The Art of Abstract Storytelling

In 2016, I was commissioned to create a “moving canvas” for a permanent screen installation at Sydney Opera House, part of a broader Renewal Program that will see a significant evolution of some of the internal spaces of Sydney Opera House. The finished artwork went on to win a gold award in the Animation & Effect Award Festival, in 2017.

The brief.

the brief

This was an amazing brief: an invitation to artfully interpret a subject I know pretty deeply, a rare opportunity to work at the aesthetic end of the communication spectrum, and have the work on permanent display at Sydney Opera House for thousands of people to see every day. The two finished films are presently in their second year of exhibition.

the screen

Samsung supplied a very expensive high density LED screen (comprised of a multiple of smaller units) that allows for a diode per pixel in the display of a 1920×1080 image; that’s 2,073,600 diodes/pixels! The films present with a remarkable quality of colour depth, steady frame rate and fine line detail.


In collaboration with SOH staff, I identified six themes that would ground the abstract visuals, and which aligned with the philosophy behind the broader Renewal Program. These included the Creative Spirit that the place embodies and hosts; a Nexus, in terms of intersection between so many cultural elements; Design Heritage, Meeting Place, Renewal and Performance. The slideshow below shows an image each from the broader films that exemplify these themes.

The Sphere - interior

Similarly, the interior of the sphere is ribbed with the same form as the finished building, culminating at a hemisphere (the ridges of the shells), and in a union of pedestals, where each of the shells gather at their base. Removing the final wedge of each of the pedestals provides two polar points of egress between external and internal spaces.


The recreation of an ancient Bennelong Point also enabled us to tell the visual story of the location as a meeting place stretching back thousands of years. Alongside paintings by Conrad Martens and Joseph Lycett, the CG sequence imagines the forested promontory and the tidal island, heaped with middens that would eventually become the location of Sydney Opera House.

scrap heap of ideas

I had for some time imagined a set of images and sequences that related to Sydney Opera House that I hadn’t been able to put into a specific project, inspired by things I'd seen when studying and working with the forms in the architecture, design and engineering of the building. They were exciting aesthetically, but not really appropriate the work at the time, but this was the perfect project to explore them.

The Yellow Book

Other key imagery celebrated the aesthetic of the Yellow Book, produced to illustrate the final roof geometry. The thin key lines on this model were a key aesthetic component of the Yellow Book.

SOund Design

For the sound design, we wanted something that could drift through the space, that would reprise the various visual beats. I worked with Andrew Stevenson and Hylton Mowbray of We Love Jam to produce a composition, blending diegetic and non-diegetic elements. The idea of the massive volume to the sphere was a central theme of the sound design, conveying wonder, space, and the universality of the geometry of the building.

the sphere - exterior

The main image was of a giant sphere, its internal and external forms reflecting the interior and exterior of the shells. The sphere in its entirety is an ultimate expression of the geometry of the building. Covering its external surface in the chevron pattern of the tile lids, illustrates the perfect geometric solution that was finally settled upon by Utzon for articulating the spherical geometry of the roof form.

Intersection - HAll & Utzon

I also explored intersection between Utzon’s designs and Peter Hall’s by filming and mirroring them to celebrate the union and the repetition of the form, which is an aesthetic in its own right.

Production Tools

The project was created using After Effects, Photoshop, Illustrator and Cinema 4D. I collaborated with with a long term colleague Reuben Hill to create and wrangle the 3D models and most of the video was shot on a 4K Red camera setup.