The “marmite” of the live entertainment world, Eurovision has divided opinion amongst viewers of all ages for over six decades. Since its conception in 1956, the European-wide singing contest has grown exponentially whichever way you measure it – whether it be by number of entrants, demographic reach or level of extravagance (or ridiculousness, depending on your outlook…).
Regardless of your individual viewpoint of the contest, the numbers and statistics that surround it leave no room for dispute. The European Song Contest is the largest non-sports television event in the world, with around 200 million viewers tuning in to see this year’s final. As with all things televisual, large viewing figures equates to large production costs. Admittedly, the contest is not famed for its high production values when it comes to its presenters and musical values, although it is not simply the contrast of these factors that highlight the incredibly high production values that can be seen within the contest’s technical delivery. Front and centre of this technical achievement is the event’s lighting, which has seen more advanced and intricate rigs utilised year-on-year. The 2018 edition of the contest was no exception to this, with a lighting plot containing almost 2500 fixtures and controlled over five consoles.
Some key lighting statistics:
- 2,385 Active Lighting Fixtures
- 5 Active Lighting Consoles
- 3,908 Metres of Trussing
- 49,284 Metres of Power Cabling
- 38,740 Metres of Data Cabling
- 63723 DMX Parameters
- 82114 Pixel Mapping Parameters
- 158 Universes of Moving Lights
Official Lighting Sponsor of the event was OSRAM, who invited LightSoundJournal to Portugal to witness the spectacle of this year’s grand final first-hand. OSRAM also gave us the opportunity to experience their illumination of key landmarks across the city of Lisbon. What was most interesting about this initiative was the integration with the contest itself, which saw the colour of the landmark lighting linked with votes cast through the Eurovision App. The idea was simple yet effective – the more votes a performance received, the “hotter” the performance, causing the lighting of OSRAM’s illuminated landmarks to shift from a cool blue to a hot red.
As with most events of this nature, many of the technical and production aspects form ingredients of a closely-guarded recipe. None-the-less, join us as we discover just what makes the lighting for Europe’s biggest party.
The venue for this year’s contest was Lisbon’s Altice Arena, one of Europe’s largest multi-purpose indoor arenas. Originally constructed for the 1998 Lisbon World Exposition, the venue has a maximum capacity of 20,000 – however in keeping with recent Eurovision contests, the crowd for the performances saw around 12,000 flag-waving fans fill the venue with audible excitement. In keeping with the oceanic theme of the world expo for which it was constructed, the carrack-shaped roof of the venue is supported by a wooden structure, instead of more commonly used steel or concrete supports. Aside from the obvious weight limitations that immediately spring to mind when the proposition of rigging from a wood-supported structure is mentioned, there was in fact a more pressing and potentially easily-overlooked consideration that had to be taken into account. Depending on the weather and intensity of the sun, the expansion of the wooden supports and roof meant that variations in the exact position of lighting trusses were common. Although these changes might only result in the movement of a truss by a few centimetres, this could cause discrepancies for precisely programmed lighting positions, something which is of particular concern for an event where broadcast-clarity and precision is of upmost importance.
To gain a deeper level of understanding of the decisions, approaches and technology behind this year’s lighting, we spoke we Jerry Appelt, Lighting Designer and DoP for the contest. As well as a diverse portfolio covering many of TV’s most-watched events, this year sees the fourth year that Jerry has held the role of Lighting Designer for the contest. Starting with his design for 2011’s contest in Düsseldorf, Jerry then went on to LD for 2012’s contest in Baku and 2017’s in Kiev.
Preparation for this year’s show began back in the Autumn. At the early stages, the show’s set designer, Florian Wieder, began discussions on how to best integrate set and lighting to work together as harmoniously as possible. These discussions then formed the basis of which lighting fixtures would be integrated into which levels of the set, from the fixtures used for transition wipes, through to fixtures to the rear of the stage during performances. Although the delegations from the performing countries do specify their requirements for their performance, these decisions are usually not made until mid-march, once the songs are chosen and delivered to the event organisers. The design for the contest’s lighting, as well as the technical specifications, have to be set months before this in order for technical suppliers to be sourced and for equipment to be reserved. This means that delegations are usually provided with a technical rider of what is available, as well as a colour palette from which they can work, on which decisions for their lighting design can be based.
“The lighting has to match with what the delegations want, and they have to match with what is available on the show floor. This is an ongoing process involving sketches, talking and stand-in rehearsals. This forward and backward process continues through to the dress rehearsals, with minor changes but sometimes bigger changes being made. This process can last six, seven, sometimes eight months” – Jerry Appelt, LD & DoP.
For those who have followed the contest for the last few years, the immediately noticeable difference to the set is the lack of an LED screen to the rear of the stage, something which had grown ever-larger and more intricate over the past few editions of the show. The decision not to include a screen this year was not due to production limitations or budgeting, but rather a conscious decision taken by the broadcasters to shift the focus back to the performers, the lighting, the props and the stage sets. Despite this, (and with this being Eurovision after all) the decision not to include an LED wall at the rear of the stage didn’t stop some countries still incorporating video content into their performances, but the majority of the delegations followed the suggested framework put forward by Jerry and his team.
“The change has created a good balance for the performances. We see entries like Hungary which are loud punk rock tunes with pyrotechnics all around, alongside more intimate performances such as the entries from Lithuania and Ireland. We are able to create light and shade with the lighting, painting with both big and small brushes, rather than everything happening against metres and metres of LED wall. This gives this year’s performance a much more theatrical feel.” – Jerry Appelt, LD & DoP.
