The Greatest Earth on Show

Tokyo 2020 and a drone-made planet - the greatest Earth on show - the day the Earth appeared over Tokyo

On 23 July 2021, the world watched as the long overdue and somewhat subdued opening ceremony of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games got underway in Japan — and while not the greatest show on Earth this year, it certainly delivered the greatest Earth on show, for it was the day the Earth appeared over Tokyo.

Beamed around the globe from the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo’s Meiji-Jingu Park, devoid of spectators except for delegates, dignitaries and a deluge of media, the Tokyo 2020 opening ceremony was a far cry from the mega-productions of previous years. But that doesn’t mean it was lacking in spectacle.

For a disrupted ceremony, planned in pre-pandemic times, held in the grip of a global crisis, with crowds congregating outside the stadium instead of within, and members of the production team reportedly leaving before the curtain had gone up, the Tokyo 2020 opening ceremony promised to be, well, different.

Despite being stripped back, socially distanced and sombre in tone, the event managed to convey the solidarity and spirit that the Olympic Games represent, delivered with the elegance and sophistication — and at times quirkiness — for which Japan is renowned.

Digital projections filled the stadium floor with an aesthetic combination of colour, shape and shadow, superimposed with traditional and contemporary dance and drama from Kabuki to kinetic pictograms. And even if some of the music was reportedly disrupted due to the departure of a composer hours before the opening, it was alright on the night.

From BBC televised footage

As might be expected from a country whose culture is steeped in design, the ceremony was thoughtfully constructed. Olympic sport pictograms were brought to life, Olympic rings were crafted out of wood from sustainable forests, and the Olympic flame was ignited with cleaning-burning hydrogen from a cauldron housed inside a symbolic white globe.

Not the only globe to feature in this year’s ceremony, the flame’s metal frame remains on show throughout the Games, its separated segments serving as a reminder of how the world is opening up after more than a year of lockdown and isolation.

But one of the stars of the show had to be the Tokyo 2020 logo, an indigo blue chequered wreath created by Asao Tokolo, a Japanese artist known for simple, geometric designs that are all about “connecting”. Described as a “harmonized chequered emblem”, the logo is composed of three different-sized rectangles, the corners of which connect to each other to form a blocky blue circle.

Tokyo 2020 and a drone-made ring gate logo
From BBC televised footage

During the ceremony, the abstract design was constructed in real time out of giant blocks on the stadium floor by a team of semi-socially-distanced performers, before taking a turn upwards — literally — as the chequered logo flickered on in the sky above the stadium, seemingly materialising out of nowhere like a ring gate to another world straight out of a sci-fi film.

Some 1,800 Intel AI drones were about to perform a two and a half minute coordinated light show that transformed the floating chequered emblem from a two dimensional wreath into a three dimensional orb, before morphing into planet Earth. Even slowly rotating counter-clockwise, as it should.

What on Earth did it cost…is the million dollar question (the Intel website can shed some light on that).

Tokyo 2020 and a drone-made planet - the greatest Earth on show - the day the Earth  appeared over Tokyo
From BBC televised footage

We did see lightshow drones at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games, when the five Olympic rings manifested in the sky. But [motioning dismissively] that was just 2D.

A drone-made planet is a whole different ball game. And not just for obvious reasons that the Olympic Games is a global event, or that the pandemic is by definition a global issue, or that the globe’s visibility in the sky may have helped Tokyo not to feel isolated from its own ceremony.

No. For me it’s way more superficial than that. If you know what this website is all about and that every article, however off topic, eventually finds its way back home, in the spirit of the Olympic Games here comes the curveball…

As a fan of science fiction, harbouring an almost obsessive interest in rocks from space appearing in the sky over Earth, I have enjoyed many hours of vintage Japanese tokusatsu cinema, especially those where a rogue planet appears in the sky over Tokyo.

So in homage to the Tokyo 2020 drone globe, here is a link to my latest list post: Rogue Sky Objects in Japanese Cinema.

Tokyo 2020 - the greatest Earth on show - Intel drone globe from the Nippon Budokan
Digital composite of BBC televised footage

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