Lighting Designer Mike Grabowski Gives MTV’s “TRL” a New Look with Support from WorldStage

MTV launched “TRL” in a new 8,800 square-foot Times Square studio in October and Lighting Designer Mike Grabowski, of The Lighting Design Group in New York City, assembled a versatile rig for the series featuring several new-to-market fixtures from High End Systems and Chauvet supplied by WorldStage.
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MTV launched “TRL” in a new 8,800 square-foot Times Square studio in October and Lighting Designer Mike Grabowski, of The Lighting Design Group in New York City, assembled a versatile rig for the series featuring several new-to-market fixtures from High End Systems and Chauvet supplied by WorldStage.

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“We needed a dynamic, color changing, Swiss Army knife of a rig that’s able to change looks dramatically segment-to-segment, minute-by-minute,” says Grabowski, who was Lighting Designer for the last few years of “TRL’s” original run.  “The previous rig was primarily incandescents: 2Ks, 1Ks, HMIs, VL-2500 movers.  Now, LED technology is more available and capable of handling this kind of scope.  We only have one arc-source fixture; everything else is LEDs and fluorescents.”

Grabowski chose High End Systems SolaFrame 750 270W LED moving spot fixtures for the rig.  WorldStage is the first vendor to take delivery of the 750s, and “TRL” is the first television show to use them.

“WorldStage continues to be fantastic about recommending lights and providing fixtures that meet my aesthetics and are complementary for the shows I tend to do,” says Grabowski.  “I lean on WorldStage as a reliable resource, and they keep me abreast of gear that is not only available but also what manufacturers are demo’ing and/or bringing to market in the near future.”

He calls the SolaFrame 750s “super-awesome.  They’re exactly what has been missing from the market: a white-light LED engine with shutters, gobos and good color mixing in a small form factor.”

He explains that the studio’s “relatively low, 11-13 foot grid” meant that “previous options – even the SolaFrame 1500 – were too big” for the rig.  “The 750 is a very versatile unit.  It’s a great tool to swing around the room; it has shutters for key or stunts; it has gobos and colors and a nice big lens.  It also looks pretty on camera, which was a big part of the lighting design brief.”

Grabowski also chose Chauvet Maverick MK Pyxis compact moving heads, which he positioned in the grid and on deck.  As with the SolaFrame 750s WorldStage is the first to stock the fixtures, and “TRL” is the first show to deploy them.

“Pyxis is a wash light that refuses to be pigeon-holed,” he says.  “It has a ring of nine 15W RGBW LED cells around the edge for pretty visuals with a direct view and a good dynamic zoom range for a wash light.  And it has a 60W RGBW LED center pixel for a concentrated beam.

“I wanted looks we hadn’t seen on camera before: bright, colorful, dynamic, flexible, with continuous pan and tilt.  So we can go from a somber ballad to an over-the-top boy band and play to either of those dynamics.  We can surround the performance area and sweep through the whole room for a party vibe.”

Also in the grid are Chauvet Maverick MK2 Spots, which Grabowski has been using for the last few years, “ever since WorldStage turned me onto them,” he reports.  “They’re a great little spot plus a white-light LED engine with great color mixing.  I use them for eye candy and color, spinning gobos over the crowd.  It’s a really solid unit.”

He keeps six CITC Maniacs on deck.  “They’re wonderful, goofy, lunatic lights that I have joked about using and finally did,” he laughs.  “The Maniac is a weird hybrid light that looks like an old moving head with a ring of LEDs around it.  But it’s actually an LED fogger.  A lot of acts look for pyro effects and this fits that niche really well.  We use it for very specific gags and some entrances.”

Claypaky Alpha Profile 800 ST moving beam shapers are “the only arc units I have,” says Grabowski.  “I have leaned on them for years.  They’re a great small form factor shutter unit with great animation.  They’re my utility infielders for key and effects lights.”

A complement of ARRI SkyPanel S60 LED softlights are scattered around the studio and serve as “base fill for everything,” he notes.  “It’s very versatile going from white light to color.  In the performance area we can go from soft fill with super-saturated color or paint people in a very soft magenta or red.”

Grabowski rounds out the rig with “tons” of Chroma-Q Color Force 72, 48 and 12 LED battens to light scenery.  “We have maybe 175 running-feet of light boxes in the studio,” he explains.  “We wanted vertical ombre effects – deep, rich colors and soft pastels with nice gradients to use behind the graphic panels.  The set is primarily white so we can change the palette at any moment.”

“WorldStage is thrilled to be a part of this process and was with Mike every step of the way,” adds WorldStage Director of Production, Drew DeCorleto. “Getting new technology off the production line is always a challenge and it’s one area of the business we hope to continue to thrive in.  Designers like Mr. Grabowski and shows like TRL rely on the best options available and we’re happy to research and deliver.” 

Grabowski concludes that, “As usual, WorldStage went above and beyond to help us with the schedule, since lighting the studio was done concurrent with its construction.  WorldStage needed to take delivery of the SolaFrame 750s and Pyxis fixtures from Texas and Florida during two hurricanes, and they pulled off a small miracle!”

WorldStage’s Derek Abbott was the Project Manager for the TRL install. 

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