WWE HD: All set to go
When Raw goes live tonight, our fans will experience a groundbreaking new way to experience sports-entertainment, as WWE broadcasts in HD for the first time ever. To coincide with the HD broadcast, a revolutionary new set -- made up of HD video screens -- will be used for all three WWE brands. (Watch: Behind the scenes of the new WWE HD set)
Recently, WWE.com had a chance to sit down and talk with WWE's 12-year veteran set engineer Jason Robinson about the new HD set that will make its debut tonight.
WWE.com: What are some of the visually impactful elements WWE HD viewers will immediately notice about the new set?
Jason Robinson: The viewers will notice how vibrant the colors are. We're going with a whole new set that is created entirely out of video. People are used to seeing hard sets with things like mirrors and the fist on SmackDown. We have more than 1.2 million LEDs (light-emitting diodes) that are going to be on the set. In HD, the rich colors that these LEDs produce is going to be amazing.
WWE.com: Tell us about some of set's new features?
JR: The set itself is all video, so we can change it to be anything we want it to be. It will be a set for all of the WWE brands (Raw, SmackDown, and ECW). But when The Undertaker comes out, it will be gravestones and lightning bolts. When Kane comes out, it will be all fire and flame. It's a complete freedom of palette to create anything we want for the Superstars.
WWE.com: For fans in the arena, how does the new set add to the enjoyment of live matches?
JR: The set won't be a stagnant one that just sits there all night. The fans are going to feel more a part of the wrestler's persona and who they are. They will see and feel the change when different Superstars come out.
WWE.com: How long did it take to go from planning to completion?
JR: We've been talking about a new set for a couple of years. Once we had a definitive idea of what we wanted to do, it took about three months to go from the planning stage to completion. The technology available to our industry -- HD, lighting, sound and video -- all merged together at the right time for us to put together a great set.
WWE.com: This is the first time that one set will be used for all WWE brands -- Raw, SmackDown, ECW. What sort of challenges does that present?
JR: There are some challenges, but there is some ease. It's easier for the crew because they have only one set to put up. It's harder on us, from a creative point-of-view, to make the set different for four shows, even though the set is physically the same. We have to let it all hang out and get as creative as we can.
WWE.com: How big is the new screen compared to the TitanTron? How is it different from the TitanTron?
JR: The new TitanTron is full high-definition with a 16:9 aspect ratio. It's about the same size as the previous TitanTron, but fans will enjoy a much better, sharper image. We've gone to HD projectors and screen material, and we'll be feeding HI-DEF elements from HD cameras.
WWE.com: How is the set transported from each venue to the next?
JR: From show to show, we load the set onto 14 semi-trucks. We travel 300 miles every night to get to the next show. We start unloading the set around 8:00 a.m. Fourteen hours later, we have a live event.
WWE.com: How many people are required to break down and assemble the set for each venue?
JR: Our crew consists of about 24 people who travel with us all the time, including lighting, set, ring, ramp, pyro, audio, set and rigging people. They do the shows every day, every week. They do it all, including every pay-per-view event we do. Plus, everywhere we go, we hire about 60 local stage hands. So, this massive team of guys hits the arena in the morning, and the work like ants all afternoon until we hit rehearsals around 3:30 p.m. After we do our show and go off the air, all those guys go right back to work. What took us eight hours to set up, goes right back into the trucks in about 2-1/2 hours.
WWE.com: Are there certain locations where you have to make modifications to the set, or use an entirely different set?
JR: When we created this set, we took into account that we might be going into different arenas. We'll go anywhere from a 30,000-seat arena down to an 8,000-seat arena. The set is modular, so we can adjust height and other things to fit into a variety of arenas. When we go to WrestleMania 24 in Orlando's Citrus Bowl, we will use a completely different, special set.
WWE.com: About how many shows do you think the last Raw set was used for?
JR: I think our last Raw set and stage was used around eight or nine years…about 416 Raw events.
WWE.com: Will the "retired" Raw, SmackDown and ECW sets -- either in part or in their entirety -- be put on display anywhere, or saved for historical perspective?
JR: At the end of their last runs, we're taking them back to the warehouse entirely. We've yet to decide to scrap any part of them. Who knows what you might see in the future? You might see that fist, the mirrors and the Raw set someplace else one day.
WWE.com: What is the most fulfilling part of set design for you?
JR: The most fulfilling part of the design and creation process is the very first time it's all turned on. The very first day, before anybody ever sees it -- when the set emerges, we turn the power on, all the lights swing out and the video comes on -- that's when I get my first goose bumps. That's the best part. What I've imagined, drawn and worked on for months is there. It's really cool.
Catch the week-long debut of WWE HD action on Monday Night Raw (9/8 CT, USA Network), ECW on SciFi (Tuesday, 10/9 CT) and Friday Night SmackDown (8/7/CT). And then be sure to watch the Royal Rumble in HD, live on pay-per-view, next Sunday at 8/7 CT. (Contact your cable/satellite provider on how to watch in WWE HD.)