VMA Main Stage Designer Aimed To Blow Minds With Set

'It looks more like a big city and less like a stage,' Florian Wieder explains.

When you settled in on the couch at home on Sunday night to watch the href="http://www.mtv.com/ontv/vma/2011/">2011 Video Music Awards, it probably felt like you were going back to the future. As in years past, the main stage for the show was a visual spectacle. This year the theme was time travel, and the stage’s designer was intent on making you feel as if you were on a mind-tripping journey.

“We met up half a year ago and [VMA Executive Producer Jesse Ignjatovic] came up with the idea to create a time tunnel,” explained VMA main stage production designer Florian Wieder of the psychedelic set that looked like a cross between an alien landing ship, the floor of a 1970s disco and the baddest midnight laser-light show ever.
“That’s one of the reasons why the whole design is based on a tunnel that is right in the center of the stage.”

Like the pre-show , which shared some of the same curvy, intergalactic whimsy, the main broadcast mixed undulating wave forms with bright, pop-art-style colors and a black and white theme to set the stage for a galaxy of performers, including Adele, Lady Gaga, Jay-Z and Kanye West, Beyoncé , Lil Wayne, Bruno Mars, Pitbull and Ne-Yo, Chris Brown and newcomers Young the Giant .

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From the flames, smoke and sparks that showered the stage during Kanye and Jay’s surprise set to the towering pop-art images of Amy Winehouse that flashed on the screen as Bruno Mars paid tribute to the late “Rehab” singer, Wieder’s creation was alive with flavor and rich imagery for the entire broadcast.

“We have a lot of movement,” he said. “The whole set is pretty much a video surface … [which] helps us to get different looks and put different colors on [the screens].”

And though he said that some people commented that the structure of the staging had an almost aquatic, whale-like look — making it feel as if you’d been swallowed, Jonah-like, into the belly of the beast — the Munich, Germany-born designer said he did not take his inspiration from the sea. He actually took it from the notion of extending the time tunnel into the audience so that they could feel like they were part of the show.

And the audience members inside the Nokia Theatre in downtown Los Angeles were involved, thanks to a number of spaces around the meandering stage that allowed fans to be right up close to the action. They were even more in the mix during Young the Giant’s set, in which the band appeared to be performing under a floating dome that was not actually there.

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With 250 fans from their Irvine, California, hometown flown in to watch the song from the comfort of the stage, they set up shop near the back inside the tunnel as graphics of flashing white lights behind them made it seem like they were inside some kind of “2001″-style vortex.
“I think it’s a very interesting space concept because we created that very, very strong physical structure as a stage and there is some audience placed within the stage,” Wieder said. “And then we have some ribs and these ribs extend the stage itself into the house. I think it’s a good way to connect the audience and the artists and the set so it becomes more of an event; it looks less like a stage as people are used to seeing in a theater. It looks more like a big city and less like a stage.”

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