Despite such notable buzz kills as Fiona Apple's rambling anti-thank-you speech and Madonna's soapbox anti-paparazzi entreaty in the wake of Princess Diana's death, this year's MTV Video Music Awards seemed to jostle along at a slightly more energetic pace than in previous years. Chris Rock's hosting of the proceedings gave the show a slightly edgy, in-your-face quality--but the fluidity of its look should be credited to LD Allen Branton and set designer Keith Raywood.

"The show has always tended to be scenically thematic," Raywood explains. "MTV is really about moving images, so I wanted to do a show that didn't have a concept or a theme. The only constant would be that it's live performance and video."

Once he settled on this tack, Raywood's task became figuring out how to incorporate as many effects as possible around the presenters' stage, the host's stage, and the performance space. "I wanted to push the envelope of how much lighting and video I could get onto one stage," Raywood says. "So my idea was to create a wall of video that wasn't just a videowall or just video cubes or a Jumbotron, but was broken up by Vari*Lites, where you could have at least a 4'x4' cubed concentration of a video image, and then disperse it out over a wall that was 30 cubes wide by 20 cubes high."

Using a grid pattern, the designer rented empty video cubes, and then had Branton fill them with VL6(TM) automated luminaires. "So we were actually projecting Vari*Lites into a video cube that didn't have a projector in it, to disperse the image that way," Raywood says. "Then I incorporated themonto the stage, and I had a lot of help, obviously, from the MTV staff, especial ly Todd Mueller and Greg Buyalos, who are producers of on-air promos. Then I coordinated them with Allen so that they could match the colors--from video color to Vari*Lite color. I also chose gobos with Allen that were more geometric to fit the modernist images we were trying to create."

For his part, Branton enjoyed working with the unconventional set. "I really think Keith hit on something impressive," Branton says. "The style of the set was kind of techno-retro-modern all at once, so it forced me to take the style of the way the show would look in this one direction, and keep it there. If you tried to deviate from it much, it felt too dissonant. I worried at the time that it all looked a little too much the same, but in hindsight, it worked pretty well."

Raywood credits Branton's talent for making his design a success. "I always feel as a designer that if you don't walk that edge where it could just possibly fail miserably, then you're not really doing anything," Raywood says. "But I always know in the back of my mind that Allen will make it look great."

Acadia and Tait Towers built the set. The lighting was supplied by Vari-Lite, Inc., BML Stage Lighting, Light & Sound Design, and High End Systems. Lighting directors included Harry Sangmeister, Tom Beck, and Michael Callahan; Michael Goodwin was the technical lighting supervisor. Vari-Lite technical event supervisors included Laura Frank, Katherine "Kat" Fantaski, and Lacey Taylor. BML's crew included crew chief David Oakes and lighting technicians Pauly Gattoni, Russ Kietel, Susan Nead, and electrician Brad Bruehler. J.R. Edgington was LSD crew chief; Icon technicians included Justin Cauley and Dan Bowland.

>From MTV's point of view, the designers should feel more than satisfied with their accomplishment. "The challenge that we put down to the production and lighting designers for the Video Music Awards is enormous," says producer Carol Donovan. "It's a time-consuming design because there are so many elements to it. We never do things the simple way; we always force people to do it the hard way. Luckily, Allen is always up for the challenge, and it makes him come up with even more brilliant and beautiful solutions, which ultimately makes the lighting design more interesting."