Lighting designer Fredrik Jönsson had more than 60 LightSky AquaBeams from SHS Global for Eurovision Song Contest. Jönsson first encountered them at LDI. “I walked into the huge exhibition hall, and I saw this light beam coming all the way from the roof and shooting straight across the hall. It had such a brilliance, and it was red, and it is very rare you see a red beam like that.”
Although Eurovision is an indoor event, Jönsson can see a big market for the AquaBeams at summer festivals as the fixture provides a powerful beam and doesn’t need extra protection for outdoor use. The designer describes what he calls an “art by accident” cue with AquaBeams during rehearsals. He was using them in vertical pods that can be raised and lowered and was pointing them at the Macedonian singer during an expressive ballad. When he saw the playback, he realized there was a slight movement on them as they were lowered, and his reaction was, “Oh fuck! That isn’t supposed to happen.” Moments later, he got an email back from the Macedonian delegation in the viewing room saying, “We loved the moving chase!” so to keep a controlled version of the cue, he programmed in a small tilt for the final. (Read more about Jönsson's lighting design here.)
Also helping Jönsson create a rock ’n’ roll look were the Harman Martin Professional Atomic 3000 LED strobes, which he chose to use with custom gel strings in scrollers because, he notes, “I don’t think there is a color-changing LED strobe powerful enough to do the trick.”
The followspots were Robert Juliat Lancelots, and Anders “Q-Lan” Wallertz was head-hunted to be the followspot caller. The highly reflective acrylic diffuser on the floor, and the fear of over overexposure when artists and spots cross each other on camera, presented challenges for the followspot operators but Jönsson says Wallertz, who is also the LD for the band Europe, “saved my ass” at Eurovision in 2013, so Jönsson trusted him to choreograph the spots this year, too.
The lighting rig was sketched out using Cast Software wysiwig, and the design was created, edited, and run on a massive MA Lighting control system; five grandMA2 light consoles and five backups so that nothing could go wrong during a live broadcast. And there were backups for the backups: 10 generators with an available 4.6 MW from Aggreko ensured that the show could go on even if Stockholm went dark.
The programming phase lasted about eight weeks, and all the lighting for each song was automated to timecode. At the beginning of rehearsals, there were 3,000 cues, but that number exploded with changes and refinements. The only lighting that ran manually came from the LEDs mounted on the Steadicams and the light rings around each crane camera, a system the designer developed and operated himself so he could boost lighting for close-ups. And the artists loved their closeups, sometimes without realizing how a big look could help their song. Jönsson says, “You don't necessarily need to see all the lighting cues, but if something gave the song an extra push, I would tell my viewing room assistant to show them the shot and they would say, ‘oh yes, we want that in the frame.'"
The genesis of each design came from a ‘look and feel’ document completed by each country’s delegation. Some responses were a brief (“mysterious and blue”), while others included 36 pages of very specific information and cues. The live broadcast had to vary in pace, so not everyone could have the same effects, and Jönsson worked hard to make the artists excited about the visuals. “They only have three minutes, and they have to shine, if they are happy with the look that will help their performance,” he says.
The entry from Georgia was slightly more rock ’n’ roll than typical Eurovision songs and Jönsson says, “We went completely nuts, and I loved every second of it!” That entry went through to the final and included pyro, strobes, and projections. In this song, Jönsson was finally able to pull off a cue that he had wanted to try in Eurovision 2013 but couldn’t sell it to any of the acts. “At the beginning of the song, six followspots on Cyberhoists are in the frame outlining the band from behind, and as the song takes off, we raise them while lowering the pods, and as they meet each other, there is a strobing effect, and the spots disappear, like a trick.”
One entry that didn’t make it to the final was Ivan, the artist from Belarus. Eurovision rules deprived him of a live wolf pack on stage so instead he sang alongside a naked Pepper’s ghost version of himself with the animals. The onstage screen was nicknamed the "holobox" by the crew, and at first, Jönsson thought it would be a nightmare, but sidelights saved the day. He says, “I managed to position the holobox so that, when (Ivan) was behind the screen, I could reach him with the side pods, and when he went in front of it and became a real person again, we used followspots so that we didn’t interfere with the box.”
The eventual winner of the competition, Ukraine, had requested a look that evoked a prison or cage, an effect Jönsson achieved with vertical and horizontal beams from Sharpys in the floor and side pods and BFML Blades. The designer says, “We lit for drama, so we kept it simple. We changed the color of her backlight from time to time and changed the angle of the front spot on her face for more dramatic shadows, switching to a followspot when she had closeups.”
Jönsson has no regrets but just one small disappointment, that assistant LD Emma Landare got to design the special guest star’s set. “I didn’t have time for Justin Timberlake,” Jönsson sniffs.