The Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna

The Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna 2015

After Austria’s first and only previous Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) victory in 1966, Conchita Wurst succeeded in bringing the ESC 2015 from Copenhagen to Vienna. The 60th anniversary of the Song Contest is truly historic in many ways: Geographical boundaries have been broken with the unprecedented inclusion of Australia into the 2015 Eurovision family and the motto “Building Bridges” aimed at making connections across national borders, across cultures and indeed across decades celebrating tolerance and inclusion while promoting respect and tolerance.

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The production design reflected these underlying goals. The bridge concept emerged as a physical structure linking the stage with the audience, thus creating new possibilities for affinity and connection. In turn, the dynamically illuminated eye was symbolizing shared vision: diversity enhanced by a mutual respect between cultures, countries and people. Creating a show for an audience of almost 200 million people is a complex challenge and requires teamwork at its very best by including creative experts like Al Gurdon, one of the top lighting designers globally and Florian Wieder, one of the best set designers, into the creative crew which was supported by technical specialists implementing the best technical tools and solutions to fulfil all requirements, wishes and requests of the creative team.

The Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna 2015

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The Stage
This year’s stage concept emblematized the “Building Bridges” vision by a haptic eye. Countless steles, symbolized the participating nations, were generating an entity – and formed a giant eye that dominated the room as a statement. The eye saw itself as a portal and formed a bridge between the artists and the audience all over the world.

The eye was spanning the entire stage and consisted of about 1,300 individual pillars with a width of 43 meters, a height of 14 meters and a depth of 22 meters. The steles were equipped with LED technology and produced a wide variety of lighting effects. The stage surface in the eye had a width of 14 meters including a LED floor with a diameter of 11 meters. In the background was an LED wall with a width of 30 meters and a height of 9 meters with a resolution of 7.5mm. It could be hauled apart in the middle to a width of 13 meters.

Some further facts: All 1,300 steles consisted of 3,225 meters of tube material and had a LED-lit front fascia. - The circular main stage consisted of 450 floor-integrated LED modules which were working also with very low angled camera views. - For special effects 45 linear meters of metal grids were placed next to the stage. - To highlight edges of the stage 300 linear meters of LED strips were installed. - Nearly 5,000 square meters of floor space were used for designed set and technical areas, starting with the stage, presenter areas, EBU positions … and ending with FOH and commentator areas. - Several roller screens and fast fold screens allowed the audience to see live camera views and other contend projected with 10 DLP projectors. - Special camera systems and lighting effects were integrated in the stage design.

The Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna 2015

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Experienced TV lighting director (and Emmy Award winner) Al Gurdon, was undertaking his third ESC. Gurdon was supported in his product selection and inventory sourcing by long-term associate, PRG’s Richard Gorrod - while the latter’s counterpart at PRG Germany, Matthias Rau, was also responsible for providing much of the kit. After working collaboratively for the last 15 years, Gurdon and Gorrod have developed a symbiotic relationship. “A lot doesn’t need to be said as I know how Al works and what he requires,” states Gorrod. For ESC it was essential that every act had a personalised set, as the PRG man explains. “The core rig needed to have many possibilities for creating different looks. We speak to the countries beforehand and confirm what they require.”

However, this year production was confronted by physical challenges, not least being the low ceiling height, with the result that the set was virtually touching the roof. Working within these parameters, the design was based around a huge 83-lamp wall - a portal forming a bridge between the artists, their delegations and the audience all over the world, which flew in and out. When in ‘Out’ mode, the bridge revealed the orchestra, which performed during the interval and opening acts.

For ESC Al Gurdon placed 25 of the X4 Bar 20 from GLP in a line at the back of the stage (in wide mode rather than pixel mapped) to form a horizon below the tracking video wall. “The colour and the great dimmer curve make them the perfect unit for this,” he states.

The Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna 2015

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The fixtures were driven from the PRG V676 that provided some great programmed effects. “The impressions responded well,” he continued. “We used them in extended mode for the 16-bit colour control with a PRG S400 backbone for data distribution.”

The lighting team started its work eight weeks prior to the show - five weeks for preparation, three weeks set-up and tuning and finally the show week. The participating countries had sent lighting requirements and conceptual ideas in advance to the lighting professionals who then developed the lighting concept under the guidance of chief lighting designer Al Gurdon.

Working closely with Senior Creative Director Kurt Pongratz (ORF), Richard Gorrod and his programmer Mike Owen translated the ideas of Al Gurdon into a fascinating light show where in addition to GLP Clay Paky products played a key role: 48 Sharpy Wash 330, 83 A.leda B-EYE K20, 74 Stormy and 172 Mythos Moving Heads were part of the fascinating light show. Gurdon choose the Mythos because it performed just as well as a beam light as it does as a spotlight. The colour mixing facility was also a crucial decider because it allowed to fine tune and colour match to all the other mediums being used on stage. Accented by LED screens integrated in the show floor the flair could be changed constantly to build different atmospheres for each performer on the stage.  With almost 40 different nations taking part, each demanding its own defining look, Gurdon had his work cut out: “The challenge for us was to guarantee each nation’s song felt unique,” explains Gurdon. “At the same time we had to deliver a cohesive feel to the overall look of the broadcast. Because of this I wanted to ensure the backbone of my lighting rig was consistent.”

The Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna 2015

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Designed specifically for television, Eurovision presents a number of its own unique challenges. Pulling performers out from a video heavy backdrop, conveyed on a 2D medium, while keeping colour and intensity balanced across all the output mediums can be testing. Bringing additional visual depth to the lively stage and some stunning beam effects, Gurdon designed a matrix of Clay Paky A.leda B-EYE K20s. These were rigged in such a way as to evoke one giant B-EYE and the whole matrix could migrate from behind the main video backdrop to above the screen, offering a number of different effects and looks.

“For some of the performances we removed the rear video screen and used the B-EYE matrix as a dynamic, high impact backdrop or beam effect generator. We moved it overhead to shine down and twinkle through the array of end lit pipes that framed the stage,” Gurdon continued. “This was extremely effective, especially for Ireland’s forest scene. The fixtures allowed us to generate a look that felt organic from something very high-tech. They also brought a great dynamic into the room and could also be used to extend the height of the set.”

The Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna 2015

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Adding further dimension and for those moments requiring additional ooomph Gurdon peppered his rig with a number of Clay Paky Stormy CCs, which delivered intense strobing and super bright swathes of colour across the back of the stage. “Clay Paky fixtures have definitely become the standard in stage and TV lighting,” Gorrod said, “they’re relatively lightweight and use remarkably little power for their resulting output. The Mythos is just 470W. This means that, compared to prior Eurovision events, the power consumption on this year’s contest had been significantly reduced.”

The TV Production
A total of 26 cameras were available to experienced live director Kurt Pongratz to successfully translate the stunning stage design, the excellent visual realizations on the giant LED walls and the enchanting ball ballet on the ceiling into a successful illusion that conjured nearly 200 million fans on their TV sets at home.

The Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna 2015

The Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna 2015

Among the 26 cameras was a Blackcam circling the stage, a 2D Cable Cam, five Pedestal Cameras, three Steadicams, seven Handheld Cameras, three Hotheads, two Speedcams on rails and for the first time in Europe a "JitaCam" - an extendable camera crane hanging from the ceiling.

The Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna 2015

To be able to maintain a flexible setup and a safe backup solution, host broadcaster ORF had hired two identical OBVans from Videohouse NV. The main production unit was Videohouse OB one while the backup unit was Videohouse OB two. Both production units were double-extended 16 meter trailers. Both units had been involved in many major events around the world, including the previous Eurovision Song Contest in Copenhagen. Both units were linked via a Technical Operation Centre (TOC) on site. All cameras were controlled via the TOC and only the complete processed video signals were distributed to the two redundant OBVans. In the case of a failure the TOC could change the signal distribution between the two production units . The time limiting factor here was only the moving of the crew from one OBVan to the other, the switching of the signals could be performed within seconds.

Because all the music contributions had a predictable length and flow, it was decided to program the mixing of the 40 acts already during the rehearsals and to run the three shows fully automated. The software doing this job was CuePilot. CuePilot not only takes over the editing, but also informs the camera operators via a clearly structured interface about the current and upcoming cuts via smartphone or iPad.

The Eurovision Song Contest was produced in 1080i50 with 5.1 Audio distributed in Dolby-E format. Two identical equipped sound mobiles from ORF were acting as main and back-up unit in close cooperation with OB one and OB two from Videohouse, while for the coverage of the daily press conferences  Videohouse had supplied their OB14.

The Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna 2015

The Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna 2015

Eurovision goes Audio over IP
All of the contest’s audio signals were routed via a RAVENNA/AES67-based IP infrastructure for the first time at a Eurovision event. Both the Lawo Nova 73 audio matrix - including all connected DALLIS I/O systems used by ORF’s broadcast supplier Videohouse - and the video and audio distribution of the Lawo commentary solution were based on IP networking technology.

The Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna 2015

The Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna 2015

All of the audio signals were collected by a central audio router, to be distributed to all of the event’s suppliers and OB vans. This setup minimized equipment and cabling requirements while significantly increasing the flexibility of the installation. The central audio infrastructure was based on a Lawo Nova 73HD audio routing core, which formed the heart of the audio operation. Ten DALLIS I/O systems were connected to the core via RAVENNA Audio-over-IP technology, allowing decentralized collection and distribution of all signals in the venue, including 96 Sennheiser wireless microphones, 32 Sennheiser in-ear systems and a Pro Tools playback system. The Lawo infrastructure also enabled distribution of all of the sync and timecode signals needed for the production.

The Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna 2015

In total, the Lawo Nova infrastructure routed more than 6,600 audio signals to the OB vans, as well as to the FOH and monitor consoles inside the hall. All OB trucks – including three vehicles from ORF and three from Videohouse – were equipped with Lawo m²66 or mc²56 digital mixing consoles. In addition, the Videohouse trucks were equipped with Lawo V__pro8 video processing systems for audio embedding, de-embedding and format conversion. A VSM system from L-S-B was used for managing and controlling the whole installation.

The Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna 2015

The Lawo commentary system used by ORF was also based completely on IP networking technology. The 14-member Lawo crew equipped 45 commentator cabins with Lawo LCU commentary units, which were networked via RAVENNA/AES67 with the Commentary Control Room and the Commentary Equipment Room. Here, the signals were forwarded to the Prodys ISDN and IP codecs connecting broadcasters worldwide with the venue. The Lawo commentary system was developed in collaboration with HBS for the 2014 World Cup, and HBS also supported the setup in Vienna with equipment and personnel. The video signals for the 90 video monitors in the Eurovision commentary boxes were streamed to the commentary boxes via Lawo V__link4 Video-over-IP systems. These video screens provided additional information for the commentators, in addition to what they witnessed taking place in the hall.

The Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna 2015

The project was managed by Lawo as a turnkey solution, including developing the technical concept, implementation, on-site support and equipment from Lawo’s rental partner, Audio Broadcast Services (ABS). For the cabling installation 9,000 m fiber optic cable from Sommer Cable were used and at many connection points the HICON FIBER4 connectors were used. ABS has a five years’ experience with the HICON FIBER4 connector and with the Sommer Cable OCTOPUS. ABS had no worries to integrate all the OBVans, all the satellite uplinks and the PA system in the Wiener Stadthalle (about 160 Meyer Sound speakers and 8 MIDAS Pro series audio consoles for FOH, monitoring and in-ear) within the MADI and RAVENNA audio network.

The Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna 2015

In addition a video network needed to be established to connect the TOC and MCR with the OBVans, the sound mobiles, UpLinks and the LED screens and projectors within the Wiener Stadthalle which had to receive TV signals. This distribution network was established by Riedel with the integration of a MediorNet system (45 MediorNet mainframes to cover 127 HDSDI inputs and 148 HDSDI outputs) and two redundant fiber rings around the Wiener Stadthalle. For intercom Riedel also was responsible, and as with any of ORF’s big events the Riedel Artist system (15 mainframes with more than 300 panels including also the OBVans) was stretched to its limits. It was controlled via a central workplace at the TOC. Riedel also provided the Walkie-Talkie Radio Network. (550 TETRA radios, 100 Analogue radios, TETRA base stations with repeaters to cover the whole area).

The Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna 2015

With the Microsoft Azure cloud platform the file sharing between the ORF editorial staff and the delegations was ensured. Via the Yammer application 1,300 international delegates, 800 crew members and 800 volunteers received information via push notification.

Microsoft Azure was also responsible for the worldwide exchange of videos with more than 45 TV channels and the Video on Demand (VOD) Solution. Several terabytes of VOD were streamed from 40 countries to Vienna. Also the official ESC app realized by digame mobile and Appsfactory was hosted via Azure and supplied the fans with all the information on the ESC.

The Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna 2015

The Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna 2015

The international signal distribution was carried out under the auspices of the EBU in three ways simultaneously: 2x via uplink (double uplink at the TV Compound) and 1x via fiber to the ORF center with subsequent feeding the two semi-finals and the final into the EBU Network and to all the ESC fans around the world. The final was hosted by Mirjam Weichselbraun, Alice Tumler and Arabella Kiesbauer who were eager to welcome the thousands of people in the arena and the millions of viewers on the TV sets. Austria and the city of Vienna have proven to be worthy hosts of Europe's favorite TV show with a wonderful evening of entertainment put on by host broadcaster ORF. The show was opened with a spectacular Magic Bridge, with artists welcomed to the stage by none other than last year's winner Conchita performing the official Building Bridges song and it was closed with Måns Zelmerlöw from Sweden winning the 2015 edition of Europe's favorite TV Show with the song Heroes!
 

The Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna 2015

“The Eurovision Song Contest which undoubtedly is a very unusual production, whether because of the relatively short time for preparation and organization, the very intense and countless hours of work, the exceptionally high technical efforts, the attempt to transfer the many creative and innovative ideas and concepts the best possible way into reality, or even the coordination of a large number of employees - to be seen in retrospect no one would like to miss a single minute of this unique, spectacular, exciting and eventful time. Together with all my ESC colleagues and our partner- and support-companies we were able to bring a great production into reality,” Claudio Bortoli, Head of Technical Production, reflected on his ESC experience.

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