In just five year’s time, Vivid Sydney has blossomed into the biggest light festival in the Southern Hemisphere and a vital tool in branding Sydney as the creative hub of Asia Pacific.

In total, the 18-day 2013 iteration boasts more than 60 interactive light instillations and 3-D-mapped buildings across the city, including two major new venues: Darling Harbor and the Sydney Harbor Bridge (which participants will be able to decorate themselves). Yet, Vivid is not only a festival of lights, but ideas and music too.

Vivid Ideas boasts more than 120 creative industry and business events this year, while Vivid LIVE at the Sydney Opera House includes the world premiere album show of Australia’s Empire of the Sun and the iconic German electronic music group Kraftwerk, who will present their acclaimed retrospective series in eight unique performances.

Vivid Sydney’s creative adviser, Ignatius Jones, is no stranger on the world stage. He’s one of the world’s leading major event directors, having been a creative force behind the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games Opening and Closing Ceremonies and the creative director of the Opening Ceremony of Shanghai 2010 World Expo and the Ceremonies of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. But Jones said Vivid was a completely different animal.

“An Olympic ceremony happens only once, this happens over 18 days. If we mess up, at least we can see it again,” he joked. One of the big differences at Vivid this year, according to Jones, is the level of international participation. “One-third of the light instillations are international and they’ve been put together more often than not by some of the world’s great architectural firms. Architects seem to think this is where they come to play, and when you think about it, this stuff is really the realm of architects.”

One landmark that has not been designed by an international architect for the first time in Vivid’s five-year history is the Sydney Opera House. That honor belongs to Sydney-based Spinifex Group.

“As great as the French, German and British have been, it’s time for an Australian to have a go, and I think what they’ve done is really going to astonish people,” Jones said. “It’s very Sydney. It’s a bit cheeky, it’s quite cynical, it’s witty, it’s funny -- all of those things that Sydney is both praised for and not [praised for] they’ve managed to get onto those sails.”

Other highlights in 2013 include the Gemma Smith and Spinifex Group collaboration on the Museum of Contemporary Art and Vivid Aquatique in Darling Harbor, a dancing light show replete with screen projection performances to rival any hologram at Coachella. Danny Rose’s interactive spectacular at the Customs House -- where dancing onlookers intermingle with the building via the latest projection and mapping technology -- is sure to create some of the biggest buzz, while anyone who tweets or instagrams a message to the Benevolent Society can watch as it shoots through the Society’s harborside light tunnel “like a ray of hope,” according to campaign director Yvonne Stewart.

Though Vivid Sydney is a collaborative event, it’s wholly owned and operated by Destination New South Wales, the agency responsible for supporting the state’s growth in the tourism and events sector. Destination NSW CEO Sandra Chipchase said Vivid is, far and away, the organization’s biggest event.

“It started five years ago as a way to drive visitation in the winter, but it has morphed since then into a way of positioning Sydney as the creative services hub of Australia,” Chipchase explained. “Moreover, it reinforces our position as a city. Vivid has the ability to grow, drive sales, help people make business connections and showcase our new technology and new ideas in what is an unbelievably beautiful and visual medium.”

While the lights shine along the waterfront from 6 p.m. to 12 a.m. each night, the music and idea events span all hours as Vivid takes over Australia’s largest city. Chipchase noted that it’s really just 18 days of nonstop entertainment, it’s family friendly and the bulk of it is free.

The state government helps underwrite much of the costs, and creative sponsors like Audi, Citibank and Intel have all put their names behind many of the larger light instillations. In the end, Destination NSW “very conservatively” estimates that the event pumps more than $10 million into the local economy.

Last year, 500,000 people came in specifically for the event, including several thousand Chinese who were lured to Sydney by advertising campaigns on microblogging website Sina Weibo. This year, the event is three-times larger and the stakes are even higher. More than 300 travel buyers are in town from around the world. Meanwhile, Business Events Sydney will bring a raft of decision-makers down to see the festival as a way of generating convention and incentive travel businesses in the city, according to Chipchase.

“Every year we want to push the envelope and every year we want to do something different,” she said. "We’re looking to the water more and more and we can see that we can do some really spectacular things on the water as well as on the buildings and in the streets. In the end, we hope little kids will come and look around at all of the technology and say, ‘I want to do that when I grow up.’ Vivid creates new heroes and it creates new business opportunities.”

Scroll down for a sneak peek at Vivid Sydney 2013, which kicks off Friday night at 6 p.m. and runs through June 10. For more information on the event, visit