NBC Olympics sets combines vibrancy, strategic design decisions

When designing the studio spaces of the first Olympics to originate from a colorful and vibrant continent, there’s no way to avoid drawing inspiration from Rio’s architecture and Carnival — but combining that with what will look good on air and the requirements of a modern broadcast facility is a real creative mission.

“The challenge is to capture the feel without overloading the viewer,” said Bryan Higgason of HD Studio, who led the group of designers responsible for this years NBC Olympics studios in Rio.

The team took a “whirlwind” tour of Rio to see both the popular tourist attractions and some lesser known spots, prior to this years Games of the XXXI Olympiad, which marks the first time South America has hosted an Olympics.

“We talked a lot about the loose, organic nature of the art of Rio and the incredible mix of mountains, jungle and beach. At that point it was left to us to capture the essence of Rio and bring it to the studio,” explained Higgason in an interview with NewscastStudio.

One of the key points of inspiration was the city’s famous Escadaria Selarón, or Selaron steps, a set of public stairs adorned with thousands of pieces of glass mosaic, which quickly lead to a key part of the design strategy — the use of colorful tiles cut in oblong patterns.

However, the design team quickly realized that the very vibrancy that drew them to the steps could also become overwhelming to the viewer, so they opted to incorporate white and wood textures to provide breaks in the color.

Final design rendering. Courtesy of HD Studio

Final design rendering of Studio A. Courtesy of HD Studio.

“This serves two purposes. It helps organize the space visually and it elevates the importance of color in the design,” said Higgason.


The design strategy also closely integrated with the other visual elements NBC created for the games.

“Color palette and texture were a big part of this discussion. Luckily, we were on the same page from the beginning. We worked together so that our individual designs supported each other and, more importantly, enhanced NBC’s ability to tell the story,” said Higgason.

The team also had to work under the pressure of fabricating the sets in one location and shipping them for reassembly in Rio. This involved the design team working closely with blackwalnut, the fabricator, to find creative yet un-obtrusive ways to “break up” the set into smaller modules that would fit into the 14 shipping containers, various trucks and elevators the pieces would travel through before final installation.

Once reassembled, the studios were each lit by the team from The Lighting Design Group, who worked both in the studios and at the various remote locations for NBC in Rio.

All told, the team created three studios at the International Broadcasting Center and three spaces beachside at Copacabana beach.

IBC Studio A: NBC Primetime

Studio A is the primary studio for NBC’s coverage of the Olympics, providing veteran Bob Costas a home for primetime.

2016 Summer Olympic Games

Main anchor desk in Studio A. Photo courtesy of Paul Drinkwater/NBC.

The centerpiece of this studio is a small glass-toped anchor desk supported by flowing curves of Brazilian wood tones and positioned in front of what’s been dubbed the “Sugarloaf Wall.”

Echoing the shape of Sugarloaf Mountain, the surface was created using over 200 LED panels from Leyard.

“The organic shapes, textures and colors of Rio are amazing. The patterns in the stone sidewalks, the graffiti and of course nature. The beach, the mountains the flowers … there is so much to draw from. The hard part was deciding what to leave out,” notes Higgason.

Surrounding the wall, an organic band of glass mosaic tiles arches over the uniquely shaped screen before dramatically flowing downward in a cascade of greens and blues.

Surrounding this area are white bands with multicolored reveal lines — and a three-ringed header that is a sort of subtle nod to a staple of the network’s past Olympics sets — the curved front projection screen suspended from the ceiling.

The anchor area also includes a curved “walkway” of sorts that can be used for a standing anchor position with the desk moved out of the way.

2016 Summer Olympic Games


To the left of the anchor area is a one-on-one interview area, that also doubles as a standup venue, that features a pebble-shaped video wall made of 55 LED panels that draws its shape from the network’s Olympics logo. Surrounding this are warm, stripped wood tones that start thick near the base and then taper off into a header element.

The interview area’s background, meanwhile, is a pale blue with semi-translucent glass tiles fronted by the iconic Olympic rings. To the left of this, a large wave-shaped wall curved up from the floor and then neatly tucks in behind the header.

2016 Summer Olympic Games

Situated next to here is a larger interview area designed for multiple guests. This area feels lighter and airier and uses two video walls to create a backdrop featuring the cityscape of Rio, including one that’s fronted with a unique wave-shaped structure that also incorporates a display shelf.

White, backlit Olympic rings are positioned in the header, while the rich wood tones are worked in as part of a narrow header and wider side wall. The colorfulness of the mosaic tiles is incorporated through the use of a low wall behind the sofa area, a reoccurring element that appears in the various studios.

The floor of the studio is a combination of white mosaic tiles, wood banding and a glass-topped video panel created in a pebble inspired shape using over 100 LED panels.


