Eurovision Song Contest 2024: United by LED

The creative and technical team powering the 68th Eurovision Song Contest tap into the capabilities of an all-LED rig to reach sustainability goals and ‘respectfully challenge the concept’ of the world’s most-watched music competition.

The 68th Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) was organised by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and host broadcaster, Sveriges Television (SVT), and was held in Sweden for the seventh time. Facing numerous challenges, the ESC’s official slogan, #UnitedByMusic, resonated not only with the artists and audiences but also with everyone involved. Producing a live broadcast of this scale – reportedly the largest live broadcast in the world – demands immense teamwork and cooperation over a long period, even before the artists take the stage.

Behind the scenes is no exception and under the experienced hand of Senior Technical Director, Ola Melzig; Production Designer, Florian Wieder; Lighting and Screen Content Designer, Fredrik Stormby of Green Wall Designs and the wider production team pulled out all the stops to produce a show befitting the high expectations. 

“As this was the third time Sweden had hosted the ESC in the past decade, we set ourselves the challenge of doing something new and introduce a more large-scale concert tour feel to the familiar ‘studio show’ concept,” explained Stormby. “Fans have quite high expectations when it comes to Sweden, given the country’s track record of success at the competition, so we had to deliver.”

The load-in at Malmö Arena started on 3 April and was preceded by four days of technical preparation at Creative Technology (CT)’s warehouse in Malmö, which was also used as a production hub for all the equipment procurement and provisioning.

Drawing inspiration from Swedish music, songwriting and architecture, and a request from the producers to put the audience in shot for every performance, Stormby and Wielder developed a stage without any traditional scenic elements or shapes, based on in-the-round layout and using light and video to shape the stage. Overhead, a dynamic rig on almost 200 automation hoists carried over 200 tonnes of equipment.

“Most of the lighting design was to work with strong lines of fixtures – not many types but densely used to give very strong expressions,” explained Stormby. “We could then use many combinations of these individually strong lines of lights and the many automated rig positions to create a very interesting palette.”

The ‘in-the-round’ experience saw a staging design shaped like an equilateral cross with moveable LED cubes, LED floors, lighting, video and stage technology creating an array of visual variations for the artists. The centrepiece of the design was a video and light installation suspended above the stage.

The lighting and stage design had to support the very quick changes between acts, which allowed about 45 seconds for the crews to reset. The show was executed using only LED and laser light sources whose lower constant power consumption fit the event’s sustainability goals.

Claypaky Tambora Linear 100 LEDs and Skylos searchlights featured on the rig, supplied by CT with the support of Denmark-based Motion Rental. “Claypaky lights are extremely reliable, and the ratio is very important for me: size, weight, output and power consumption. That’s critical when you’re trying to be sustainable; every watt and gram counts on a 210-tonne rig,” Melzig highlighted.

Wieder’s staging design featured straight lines in all directions with linear fixtures selected to outline and highlight the shape of the set. Automation enhanced the flown rig. “Everything in the ceiling could move; the stage could constantly create new shapes and looks – it was a never-ending toolbox of toys,” Melzig remarked.

Niclas Arvidsson of Interlite, Claypaky’s distributor in Sweden, introduced the lighting team to the Tambora Linears. “He was great at helping us to source them since we needed 396 Tamboras mounted on the [overhead] LED cubes. They were perfect for this show!” Melzig enthused.

Stormby selected Tamboras for their look, features and size. “I needed a compact, low-weight, bright linear fixture in large numbers that could act as a graphic element outlining the flown pods, but also work as a strobe. In addition to this they were also fully mapped in the disguise server, allowing for video content to be played out over the lighting rig,” he explained. “The Tambora Linear, with the black ND lens, was a perfect combination for us, allowing them to blend in with the black cladding of our pods and set.”

On the topic of Skylos searchlights, he said: “We ended up having them flown in an automated truss in front of the LED screen, that we could use in various heights, and flown along the sides of the stage over the bleachers. There were also five units positioned on the floor used for various specials. I’m most impressed with the pan and tilt speed. It’s superfast – like a Sharpy on steroids!”

Key to Stormby’s exclusively LED and laser-based design were 384 new Ayrton Rivale Profiles and 146 newly released Kyalami fixtures, along with 32 Huracán Washes. “I like to approach my television designs using dedicated key light fixtures that have a certain quality of light to function well as key lights,” Stormby commented. “I also like a single type of workhorse fixture throughout the rig that I can use for beam effects, mid-air effects, and to frame in on props or dancers, but can also support the key lighting to fill in as back or side lights.”

