ON APRIL 13 2002, ESPN HOSTED its second annual Action Sports and Music Awards at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles. Hosted by Jay Mohr, the Awards highlights the achievements, personalities and music associated with action sports such as skateboarding, surfing, snowboarding and BMX riding throughout the year. Award categories included Skateboarder of the Year, Male Surfer of the Year, Female Surfer of the Year, Motocross' Music Artist of the Year, Action Sports Achievement Award and the Action Sports & Music Artist Contribution Award.

The high image quality of the LIGHTHOUSE LED screens helped keep the audience’s attention.

As well as the presentation of the awards themselves — the unusual prizes being white Fender Telecaster guitars — the event featured live performances by artists including the Red Hot Chili Peppers, JayZ and Unwritten Law.

For such a high-profile event, the production naturally had to be of the highest quality. “The main objective was to reflect the action sport aspect and to highlight a new generation of people who don't get recognized,” says lighting designer Simon Miles. “Fundamentally, we wanted something that was fresh, innovative and reflected the action of the genre. What this meant was trying to find a way of delivering a televised show that viewers would find accessible, and also to give the show a look that was less traditional and more in tune with its contemporary aspects.”

Leading the production credits were Creative Technology of Los Angeles with Lighthouse LED screens; Vari-Lite and LSD Fourth Phase on lighting; and Audiotek with a VerTec, XTA and QSC-based rig and a slew of automated consoles.

A major requirement was to make the show as attention-grabbing as possible because, as Miles notes, “We have a lot of awards shows in the US, especially in LA, so it's easy for audiences to get bored. You really need to grab their attention,”

To achieve these aims, set designers Steve Bass and Peter Schrof used a 9×12-foot panel Lighthouse video screen as the centerpiece of the set. Built into a set resembling a giant, yellow boombox, the screen was formed with Lighthouse's LVP1010 Quarter Bin LED units. Complementing it was a pair of side screens, each composed of 6×6-foot panels. “The set was extremely image-driven, with the large video wall dominating the background and very little in terms of scenery surface area,” confirms Miles.

Supplied by Creative Technology, all three screens were flown; the two side screens being dead hung while the center screen flew in and out vertically to facilitate band changeovers and set changes. The whole flying assembly weighed in at around 7,000lbs with cables. A Denali video truck based in Pittsburgh, PA provided live action and pre-recorded images via a serial digital feed.

“We supplied three screens for the inaugural show last year, but for 2002 we supplied the improved Quarter Bin versions of the LVP1010 screen. This provided a dramatic improvement in image quality, something which the client certainly appreciated,” says Creative Technology project manager Shawn Orm.

“This was a pretty large screen to fly in and out, but the producers and designers wanted to change the whole look of the show and it was very impressive. The complete proscenium of the stage was LED, and at some points in the show all you saw was LED moving video in the background.”

Lighting for Broadcast

With the emphasis on video in the set, it was important that the lighting was designed to complement the video images, rather than compete with them. This, as well as the fact that the show was designed for broadcast and so included a lot of close-ups of people on the stage, were key factors in the lighting design. However, these were aspects that the LD took in his stride.

“The only real difference to working with the video screens was that I had to produce a range of different looks for the background, because so much of the show concentrated on the images,” says Simon Miles.

“Beyond that and the parts of giving awards and speeches, which meant people had to be well-lit, the main challenge for me was lighting the type of acts not normally seen on awards shows, which actually meant I could go pretty wild!” he laughs. “Being used to the video side of things, it also means I haven't used a follow spot in two years, which is nice and refreshing!

“This meant that I could light people from all kinds of weird angles, from directly above or below, from the sides or with no direct lighting at all. Basically whatever got the mood across best,” he says.

In order to achieve this, Miles utilized a lot of intelligent lighting — in this case a wide array of Vari-Lite luminaires, supplied by Vari-Lite's LA office. The fixtures included 126 VL5s, 26 VL2Cs, 18 VL6Cs, 23 VL7s, eight VL2402s and 28 clear-lensed VL5 Arcs, a fixture which gives a very intense, narrow beam similar to an ACL. All the intelligent fixtures were controlled by a Virtuoso desk/control system.

Complementing the moving fixtures was a limited range of conventional luminaries supplied by LSD Fourth Phase. These included six 6-light PAR bars, 72 single PAR64s, 66 single ETC Source 4 PARs, a variety of Kinoflow 3-ft to 8-ft daylight dimmable flourescent tubes, 16 6-ft MR16s, 30 Diversitronics strobes and three Starklite short throw truss mounted spots. In total, the event used 500 feet of truss for the lighting rig.

With the various acts performing at the show, Miles also had to ensure each had its own identity while performing.

“That was a big challenge,” he confirms. “With five bands on show, I needed to make each one stand alone visually, to be distinctly different from the others. It needed more than just creating a different overall colour scheme for each act. I needed to carefully approach how we lit them, right from the very basics. Thinking about how to achieve that sent me down the path of taking a more adventurous approach to the whole thing. It reinforced the approach of using unusual angles and taking a fresh attitude. It all contributed to the final result.”

The rest of the lighting crew consisted of Vari-Lite operator/programmer Matt Firestone, conventionals operator Bobby Hallsworth, gaffer Tom Birt, and staging supervisor Gary Speakman.

The Audio Component

Sound equipment was provided by AudioTek of Burbank, CA, whose vice-president Mikael Stewart was employed on the show as project manager, system designer and front-of-house production sound engineer. Having done a great deal of television and awards work, the ESPN Awards was relatively straightforward for Stewart.

“For us, this was a standard awards show with band performances and podiums at stage left and right,” he says. “The main PA system comprised 34 clusters of JBL VerTec cabinets, including flown left/right main arrays of nine boxes a side, and a center flown four-box cluster for pit fill.”

In addition, four of AudioTek's own ATK C6s (a three-way trapezoidal cabinet), were flown two per side out on the wings for added coverage.

“We also used two ElectroVoice EV MTL4 subs on this show,” adds Stewart. “But generally we don't use a lot of ground-stacked subs at these events, because the sound is all about the air mix.”

Stewart manned an InnovaSon Sensory Grand Live desk for the playback, podiums and overall production sound. Three Yamaha 02Rs were used for the live bands, with the mic feeds run via Aphex 1788 preamps, which were then fed via digital output modules into the 02Rs. Shure wired and wireless mics were used for the whole production.

XTA DP226 loudspeaker management units were employed to provide the EQ and delay control for the house system, with QSC amplifiers utilized for the VT.

For the monitor system, AudioTek used its proprietory M-2 single 12-in Crown-powered monitors, with XTA DP224s for control. Also utilized was the M-5 2×12-in unit, which is also Crown-powered and uses an XTA DP224 for control. Keeping things in the digital domain, a Yamaha PM1D was used as the monitor board.

“The joy of the InnovaSon, PM1D and 02R desks is that they don't need a lot of outboard processing,” says Stewart. “They make the sound crew's jobs a lot easier because most things can be handled inhouse on the desks themselves.”

Pronouncing himself satisfied with events, Simon Miles says he achieved his aim of keeping the LA audience entertained. “The show was designed to be very fast moving, but it wasn't broadcast live, so there were some elements like physical turntable turning which slowed things down occasionally,” he says. “But the thing that struck me most was the incredible energy of the audience. There were a lot of nominees' entourages and people involved in the sports, and all were very interested throughout.”

Mike Lethby is with Gasoline Media of Surrey, England.