Nearby, Studio B is the home of NBC-owned NBCSN’s coverage, and, like all of the sets HD Studio created for the Olympics, have common design threads — but with unique elements strategically incorporated.

Main anchor area in Studio B.

Main anchor area in Studio B.

The most dramatic part of Studio B is a floor to ceiling “wave wall” made from multiple reflective curved panels with integrated lighting. A raised platform lets talent stand in front of this eye-catching element.

“The movement of the waves and the lines of the mountains were a big part of the inspiration for the shapes we developed,” said Higgason.

In the far background of this area, a dramatically lit dimensional Olympic logo is visible before transitioning to a full video wall that serves as the backdrop behind the space’s anchor desk.

Atop the knee wall under the video wall are upright pieces of the colorful glass motif, which also finds its way into the large flat wall to the left of this area.


NBCSN’s space also includes an interview area with a configurable couch and two video walls. One is integrated into a white wall and topped with a dramatically tiered header while the other is inset into a wood toned wall that features a decorative ledge with various tchotchkes.

Insert studio

NBC’s setup at the IBC also included a smaller insert studio used for a variety of purposes — including online videos, “Today” and as an alternate interview area.


This smaller area incorporates the white bands found in Studio A — though narrower here and with more space for color in between, with a large video panel for topical graphics.

Copacabana Beach

Just a few miles away, NBC also has a broadcast facility at Copacabana beach, used primarily for Ryan Seacrest’s after hours show.


Final design rendering of Copacabana Beach studio. Courtesy of HD Studio.

There, NBC has a studio space inside the broadcast tower that features dramatic views of the beach framed by a dramatically curving ribbon that starts out in the header, curves downward to cover part of the tower’s structural support and then gently folds into the floor.

The strip is mostly white and adorned with the Olympic rings, but does also include some wood accents, adding a bit or warmth to the space.

An anchor desk with swirling white bands mirrors the texture of the rippled wall to one side. Colored accent lighting livens up this large span of wall — which is a result of the narrower spaces of the broadcast towers.

This studio is perhaps the best example of a more modernist look that the design team discovered on their tour of Rio.

“Rio also has a lot of clean modern architecture. The combination of modern architecture and the strong, organic lines of Rio’s natural environment is really exciting,” said Higganson.

Also inside the broadcast tower is a smaller space for Telemundo that includes a windowed wall overlooking the beach as well as clean white finishes.

2016 Summer Olympic Games

Wide view of beach setup. Courtesy of Paul Drinkwater/NBC.

Downstairs, meanwhile, NBC created an outdoor terrace space that mixes the view with a live audience.

This more informal space includes colorful benches, glass and metal railings and internally lit upright tubes, along with various plants.

Colorful graphics wrap the space with a podium and small interview table for secondary locations.

This secondary location marks the first time in 24 years NBC has left the IBC for main coverage of events.

Project Credits

NBC Olympics:

Mike Sheehan, Coordinating Director – Olympics
Atila Ozkaplan, Sr. Director, Technical Logistics and Project Manager – Scenic, Lighting & Technology Integration

Scenic Design by HD Studio:

Owner and Principal Designer – Bryan Higgason
Designers – Paul Benson & Sid Wichienkuer

Scenic Fabrication and Installation by blackwalnut:

Managing Partners – Jacob Gendelman & Mike Van Dusen
Project Managers – Lee Martindell & Frank Bradley
Lead Installers/Supervision On Site – Konrad Majchrzak, Jason Smith & Adam Lam

Lighting by The Lighting Design Group:

Senior Lighting Designer – Steve Brill
Production Manager – Sheryl Wisniewski
Venues Lighting Designer – Paul Lohr
Senior Venues Gaffer – John Reynolds
Studio 1 Lighting Designer – Dan Kelley
Studio 1 Gaffer – Michael Mustica
Studio 1 Board Op – Shaheem Litchmore
Studio 1 Floor Electrician – Ross Blitz

Studio 2 Lighting Director – Tim Stephenson
Studio 2 Lighting Director – Daytime – Anna Jones
Studio 2 Gaffer – Evan Purcell
Studio 2 Gaffer 2 – Eric Kasprisin
Studio 2 Board Op – Avery Lincoln
Studio 2 Board Op – Christina Lenic
Studio 2 Floor Electrician – Carl Skovgaard

Beach Studio Lighting Director – Geoff Amoral (NBC Staff)
Beach Studio Lighting Designer – Niel Galen
Beach Studio Gaffer 2 – Greg Goff
Beach Studio Gaffer – Sean Linehan
Beach Studio Electrician – Kevin Kirkpatrick
Beach Studio Electrician – John Osmond
Beach Studio Electrician – Enrique Castillo

Technology provided by Leyard

Technology Integration provided by Greg Gerner, Inc.