With Help From NEP, WWE Goes All Out for ‘WrestleMania’

By Carolyn Braff

The wrestling world converges in Houston this weekend for the 25th edition of WrestleMania, World Wrestling Entertainment’s largest show of the year, and NEP is on hand to help turn Reliant Stadium from a football venue into a WWE environment.

WWE VP of Event Technical Operations Duncan Leslie arrived in Houston a week before the show to begin supervising the floating of thousands of lights and the setup of five large video screens, thousands of pyrotechnic air bursts, an 80-ft. by 40-ft. logo star, a raised stage, and a large ramp into the Houston Texans’ home stadium. NEP’s fleet of television trucks arrived four days later to add another layer to the logistical challenges.

“We’re basically trying to transform a football stadium into a WWE presentation,” Leslie says. “In tandem to the nuts and bolts, we’ve been loading in steel and meat racks for the lights and putting TV components in and around all the other assets.”

Those components include cabling for 16 cameras — “with 40 or 50 different drops because a lot of these cameras will reposition from one drop to another,” Leslie explains — as well as two jibs, a Steadicam, several handhelds, and an HD robotic camera. The entire show will air in 1080i HD.

The audio component of the show is repurposed for nearly 50 international outlets, which requires an extensive audio setup.

“We capture hundreds of channels of audio groupings so that, when we edit, we can pull all the audio we need from different camera angles,” Leslie says. “We have a standard complement of Calrec gear in the truck for mixing, stereo shotgun mics on the handhelds, mics under the ring, ambient 360-deg. mics for crowd, a whole slew of RF stick mics. We are extremely audio-intensive.”

WWE produces all of its graphics internally and sends them to the truck via satellite, where they are played out using an HD Avid Deko. Seven EVS servers are on hand in NEP’s Red and Black unit, which is essentially a modified twin truck, and NEP ST 23 will provide cable support. NEP custom-built Red and Black HD in January 2008, and WWE has been using the trucks for 50 weeks out of the year ever since.

“We worked with not only their tech people but also their crew to customize each area of the truck for their comfort,” says Glen Levine, VP of engineering for NEP. “Unlike all of our other large twins, we built this truck so that the only room that’s separate is audio. In the main truck, you have production, videotape, video transmission, and the tech manager’s area. The truck was built to be as user-friendly as possible.”

Although WrestleMania is undoubtedly WWE’s biggest show, the production crew does so much television throughout the year that adding a few extra cameras and EVS servers to the truck for this weekend’s show does not push them too far out of their comfort zone. What is a challenge, however, is timing and sizing.

“I think the hardest part of putting the show together is the scope: everything is larger,” Leslie explains. “The show is an hour longer than a normal broadcast. We time everything to the second, and an entrance that would normally take 15 seconds takes 50 seconds. It’s a larger venue so finding the appropriate camera positions is more challenging, since our directors have many more camera choices.”