Robe for the 2021 VMAs
The 2021 MTV VMAs (Video Music Awards) was back in‐person, in style and with a live audience at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York City … and making it extra special this year the event celebrated its 40th … so the pressure was on for lighting designer Tom Sutherland of DX7 Design to smash it in terms of visual flair for the occasion. He accomplished this working closely with a talented team – including creative director Paul Caslin, camera director Joe Demaio and set designer Julio Himede of Yellow Studio – and with the help of over 300 Robe moving lights! The Robe count included 204 x BMFL WashBeams, 80 x MegaPointes and 50 x Pointes which graced the rig together with an impressive 16‐way RoboSpot remote follow spot system.
Tom’s starting point for lighting was Julio’s striking set – the biggest and baddest ass of a VMAs scenic design to date – which included an enormous 45ft high inflatable astronaut towering above the long side of the stadium.
Fourteen trusses were installed in the roof space above the two stages, flown at diﬀerent heights so they formed a dome‐like shape with the highest trimmed at 70 feet. Most of the lighting was rigged on these trusses, including the BMFL WashBeams.
More BMFL WashBeams were on two long ‘oﬀstage’ trusses that traversed the room lengthways both sides with angled end pieces.
BMFL WashBeams were picked for their “power and features” as Tom needed sources that really punched and could produce the thousands of diﬀerent looks needed. With optimum positioning, they gave him great coverage for both stages plus the astronaut, the catwalk and all the audience sections.
MegaPointes framed three sides of each of the two screens blasting through scenic pros arch surrounds, creating big bold beamy looks and tunnels, cones and slices of fragmented light shooting all around the arena, and there was a 12 x BMFL WashBeam floor package also available on each stage. These were used for outlining the central performance space – in the pit – for part of Buster Rhymes’ set with him also surrounded by the audience.
The floor‐based WashBeams were used to great eﬀect to silhouette Lil Nas X and Justin Bieber.
Pointes were deployed around the inner perimeter of the ovular catwalk with another 10 Pointes each side flanking the astronaut.
For getti ng key lighting in exactly the right places, Tom found the RoboSpot system a perfect precision solution. Ten of the 16 RoboSpot systems controlled 10 x BMFL FollowSpot LTs (with the integral camera) rigged on the ‘dome’ trusses which were trimmed too high for human follow spot operators to be working safely.
“It’s a great system and was absolutely THE right product for the job!” he declared. In addition to these, three upstage BMFL Spots per stage were controlled by the other six RoboSpot systems, making up the total of 16 systems.
The local crew operators had control of iris, dimmer and movement, everything else was done via the main lighting console, and spots were called by conventional light console operator Brian Jenkins, also one of Tom’s programmers. In addition to Brian, also on Tom’s talented lighting team were directors Hunter Selby, James Coldicott and Jasmine Lesane plus programmer Joe Holdman who all worked on the grandMA2 control system.
Lighting kit was supplied by Solotech, Harry Forster and Dave Evans were the account managers, the lighting gaﬀer was Alen Sisul and the techs were Dennis Sisul & John Cox. Head rigger was Brian Lolly of Kish Rigging who Tom compliments for the department’s “amazing” work.
Challenges for lighting included the pace and intensity of the action which unfolded over three hours of live TV featuring 14 star‐studded A‐ list guest appearances including Kacey Musgraves, Camila Cabello, Lil Nas X, Normani, Foo Fighters, Chlöe, and Justin Bieber, all of whom wanted their own coolest onstage looks. The creative team saw them onstage only for their single 90‐ minute rehearsal slot … before having to imagine a diﬀerent masterpiece presentation for each that blew everyone away!
Photos © Stephen Bondio and Yellow Studio