The Grandest Set Designer of Them All: speaks with the man behind the WrestleMania sets, Jason Robinson

The Grandest Set Designer of Them All: speaks with the man behind the WrestleMania sets, Jason Robinson

It’s the unsung hero of every WrestleMania, one of the most anticipated reveals of the evening and, more often than not, one of the few lasting images the WWE Universe associates with each Showcase of the Immortals: the WrestleMania set.

An elaborate, event-specific behemoth with designs ranging from an Aztec pyramid to a condensed version of the New York City skyline, each WrestleMania set is the product of untold hours of creative brainstorming, red-tape approvals and old-fashioned elbow grease. The result is always breathtaking, but the man behind these monoliths has rarely been heard from … until now.

As WrestleMania 31 approaches, caught up with Jason Robinson, WWE’s longtime set designer, to discover the ins and outs of how he creates, quite literally, The Grandest Stage of Them All.

WWE.COM: How do you go about determining the concept for a WrestleMania set?

ROBINSON: It’s sort of a two-part scenario. I go early on and sit in the stadium to just see how that vibe is and see what we can do from a logistics point of view, to see what my canvas is … how big a canvas I can have, or what limitations I have. [Then] I go back and look at the WrestleMania logo that’s been decided by that point and see if there’s some cool elements involved in that. New York was WrestleMania 29, WrestleMania 30 was about our logo and about our 30th anniversary. I kind of get that feeling. And then I’m telling you, you just pick up a pen, scratch that piece of paper and really dive in until you have that “A-ha!” moment. I’ll pitch two or three of those to [WWE Executive Vice President, Television Production] Kevin Dunn, and then we’ll discuss it. It’s really an organic process of sitting in the stadium, going back and drawing, throwing that all away, picking up the next one, and throwing that all away.

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WWE.COM: What was the fastest you ever got to your “A-ha!” moment?

The Grandest Set Designer of Them All: speaks with the man behind the WrestleMania sets, Jason Robinson

ROBINSON: Oh, there were a couple of them that I got as soon as they booked the city. New York was an easy one. [Laughs] I’d been thinking about building bridges and stuff like that, not knowing that we’d go to New York or San Francisco. I’ve always had that in my back pocket. It was something I wanted to do. It was an easy thing for me to go, “Man, I know I can make this. I know I can set a stretch of the Brooklyn Bridge out.” So I think that was an easy one. And Phoenix! Once I got to Phoenix and saw a lot of the architecture … we did the double pyramids. I don’t know if anybody caught that, but if you go back and look, there’s an Aztec, Mayan pyramid in the entranceway and a true, Egyptian, 52.1-degree pyramid over the ring.

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WWE.COM: Some of the old-school WrestleMania sets were somewhat bare-bones compared to the more recent ones. Was going bigger and better something you had to fight for, or did it just happen as the events themselves moved from arenas to stadiums?

The Grandest Set Designer of Them All: speaks with the man behind the WrestleMania sets, Jason Robinson
ROBINSON: Our sets got bigger and better as the buildings got bigger and better. [WrestleMania 2000 in] Anaheim was my first set that we did, and we had LED boards and trucks, [but] it was really low. There are some things that are driven by what we want as a company, how we want to sell tickets and how we want to do this and how we want to do that. So as we got bigger and our Raw sets got bigger, and we saw the power of video and things like that, it started getting bigger and bigger and bigger. Once we did our first stadium, it was like, “Man, we gotta do this.”

WWE.COM: What’s your favorite set that you ever designed?

ROBINSON: For a lot of people that I know — and for me — it’s WrestleMania XXIV in Orlando, Fla. That was our first time packing a stadium after taking our hiatus to do 20, 21 and 22, which were in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. We got back to the stadium for 24 and Kevin [Dunn] and I sat down and went, “What are we going to do?” It’s Florida, we’ve got to have palm trees and we’ve got to have this art deco hotel. We gotta have this; we gotta have that. That was the most fun design point — from having the constraints of an arena to going back to a stadium and saying, “This is awesome. We’ve got to do this.” We had the open endzone [so] I didn’t have to block any seats. We had the fireworks, and the lake behind it. I still remember everything about it.

The Grandest Set Designer of Them All: speaks with the man behind the WrestleMania sets, Jason Robinson

WWE.COM: How soon do you think about what direction you want to take the set? Is it when the city’s booked, or when the previous WrestleMania is over?

ROBINSON: It’s usually a little bit of both. When the city’s booked, I go “OK, now I know where I’m headed. This will be great; I’ve got an idea of where I’m going.” But usually by the time WrestleMania’s over with and we get into May, I’m already going, “OK, we’ve got to get there. I’ve got to look at it. I’ve got to see what’s going on, because I’ve got to figure out how we’re going to pitch a cool set, or make a set.” It takes us about three to four months to finalize the design concept. Sometimes it’s instantaneous. Like I said, in New York, I said, “Kevin, I want to do this.” “Go for it.” And we’re done. Sometimes it’s a little harder.

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WWE.COM: Lastly, can you tell us anything about your plans for the set this year?

ROBINSON: Expect something different from us. The atmosphere being West Coast and daylight presented some very unique challenges for us to overcome. The structure itself isn’t really tied to a particular thing like the city or arena, but we have this really unique thing where we can’t hide anything. We have to be open, [because] everybody’s going to see everything. I can’t do the theater magic and hide the bad parts. So we’ve had to work really hard. Everything had to tie in and feel like it was part of the image and the structure. It’s a unique set, a unique way of lighting the ring because of the sun. You’ll see some different search lights around there, and from a lighting point of view and the set, we’ve had to deal with having full sun on the set because you can’t hide anything. You’ll see it’s a different set from us this year.

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