Of course, as Jerry mentions, this “suggested framework” and intention to put the artists at the centre of the performance did not meet with the desires of all delegations, with some still wanting inordinate amounts of pyrotechnics or computer generated graphics. It’s also worth mentioning that there are still LED panels present in the set, with the back wall hosting 350 Ayrton Magic Panel FX fixtures, providing the last layer of lighting and matrix effects to the incredibly three-dimensional design of this year’s staging. Jerry was clear to point out that the dynamics between the different performances within this 2018 contest worked extremely well, creating light and shade through consecutive performances. This is something that is not always easily acheived, with countries constantly wanting to “one up” the previous performance.
Every performance in the show is linked to timecode, ensuring that all cues are tight and link perfectly with the camera editing – an equally meticulously choreographed affair. Pyrotechnics are also linked to this timecode, however they are run from the props department backstage. It’s worth remembering that this contest is televised to over 200 million, a figure that dwarfs that of the number of audience members within the venue itself. Because of this, a clear focus has to be made on creating lighting design and framing that is visually stimulating and effective on camera for the audience members at home. This is also true for the choreography and staging for the performances themselves, for example in Finland’s performance that sees the first minute of the performance facing the rear of the stage, with the audience behind. This aside, believe us when we say that the impact of this lighting and performances in the venue itself was nothing short of breathtaking,
When asked about his choice of fixtures, Jerry was clear that the decisions on which fixtures he uses is very much his own. In terms of the contest’s partnership with OSRAM, Jerry considers himself very fortunate to be able to take full advantage of both Claypaky and ADB fixtures, remarking on the wide range of high quality and flexible options available. A number of the multipurpose fixtures from the Claypaky range formed the main rig for the contest – with 112 Claypaky Scenius, 197 Scenius Unico, 86 of the new Claypaky Hepikos and 143 of the Claypaky Mythos 2. For key lighting, Jerry uses Claypaky’s Axcor 900 range of LED fixtures, which are debuting on the Eurovision Song Contest. These fixtures were chosen because of their size and impressive output – something which is essential for a venue this size with so many other lighting effects to cut through. These key lights were used to compliment the followspots being used for the performances, which saw 17 Robe RoboSpot Base Stations controlling Robe BMFL fixtures. The event also saw 100 of ADB’s asymmetric cyc LED fixture utilised – ADB Klemantis. Other recently released fixtures on the rig included GLP’s KNV light effect, which is used as a key element of the light swipe seen between the end of each performances video postcard and the start of their performance. We also see a massive 262 of the the hugely popular JDC-1 hybrid strobe utilised for the contest, as well as 180 X4 L positioned around the arena for audience lighting. From Ayrton we also saw 64 Mistral fixtures on the back wall of the stage, as well as 112 Ghibli fixtures for audience lighting. A further 96 Mini Panel FX fixtures and 30 Magic Dot SX were positioned front-of-stage.
“Of course, the event is also a shopping window for the manufacturers, with a lot of manufacturers showing off new products. On the other hand, these must be process safe, so we do not feature products that are still in beta stages. We only use fixtures that have been proven before” – Jerry Appelt, LD & DoP.
Communication systems for the event were provided by Riedel Communications, who continue a 13-year tradition in supplying an all-fibre communications and signal distribution system for the contest. This year, Riedel provided an intercom system featuring four Artist 64 Intercom Mainframes and 101 RCP Intercom Panels, as well as 32 Bolero Beltpacks running across six Bolero Antennas. As well as stage communications, Riedel systems worked alongside Cymatic Audio’s uTrack24 devices, loaded with Angelbird SSD cards, to manage line IDs for the commentary booths. As for radio, Riedel provided an Riface G2 GM360, running alongside 300 Hytera PD605 Handheld Radio, as well as a Damm Tetra Base Station with 260 Motorola Tetra Handheld Radio. If that wasn’t enough, Riedel also managed all accreditation at the event, with 20 Turnstiles & Viewing Stations, as well as five Accreditation Work Stations.
“ESC is a large-scale, immensely complex live production. The biggest challenge is to ensure 100% reliability regarding efficient and crystal-clear communication due to the number of users. To really appreciate what Riedel and Videohouse pulled off for this year’s show, please take a look at some of the numbers — more than 5,000 buttons spread across 200 comms panels, over 800 intercom users. Our redundant and decentralized approach is vital here. Through tight integration with MediorNet, Riedel’s Artist digital matrix intercom system and Bolero wireless intercom provided comprehensive and reliable communications for crew and performers.” – Benedikt Leister – Project Manager, Riedel Communications.
Onto the performance itself, for which it is only when watching from inside the arena itself that you realise just how much of a well-oiled machine the stage management of the contest is. As the broadcast fades to video postcard from the next country to perform, a swarm of stage-hands descend onto the stage to prepare for the performance. Laser-projected imagery from above the stage gives this team a precise floor mapping onto which they can place both floor-standing lighting and stage dressing. The lack of rear LED screen to the stage prompted this year’s act from Germany to utilise an inflatable projection screen – something that Jerry Appelt refers to as his “inflatable sausage.” With only 40 seconds between each act, it is truly a marvel to see the stage dressed in a routine that could only be likened to a heavily choreographed and rehearsed dance routine. What is perhaps most striking about the lighting for the contest is that despite the number of performances using the same lighting rig and equipment, the amount of diversity between the performances is vast. This result is a testament to lighting that is impeccably designed and implemented, using the very best technology that the contest has to offer.
We’d like to thank OSRAM for inviting us to this year’s show, and for allowing us to share in what is undoubtedly Europe’s most talked about musical event. No doubt preparations are underway for next year’s event, which will see the contest hosted in Jerusalem after Israel’s Netta Barzilai‘s win at this year’s contest with her song “TOY”. Her lucky cats certainly did the trick…
We hope to see you there next year!
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