Every year the Eurovision song contest takes place in a different country. Some watch it for the music, some watch for… I have no idea? The costumes I guess?
Anyway, I watch it because for the show production.
Show production is expensive, it takes time, people, space. It’s not suited very well for low budgets. It relies on expert knowledge, expensive hardware, and labor-intensive construction. You can only cut so many corners. Music production is accessible for everyone these days. You just need a laptop. Show production not so much.
The limiting factor is often budget. That’s where Eurovision comes around the corner. They have a total budget of around 50 million euros. Which makes it possible to do things right, hire the best crew and take the time to try new stuff.
In Europe it’s one of the best showcases of the latest broadcast, lighting, visual and audio techniques. Always leading to a spectacular show.
That’s why I’m always looking forward to Eurovision. In this blog, I’ve compiled the coolest tech I’ve seen this year.
Clay Paky Xtylos
If you think about show you think about lights. They used some cutting-edge fixtures for the production.
The fixture that stands out is the Xtylos (Say: Steelo’s) by Clay Paky. Besides its impressive performance, they are hard to miss because there are 481 of them…
What makes the Xtylos special is that it doesn’t use a LED or traditional lightbulb as it light source. Instead, it uses a laser engine.
You might hear laser and think about laser light fixtures, danger output for your eyes etc… But the Xtylos is more comparable to a traditional moving head lighting fixture. The difference is that the light output comes from a laser engine. But in such a way that it behaves almost exactly like a moving head. Including the ability to look into the beam without destroying your eyes (still not recommended up close though).
To understand why this is so special you need to know the limitations of LED / Lightbulbs. They have all kinds of quirks due to physical and technical limits. For example, the white beam output is way brighter than the red beam. Beams are brighter around the center which makes them look less full (so-called hotspots). Traditional lightbulbs generate a lot of heat and use a lot of power.
So… the Xtylos doesn’t have these problems and creates a tight uniform beam in a compact form factor. I know I start to sound like a sales representative of Clay Paky. But just have a look at what they can do. With 481 Xtylos around the venue, there’s lots of lighting programming fun possible.
Xtylos in action from the audience perspective
If you want to see some of the technical capabilities of the Xtylos you can check out this video:
Eurovision is tightly rehearsed over and over. Because it’s a contest all the participants want to know exactly what they can expect and what it’s going to look like. Everything from the changeovers, camera angles, video content, firework, lighting, choreography is tightly planned and rehearsed in advance.
CuePilot plays a big role in this process.
The performances look like video clips. Tightly rehearsed until the second. But the show is not improvised on the spot.
All the camera moves and cuts are created in advanced and pre-programmed in software called CuePilot.
The cameracrew executes the camera moves on command from an iPad connected to CuePilot.
CuePilot makes it possible to create a timeline in advance which will trigger camera cuts, pyro, visuals, lighting, and whatever you can imagine.
You can completely block out, pre-vis, use reference shots. This gives more control over the process and let’s you focus on the content of the show;
Below you can see an example of a CuePilot playing back for the Finland song of Eurovision.
Augmented reality is overlaying digital elements onto the camera image in such a way that it feels part of the space. I was a bit scared that they would overdo it which would make it look gimmicky. This is what you often see when new technology gets popular (drone shots everywhere, everything filmed using a gimbal).
The cool thing is that it’s not a 3D overlay or graphic but that it’s overlayed into the actual scene. It appears to be actually there and takes up space in the venue. If the camera moves forward, the 3D element also becomes larger as if it’s actually there.
To place 3D elements over the video feed the computer needs to know exactly where the camera is. Otherwise, the perspective of the 3D elements is wrong or they would glitch/wiggle as they can’t stay in the 3D scene because they don’t where the camera is.
For the camera to know where it is in the venue it needs some kind of reference. In this case, they’ve put tracking markers across the venue. If the camera moves its position relative to the tracking markers changes. The computer can calculate the new position from the way the tracking markers have shifted.
Pre-Vis with Capture
How do you visualize your light show and stage in advance?? Back in the day, you had to create drawings, prepare as best as you can and hope for the best.
But these days you can pre-visualize the show in software. This means that you can program the lighting show without actually needing to build the stages.
This saves tremendous amounts of time and money. Also, you can build a way better show. Because you have weeks to program instead of a couple of days. You can’t just build a stage for weeks because every extra day is very expensive.
The cool thing is that it works together with other software. So the Multicam director can use it to visualize the camera movements as well by feeding it cues from the CuePilot software.
This is an example of a lighting show in pre-vis software. It’s timecoded, which means that the music track also triggers a timecode track. You can program things to happen at exact moments in the timecode track. Such as after 60 seconds, turn all the moving lights red.
Digital Stage Marker
PS: An Image is more powerful than the truth
The below video spread like wildfire on social media. It appears that the lead singer of Måneskin is doing drugs on live television. Later this was debunked.
Unfortunately, an image is more powerful than the truth. Our brains use all kinds of heuristics and shortcuts to process information. An image like this is very sticky in our minds. It’s impossible to forget. Even though the evidence says otherwise, our minds have already attached a ‘sex, drugs and rock’n roll’ label upon the band.
Subconsciously people still associate the band with drugs even though the evidence points the other way. Also, the video spread like wildfire, but I can’t imagine many people shared the news that the singer tested negative for drugs.