Grammy Awards telecast harkens back to days of black/white

The 53rd Annual Grammy Awards telecast on CBS pulled out more than a few stops technically this year, using lights and camera angles in unique ways. However, the most interesting visual came during a musical segment with Elektra recording artist Bruno Mars, whose style reflects artists from the ’50s and early ’60s.

During Mars’ first number, the scene was captured with Sony HD cameras and Canon HD lenses and broadcast in pristine color. Once Mars broke into his second song, “Grenade,” the scene at home suddenly went to black and white. Viewers couldn’t adjust their sets; it was planned that way.

“We were expecting it, so there were no surprises on our end,” said Brent Stranathan, vice president of CBS broadcast distribution, which helped support the live 1080i HD broadcast.

To set the retro-inspired scene, Kenneth Shapiro, effects technical director for the Grammy Awards show, used an Abekas Dveous/MX HD digital video effects system onboard an NEP Denali truck, Summit, parked outside the Staples Center to desaturate the color of the signal going to air from the production truck and turn the full-color HD picture to black and white.

The initial idea came from Mars’ camp, so the producers set about devising a way to perform color correction within the Grass Valley Kalypso HD switcher onboard the NEP Denali truck with lead technical director John Field at the controls. After a rehearsal the day before the show, the producer determined that he wanted a more “’70s or kinescope-style” look.

So they went to Shapiro, known for creating such effects, who electronically applied a number of different keying and desaturation effects within the Dveous system and added a grain panel to layer the effect and give it a little texture. He said he made heavy use of a color-correction feature on the Dveous/MX, called retouch, and the various color control parameters within the video-processing engine of the system.

“I basically tried to take the white levels and soften them so that they appeared to bloom on screen, like the old kinescopes used to do, while still keeping the detail and definition in the black and gray areas of the frame,” Shapiro said. “It was tricky, but quite possible.”

Shapiro prebuilt the effect the day of the show on-site in Los Angeles using the rehearsal footage and a still store attached to the Dveous system to experiment with and get the desired look. He also consulted with senior video controller Keith Winikoff to make sure the scene’s levels were within the legal specs mandated by the CBS network, and the FCC.

“When you start messing with gamma controls, it can make the picture illegal, and we obviously wanted to avoid that,” Shapiro said. He also used the Dveous/MX DVE system to generate the multiple “nominee” boxes showing the actors’ reactions live as the award recipient was announced.

During the Mars segment, the key-framed black-and-white signal was sent from the Dveous system to the switcher operator, who would dissolve from the main broadcast (color) M/E bus to the Dveous effect, and then cut out of the effect (and back to color) when the Mars segment was over. The Dveous unit basically took the color out over a defined time period under control of the switcher. To the viewing audience, the effect was very smooth and didn't interfere with the overall show at all. In fact, it enhanced the broadcast.

Interestingly, during the Mars segment, the producer called down to Shapiro and asked that he dial-down the texture, which Shapiro did live on the Dveous system.

“I thought it looked authentic for the period they were asking for, so we’re all pleased,” Shapiro said. “The Abekas Dveous is very versatile and can be used in a number of creative ways.”

The crew onboard the NEP truck also used an Evertz MVP processor for the monitor wall displays, a Grass Valley Trinix (192 x160 I/O) HD router and a Calrec Alpha audio mixing console.

This year’s show was also telecast with 5.1 surround audio, using more than 150 wireless and hard-wired microphones from Audio-Technica. It was also the 14th consecutive year that the company’s microphones have been used in connection with coverage of the Grammy Awards presentation.