WWE’s WrestleMania is often referred to as “The Greatest Spectacle in Sports” — and when you take a look at everything that goes into making the show happen, you can definitely see why. From the elaborate costumes to the performances and even the larger-than-life set design, WrestleMania represents the pinnacle of everything wrestling has to offer. While 2020’s shows were muted thanks to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s show is looking to re-establish WWE’s dominance in the wrestling arena.
We don’t know exactly what this year’s set-up will look like, and there are still questions of safety in the time of COVID-19, but that’s part of the fun of WrestleMania. You don’t know what it’ll look like until the show actually kicks off. (Online commentators have made a sport of trying to sneak early glimpses of the sets.)
This year marks the return of WrestleMania to a real-life arena after a year of quarantined sets and fans live on computer monitors. We do know there’s going to be some pirate theming around this year’s stage but for the most part, it’s still a major mystery.
Whatever the outcome, it’s sure to be as spectacular and grand as in years past.
That’s thanks to the work of Jason Robinson, WWE’s veteran set and production designer.
He’s been with the company since 1995, and has been responsible for the design work of WrestleMania since 1998. If you watched wrestling as a kid or you’re a recent devotee, it’s likely you’ve seen his work on your TV screen. But as one of the unsung heroes of WrestleMania, he doesn’t often get the chance to shine.
Luckily, in the lead-up to the big show, WWE is finally giving his work the spotlight it deserves. While we weren’t able to chat with Robinson one-on-one, a recent media kit has given him a chance to share more about his creative process and where WrestleMania‘s inspirations come from.
“Star Wars was a big influence for me, the unique shapes and the bright lights and the colours,” Robison explained in a press release provided to Kotaku Australia. “One of my favourite colour schemes that I use was inspired by Empire Strikes Back, the deep blues, purples, and orange backgrounds during the lightsaber duel between Luke and Darth. That’s one of my favourite colour combinations.”
Robinson also cited the MTV Music Awards, Metallica concerts and tours, and other Sci-Fi films as his primary inspirations for creating WrestleMania’s sets. According to Robinson, SmackDown‘s daily set was actually inspired by spaceship drawings, and features a forced perspective designed to draw eyes to the centre of the stage.
While the wrestlers are typically the stars of the show, and the ones that draw crowds, it’s really the set work behind the scenes that helps WWE create the atmosphere around its shows. These designs lend a distinct personality to each pay-per-view, with WrestleMania leading the pack with its sense of grandeur. (A lot of SmackDown‘s early attitude was also helped by the iconic “ruthless aggression” fist set.)
For Robinson, the creative process behind creating each unique WrestleMania set-up begins around September or October. It starts with a general site survey of each stadium to see what features he and the team can take advantage of. From there, he begins sketches ideas and starts working on the overall theming.
“If I like an idea, I’ll actually start drawing it in more detail on the computer but there are a lot that get rolled up and thrown away as I’m looking for that big ‘aha ’moment,” Robinson explained. “When I get that ‘aha’ moment, it is time to go pitch it and say: ‘Hey, I’ve got a cool idea.’ If Kevin Dunn [Executive Producer, WWE] says: ‘Yep, that’s a cool idea, go for it,’ then I’m off. As soon as I know that I’m in the right direction, that’s where the work becomes really fun.”
From there, it becomes a major process of experimentation as new ideas are workshopped, including how lighting works and how the team will fabricate the set. It’s a process that takes months, but Robinson says it’s always rewarding work:
“My favourite part of the whole design process is the night before WrestleMania, when it’s all quiet, we’ve taken months and months to design and fabricate the set. I’ve done many site surveys and hours of planning. It’s 1 a.m. in the morning, all the rehearsals are complete, the stadium is quiet. The lighting guys still have all the lights on and the programming is finished, and we get to quietly look around at the final design before going on air the next day.
That’s my favourite moment. I get a second just to look at it before it all turns crazy.”
The “crazy” Robinson refers to is an intense week filled with rehearsals, lighting directing, co-ordinating props, overseeing every moving part of the show — and racking up 30,000 steps in the process.
That’s what’s awaiting Robinson as he prepares for this weekend’s WrestleMania 37, which is set to be the biggest show WWE has pulled off since 2019.
While Robinson remains tight-lipped about what fans can expect when the show kicks off on Sunday, his excitement is clear.
“We’re going in there to do something different,” he explained in the release. “I don’t think it matters whether fans are seeing it again after the SuperBowl or for the first time with WWE, they are going to love what they see.”
WrestleMania 37 is set to kick off on Sunday, April 11 and will continue with night two on Monday, April 12. You can find out where to watch the show in Australia here.