How We Did That: High Stakes Video In Las Vegas

Lighting designer Carlos Colina completely hit the ball out of the park with the 2007 Latin Grammy Awards show. This was Colina's debut as the Academy's lighting designer and according to TV's Nielsen primetime ratings, the show surpassed all prior ratings, even beating out most English-language TV aired that night.

Executive producer Cisco Suarez had a distinct vision for how each act was to be portrayed, with custom imagery created for each performance. Suarez and Colina came up with ideas for integrating the lighting, video, and LEDs, and Colina's biggest challenge was to keep all of the luminance levels low enough to accommodate the video. Colina was particularly busy with video levels as the projectors and scenic LEDs were so bright in comparison to the rest of the lighting that they could only run at no more than 40% of their intensity before blooming. If it weren't for the ability of the Catalyst from SAMSC Designs used during the show to turn down the intensity of the video luminance levels, the projectors would have had to run at less than half power for the entire broadcast.

Bert Delgado, Univision's show director, blended the wide camera angles and close-ups to display the lighting, screens, LED elements, and content without allowing them to become too overwhelming or overshadow the performers on stage.

My company, Choimation, Inc., was hired to create and program the visual content for the screens and LED elements for each performance. When I was first presented with the opportunity to design the content for this show and saw the set with such a huge array of video elements, I was very impressed with the aesthetic vision of the initial creative team of creative director/scenic designer Jorge Dominguez, Suarez, and Colina, as well as Univision's commitment to the quality of this show. I thought that most of the equipment would be cut, but contrary to how many shows go, Univision kept adding to it. As the show date neared, the ideas kept evolving, and not only did production want to add more gear, but the acts themselves added to the video elements. As more video was added, so were more media servers to drive it all. The other additions were the onsite content that my second and third motion graphics editor, Gavin Hood, and I had to churn out.

Dominguez was the creative force responsible for the vast amount of video sources on the show and the enormous video canvas. He began the process with simple black and white sketches of the set, aiming to have three functioning performance stages and a nice layered look with the LEDs. Considering that we were doing the show from Las Vegas, the capital of glitz, he wanted to convey that essence but without overkill, as the entire set was made up of video elements.

It's evident that the use of lightweight and open-air LED fixtures like Element Labs' Stealth has affected Dominguez's approach to designing his sets. After using the Barco MiStrips on Premios Juventud, Univision's youth awards show, he saw the benefit of placing lights or projection sources upstage of the units to create multiple dimensions of video. Dominguez also played around with rear projection on different styles of vacuum form panels as another dynamic way of painting the set. These ideas filtered into this show, including the use of Element Labs Versa® Tubes both as visible towers and hidden units backlighting fascias. He lined nearly every square meter with some sort of video source.

Dominguez had come up with this “Italicized Tower” and transparent LED-layered, video-based motif. Provided by Roca Video, most of the set was lined with over 700 Element Labs Versa Tubes, and 600 Barco MiStrips built into custom slanted frames. There were many layers of video to work with, particularly between the transparency of the MiStrip towers and the RP screens behind it. Since there was such an overwhelming amount of video, it would be easy for the performers to get lost, so Dominguez lifted most of the RP and larger video elements to just above the performers' heads, allowing for camera close-ups and two shots of the gargantuan RP screens and LED columns without distracting from the performances. Also, the director could use wide and medium shots to his advantage when those moments presented themselves.

The event was the largest Catalyst direct-to-source show in the history of live television in the US to date. A High End Systems Wholehog 3 with four DP 2000 DMX processors controlled the projection and LED elements, with a total of 12 Catalyst v4 HD Pro Media servers sending video out to over 20 unique video sources.

The machines went straight to their sources via Thinklogical VIS-23 DVI Extenders. This was a huge technological leap forward for Univision, who were used to circumnavigating the more traditional method of down-converting to analog and up-converting to SDI via ImagePROs to get video from the servers to the projectors. Instead, they went straight to digital via fiber to the Christie S+20 projectors and other digital LED sources. The quality and clarity were stunning. DVI-D is the digital signal that comes straight out of a Mac, allowing high definition imagery up to 4K without any problems.

Building a cue-based video show with so many different elements made it a challenge during rehearsals. The Wholehog 3 made that challenge much easier than the Wholehog 2 would have, as I had a total of four external touchscreens to lay out so many video palettes and groups. Building the content was an altogether different challenge that was successful due to the teamwork of a talented international staff.

Since this was a larger show, I had the opportunity to employ a team of 3D and 2D motion graphic video editors and digital artists two months prior to being on site. Our team worked to accommodate the constant refinement of the show. Juliann Langere, head Univision graphics artist, provided all the connective tissue and awards VTPB packages between the performances, in conjunction with Emilio Pimentel.

The interesting angles and multiple planes of layered video presented a challenge for me because each look needed not only to play well aesthetically on the main RP screens, but it also had to have a counterpart that was to be designed and re-aspected for the layers of transparent LED downstage of the screens. In order to provide a multi-dimensional look, I needed multi-layered video from which I could pull out an individual element and designate it to the layer closest to the camera. It's much like creating video for 3D stereo glasses at an IMAX theatre or in any 3D medium, and it definitely presented an extra dimensional issue. Instead of working on a flat 2D plane all the time, I had to always keep this layering in mind and offset it with varying elements such as color, angle, or timing.

