Bringing modern technology to a traditional affair at the 2008 Nobel Banquet
When Swedish chemist and inventor Alfred Nobel died in 1895, he probably never imagined that the anniversary of his death would turn into one of the most celebrated days in academia. Today, the Nobel Prize Banquet, which immediately follows the Nobel Prize Awards, is the highest profile event of the year in Sweden, as well as widely recognized throughout the world. The event is held annually on December 10, the day of Nobel's death, in the Blue Hall of Stockholm City Hall. It is attended by the King and Queen of Sweden and other members of the royal family, plus approximately 1,300 VIP guests, as well as seen by the viewing audience of a high-definition television broadcast by Swedish television (SVT).
Mediatec Group provided a turnkey solution to Nobel Media to supply lighting, video, and television via its partner companies. Massteknik, part of Mediatec Group, supplied display technology for the event, including equipment for visual effects onto the ceiling of the Blue Hall. Primetec, also part of the Mediatec Group, provided lighting technology and technicians, and Prisma handled all TV technology for Swedish and international broadcasting of the event, including its state-of-the-art OB HD truck. This marked the first time the Nobel Banquet was broadcast in HD 1080i.
Per Sundin, who has work on the event for the last 12 consecutive years, was again called in as lighting designer. Ola Melzig was production manager, overseeing all aspects of lighting and video from build up through broadcast. Sundin and Melzig collaborated in advance to create a variety of complete looks for the Blue Hall through the integration of Cast Wysiwyg and Vivien software. Melzig recreated the banquet space in a 3D model in Vivien, down to every last royal fork, with lighting created in Wysiwyg. “This banquet has been taking place in this same location for 75 years, and the drawings are still all on paper,” says Melzig. “It was a huge time saver for us to be able to try different looks in advance before the guys rigged a thing.”
The team was responsible for four areas: the Blue Hall, where the banquet takes place; the Golden Hall, where the post-dinner dance is held; the Prince's Gallery, where the King holds a reception for the Nobel Laureates; and the exterior of the building. The Blue Hall gets the most attention, as this is where the guests spend the majority of the evening and is the most televised portion of the night.
Video screens have been used during the banquet in the past, but this year, they spanned all 14 of the windows on the second floor. Each window was backed with 450sq-ft. of Hibino Chromatek DLU screen. Green Hippo's HippoCritter was used to drive the LEDs in the windows, using the slowdown/speed to be able to correct the precise look and exact speed for the content, plus color adjustment essential for the broadcast. The units integrated with the HippoNet control protocol and ran by timeline only, without the need for a separate console.
Custom content, created by Peder “Peppe” Tannemyr of Beacon Digigobos, was matched to the resolution. “The Critter has shown to be so easy to fill in on LED walls or parts that need to have a separate design, instead of going to complex programming,” Tannemyr says. Sundin liked the effect but requested a diffuser to soften the look. Rather than purchase or rent a video diffuser, the crew found large sheets of fiber cloth usually used to cover plants during the winter at the local garden store — enough to cover all 14 windows for around $42.
To complete the look, the massive ceiling of the Blue Hall was used as a canvas for video projections. Two Barco ELM R18 Director projectors, managed by Massteknik, were used to project digital content from two Green Hippo Hippotizer HD v3.0.12 media servers. The projectors were positioned in opposite windows on the first floor, forming a single seamless 131'×105' area on the ceiling. The projectors, which are considered older models for most productions, were actually required to get the correct 4:3 aspect ratio to fit the shape of the ceiling.
For both the window and ceiling content, Tannemyr created a library for Sundin that included sculpted medallions, clouds, and fireworks. “For this particular event, the setup time is very short, and in many cases, Per won't know exactly what he wants until all the lights are up, and we've had a chance to rehearse with the entertainment, which is sometimes on the day of the banquet,” Tannemyr says. “I covered my bases this year, providing 108 different files for the event. He'll choose eight, and I won't know which ones until the next day! The Hippotizers manage this flawlessly.” The window and ceiling Hippotizers were co-programmed and supervised by Morgan Brown.
General lighting around the Blue Hall was provided by 40 500W floodlights, two James Thomas Engineering PAR 64 6-lamp bars, and 12 ETC Source Four Zooms, along with 22 600mm Leader Light LED strips mounted on pillar brackets custom-made specifically for the event. Fourteen Martin Professional MAC 250 Wash fixtures were used as uplights to frame the massive etched glass doors leading to the Golden Hall on the second floor balcony. All conventionals were controlled with an Avab Jaguar console.
Twelve Vari-Lite VL3000 Spots were hung from two pieces of mini-beam, flying from rigged truss sections installed in two corners of the ceiling and secured on the sides by an 18“ ledge. An additional six VL3000 Spots and four VL3500 Spots were rigged from the small ledge along the ceiling and set on cases on the upper balcony for additional lighting. All of the moving lights and LED strips were programmed and operated by Emma Landare, using an ETC Congo lighting console.
Sundin also had to create designs for the entertainment, including the avant-guard Orion Theatre company, which performed a series of comedy acts to opera music in the Blue Hall while dressed as Nobel Banquet waiters. Inside the Golden Hall for the post-dinner festivities and where only conventional lighting had been used in the past, Sundin used eight VL2500 Wash lights on the perimeter of the room and four 6-lamp bars for illuminating the live band during the party.
While the Blue Hall got most of the attention from the television cameras, the exterior of Stockholm City Hall also shone. With gear outside provided by Interlite, Sundin used 30 1,200mm Leader-Light LED Line units on the exterior walls, adding four SGM Palco narrow beam fixtures for the tower and 28 SGM Genios for the lower part of the tower. There have since been talks of making the installation permanent.
The structure of City Hall itself made logistics for the event tricky. Constructed between 1911 and 1923, the building has few available rigging points in the Blue Hall ceiling, and front-of-house had to be built from scratch in the first floor corridors, requiring hundreds of feet of cable runs for electricity and DMX and the installation of wireless Internet routers. The building has no ramps and only one elevator large enough for road cases. Plus, according to the Nobel Committee, fixtures, cameras, and cables can only be visible to guests when absolutely necessary, and the entire crew was required to wear formal attire.
“In spite of being a challenging venue, it's a huge advantage to work with most of the same team as in past years,” says Melzig. “We know exactly how to rig it, what we can and can't do, and most importantly, where the smoking section is! And since we know the routine, the basics go up quickly, and we have more time to experiment with new stuff or try our favorites in new ways.”
Since the Nobel Committee questions anything that detracts from the aesthetics of the room during the banquet, DMX cable is one thing the crew tries to replace, so wireless is provided via W-DMX™ by Wireless Solution. “In past years, we've used it on moving lights that had W-DMX receivers built in,” says Melzig. “This year, we had to light the Prince's Gallery, where the King holds a reception for the Nobel winners. From front-of-house, the Gallery is on the other side of a room where the Nobel winners are interviewed on live TV, so we couldn't run cable through there. The signal went through three very thick marble walls with no problem.”
And Sundin seems pleased with another year under his belt. “The room is the same, the tables and china are the same, but we're able to create a completely new atmosphere each year through lighting,” he says. “That, alongside new entertainment and beautiful flowers makes this a fresh event for the guests who return each year. We're proud to be a part of it.”