Comedy Central Presents is back with 24 new shows headlining the best standup acts on the scene, and once again Scharff Weisberg Inc. (SWI) provided video and lighting support for the popular series. This time, SWI furnished production design firm 513 East 12th Street Storefront LLC with Barco’s NX-4 LED technology to give the show a new look.
The Comedy Central cable network has showcased America’s finest comedians on Comedy Central Presents since 1998. This season, the show’s fourteenth, premiered Friday, February 19 and was taped at the Gerald W. Lynch Theatre at New York City’s John Jay College and includes performances from Jon Lajoie, Rob Riggle, Matt Braunger, Pete Holmes, Amy Schumer, Andy Kindler, Iliza Shlesinger, Owen Benjamin, Rory Albanese, Jon Dore, Shane Mauss, Donald Glover, and The Sklar Brothers.
Designers at 513 East 12th Street Storefront, which has been involved with the series since its early days, were tasked with giving the series a new look that was “modern and dynamic,” says John Yeck, one of the firm’s principals along with Tom Lenz. The producers wanted to “move away from the individually-built sets we used before to a unit set incorporating modern technology,” adds Yeck.
Although previous seasons included some plasma screens and rear-projection in sets, the production designers envisioned using LED screens as a backdrop to display dynamic new graphics. Lars Pedersen, SWI’s account executive on the project, introduced Yeck and Lenz to the Barco NX-4, a recent addition to SWI’s rental inventory. “We originally had Scharff Weisberg spec an older Barco product,” Yeck says. “We were aware there were new 4mm LED screens out there, but we weren’t aware that they were in the rental market. And there was always the question whether they would fit our budget. When Scharff Weisberg came up with Barco’s 4mm LED wall and was able to make it work within our budget, we jumped at it.”
SWI configured 165 NX-4 panels between two walls to create a 36'x8' LED wall that ran straight across the back of the stage and had an angled 12' return on the stage right side. The large wall displayed an animation of each performer’s name with lighting effects that ushered the comedian onstage; the return displayed logo animations of the show’s name. During the performance, the main wall’s graphic elements and lighting effects morphed subtly behind the comedian for a continuing sense of movement intended to add a gentle sensation of activity without distracting the studio or TV audience.
“Both John and Tom were well aware of the esthetic benefits of utilizing an LED product such as the NX-4,” says Pedersen. “Of equal importance is the knowledge and expertise of the content creation team, and Scott Valins and his team at Valins & Co brought plenty of both to the table. The wall needed to look pleasing to the audience and to the camera. It’s very high resolution, so it almost has the appearance of a painted backdrop on camera.” The shoot lasted six days, during which 24 shows were shot.
SWI sourced the wall’s content from a Dataton Watchout system that permitted various elements from Valins to be composited and manipulated to create the final look. Watchout also enabled changes to be made “right up to the last second,” Pedersen says.
Yeck and Lenz also teamed with the series’ longtime DP and lighting designer, Alan Adelman, to include additional LED technology such as lighting fixtures and set elements. SWI’s senior project manager, John Healy, marshaled the company’s extensive roster of LED products. The lighting package for the shoot included a mix of Vari-Lite VL500 TDs, VL1000 TSDs, VL1000 AS units, VL3000 Wash units, VL3500 Spots, Coemar ParLite LEDs, and Philips Color Kinetics ColorBlaze and ColorBlast units.
Conventionals included ETC Source Four ellipsoidals and PARs with Wybron CXI Scrollers and Robert Juliat Ivanhoe and Manon followspots. Television lighting was controlled via two networked MA Lighting grandMA consoles, with Lex power distribution and ETC dimming.
Additional scenic elements, also run via two networked MA Lighting grandMA consoles, included Philips Color Kinetics iColor Cove units and iColor Accentfixtures mounted in the set that were fed video via two Green Hippo Hippotizer HD V3 media servers.Amy Gavin and Philip Vriend of 513 were the show’s art directors. At SWI, Josh Perlman was project manager, Bryan Dominick and Kevin Morris were the LED technicians, and Michael Kohler was the Watchout programmer.