Around 20 automated ‘pods’ each carrying Rivale Profiles in a three-by-three configuration formed the main feature of the lighting design and allowed for a near-infinite number of aesthetic and practical positions. More Rivale Profiles were rigged in the audience trusses, above the stage and around the bleachers.

“I was looking for a workhorse LED fixture with shutters and good colours that was affordable in large numbers. I also wanted good light quality, a narrow zoom, gobos, shaper blades and all the traditional stuff,” said Stormby. “We needed to be careful of weight as there was so much hanging above the stage.”

Huracán Washes were rigged on front of house and audience trusses. “I wanted a wash instrument with shutters that I could use for audience lighting but be able to shutter off the bleacher sections to avoid spill. It turned out to be a nice big powerful, traditional wash light with some extra features, which was exactly what I was looking for,” Stormby explained.

Looking for a fixture to outline the stage design in all dimensions, Stormby chose Ayrton Kyalamis, mounted on Wahlberg Motion Design Lifting Columns around the stage edges where they could be raised and lowered to define the shape of the stage as required.

Further Kyalamis were rigged in a long vertical line in each of the two 18m high towers that flanked the main video screen. Yet more were rigged on a 32m long truss using 62 universes alone which hung in front of the main video screen, completing a ‘football net’ effect with the side towers.

“Kyalamis on the truss and the towers could form a box of light for framing the back screen. We could also lower the massive truss right down to stage level so the Kyalamis could act as a floor package or raise it high to open out into very wide effects, and so many ways in between,” noted Stormby.

Around 52 Robe FORTEs, 57 T1 Profiles and 14 T2 Profiles were situated across the stage and green room to fulfil key lighting requirements. In addition, several FORTEs were configured to run part of an extensive remote follow spotting system, so they could be called up and activated as needed.

“As with any broadcast show, key lighting is one of the fundamentals, so we were extremely pleased that Fredrik was happy to work with these Robe fixtures,” commented Emil Højmark, Head of Lighting at CT Sweden and Denmark.

Swedish distributor mLite, especially Mikael Uddh, played a key role in 170 ROXX CLUSTER S2 fixtures featuring on the CT lighting rig. “Seeing our CLUSTER S2 fixtures contribute to the magical and vibrant ambiance of the show was a highlight of our professional journey,” ROXX’s Michael Herweg said. “It was a true honour to be part of an event that celebrates creativity and unity through music, and it reinforced our passion for pushing the boundaries of lighting technology.”

The result was a design with enough flexibility to create unique looks for each of the 37 participating countries’ very diverse performances, with less than a minute turnaround time between each song. Stormby elaborated: “It was great fun working with this rig because we could position it in so many different places that, as well as giving us all manner of side light, backlight and low lights, we could really play with the lighting and directions of lighting as well.”

The openness of the 360° stage allowed the team to invite the audience into the shots in a very natural way as part of the background. “This is when we had to rely on the skills of our programmers. If we were shooting from one side of the stage, we had to clean out all the lights hitting the bleachers on the other side to make it look good. We produced the show shot by shot to achieve the big clean cool rock concert looks yet were able to instantly cut to the hosts and back into Eurovision mode again,” Stormby explained.

The wider lighting team included: Associate Lighting Designers, Mike Smith and Michael Straun; Assistant Lighting Designer (Viewing Room), Louisa Smurthwaite; Followspot Caller, Per Hörding; Lighting Directors and Lead Programmers, Ishai Mika and Dom Adams; and Lighting Programmers, Leo Stenbeck, Linus Pansell, and Isak Gabre.

The production featured one of the largest MA Lighting grandMA3 control networks for lighting, playback video, lasers and LED wristbands to date, involving over 200,000 parameters of control across 682 DMX universes of output and 663 universes of Art-Net input from the Disguise media servers. Running all of this were up to 14 grandMA3 consoles and five main lighting show programmers all working in one session.

Creating a canvas for Eurovision’s Swedish entry

CROSS-SECTOR COLLABORATION

#UnitedByMusic went beyond the artists and creatives, and it took great teamwork between suppliers and distributors to bring the huge amount of equipment together. CT collaborated with Danish-based VIGSØ to sub-hire the remainder of lighting fixtures. The fixture selection process was supported by Sweden’s TopStage who worked closely with the lighting designers to introduce, demonstrate and facilitate their choice of the new Ayrton fixtures and ensure everything was delivered and prepared in under 48 hours.

“It was very impressive,” Højmark said. “VIGSØ did what I’ve never seen before from a distributor to pull this together. All departments worked well together. It was hard work but good fun and all done in good spirit.”

TopStage’s Linnea Ljungmark added: “It was exciting to be involved in the decision-making process from the start. When Fredrik came to me early in the process to discuss lights, it was clear to me that he was looking for a unique look – not a specific brand.”

