NBC’s Beijing Olympics studios step out of the cold with inviting feel

The look of the Winter Olympics is often filled with references to snow and ice — but when it came time to design NBC’s studio sets for the Beijing 2022 Games, the team at HD Studio opted to create the feeling of a luxury ski resort.

“The design concept developed is one of a sprawling luxury ski resort providing multiple spaces available for broadcast use by NBC. These spaces have been ‘moved into’ by NBC making use of the existing furnishings and décor,” said Bryan Higgason of HD Studio.

Studio A, the first of two located inside the International Broadcast Centre, is a sprawling space with a cathedral ceiling created using faux rafters reaching to the lighting grid.

One of the biggest focal points is a wall of “windows” created with 1.8mm pixel pitch TVF Series panels from Planar that typically showcase a wintery scene full of snow-covered trees. All told, the installation is 13 feet tall at its apex and 40 feet wide with over 200 total LED panels in Studio A.

This array is divided with a series of strong, vertical support beams and then crisscrossed in a diamond pattern formed by a series of two thinner diagonal elements that serve as mullions on the windows.

In front of the LED windows is a riser that allows this space to be used for standups and an adjoining staircase with thick open risers that suggest more spaces beyond, noted Higgason. 

Behind the riser are vertical tracking wall segments with integrated LED panels, the center of which has the Olympic ring logo, that can slide into multiple configurations in front of the window, giving NBC producers multiple ways to illustrate stories.

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The segments can be spaced out evenly or have two connected together with another one slightly separated, giving the network the opportunity, for example, to showcase an event icon camera left of talent with the two right panels showcasing an athlete photo and name graphic side by side. 

When not being used, the panels can slide behind the scenery or be parked to the far side of the window wall, taking on the look of an integrated, structural pillar.

Another option for this wall is a rectangular anchor desk that mixes diamond-shaped elements and openings. Internally lit cubes, one of which features the NBC peacock atop the Olympic rings, along with a variety of patterns in the wood finish give the desk depth, which can also be split into two segments.

Matching desks have also been created for NBC Sports’ studios in Stamford, CT, where much of the coverage is originating. 

On either side of the primary focal point are a variety of lodge-inspired seated areas that feature a fireplace, built-in wall display units and a variety of warm, inviting furnishings that can be reconfigured for interviews, standups and other shots with Mike Tirico. 

An alternate desk with a circular top appears to be mounted over a natural wood stump with a live edge that’s visible through the glass. 

HD Studio carefully curated every piece in the space — with emphasis put on color, texture and comfort, to give the studio a modern take on comfort without becoming cool or sterile on-air.

Many of the furnishings have a mid-century style to them, though other styles can also be found in the space but often share similar shapes and textures to tie everything together visually.

In fact, the idea was to “provide the viewer a place to gather with friends, have a warm drink and reflect on the adventures of the day,” Higgason noted.

Overall, the space has subtle Asian influences but was designed to avoid being a more in-your-face (and perhaps stereotypical) Chinese-inspired design — which is a common approach used in NBC’s scenery for past winter Games. Summer Olympics, however, often have a more vibrant and culturally inspired look, such as the bonsai and Japanese toy-inspired elements NBC used in the delayed 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

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To lend a sense of luxury and grand scale of the space, HD Studio installed two “snowflake” chandeliers down the center of the studio.

The space includes a fireplace, with red, white and blue goalie masks mounted above to create an American flag-themed art installation. The space also includes a large wall with “USA” lettering that can be autographed by athletes who visit the studio. 

Other decorative elements include backlit screens in a variety of geometric patterns, references to the event pictograms and sporting gear strategically placed throughout the space.

The angles found in the window wall are echoed in the bold geometric area rugs found on either side of the central space. One side features an all triangular pattern in light and dark blues, off whites and a goldenrod shade, while the opposite side uses a matching color scheme but incorporates squares, rectangles and circles as well as triangular elements.

For areas not covered by carpeting, faux wood flooring has been installed using angled patterns with straight boards subtly breaking up the arrangement. 

In its first outings out air, NBC has been showcasing the flexibility and scale of the space, shooting in studio talent and guests from a variety of angles that often include clusters of furnishings and scenery at various depths, something that’s showcased with push ins that often start wide and slowly zoom in tighter. 

Rendering of the Studio A design. Courtesy of HD Studio.

This blocking allows viewers to not only soak in all of the texture and warmth of the space but also become more familiar with the space — and almost feel as though they could step right into it.

Studio B, meanwhile, is outfitted with a lighter, brighter take on the ski lodge motif — and is meant to be viewed as another room within the same fictional building created in the backstory. 

It too features a large simulated window with angled elements.

Rendering of the Studio B design. Courtesy of HD Studio.

The finishes in this area are largely lighter, including off whites and gray walls and beams in a rustic, weathered finish. The walls angle inward slightly, creating a space that manages to feel both open and cozy at the same time, reminiscent of an A-frame cabin. This coziness is well suited for the studio’s primary purpose of hosting one-on-one interviews.

One wall serves as open display shelves thanks to horizontal slats, while the opposite side features a space cut out to reveal a blacked-out opening that houses a large video panel mounted inside of a bright tubular frame. 

Here too is a collection of furnishings that are a bit more bold and clean than those in Studio A, but dramatic reds blended with whites and off-whites along with the blues in the simulated window view and on set sporting gear creates another nod to the American flag.

As with most things these days, HD Studio had to work around coronavirus restrictions to deliver this year’s Olympic studios.

“We had a realistic expectation of what we would be able to source locally after dealing with the COVID restrictions in Tokyo,” said Higgason.

The team used the advantage of having advance notice to strategize what materials, in addition to the set, would need to be shipped from the fabricator to IBC.

Blackwalnut, which built the set, also had to work within the strict COVID-19 policies in place in Beijing. Much of this meant restrictions on how many workers could be in NBC’s space at any given time.

The installation team had at least five fewer crew members than would be typical during all or most of the process, though extra time was built into the schedule to account for this restriction.

There was also coordination between NBC’s technical team, who frequently needed access to the space in order to ensure it was linked up to the various control rooms and technical infrastructure inside the IBC. 

“It’s really been a test for the whole group and everyone has approached this challenge with a great attitude and are willing to jump in and help make the production happen regardless of their role,” said Higgason.

Originally, NBC and HD Studio had been considering placing studio facilities in the mountains or closer to the national stadium, but ultimately the decision was made to keep the core broadcast spaces confined to the IBC. 

In the end, this decision ended up being crucial in allowing NBC to keep personnel back in the U.S. More studio space spread out over larger regions would have required more on-the-ground staffing to keep everything running. 

Along with the two studios in Beijing, HD Studio also updated NBC’s Stamford spaces with matching elements and also created a temporary structure for NBC News to use at Rockefeller Center.

Project Credits

NBC Olympics
Mike Sheehan, Coordinating Director, Olympics
Atila Ozkaplan, VP Production Operations – Olympics
Dave Barton, Senior Art Director
Lillian Cereghino, Director, Production Operations & Olympic Engineering Coordination

Set Design – HD Studio
Owner & Principal Designer – Bryan Higgason
Designers – Paul Benson & Sid Wichienkuer

Lighting Design – The Lighting Design Group

Fabrication – Blackwalnut

AV Integration – Greg Gerner Inc.

Display Technology – Planar

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