Setting the Stage for NBC’s Tokyo Olympics

Setting the Stage for NBC’s Tokyo Olympics

While much can be said about the technology and logistics behind NBC’s coverage of the delayed 2020 Olympics, more could be said about the incredible work performed by the set designers, those geniuses at HD Studio, Planar, and Blackwalnut. The people behind the sets of Fox Sports, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and the last few Olympics came back again to produce a set full of natural beauty.

Indoor Olympic set

Source: Twitter/planarsystems

The day the designers of the NBC set finished their work and were about to send it to fabricators was the same day they were told the Olympics were to be delayed. Not just delayed, but changed in such a way that most of their ideas would no longer work. Sets had to accommodate for a pandemic, and strict safety guidelines, while being adaptable enough to handle any major change occurring during the three weeks of live broadcasting.

While other media groups kept their sets at home during the pandemic, NBC found space to create a number of inviting sets to use throughout the three weeks. While the International Broadcast Center (IBC) was home to two studios designed for Peacock and Twitter streaming, the set that had everyone excited was the beautiful “outdoor” creation for host Mike Tirico.

This “deck set” was, in fact, the roof of the Hilton Tokyo Odaiba hotel. Aesthetically the set took advantage of the incredible Tokyo skyline, which included its own Olympic rings, and reflected an unrestrained celebration of sport. In a time of claustrophobic lockdowns and empty stadiums, it presented us with life.

Outdoor Olympic Set

Source: Twitter/sportsvideo

On a more logistical side, the open-air and large sets also provided far fewer restrictions when ensuring safety guidelines were followed to protect all staff during this concerning pandemic. At the time, guidelines still required athletes to remain two meters away from presenters, and presenters a meter apart. With good lighting design and blocking, however, this rarely appeared to be the case for those watching at home.
In this lies the true genius of NBC’s set design; an aesthetically pleasing set hiding great practical considerations.

The three sets took inspiration from the country’s own presentation at the closing of the previous Olympics, employing light-colored woods and lattice patterning that allude to the world-renowned architecture of Japan. While real wood could not be used, the traditional colors and texture of native trees were chosen – those of the Yew and Cyprus specifically.

The lattice also had a secondary effect. According to Newscaststudio, it appealed to the designers at HD Design because “if the camera moves, the layers cause movement from a geometric standpoint.”

To ensure proper social distancing without an effect of alienation, seating and tables were designed to be open and light, while cameras would play with perspectives to help commentators appear closer.

A fourth set seen for only a few events happened during the one event you should always expect with a live setting – a storm. In the cleverly adapted ballroom of the Hilton was laid a dark indigo rug with the logo of the Olympics. Using the same wood-colored paneling, and little else, the design team created a set that was both quick to assemble and appeared to match the originally designed studios elsewhere.

Indoor Olympic Stage Set - NBC

Source: Twitter/planarsystems

The sets for NBC’s Olympics coverage may have been minimalist in design, but they were carefully chosen. Background lighting and screens were often found to include hues of aizome, a distinctly Japanese shade of indigo. Internal sets had a curved backdrop to offer a sense of closeness, while the rare set-piece would be a native plant, reminding us of the natural element to the sporting competitions.

A relatively new addition to these sets wasn’t ever in the studio, though. Instead, producers took advantage of augmented reality graphics, powered by Ross Video’s Voyager. Using Unreal Engine and Stype, they were able to produce live, virtual screens that appeared to float comfortably beside presenters. A far cry from the green screens of old, the simple design of the set was all the backing they required.

An empty stage or black box can sometimes be an effective platform, but often it appears instead to be evidence of a lack – a lack of care, a lack of budget, or a lack of creativity. Professionally designed stages that reflect the themes and values of your event do not have to be flashy, or expensive. Nor do they have to be inhibitive to presenters, audiences, or budgets. Decibel Event Management can help you design stages that are both functional and aesthetic, to be praised by presenter and audience member alike.