Kenneth Jakobsen, Head of Sales at VIGSØ, commented: “VIGSØ was very happy to work with CT on this mammoth production. Everyone involved put in a huge team effort under challenging circumstances to collectively deliver the entire, massive project on time.”

Stormby added: “I think CT carried out an excellent delivery. With a rig designed like this with everything in straight lines, it really comes down to the finish of the build to make it look good and they really pulled that off.”

‘A PROJECT I’LL FOREVER REMEMBER’

Montreal-based PixMob provided RF equipment and LED wristbands to proceedings. The team harnessed technology to call all 9,500 wristbands to create multiple effects.

“Fredrik and I have collaborated on shows in the past, so he was aware of the creative capabilities of PixMob. I adjusted the colour and flow of the effects accordingly to match the visuals. We were working with RF, which made our setup as simple as a brick-sized node with an antenna” Spain-based PixMob Operator, Eduardo Martin commented. “The PixMob wristbands we used at ESC only have two LED pixels, so sometimes it’s hard to compete in brightness with all the surrounding video and but thanks to Fredrik’s great keylight approach, our wristbands got to shine bright. The introduction of each performance, after the ‘postcard’ with the flash of the colours was the best demonstration of the creative capabilities of PixMob wristbands in enveloping the crowd in the lighting design.”

“I really enjoyed working with PixMob and the audience with elements of the automated rig such as the infield pods in between, creating a layered effect of lighting in the back of shots,” Stormby commented.

 “I was immediately impressed by the sheer level of production. I had Malmö Redhawks women’s team on site at Malmo Arena helping me prepare and distribute the wristbands for each rehearsal and live show. Almost 80% of the recyclable wristbands were returned post-show,” Rahel Feidler, PixMob Project and Pixel Manager, reported. “We are proud of what we have achieved and to play a small part in the production with a fantastic team.”

In closing, Martin shared his favourite moment from the show: “At the end of Slimane’s Mon Amour, he moves away from the microphone, and you can see our wristbands twinkle in the background, which was a special moment,” he enthused. “This was a landmark project and one I will remember forever.”

CUTTING-EDGE TECHNOLOGY

The cross-shaped stage featured 186 sq m of ROE Visual Black Marble BM4 LED panels; while 460 sq m of Vanish V8T transparent LED panels formed five moving squares, with each cube side highlighted with ROE Strip. A further 340 sq m Black Quartz BQ4 LED panels served as the back wall, including a spectacular opening sequence for the green room. “Over the years, we have noticed production trends and conventions come and go – from the heavy use of projection in past years to the increase of video surfaces,” Stormby theorised.

The technical setup included Helios LED processing and Disguise media servers. The production was timecoded meticulously, from camera shots to LED screen content, ensuring synchronisation. The team used Megapixel Omnis and Faber FRM LED monitoring systems, logging data from all LED panels.

“Overall, the event utilised 1,100m of ROE Strip around all cubes and lighting pods, enhancing the overall visual impact,” Stormby highlighted. “The Black Marble LED floor allowed us to manage the rapid changeovers with accuracy using disguise digital markers to ensure that every prop was in place exactly when and where it needed to be,” he said. For the first time, the entire LED system operated on an SMPTE 2110 network. This setup utilised a two-core system with 42 100G connections.

The switch to fibre optic technology allowed for unprecedented data transfer rates. The production processed 1.2 terabytes of data per second, the equivalent of streaming 100,000 4K Netflix movies simultaneously. The entire fibre optic network made this monumental amount of data handling possible, surpassing copper cables’ limitations.

LED monitoring was conducted offline for cybersecurity reasons, with alerts sent via SMS to the technical team if a processor issue was detected. “Our advanced network and monitoring capabilities were crucial in delivering a flawless visual experience at Eurovision,” commented Niclas Ljung, Chief Technology Officer, CT. “The transition to a full 2110 network and the redundancy measures we implemented ensured that the show ran very smoothly.”

ROE Visual Marketing Manager, Marina Prak praised the team for their “outstanding” work: “ESC showcases the power of cutting-edge LED technology and ROE Visual’s commitment to excellence, innovation, and collaboration. We are nothing but thankful for CT and the wider production team for delivering an impeccable and flawless showcase of technology and art.”

Over 163m television viewers tuned in to watch the finale with Switzerland’s Nemo crowned winner with their song, The Code. Summing up his experience, having spent months masterminding a different type of code, Stormby summarised: “It was 10 weeks of bonkers production but I’m proud of the result and we certainly ticked all the boxes in ‘respectfully challenging the concept.”

www.eurovision.com

www.ct-group.com

www.greenwalldesign.com

www.pixmob.com

www.roevisual.com