we usher in the New Year in London in a spectacular but safe way. An announcement will be made in due course.”

Pixel Artworks_Rainbow of hope_2020
The Rainbow of Hope captured over Queen's House, Greenwich, London. Photo credit: Pixel Artworks

With details thin on the ground, there are a number of alternatives that the city can explore. One of the measures that has met success in previous years is the use of drone light shows, offering a mobile, eco-friendly alternative to fireworks. 

Drone shows have been used successfully in Covid-19 applications, being used in the skies about Seoul, South Korea to encourage social distancing and previous new year shows in Singapore which saw 500 drones illuminate the skies over Star Island Singapore. 

A conventional drone show still has the power to draw gathering crowds, but a quirky new approach could instead provide virtual audiences behind a screen with an experience superior that of the physical event unfolding in real time. 

Pixel Artworks, a UK lighting and pixel events company, used a combination of four drones and experimental photography and video light ‘painting’ to blend long exposure photography and real-time elements.

This combination turns the concept of drone shows on its head, while to the naked eye the display may appear to be a conventional, slow-moving light show with a small number of drones, the use of long exposure photography techniques allows virtual viewers to experience a unique sky painting like no other. 

The Pixel Artworks team holds the exclusive permissions for drone flying across some iconic London venues, produced an intuitive light show over Queen’s House, Greenwich, London, by painting a rainbow effect across the London skyline to bring a message of positivity during the pandemic. 

By creating a light show that can only be experienced in its full extent from behind a screen, drone shows like these can negate worries of large crowds gathering in the streets to watch the spectacle unfold, instead gathering around TV screens and laptops to watch a display unfold in real time. 

Trevor Nichol, Pixel Artworks explained: “We are talking with people about New Year celebrations now that the fireworks have been cancelled [in London] and exploring opportunities. 

“That’s what we’re trying to bring to screens this new year’s eve, all streamed so that you don’t have an audience there, it can all be watch these sculptures and shapes be created in the sky

Sydney – Australia

The famous city of Sydney, to date, is going ahead with its new year celebrations in a more ‘toned down’ way. In a statement, the City of Sydney said: “The City has agreed to a NSW [New South Wales] Government proposal that they take temporary
custodianship of Sydney’s New Year’s Eve celebrations. 

“The Lord Mayor is encouraging people to watch this year’s display in the comfort of their own home or at a Covid-secure venue.” 

Projections on the north and south pylons of Sydney Harbour Bridge. Photo Credit: TDC

With this in mind, integrators and live event companies may find themselves having to react on short notice to unfolding events, thinking outside of the box to provide show-stopping audio-visual effects with very little time to prepare. 

Technical Direction Company (TDC) is one of those that may have to think fast as the event draws near. Speaking to Inavate, Geraldine Shine, Brand Manager, TDC said: “Sydney NYE celebrations will go ahead, it has not been made public as to what form this will take in comparison with previous years. 

“TDC won a tender to provide projections on the Sydney Harbour Bridge pylons for the next four years for NYE. As yet we haven’t been informed if that is going ahead.  We are always ready to come up with new ways to approach entertainment, but everything seems to be last minute due to the uncertainty around Covid-19."