Eurovision Song Contest stage 2016

© Photography by Frida Arvidsson

ESC: Spectacular stage design for the mega event

200 million viewers every year: The Eurovision Song Contest is one of the world’s biggest TV events. Spectacular stage designs are always an integral part of the performance.

The times when singers had to perform between papier mâché elements at the European Song Contest (ESC) are long gone. TV stations are outdoing each other with their stage concepts as hosts of the global mega event. For example at the ESC 2017 in Kiev, Ukraine, a circular-shaped stage with lots of moving elements creates a special setting for each artist. Or at the ESC 2016 in Stockholm, Sweden, huge LED walls provided optical illusions. But what does a stage really need for such a huge TV production? A look behind the scenes at the Song Contest in 2016, whose stage provides a perfect example of what is made possible by the combination of video technology, light and projections – and all thanks to PLEXIGLAS®.

Variety instead of monotony

It has to be spectacular, it’s in showbiz DNA!

Per Andersson
Head of Workshop at SVT, the Swedish public service broadcaster

Light flashes, mystic landscapes, spark explosions – the Eurovision Song Contest stage design is just as versatile as the songs presented on it. The stage need not only showcase the individual songs, but must also provide variety. “The presentation of the songs takes over two hours. And the audience wants to be entertained the whole time. This is why we need a very dynamic stage,” says Per Andersson who was responsible for the stage construction as Head of Workshop 2016 of the public service broadcasting SVT. The ESC 2016 was the biggest ever TV production in the Scandinavian country – even bigger than the ESC 2013 in Malmö. “The whole ESC productions have escalated, and so have the stages. Huge arenas, high costs,”says Andersson. “But it just has to be spectacular, it’s in showbiz DNA! The audience wants to be amazed!”

Stand out at all costs

There is little time at the ESC to win over the audience’s affection and to stand out during the summary before the live vote. So performances that set themselves apart from the others often have good chances to win. This may actually involve dancing stick men as on Måns Zelmerlöw’s stage, the Swedish winner in 2015 . Or the singers walk up virtual stairs on the wall, like Russian Sergey Lazarev, who made second place in 2016. Performances like these demonstrate the current state of the art when combining light, video and projections.

In 2016, SVT again chose a stage design by the experienced designers Frida Arvidsson and Viktor Brattström, who had already implemented their ideas in Malmö in 2013. “Back then we focused on a softer expression with no pixels and projections. This year we are trying to play with the room and create optical illusions,” said Frida Arvidsson when presenting the concept. The stage must therefore provide various options for customizing space, expanse and appearance.

Not one, but many

SVT’s stage and set project manager, Per Andersson, and his team then had to transfer the designers’ vision onto a real stage, while making sure that safety aspects and economic requirements were also met. The result was 47-meters-wide, 42-meters-deep and comprised all possibilities of modern stage design, like computer controlled lighting and 600 square meters of LED screens on the walls and a further 250 square meters on the floor. “The LED video walls are one of the special features of the stage,”explains Andersson. “Usually, an LED wall is a flat background at the rear end of the stage. In our case, however, it consisted of twelve individual screens,” with the front pair positioned ten meters apart from the pair at the very end. Singers and their dancers were able to move around on ramps between them.

Convertible: the ESC 2016 stage // © Youtube/Eurovision Song Contest

Invisible pixels

“For the best possible visual experience, we required material for the LED walls that would allow the pixels to disappear. That was a huge issue, how to ‘blur’ 500 sqm with millions of LED pixel,” Andersson recalls. At the same time, the material should have a high-gloss black look when the LEDs are turned off and also a great clean deep black when the LED was on. After a series of tests with a variety of materials, the choice fell on PLEXIGLAS® LED Black & White 7H25, supplied by Evonik’s distribution partner in Sweden, gop – Glasfiber & Plastprodukter AB. “It was better than anything else that we tested”, says the designer of the stage, Frida Arvidsson. And Andersson adds: “The diffusing effect was as close as perfect, the video was sharp but no pixels visible, and no moiré.” The interplay of light and the LED walls then produced the visual illusions the designers had anticipated. A high-performance stage for a spectacular show.