grandMA3 for Eurovision 2024

Photos: Ralph Larmann

The 2024 Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) staged in Malmo Arena, Sweden, featured one of the largest grandMA3 control networks for lighting, playback video, lasers and PixMob to date for a music show.

Involving over 200,000 parameters of control across 682 DMX universes of output and 663 universes of Art-Net input from the Disguise video servers. Running all of this were up to 14 grandMA3 consoles and five main lighting show programmers all working in one session.

Scenography and set design were by Florian Wieder and production lighting design was by Fredrik Stormby from Green Wall Designs in Stockholm. Fredrik also coordinated and integrated the screens playback video content for each of the 37 competing countries. All of this plus the other technical disciplines including audio, rigging, automation and SFX, were overseen by Ola Melzig, ESC 2024’s senior technical director (show).

Stormby is the first to credit his hand-picked team of programmers – LX director / lead programmer for FX Ishai Mika, LX director / lead programmer for key and white light, Dom and LX programmers Isak Gabre, Linus Pansell and Leo Stenbeck.

They worked throughout the five-week on site production period in day and night shifts once the rehearsal period started, having spent the previous four weeks programming at the Green Wall Designs Studios in Stockholm. The decision was made early on in the planning stages that all five show programmers would work in one session, explained Mika.

grandMA3 was the option to control this many parameters in one multi-user session, which offered the advantages of minimising bottlenecks related to the programmer’s workload distribution and the infrastructure handling and maintenance.

In that session were five grandMA3 full-sizes (main show) and one grandMA3 light (follow spots) utilised as the main show consoles (with four grandMA3 full-sizes for backup). Another grandMA3 light was used as a monitoring console at FOH, and between two and three other grandMA3 full-sizes were dotted around the stage or green room, and used as technical desks and for monitoring and programming.

These were running with a total of 16 grandMA3 processing units, 12 grandMA3 PU (processing units) XL and four grandMA3 PU Ls, with five grandMA3 PU Ms for the offline sessions and 90 grandMA3 8Port Nodes all connected over a Luminex network.

The five programmers could all help each other and work globally on the rig from their own workstations. Rehearsals could also run without all programmers being present on site, maximising their time and avoiding potential burn-out.

It pushed the boundaries of the system and the handling capabilities of the grandMA3 showfile which ended up at a whopping 1.2 GB with everything remaining solid.

Speed, flexibility and stability were the principal requirements for any control system, and grandMA3 would be used for dealing with the 2,168 physical stage lighting fixtures rigged around the arena and the Green Room, adding up to a total of 3,425 fixture numbers in the patch including ‘incidences within fixtures’ like individual pixel mapping.

These included moving lights and LED sources from multiple brands, plus playback video content stored on eight Disguise servers, all of which were input through the grandMA3 consoles allowing the lighting fixtures to be pixel-mapped via the content as well as run as ‘traditionally’ programmed fixtures during different sections of the show.

All the non-key light fixtures with RGB or a fast dimmer were pixel-mappedin the media servers to keep the creative options as open as possible, so most of the outputting DMX universes were merged with the 663 DMX universes of Art-Net input.

“Programming was a real team process,” explained Mika. “To achieve the desired results we had to approach this work in a clean and disciplined fashion. Prioritising what was programmed and when was a key.”

For most of the rehearsal period, Adams and Mika would work on the irrespective grandMA3 consoles during the days, when the intense nature ofthe delegation rehearsals limited the amount of real-time and on-the-spot lighting programming changes. So afterwards there would be copious notesleft for the overnight shift to deal with.

Gabre, Pansell, and Stenbeck would then come in and power through as many notes as they could, from the design team and the delegations, working methodically and swiftly to ensure that maximum updations were completed for Mika and Adams to return the next morning, ready to move forward.

The programming team leaned heavily into grandMA3’s powerful Selection Grid feature.

This offers a clear view of the fixture selection order and structure and selection techniques to be mapped to the lighting rig, so various scenes can be built with dynamic values. With so many multi-instance fixtures on the rig, Selection Grid assisted in crafting diverse looks for each delegation’s show, all with their own unique style and aesthetic.

The ability to Revise and Offset timecode for every timecode object was something that Adams found especially helpful. Negative Offset allowed bump buttons to be set up in advance for anticipated accenting, detailing and punctuative music-related moments, retaining the absolute timing while offsetting all timecode objects to compensate for system delays.

The programming team made use of popular plug-in ‘MArkers’ which creates a sequence to track tempo changes in the timecode that was applied to each fixture group as another tool to assist the workflow and system synchronisation.

Mika and others in the Green Wall Designs team had previously used this same version of grandMA3 software to light the 2024 Melodifestivalen tour, Sweden’s comprehensive and high-profile ESC selection event, so they were confident that it would work well for the ESC 2024 final.

“You just need to be a little clever and judicious about some of theoperational decisions,” Mika and Adams confirmed, both happy with what everyone was able to achieve.

Network Architect Michael Nielsen and Systems Engineer Tue Knudsen, working for CT Sweden, were integral to setting up and maintaining the whole grandMA3 environment. A grandMA3 light console at FOH was dedicated to monitoring the network, and in one of the third-tier boxes high up around the arena, Nielsen & Tue Knudsen up their global monitoring ‘mission control’ centre.

Here, using the Luminex control software Araneo together with the new MA License, grandMA3’s powerful architecture, facilitated access to and monitoring of every command input into the system used by the seven active grandMA3 consoles involved in programming the show.

The grandMA3 system worked in terms of processing THAT much data with five people simultaneously programming, however Knudsen noted that, “It was a huge learning curve, and it was vital to respect and understand what was happening to optimise that workflow”.

“Programming the show was one aspect, running it was another” stated Knudsen, who believes “you can achieve anything with grandMA3, it’s certainly the only system that could handle a show control on this scale, but youmust also listen to what it’s telling you!”

Mika, Adams, Gabre, Pansell and Stenbeck worked closely alongside associate Lighting Designers Mike Smith and Michael Straun and Assistant Lighting Designer / Viewing Room Co-ordinator Louisa Smurthwaite, with Per Hörding calling follow spots.

CT Sweden supplied the full technical production package for lighting, video and audio to the event. Their head of lighting was Emil Hojmark. MA Lighting as the official ESC event lighting control supplier, together withSwedish distributor Gobo, also fielded a support team on site.

The 68th Eurovision Song Contest was organised by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and hosted by Sveriges Television (SVT) for the seventh time, and it was staged in the city of Malmo for the third time.