Fans of WWE wrestling can now see the action and excitement in the ring more clearly than ever, right down to the serial numbers on John Cena’s dog tags. After five years of planning and $20 million, WWE has made the leap to high-definition TV for its three weekly shows: Raw (USA Network), Smackdown (CW Network), and ECW (Sci-Fi).
The move to HD required a complete upgrade of WWE’s production set so that viewers could experience the full sharpness, crystal clarity, and high-octane visuals of high-definition technology. WWE has also pioneered a new concept in sports entertainment by building an entire set out of HD video screens. The all-video set can “change to be anything we want it to be,” explains WWE production designer Jason Robinson, allowing totally different “sets” to be created for different superstars, rather than having one stagnant design.
Switching to more powerful and colorful lighting elements was a key part of the transformation to HD, continues Robinson. “With the entire set morphing into a complete video set, I wanted everything involved with the lighting to be speedier, including the color changes. If the video changed, I wanted the colors to change, all at one time on one cue,” he says.
To keep up with these rapid, dynamic changes, Robinson specified 22 Impression LED moving heads from Elation Professional, hung 40’ above the main stage. The Impressions, which were supplied by Bandit Lites, provide the stage wash and entrance effects, replacing the conventional moving head CMY lights that had been used on WWE’s previous standard-definition set.
“Moving lights with color flags just don’t have the crisp speed of color change,” Robinson notes. “My choice of the Impression LEDs was based on their instantaneous color change, so that when the hi-def cameras caught the set, you didn’t have the normal lag that you’d get with a fixture that had flags.”
WWE’s lighting crew is impressed by the rapid-fire color changes of the Impressions, says Robinson, as well as the speed of the moving head itself, which can reach 660° pan in 2 seconds and 300° tilt in 1 second. Additionally, he says, the Impressions have “kept up beautifully in intensity” with conventional moving head washes, showing remarkable brightness even at 40’ trim height.
Equipped with 90 high-performance K2 Luxeon LEDs (30 each red, green, and blue), the Impression delivers an output comparable to a 575W discharge fixture at a 50% energy savings. Amazingly compact, it is small enough to be mounted on a 14” center and weighs only 16 lbs.—another benefit, according to Robinson. “The Impression is such a fast fixture to put up. You no longer have a big, heavy light that two stagehands have to struggle with. It’s also very versatile in its placement— just one clamp and they’ll hang in any direction.”
In addition to the Impression, WWE is using other LED products from Elation and its sister company American DJ, on the new HD set. A total of 40 Alkalite PZ 720A color-changing LED panels from Elation are being flown vertical along each side of the main video screen and on the front edge of each side of the stage. Here again, said Robinson, “I needed the speed of color changing and wanted something that was low-res to offset all the higher resolution video boards on the set. The PZ 720A panels at times steal the show. The video screen is a 16:9 aspect ratio fed by hi-def projectors. So visually the LED panels lengthen it out and make it look like you’re seeing a really huge HD television.”
Eight Elation Design LED 36 color changers are used as truss toners in the entranceway to the stage, while 18 P36 LED blinders from American DJ provide uplighting from underneath the ramp that the wrestlers walk down.Robinson also found a trussing solution from another Elation sibling, Global Truss, for the set of a new interview segment on Raw, conducted from the main ring. A 42” HD LCD screen, used on the set, is now being hung on one of Global Truss’s lightweight DJ trussing systems. “We were looking for small, lightweight trussing that we could hang the plasma screen from to achieve a more professional look on the set. We needed something we could put up and take down during a commercial break. Global’s DJ truss was perfect,” Robinson states. “We even got a pump stand and truss bag from them. For our purposes, the truss was a fantastic set element and a real visual improvement.”