LOS ANGELES — The contrast between last year's Video Music Awards set and the one for Thursday night's broadcast couldn't be more dramatic. The 2011 show took place under a towering, glowing space portal and this year's event will feel like a journey to a distant ice crystal planet that resembles Superman's Fortress of Solitude.
If the caped crusader had a kick-ass DJ booth that rose 30 feet in the air and a 13,000-square-foot flat screen TV.
"The theme was a little bit dictated by the space," according to production designer Florian Wieder, who said moving to the much bigger Staples Center was actually a plus for his artistic process because it allowed him to split up the performance space and bring the audience closer to the performers.
"In previous years it was completely different because it was more like a theater, now it's in a big arena and it's hard to bring the talent really close to the audience because the space is so big," he said. "That's one of the reasons why we have multiple stages and everything takes place in different areas."
As the massive crew continued to put the finishing touches on the various set pieces on Monday, Wieder pointed out some of the highlights of his latest design triumph. Among the highlights are space for 1,500 audience members on the floor of Staples, a series of giant video screens that cover the back of the stage and the arena's Jumbotron scoreboard, as well as an eye-popping platform for show DJ and nominee Calvin Harris that will rise 30 feet into the air while he spins records for the crowd during the show and between commercials.
The main stage features a one-of-a-kind metal cage that looks like a metallic bird in flight, as well as an angular series of lighted geometric shapes that form a cubist arch over the main performance space.
"It is a very contemporary design language compared to last year, which was very curvy. ... I also just tried to make it look completely different from last year," he said. "That's why it's very edgy. It reminds me of broken glass and if you look at the set pretty much every piece is based on that concept. Some pieces are more transparent, some pieces are made out of fabrics, like the big proscenium arch."
Wieder said he believes this set is one you'd never see on any other awards show because instead of having a hard line between the audience and performers, his design freely intermingles the two. In fact, performers, presenters and winners will have to, literally, make their way through a throng of their fans in order to get to the stage to pick up their moonmen.
The first-ever Staples VMAs (which airs at 8 p.m. ET/PT, with a pre-show at 7 p.m. ET/PT) will feature performances from Rihanna, One Direction, Taylor Swift , Alicia Keys, Pink, Green Day and Frank Ocean.
"I hope that we can surprise some people," Wieder said of the viewers at home. "Because it looks completely different and I always try to bring as much variety as possible into a show like that and that's a challenge."