Edit Magazine

Casting light on Deep Time

University experts helped shape the spectacular curtain-raiser to the 2016 Edinburgh International Festival, an exploration of Edinburgh’s history on a geological timescale, projected on the city’s most iconic landmark.

Deep Time

Edinburgh’s world-famous summer festival season was launched in 2016 by a light-and-sound show that took nearly 30,000 spectators on a journey through 350 million years of the city’s history. And the University’s academics helped shape the event, casting light on the geological story and the history of science and culture that has led to our current understanding and appreciation of ‘deep time’, a concept developed by alumnus James Hutton.

The spectacular show, Standard Life Opening Event: Deep Time, was an 18-minute animation projected onto the side of Edinburgh Castle and Castle Rock, to music by the Scottish post-rock band Mogwai. With a canvas of 7,000m², it was one of the world’s biggest architectural projection mapping projects, carried out by 59 Productions.

Our involvement in Deep Time

Drawn to the castle

It was the second successive year the University has collaborated with 59 Productions for the launch event for the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF), following the critically acclaimed Harmonium Project of 2015, when the Usher Hall was the ‘screen’ on which animations were projected, to the soundtrack of John Adams' 'Harmonium'.

Harmonium Project

EIF Director Fergus Linehan says that when touring the city at night to find a suitable site for this year’s event, ‘we kept coming back to Edinburgh Castle’.

Once the castle and Castle Rock were chosen, the connections between the site, the story of geology and the University’s expertise all fell into place.

From volcano to rock era

James Hutton, who studied at the University, is considered the ‘father of geology’, having introduced the concept of deep time in the 18th century. He based his revolutionary theories about the history of Earth in part on his observations of Salisbury Crags, which lie below Arthur’s Seat in central Edinburgh.

The 18-minute Deep Time animation winds the clock back to 350 million years ago, when Castle Rock was formed through a volcanic eruption, and then takes the audience through the ages towards the modern day.

University academics were involved from across the disciplines. For example, Dr David Farrier, Senior Lecturer in English Literature, advised on poetry that reflects humans’ contemplations on the age of the Earth, while Dr Gillian McCay, Assistant Curator at the University’s Cockburn Museum, advised on the geology itself and the geologists who have shaped modern understanding of the field.

Rock faces

As the show moves through the epochs towards its finale, it reaches the arrival of humanity. And during the designing of the event, organisers invited local residents and people connected to the project to submit photographs of themselves to be included.

This meant that many of the 27,000-strong audience and those watching the live stream online were able to spot friends, colleagues and perhaps fellow alumni in the final section of the show, bringing a personal perspective to the epic story.

Deep Time video

Watch the full 18-minute show, Standard Life Opening Event: Deep Time. This video was filmed during the public event, on 7 August, and has been produced by Edinburgh International Festival. The soundtrack is by the Scottish band Mogwai, and the animation was created by 59 Productions.

Deep Time podcast

Deep Time was the subject of a recent podcast in the University’s Big Idea series. Academics discuss the history and theories behind the Edinburgh International Festival’s opening event, including how James Hutton’s theories revolutionised how we view the Earth and our place on it.

Get the free Big Idea podcast from iTunes