As millions of television viewers watched Friday evening’s opening ceremony of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, some lower Hudson Valley fans were especially focused on the NBC studio sets.
Yep the sets. Forget about the snowboarding, arctic skiing and figure skating — at least for right now.
The elaborate television broadcast staging areas — one measuring 3,600-square-feet and another 1,800-square -feet, filled with LED-filled columns, electronics and giant digital graphics — were built by a Valley Cottage set fabrication company. And after spending at least eight months focused on creating the sets, it is understandable that it would be hard not to look at the swirling lights and responsive electronic features almost exclusively.
These sets took three to four months to actually build in the 44,000-square-foot workspace of Blackwalnut. Its owners Jacob Gendelman and Mike Van Dusen describe the 11-year-old company as a creative technical design and fabrication firm that provides broadcast sets for media companies.
“This is a huge profile job for us and an exciting prospect to be part of the NBC production,” said Van Dusen,
“And then there is the thrill of getting involved with the Olympics. As an old softie I never fail to be moved by working with the Olympics.”
For eight months, a design, project management and build team comprised of carpenters, draftsmen, electricians, laminate and finishing specialists, painters, welders and 3D technicians worked on the technical drawings and construction of the sets from the company’s Rockland-based fabrication facility.
Gendelman explains that the studio is a large set with small sit-down interview nooks and numerous additional places for “stand-up” reports.
In November, the completed sets were taken apart and loaded onto nine shipping containers bound for Sochi, Russia.
Blackwalnut’s team, on assignment in Russia, re-assembled them inside the International Broadcast Center within the Olympic Village. Van Dusen recalls spending Thanksgiving in Russia where it was quite cold. And now a handful of crew remains in case there are any issues with the sets during the Olympics.
More than five tons of acrylic went into the construction of the sets and to bring a winter-like atmosphere to the NBC-TV studios. The sets were clad in aluminum and steel, in addition to faux brick and high-end flooring and wall finishes.
This is the third Olympic set that Blackwalnut has built. They did them for CTV’s coverage of the Vancouver and London games.
Blackwalnut has built studio sets for NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, Fox News, Fox Sports, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report, Al Jazeera America and Telemundo, New York. These sets can cost from a few thousand to millions of dollars depending on the specific attributes of each production.
Blackwalnut isn’t the only lower Hudson Valley craftsman working on the Olympic set.
Michael Cammarota of Sleepy Hollow who runs Wide Graphics Inc., fabricated the digital graphics used in the sets. These are large and bold, and some consist of wavy patterns on columns as well as the backdrop photos of scenes.
“We figure out what materials will be best for the look they want and then we produce those images in a digital form,” said Cammarota, who is deep into work on the graphic displays for the upcoming Fashion Week in New York City.
He had planned to watch the Olympics for the design and the winter sports.
The Blackwalnut partners will be catching the sports action and reports as well.
“We will be watching. But we tend to miss some of the coverage of the athletics,” said Gendelman.
“We tend to watch with a different eye,” added Van Dusen.
“Yeah, you probably don’t want to watch the Olympics with us. We are focused on the sets,” added Gendelman.