Let there be Enlighten: the man behind Canberra’s most iconic projections

Dominic Giannini 1 March 2021
Peter Milne

Peter Milne is the managing director of Electric Canvas. Photo: Photox – Canberra Photography Services.

You might not know his name but chances are you are more than familiar with his work.

For the last 11 years, Peter Milne has been one of the masterminds behind Enlighten Illuminations, overseeing the artistic projections across Canberra’s most famous national institutions.

Since he started Electric Canvas 25 years ago, he’s also worked on the opening ceremonies of four Olympics, three East Asian Games, seven Singapore national days and most recently, the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.

And it all came to fruition after a European holiday in 1996.

“I discovered large format projections on a trip to France and brought that technology back to Australia, and that is when Electric Canvas was born,” Mr Milne said.

“The opening of the Star in Sydney with two big French projectors was my first job and that was in November in 1997. By December, we had done three others including the Channel 9 Carols by Candlelight.”

Twenty crew members working 16-hours a day across six days a quarter-century later and Enlighten 2021 is ready to be switched on.

“It is a big undertaking, especially in the first year where you have to develop all the artistic templates for each of the buildings. But even then, once you have got those, the technology is changing every year,” he said.

“We were using big French slide projectors on Old Parliament House and now we are using high-definition digital projectors with computers to deliver the content and it is animated, so things are changing all the time and we are always reinventing the workflow and techniques.”

National Library

The National Library will be lit up every night until 8 March. Photo: Photox – Canberra Photography Services.

Those familiar with blown bulbs know how frustrating changing a dud ceiling light can be, but when technology faults affect 12,000 pixels being splashed across Old Parliament House, it can be a slightly more complex process than a Bunnings run.

“When you have so much technology, there are always things that can go wrong technically,” he said.

“We do a lot of technical preparation to make sure we are prepared – the crew have a 100-page crew manual, everything is documented, and everyone knows what they are doing before they arrive.

“Occasionally, it does fail, but we have a ‘show must go on’ attitude. COVID almost stopped us bringing half our crew out of Melbourne, so we flew them here in a small jet a week early so we did not compromise the launch.”

Peter’s obsession with lighting and light shows started when he was nine years old, and he started getting involved in the lighting of school performances and projects before getting into theatre and rock and roll shows after he left.

And he’s had a bright future ever since.

More information about Electric Canvas and photos from its previous projections can be found at The Electric Canvas.

Enlighten Illuminations will be projected across Canberra’s most iconic institutions between 8:00 pm and 11:00 pm from 26 February until 8 March.

Times and locations are available at Enlighten Illuminations.


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