Hosted by Heidi Klum, the 2012 MTV European Music Awards were held in Frankfurt, Germany in November. The prestigious awards ceremony included performances by Taylor Swift, Pitbull, Muse, The Killers, No Doubt and Alicia Keys, as well as numerous new awards categories. For this show, lighting designer Gurdip Mahal and lighting programmer Ross Williams chose High End Systems' new Hog 4 console to control the massive televised production.
A self-described 'long-term Hog abuser', Ross started out on the Whole Hog I and has since served as an integral beta-tester and high-profile user of the Hog platform. Williams explains, "This show came along and offered a perfect opportunity to try the new console out in the real world. Because I had been beta testing it and was involved in the development cycle, it was something that was quite easy to envision. We knew what we were using, and that's how it happened."
"One of the real beauties of the system," he continues, "is that you can move effortlessly from one platform to another. I had no training, just a quick look over the 'what's new' document. Essentially, you can take all the skills that you've learned on the previous Hog generations and step straight into it, and take your show file with you. Last year we used a Hog 3; this show was patched entirely on a Full Boar, and then loaded on to the Hog 4 when we arrived to start programming."
The core creative group working the MTV EMA's has remained consistent for some years; once again joining Williams and LD Gurdip Mahal was James Tinsley, who handles conventionals and followspots. Williams adds, "We're all actually close friends as well, which does help, and we've done many shows over the years where we work closely on the design, implementation, programming and the ultimate delivery of the end product."
Ross points out that production time constraints represent the tallest hurdles the team faces. He points out, "I guess if you had more time you could do pretty much anything, but it's a very ambitious project to achieve in a very small amount of time. Although we light the entire evening, the performances are in many ways the most memorable aspects. Each performance is a mini-production on its own, so there's a great deal of artist and artist management involvement, record label involvement, as well as touring lighting designers with their own content and ideas to get worked into the mix as well. Thankfully, we had Richard Gorrod (Director of PRGs Event Services) onboard as the lighting crew chief, and he's the done the show even longer than we have! He has a great team of people, and he's absolutely superb at getting the show up and running."
Ross employed an active Hog 4 console and a tracking backup console; ArtNet signal was sent from High End Systems DP8000s into the PRG nodes that distribute DMX on their fiber network out to the fixtures. He says the Hog 4's tactile response is 'superb' and the screen resolution is 'incredible'. "You get at least double the amount of information you could fit on the Hog 3 Full Boar," he adds, "contained within one of the three Hog 4 windows, so the information layout at your fingertips is vastly improved. It is a large console, but ergonomically, everything feels like its in the right place; you don't have to stretch too far to reach anything. The layout is fairly identical to previous generations of this console, so you already know where everything is, which is lovely because you're not wasting time looking for things. Only one key was moved, and other than that everything is exactly where you'd expect it … you can program with your head looking at the rig, or at the monitor, not staring down on the desk where the keys are. A lot of thought and design has gone into not only the arrangement of the buttons but also the gaps between the buttons, and that really pays off when you sit behind the console."
"The ability to customize the layout is superb," Ross continues. "User Kinds brings a very powerful new aspect to the software that we haven't experienced before, and I kept finding new ways of using that. Being able to further customize the wheel sets and sub selections was really useful, mores than I thought it would be before getting my head around it. And with the wider screens you're able to have more things available in the first page of the various toolbars; having everything at quick access is one of the major benefits you get with the larger console."
Ross also gives top marks to High End's customer service onsite. "What better service could one ask for than having Chris Ferrante and Robbie Bruce out with us? Robbie was on hand to see how things were going and to take notes on a few suggestions we had for the future, and Chris was there to bring me up to speed on anything I wasn't familiar with. It was very impressive to witness the full support of the company on site."
The smooth operation of the show was the utmost consideration for the design team. "In discussions beforehand," explains Williams, "we went through every conceivable option for every possible failure beyond our control. We couldn't jeopardize the production in any way, and we didn't. Part of that was having the support of High End Systems. We weren't going to delay the production; we set out to deliver a perfect show and we did, thanks to the planning of everybody behind the scenes."
A few weeks after the MTV Awards the design team went into production for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year. "This time we were on our own with no Robbie or Chris," says Ross, "It was the 59th edition of the annual show in London, and with all the buzz about the Olympics it was a really big event - three hours of live TV with a television audience of 14.5 million and 16,000 in the venue. It was nice having the excitement of MTV out of the way and knowing 100% what console we're using - and very nice having zero problems in front of this important audience. Again, it was absolutely critical that there were no failures, and it was best show we've done."