WCCO, the CBS owned station in Minneapolis/St. Paul contacted FX Design Group to create the new studio environments for their Plaza Studio and their Nicollet Studio. The goal of the design was to take advantage of the unique architecture of Minneapolis and to recall the feel of sister CBS stations, while creating two functional spaces for their newscasts and shows. In addition there was strong interest for the set backgrounds to be visually changeable through use of lighting, animation and various colors, for different newscasts or special event coverage – so versatility was also key to the design.
The overall design is a study of contrasts: vibrant, internally lit surfaces and LED panel curtains alternating with warm, textural materials that create contrast and visual interest. The set elements are interspersed with various video elements – LED video tiles and monitor arrays, including two zero bezel monitor arrays and a large monitor array imitating the look of windows onto the Plaza.
The design utilizes elements never before used in FX news station designs – LED Video Curtains, Christie LED Video Microtiles, and textural walls we developed called Stack Walls and Weave Walls. The design team also strived to emulate the architectural elements of the area – inspired by the Mill City Museum – whose façade marries historical elements such as I-beams and exposed stone, with modern elements such as metal and glass The look and feel of the local architecture carries over into the set’s surfaces, materials and elements, including frosted Plexiglas, slate, faux I-beams and brushed metal.
The Anchor set walls consist of multi-layered scenic and technology elements and are fronted by a sleek, multi-functional desk – designed for a standing height or tall chairs, which rests on a platform extending forward to allow a guest to sit opposite the anchors for interview segments. The desk is a vibrant focal point of internally-lit milk Plexiglas with five Christie MicroTiles (LED video cubes) creating a curved video ribbon across the front.
Multiple layers of frosted Plexiglas and louvered panels that can be open or closed are positioned in front of Wision LED Video curtains. These versatile walls comprise the Camera Left and Camera Right walls, giving the one-shots a variable look, as the Video Curtains can change color and pattern depending on what video is fed into them. The Center Wall features the “Window Wall” – an array of six monitors (three stacks of 2 monitors) that is angled forward, with the monitor bezels creating the look of window mullions. The monitors can be fed with a video image of the Plaza – completing the “window” illusion. The wall is broken up by I-beam columns and interspersed with slate accents, recalling the Mill City Museum. The sculptural element known as Stack Wall appears in the Anchor Area and throughout the set for textural contrast.
The Stand-Up Area continues the I-beam, stone and Stack Wall look, with both a Vertical Monitor and an eye-catching monitor array on a cart comprised of four 60 inch ultra-thin-bezel monitors for story-telling and presentation. The Weather Area is a working weather center with a functional Weather Pod mirroring the internally lit look of the Anchor Desk, where the meteorologist can use to both work and to present. Another unique textural feature – the Weave Wall – creates both texture and an eye-catching lighting opportunity as the woven panels are backlit. The Interview Area showcases an exterior window with a view to the street. Additional Stack Wall elements create framing and texture. Internally lit and brushed metal elements, as well as custom-made sofa sectionals mounted on a platform, complete the sophisticated yet warm and inviting look.
Moving to the Nicollet Studio – it is essentially a scaled down version of the main Plaza Studio set, with only an Anchor Area and a Stand Up Area, used as an alternate venue for newscasts. The Stand-Up Area includes an 80 inch Touchscreen for presentation. This Nicollet Studio was the original WCCO studio, but its small size necessitated using the Plaza Studio for much of WCCO’s newscast programming.
Viewer reaction to the new studio sets has been very positive. In addition, the new environment has created excitement amongst the staff and given the team two great studio venues to present local news to the Minneapolis/St. Paul market.