Digital artist KD Matheson ( provided us with hundreds of interesting textures and paintings that were all delivered in Photoshop PSD format, and every element of each was put on a separate layer. This allowed me to use certain layers for projection and others for the LEDs to achieve the multi-layered looks we wanted.

Levels were the biggest challenge because to gain the proper effect, you need to have the RP levels brighter than the transparent LED levels while simultaneously keeping all the luminance levels in line with the key lighting on the performers. Otherwise, they will blow out the cameras and intrude on the close-ups which, out of all aspects of TV lighting, is the most significant to maintain. It gets tricky when the LEDs in between the RPs and performers need to be running at such low levels, so what the studio audience ends up seeing is entirely different from what the seven million people see on their TVs at home.

Graphics editor Hood, without question, handled all of the emergency and last minute mayhem with grace, precision, and professionalism. He made it look easy and put all of the bands' minds at ease. He handled unexpected extra video content requests, most no more than an hour before rehearsals began, that were unformatted for the servers.

Hood remarks, “The bands and their people didn't have a clear idea of why the resolutions, codecs, proper content compression, and aspect ratios needed to be maintained to play back properly in Catalyst. They would bring a DVD or FCP project, unrendered, and ask us if we could just play it. We were deluged with a constant flow of content request, changes, and additions from both production and the bands. We had to scramble to rip, chop up, re-render, loop, and recompress all of it per song element in order to be able to accommodate them in a Catalyst environment.”

Simply put, the success of our work relies on our ability to provide a palette of looks and alternatives. As we received specifics from Univision regarding track selection and artist confirmation, the wheels were set in motion. First and foremost is the requirement to “understand” the music. With Spanish not being our native tongue, it was essential for us to obtain reliable lyric translations which, when combined with production direction and absorption of the music, enabled our team to produce visual images to complement each aspect of the performance. Design plates broke each track down into essential elements and tasked these multiple components to each of the team members.

The other main content creators for the project were editor Jorge Estrada and Matheson, who both contributed a flair and style that made the look of the show unique and even more interesting. Estrada, one of Univision's Emmy Award-winning editors, is not only an editing genius, but he always provides us with great signature looks using Univision's Smoke system with GenArt Sapphire Plug-ins. Matheson's contribution was a combination of layered, digital-based artwork used for texture and to add a surreal and captivating feel to the overall look.

I thank Univision, my staff, and, especially Carlos Colina for his support, guidance, and vision throughout the process. It was certainly a team effort that made this show the unbelievable success that it was. Good decisions were made on this show, and the results speak for themselves. Without the dedication and expansive knowledge of my team and the talent that exists within Univision, this show could not have come to fruition.

Christian Choi is a lighting and video content designer and programmer and owner of The Choimation Lighting Factory Inc. Visit


1 High End Systems Wholehog 3

12 SAMSC Designs Catalyst v4 Pro Build 157

707 Element Labs Versatubes (1m and ½m)

540 Barco MiStrip

423 Barco MiTrix

106 Barco OLite 510

3 Barco D320 Processors

2 Barco 10k lumen projectors

6 Christie Roadster S+20 Projectors

12 42" Phillips Plasma Screens

2 Raptor Zero Striped Raid Arrays

Apple Xserve

Apple Xraid Zero striped, Xsan managed Raid array

1 Apple MacBook Pro 1920×1200 HD 2.4GHz

6 Thinklogical Vis-23 DVI-D fiber extenders

1 Thinklogical DVI-D 16×16 Matrix Router

12 Dell 19" DVI-D monitors

2 Soyo 19" monitors

1 Apple HD 23" monitor


Executive Producer: Cisco Suarez

Director: Bert Delgado

Lighting Designer: Carlos Colina

Creative Director/Scenic Designer: Jorge Dominguez

Video Content Design (performances): Christian Choi

On-Air Graphics Art Director: Juliann Langere

Production Manager: Tony Parodi

Lighting Director: John Daniels

Lighting Programmers: Ken Hudson, David Ayala

Catalyst Programmer: Christian Choi

Shop Carpenter: Miguel Enriquez

Installation carpenters: Jesus Fragoso, Donny McClure, Joel Wilson

Field Head Engineer: Michael Karsch

Head Gaffer: Brett Puwalski

Head Automated/Head Gaffer: Russ Kietel

Head Video /LED Technician: Ian Henderson

Catalyst Tech: Gavin Hood

Automated Lighting Techs: Brad Hafer, McClain Moss

Head Rigger: Ty Russell


Video/LED: Roca Video, Choimation

Lighting Vendor: PRG Lighting Las Vegas (Mark Conners)

Staging: Accurate Staging

Scenic Shop: Global Entertainment

Rigging: Kish Rigging

Suggested Articles:

Live Design's 2020 Design Achievement Awards announced the winners of the Concert Touring & Events category during a virtual awards presentation.

LD Maxi Gräf merges two designs and experiments with the creative power of the KNV Line.

Lee Rose created a bold and dynamic lightshow for the “Hollywood Party” segment of Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve show.