Live from The Staples Center in Los Angeles, the 59th Annual Grammy Awards were broadcast on CBS on Sunday, February 12, 2017. Celebrating music in all its glory, the most nominations went to Beyoncé, the most wins to Adele, and distinction for lighting design to Bob Dickinson and Noah Mitz of Full Flood Inc. Check out the lighting plots.
“The scenic design used last year’s generic set with the addition of projection and lighting elements. Full-width projection was added across the 'closedown walls' that fly in to cover the performance stages during act look changeovers,” notes Dickinson, a seasoned veteran of large-scale, live-to-broadcast awards shows.
The projection proved useful for wide shots and award segments, but also served to support many of the performances on the “dish” stage, which is the circular platform in the middle of the house. “In the two performance areas, we switched from seamless upstage video backing walls to three independent screens with lighting positions between them,” Dickinson notes. “This provided our team a lower into-camera lighting position and overall added flexibility."
"We also spent a lot of time collaborating with the art department and venue staff at the Staples Center developing a new 'balcony rail' position of Chroma-Q Color Block 2+ units that ringed the main concourse level of the arena," continues Dickinson. "These helped define the shape of the arena bowl and provided a canvas for effects that ran during bumpers in and out of commercial breaks.”
One of the challenges for such a show is working with major musical talent and creating a unified look for the viewers. “Most artists these days are highly attuned to how their performance looks and is being photographed,” Dickinson points out. “This certainly extends to the Grammy Awards, where some artists had specific looks and aesthetics they want to achieve to fit their style or at times to fit within a broader series of performances. A few artists brought creative directors and/or LDs with them, and for the most part, these were all familiar faces."
"The process is so compressed time-wise that everyone worked together to achieve the goals," says Dickinson. "We always keep an eye on the overall look/feel of the show, but many of the performances are designed in such varying ways that stand apart. Kudos goes to our video controllers Keith Winikoff and Guy Jones who really keep us in check and help retain the unified look of the show.”
To define the Grammy Awards process, Mitz walks us through an example: “This year, during the design phase, we were delivered a track for the Sturgill Simpson performance that was upbeat and raucous, a big band really rocking out onstage. Based on this track, we felt our standard array of floor lights could use some reinforcement,” he says. “After a back and forth internally and with our art department, we had designed a series of rolling towers that had a mix of ACL pars and some newer technology. We were pleased that this would provide the tools necessary for lighting the performance and we were about five days out from rehearsal when we heard the performance was going in another direction. The new track was a more mellow song with Sturgill, an orchestra, and the horns from the Dap Kings—very much a classic Grammys performance. We scrapped the 'tower' look and embraced this new direction.” In the end, the designers discovered that a straightforward tungsten look, anchored by Philips Vari-Lite VL5’s, a strong side-key, and a backlit orchestra was all this song needed.
The primary challenge for the Grammys lighting team—this year, like every year—is the timeline. “The Staples Center is one of the busiest arena venues in the country, and the entire Grammys process must fit within a short time frame of availability in the building,” the designers point out. “We start lighting load-in nine days prior to show day, which means some two-shift days and a condensed rehearsal process once we are on camera. With only about an hour to rehearse each performance, the pace is blindingly quick, and many notes are taken to address later, if possible, after rehearsal.”
Dickinson and Mitz admit that the programmers—Andy O’Reilly, Patrick Boozer, and Ryan Tanker—basically never leave their chairs for the entire time the team is working in the building. “It never ceases to amaze us what they accomplish over the period from when we start rehearsals on Thursday a.m. to the show Sunday afternoon—all the while addressing the never-ending parade of notes that are generated throughout the process,” they say.
For this year’s show, the primary overhead fixtures were Philips Vari-Lite VL3500 Wash and PRG Best Boy HP spots. The classic Vari-Lite VL5s provided the outlines of the trusses and the overall visual weight of the rig on camera. Claypaky Sharpys and TMB Solaris Flares were spread across the whole rig as well—the Sharpys for their distinctive beams and the Flares providing reactivity to music and blinder effects.
To balance the lighting for TV viewers and those in the live audience, the designers admit that their primary concern is with the television broadcast. “We spend a lot of our energy balancing light levels and composing pictures for the close-up and mid-shots that comprise most of the show,” notes Dickinson. “Of course, we keep the live audience in mind. While the key light and followspots aren’t as bright as one would see at a non-broadcast event, we are always keeping an eye on the 'wide shot.' Our programmers are constantly adding nuance to the cueing that at times is only appreciated by the audience in the room."
PRG was the lighting vendor, with Jason Tronbridge leading the onsite team of techs who keep the data flowing and the rig operating at 100%. The LDs offer special thanks to Tony Ward, Travis Snyder, and their whole support team at the shop who helped coordinate this undertaking. “Not only do they help source all the gear, but they keep track of all the deliveries, staffing needs, and constant requests that we throw their way, sometimes even on show day,” says Dickinson. “This year Phillips Vari-Lite provided six VL6000 Beam units that we used on the Metallica featuring Lady Gaga performance.”
What makes it fun for these LDs, who design such a challenging show every year? “Watching the credits roll?” jokes Mitz. “But really, it’s always amazing that throughout a process that is stressful, and at times frustrating, our team keeps its composure and is always fun work with. The headset banter is always spot-on during rehearsals, and even throughout the broadcast, and that level of enjoyment and camaraderie is what makes it all worth it in the end.”
Check out the lighting plots here.
Lighting designers Bob Dickinson and Noah Mitz of Full Flood Inc. add visual excitement to the 59th Annual Grammy Awards. Check out the lighting plots here.
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