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The Democratic National Convention

Live Design – The Democratic National Convention, at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, NC, took place from September 4–6 hosting their candidate, President Barack Obama. After their well-received 2008 convention the Democrat’s again tapped Executive Producer Ricky Kirshner of RK Productions. “I think from a producing point of view it always starts with the design,” explains Kirshner. “At the end of the day, most people are watching to see the speeches and they care about the content of those speeches. We’re there to support that and present it in an engaging manner. We tried to keep it just that simple.” In a departure from convention designs of the past, Production Designer Bruce Rodgers of Tribe, Inc. and the production team chose to put the podium stage in the end goal area of the arena rather than the traditional the centerline location. “The Charlotte arena architecturally really worked for the end stage arrangement,” says Rodgers. “It just looked right and felt better. It got the delegates a lot closer so there was a great energy in the space.”

Of his design approach Rodgers says, “I wanted to keep it stylish and modern; something beautiful but simple. I decided go with form following function. I knew functionally it was important to have a wide shot that look great and was impactful. We needed a beautiful tight close-up shot; the classic head to toe shot with the President standing behind the lectern; and I wanted a strong reverse shot. I placed the lectern very far downstage, which gave great reverse angles from the cameras on top of the backing wall. That angle was a chance to see the speakers in a way that felt really honest. You saw their view out over the delegates; you connected with them; it was more personal.”

Rodgers ‘simple’ set was actually technically quite complex as he designed the set to have a curving vertical feel. “I wanted the stage to be open but also have a strength and a hopefulness which I feel the height gave it,” he describes. “I felt a cylindrical shape would be powerful but knew we couldn’t do all curved LED screens, so the header walls at the top of the set and the main backing wall at the bottom were curved creating the illusion that the whole set was curved, even though the center I-Mag screen and the two tall side verticals were flat screens. Also the main stage walls were convex but the horizon walls that reach 80′ in either direction from the stage were concave so you had these opposing curvatures. It looked very dynamic both on camera and in the arena from varying angles because of the play of depth it created.”

The set walls were 90% video screens with a mix of resolutions. The 12’Hx42’W backing wall behind the lectern used Barco NX4 4mm LED tiles. The hero wall I-Mag screen and the two side I-Mag screens were VER BR7 7mm LED tiles; while WinVision 9.375mm LED product was used for the vertical sides, the SR & SL walls, and the long horizon walls. “Part of the curving illusion is created due to all these resolution changes,” notes Rodgers. “Your eye focuses the most on the super hi res and falls off to the lower res tiles.” PRG built the entire set and the custom frames, including the constant curving backing wall frame that required the LED tiles to be deconstructed to be mounted. VER provided the LED and video packages. The video playback control, featuring Green Hippo Hippotizers, came from Mobius Productions. Kish Rigging handled the entire rigging package.

Lighting Designers Bob Dickinson and Bob Barnhart of Full Flood, Inc. spent a lot of time working with the video team on balancing the lighting and the video. “Today’s screens have a capability that far surpasses the needs of an event like this,” comments Dickinson. “Once we get the screens level set we balanced out the rest of the show. In terms of light levels we want to deliver between 60-70fc on the delegate floor as well as on the speaker. Depending what is happening in the arena at a given moment we will manipulate that. It really is done in a very live manner, I sit with Ricky Kirshner and with Glenn Weiss, the Director and based on what they want done we are able to be very reactive to it.”

The TWC Arena, being a modern structure, was built to maximize sitelines at the shortest distance to the arena floor. This creates the lighting challenge of having to deal with very steep mounting positions. “We want to light the floor 360 degrees so that the delegates are well lit and the press can photograph people anywhere on the arena floor,” says Dickinson. “The problem is that you can’t light people from a 60 angle overhead so we have to choose our truss positions carefully and still be mindful of the sightline from every seat. We light the delegates from four directions allowing pretty much bulletproof coverage.”

For keylighting Dickinson uses followspots. “They are our primary tool for keying,” he says. “They are so important that we have backup keys that we use in the case of a failure of a followspot and we use redundant power sources. A followspot is essentially the only tool that can make that throw and can contain—very, very tightly—the spill of the light the way I want.” Of the overall design itself Dickinson says, “If people were looking at the lighting something was wrong. There was some lighting for music guests but nothing to big. It was a very straightforward design.”

Kirshner was very proud of the whole team, commenting, “This starts with a small group of us designing it but none of it could happen without hundreds of people—stagehands, technicians, vendors—they were integral to the success. Everyone deserve a lot of credit; they all worked really, really hard to make it happen.”

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