From Coast to Coast with FLDA

MLB Network Studio 42 ESPN SportsCenter Los AngelesIn the sports world, Monday April 6th, 2009 was a very busy day when two national obsessions came together. The championship game of the NCAA, won by North Carolina, was played and the first pitch of the 2009 Major League Baseball season was thrown. As all the action of the day was reported and the highlights discussed fans tuned into the premiere of the new west coast studio for ESPN's SportsCenter in Los Angeles.

Back on the East coast, baseball took center stage at MLB Network's new studios in Secaucus, New Jersey. Both studios were lit by lighting designer Bruce Ferri, principal of Ferri Lighting Design & Associates (FLDA). Ferri is no stranger to sports television lighting and he was excited to work on these two innovative projects. “Sports broadcasting is an interesting challenge because they are giving fans the day's news but also presenting it in a fast-paced, high energy format and the studio needs to be able to convey that energy and excitement. Also the space itself is used for multiple different setups and styles of shots so you really have to breakout of just the ‘guy sitting at a desk look' but at the same time the lighting can't compete with the show, it has to enhance it.”

With ESPN's launch of the network's Los Angeles Production Center ESPN now has its first permanent location outside of the Eastern time zone where ESPN is headquartered in Bristol, Connecticut. The new LA facility, located above the ESPN Zone restaurant in the AEG-owned entertainment complex LA Live across the street from the Staples Center, features two studios, three production control rooms, two master control rooms; eight edit suites, a music room, and a voiceover room totaling more than 12,300 square feet. Additional ESPN content will originate from this facility over time, however Mondays through Fridays at 10 p.m. Pacific, it is the live broadcast of SportsCenter LA edition that takes over. The regular anchors are Neil Everett and Stan Verrett with ESPN's Stuart Scott making special appearances, including handling the first segment that launched the LA studio on Monday April 6th.

Ferri led the lighting design team along with FLDA associate LD Mick Smith and assistant LD Ben Pilat. The production design was handled by head designer Andre Durette of Jack Morton/PDG with systems integration provided by Barbizon Lighting. “ESPN wanted an LA presence,” says Ferri. “They wanted to establish a West coast base. I knew going in that the challenge would be to keep the trademark feel of an ESPN broadcast but still reflect the different energy of the West coast location.”

From a design standpoint, the brief was that the set and lighting had to be instantly identifiable as the SportsCenter set, but it did not have to match it pixel by pixel. Although the set and lighting are similar, there are differences. “Because the set was slightly different, it took the light differently,” explains Ferri. “One of the biggest differences is that the louvers behind the anchors in Bristol are solid Plexiglas® and they are clear and horizontal. In LA, they are angled more and frosted. So the LED uplight that lights them in LA is very prominent, where in Bristol it is very subtle. We were able to get more vibrant colors in LA.” Ferri and his lighting team did however bring a trick from their design on the SportsCenter set in Bristol. “Behind the debate area the main background is red and the graphics on the Plexiglas are blue,” says Ferri. “The panels are treated with Wildfire ultraviolet paint and uplit with Altman Lighting UV PAR fixtures. This helps give some real depth and definition.”

Ferri likes to use new and interesting lighting technology when applicable, especially LED lighting products. For the SportsCenter LA set, Ferri used AC Lighting's Chroma-Qâ„¢ Color Spanâ„¢, a low profile LED cove lighting and wall wash system. “It is a one and a half story set, with an upper part that consists of a four-foot cyc behind louvers and a graphic panel,” Ferri explains, “We used the Color Span to light that upper portion of the set. The Plexiglas louvers were lit by a JamStar Lighting Elite LED PARs, which are very small and compact and do not flicker on camera. That is a very, very important property for units when they are used for broadcast.”

Ferri feels that FLDA was successful in achieving ESPN's goal of “making a set that was instantly identifiable as the SportsCenter set, yet was not exactly like Bristol and was still visually interesting.” Whatever coast you are on or even in-between you should be sure to catch the latest exciting addition to ESPN's sports coverage.

Take me out to the ballgame.

With the opening day of the 2009 baseball season the recently launched Major League Baseball Network, which officially launched on January 1st, really got into the swing of things. And Ferri was pleased to see the two studio spaces he lit for the network get into the game.

MLB Network (MLBN) is a specialty television channel dedicated to professional baseball. Major League Baseball primarily owns it along with minority ownership by Comcast, DirecTV, Time Warner and Cox Communications. The channel's headquarters and studios are located in MSNBC's former studios in Secaucus, New Jersey. MLB Network launched in approximately 50 million homes as the largest network debut in cable history.

