Plot Of The Week: Mikki Kunttu—The Snow Queen

Based on the popularity of Live Design's 31 Days Of Plots in December each year, we have decided to present Plot Of The Week, with a light plot (or plots) per week until December 2023, when the next 31 Days Of Plots begins.

Second in this series is Mikki Kunttu's production and lighting design for The Snow Queen, which premiered at Tampere's Nokia Arena in Finland on December 30, 2022. Based on H.C. Andersen's 1844 Danish fairytale and set as an ice ballet, this is a stunning production for the entire family. 

Live Design: Artistic intent for the lighting? 

Mikki Kunttu: My intent is always to combine sets, video and lighting in a way that together they deliver the visual signature for the show. It is never just about the lighting, but of course there are some heavyweight lighting moments in this production and many other productions as well. I also think that this kind of conceptual approach leaves more room for the costumes and generally the big picture is more clear to read.

In any case lighting is not there just for the eyeballs, but also to support and give perspective to the storyline. Video on the other hand is all about light, and in my world so are the sets. I see the physical sets as the bringer of reflection and concrete darkness. It is all a dialogue and if the stars align, the end result is something energetic, organic and exciting. 

Clinical technical execution can be appealing from the technical point of view, but it also very effectively kills the potential gift of mistakes and human dynamics and finally also the signature of the designer, I’m afraid. I think timecode is really our best friend and our worst enemy at the same time. 

The Snow Queen is a storytelling show and the scale of the arena sets a rather challenging scale for the delivery, but it is also a show that connects rather to the even abstract means of ballet and contemporary dance than text based “realism” of traditional theatre. In a lot of ways The Snow Queen was a dream to work on. It simply combined so many elements of different art forms that I have loved working with over the years. There is a bit of the mentioned ballet approach, a spice of contemporary dance as well as large-scale projection mapping and surely also the kick-ass lighting moments familiar to us from various large music shows and concerts. For years I thought working with such an ice show could be magical and I was sure something quite amazing could be done. The Snow Queen quite frankly exceeded all my expectations as far as the visuals are concerned. It started to get evident during the pre-programming sessions (and with the help of the projection on a  scale model), that something very good was about to happen with this one!

The Snow Queen, Mikki Kunttu



Click To Expand

LD: Emotional arc of the storytelling thru the lighting?

MK: First of all it is not a show that would be all about the beams and the wow-looks of lighting. It is more about the way the lighting works with the video and manipulates the whole performance space. I guess you could say it is more a traditional kind of an approach to lighting a ballet or an opera, for example. A massive part of the emotional delivery rests on the shoulders of video as it directly supports the storytelling. Lighting has its moments, mostly when a certain big impact or crazy brightness is needed.

There are also a couple of special effects such as the low fog that was used in the beginning of Act Two, as well as one of the most beautiful solos, the Snow Queen’s Sorrow. 

The Snow Queen, Mikki Kunttu



Click To Expand

LD: Choice of fixtures and why? 

MK: The list of equipment is very straight forward. The main front/back lighting consisted of Robe BMFLs and Martin Quantum Washes. The effect lighting, if you will, consisted of Martin MAC Ultra and Claypaky Xtylos  fixtures. The rest was just simple XLEDs inside the lanterns in the sets, both on the floor and flown.

The equipment list changed quite a bit during the one year delay of the show. This was mainly to support the budgeting a little more, but also for example because I had just worked with Xtylos and I wanted to get them in the show to get that kind of character out of the rig.

The Snow Queen, Mikki Kunttu



Click To Expand

LD: Biggest challenge? 

MK: When you look at the project overall, I would say the scale of the visual storytelling needed to be right. Something that delivers a top notch result no matter where you are seated in the 360° setting. For me, the key moment was to find the design for the sets and how it would work together with the video projections. It immediately felt like it could be an organic part of the performance and the storytelling.

In terms of production schedules on site this was the most challenging production ever. We had one day for get in and setup and one day of rehearsals. The technical setup was planned by the minute and everything needed to go strictly to the plan. The rehearsal day was all about going through cue-to-cue with the artists and adjusting lighting and video levels and grading the projections. And we only did one full run-through with all the bells and whistles on the day of the premiere.  We were very lucky not to hit any bigger bumps on the way and also the visual conditions on ice proved easier on the performers than I expected, which was naturally a big relief.

I was very surprised that already in the opening night we had a smooth production with no glitches and very good flow even with the scene transitions. It is a big achievement for everyone involved. Usually shows of this caliber are rehearsed with full tech for weeks to reach this level of excellence. The biggest thanks for that goes to our whole creative team and especially to the Director/Choreographer Reija Wäre. She is incredible. 

And of course my own closest circle Alex Hautamäki as the lighting programmer and Saku Väänänen as video programmer pulled all the important rabbits from their hats. 

The Snow Queen, Mikki Kunttu



Click To Expand

LD: Biggest success? 

MK: The collective effort and excellence. Teamwork.

I think the biggest success is that in spite the very challenging schedule, we managed to deliver a show that is second to none. It very strongly promotes the art of skating and shows the poetic potential of this beautiful art form. And even a bigger success is how this production brought together art and sports as one. We even have the captains of our national men's and women’s ice hockey teams performing in the show! 

This production aimed to underline the meaning and power of friendship and it did just that, on and off ice. 

Equipment List


Credits for lighting, sets, and video:

Production Designer: Mikki Kunttu

Lighting programmer & operator: Alex Hautamäki

Video programmer & operator: Saku Väänänen

Video content: Mikko Linnavuori

Followspots: Jaakko Sirainen

Showvcaller: Roope Mäenpää

Sets and props construction company: Pågå Tampere Oy / Ville Pastell, Niko Hämäläinen

Technical Manager:: Vesa Sytelä

Technical crew credits for Akun Tehdas (lighting, video and sound supplier): Akun Tehdas 

Head of Production: Olli Pörhölä

Head of Lighting: Pete Jaako

Lighting crew:

Arttu Sipilä

Pekka Suikkari

Esko Ansami

Jouni Järvinen

Mikko Leskinen

Olli Tamminen

Iida Hämäläinen

Jani Ahonen

Niko Särkikangas

Waltteri Wahlroos

Ella Väisänen

Pekka Olava

Eetu Vesamo

Head of Video: Teemu Lehtonen

Head Rigger: Kari Wikström


Joni Heininen

Vili Perälä

Pirita Kervinen

Marja Kuokkanen

Roosa Kulju

Katriina Laitila 


Kristian Kuronen

Jaska Erkinheimo

Sets and props construction company: Pågå Tampere Oy / Ville Pastell, Niko Hämäläinen

Video system tech: Teemu Lehtonen

Lighting and Video Supplier: Akuntehdas

Video : 2 x Hippotizer Montane+RTX

6 Digital Projection Titan Laser 37 000 WUXGA

With : Titan lens 0,65-0,85:1


Mikki Kunttu, Snow Queen Gear

More: Plots Of The Week 2023