There are two studios, which are named in honor of Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson, Studio 3 and Studio 42, totaling 15,200 square feet. Every video display in both studios is fully native HD, as is all video produced at the studios. Lighting designer Ferri's team once again included FLDA associate LD Mick Smith and assistant LD Ben Pilat. The production design was handled by lead designer, Bryan Higgason of Jack Morton/PDG.

Studio 3 will be the primary home of the live nightly studio show, MLB Tonight. “The main studio is only used for the main anchor desk right now,” says Ferri. “It is called the Technology Studio and features a wall of monitors behind the anchor desk. It will have more show units using this space over time.” Studio 3 features a desk that can rotate to various stations and includes six distinct broadcast areas, including a balcony, stat center, and interview area. The ceiling is ringed by backlit logos of all 30 MLB teams.

In the Technology Studio it is all about control explains Ferri, “It is very precise keying to control any spill from the backgrounds. Since one background is a huge 30' x 7' rear-projection video wall and the other background is a sea of monitors, we need to be very controlled with the lighting. For the key lights in the Technology Studio, I used ETC Source Four ellipsoidals. The set was all lit with Source Four ellipsoidals. There is also a lot of Plexiglas and metal in the background so we wanted to control the reflections. The RP screen is designed to handle ambient light really well.”

The second studio, Studio 42, measures nearly 100' x 100' is referred to as the Demo Field and is in fact an open, half-scale baseball diamond. It is made of field turf, measuring 45' from base to base and a pitcher's mound 30' from home plate that can be moved back for more realistic demonstrations. It is used as a demonstration center by MLBN's on-air talent, many of whom are former players, as well as being an area for both formal and informal interviews. The studio also features a replica brick outfield wall, complete with padding, three different seating areas that can hold up to 173 people, and an out of town scoreboard that is loosely modeled after the scoreboard at Citizen's Bank Park in Philadelphia which will be updated in real-time.

“Lighting in the Demo Field, was pretty much the opposite of the Technology Studio,” says Ferri. “For baseball demos, guys are running all over the place so we had to have a pretty broad field wash, yet we still needed to keep the backgrounds and the walls interesting. There were limited positions on the grid and the field literally goes from wall to wall, so we had to get creative as to how we were able to get an even lighting on the field for when they did the demonstrations. We worked with the set designer and designed stadium-like lighting trees that were able to hang in the shot and be actually functional. For the lights we used stubby 500W PAR64s. We felt that the stubby, silver PARs were more reminiscent of actual stadium lights. It was cool, without even thinking of lighting, Bryan had drawn in these little circles that were supposed to represent stadium lights. I saw that and thought that I can use them to help light the field. We have these trees on all four sides, because when they do demos they use a Steadicam and a jib so they can shoot everywhere.”

Ferri likes that the Studio 42, Demo Field is also versatile, “When we are not doing demos but informal interviews, by selectively peeling the field wash back, we have been able to create a lot of interest in the backgrounds. Because the studio is so large—100' x 100'—we get incredible amounts of depth. Someone commented to me ‘a close-up with depth behind it, where do you find that anymore?' Most of the walls are brick to evoke the feel of Camden Yards in Baltimore, so to make the backgrounds interesting, I used uplight a lot trying to mimic architectural lighting and on top of that I put a base wash of dark blue to light the shadows and on top of that I put patterns. There are lots of layers going on to make the backgrounds very interesting.”

Sportscaster Bob Costas is part of the talent at the MLB Network and conducts his interviews in Studio 42. “We have another look designed for those interviews, where it is not just a couple of guys hanging out, it is more formal when Bob is interviewing different sports personalities,” says Ferri. “That has a very different feeling, very moody. It is a real sexy look. When we launched the studio, Bob interviewed Yogi Berra and Don Larsen about the perfect game in the 1956 World Series. That was the first time we got to see that look and it has really great backgrounds. We were all very pleased.”

No matter how the season ends or the sport you follow 2009 so far has been a winner for sports broadcasting, offering fans new ways to follow their teams and Ferri Lighting Design and Associates is proud to be part of it all.

About Ferri Lighting Design & Associates

Television lighting design firm, Ferri Lighting Design & Associates (FLDA) focuses on what they do best—multi-camera television productions. They approach their projects with an eye for high-definition, even if the project is standard-definition, because their design principles apply to all television formats regardless of how it's being viewed. A core principal of FLDA is that while lighting should not be a conscious element to the viewer, it is a critical element. Lighting at all times should support and complement a project to enable it to communicate much more effectively.

Designers in the firm include Bruce Ferri, Fred Bock, and Mick Smith along with Director of Production Shannon Curran. FLDA's offices are located at 515 West 57th Street, 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10019

You can contact FLDA at shannon@flda.tv or 212-366-4014.

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