SuperBowl XLIX Half Time Show
Super Bowl XLIX saw the New England Patriots hang on for a narrow and dramatic win over the Seattle Seahawks, bringing the title back to the six-state region for the first time since 2005. An astonishing 114 million viewers tuned in to watch the game and, as in many of the years preceding it, talk soon turned to the Super Bowl’s eminently extravagant halftime show. TPi reports on the technology behind the production, where live sports meet live music...
With an unrivalled legacy of exuberance and excess, the Super Bowl Halftime Show has featured memorable performances from Madonna, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, James Brown and Michael Jackson, and while bird flipping and boob slipping may have clouded the memory of recent years, this year’s show redirected attention back to the main event in one of most intricate and entertaining routines in the game’s history.
The Super Bowl took place on 1 February 2015 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, where Katy Perry took to the stage during the halftime break in gleefully flamboyant form, delivering a faultless performance flanked by Lenny Kravitz, Missy Elliott and a menagerie of dancing beach balls. Totally in keeping with the show’s kitschy aesthetic, this multifaceted medley was kept in check by Perry’s choreographers Nick Florez and RJ Durell, whose job it was to harmonise the performance around the 12 minutes of animated, projected and LED content which would form the basis of her set.
The content was projected onto a huge circular surface more than 160ft in diameter, which intermittently transformed the floor from perspective-altering chessboard to tropical island paradise. On hand to deliver the content was Ohio-based production company Lightborne, which was tasked with providing innovative visual solutions for Perry’s demanding routine. “When the project was awarded we moved into hyper drive,” explained Lightborne President, Scott Durban. “We began the process of developing style frames and storyboarding each song in the medley. We perfected the look, feel and flow of the show before moving on to the actual production.”
Prior to the contract being awarded in November 2014, Lightborne had been working with Perry’s Creative Director, Baz Halpin on concepts and style frames for each of the songs that she would perform. “It was a really exciting challenge to find the correct visual style for this segment of the show,” explained Durban, who was aware that the visual content would have to accurately reflect the playful and energetic spirit of Perry’s performance.
Lightborne worked in conjunction with Halpin, as well as Executive Producer Ricky Kirshner, Director Hamish Hamilton and Show Designer Bruce Rogers to create imagery that could be projected onto the dance floor, which meant that the visuals would need to be precisely synchronised with the songs. Additionally, Lightborne was also responsible for designing and animating the giant 3D chessboard which served as the backdrop for Perry’s chess piece dancers, who were all meticulously choreographed by Florez and Durrell. The creation of this virtual environment also allowed for extensive rehearsal, which ensured efficient use of the production’s time and budgetary resources.
Lightborne relied heavily on a d3 Technologies projector simulation to run through the entire 12 minutes of content. Perry’s Lighting Designer, Jason Rudolph was able to map the football field around the stage, using eight d3 4×4pro media servers, with the d3 servers sending out four feeds to control the LED stage, providing a dynamic graphic platform for Perry’s airborne final.
In addition to the d3 Technologies media servers, VER provided an MA Lighting grandMA2 console, as well as all of the necessary projection and LED gear. Rudolph commented: “The servers allowed us to load in all the physical dimensions of the performance - the venue, the stage, the projection screens, props, set dressing, even virtual performers, and recreate the entire performance in three dimensions. There were a lot of challenges on the Super Bowl and the d3 servers held up excellently.”
Rudolph, who also manned a grandMA2 Light for video projection and orb control, added: “The grandMA2 Light is my console of choice. It always performs excellently and the Super Bowl was no exception.”
This year’s show marked a considerable anniversary for Bob Barnhart of Full Flood Lighting, who returned to the Super Bowl for his 17th consecutive year and his fifth as the show’s primary Lighting Designer.
“The halftime show has an amazing entrance and exit and a lot of different things happening in between,” commented Barnhart. “The first 2.5 minutes alone featured 600 glowing orbs, a giant lion and the moving chessboard.” Barnhart, who selected a large array of Clay Paky Sharpy, Mythos and A.leda B-EYE K20 fixtures for the show, was more than familiar with the immense scale of the project and knew that versatile lighting fixtures were a central concern: “Sharpys are great for their white-hot beams; they’re really good for giving air graphics in a large-format venue, whereas I knew right away that the Mythos’ versatility could be very useful to me.”
Barnhart positioned 140 Sharpys on the upstage side of the 400-level rail and the south end zone rail and deployed several on a cart behind the show’s giant tessellated lion puppet, to add some light and texture behind the creature as it moved through the dark. Barnhart, who was introduced to Clay Paky’s new Mythos hybrid fixture at a demo at A.C.T Lighting’s LA office, chose to position the Mythos fixtures around the perimeter of the projection surface on giant rolling carts, to illuminate the dancers and fill the air with beams of light.
In addition to the Clay Paky fixtures, Barnhart hand-picked 12 of the new X4 Bar 20 from GLP, as well as 16 large format impression X4 XL, which features an impressive 55 x 15W LEDs.
GLP’s US President, Mark Ravenhill recalled his early conversations with the LD when he introduced the new X4 Bar 20, GLP’s new zooming and tilting batten unit: “Bob was looking for something new for the upstage portion of one of the stages - a low profile fixture that would add an extra dynamic - and this seemed the perfect solution.”
Due to the X4 XL’s large aperture, Barnhart was not only able to achieve a different aesthetic, but by using the pixel patterns that the unit produces in a number of segments, he was able to add a whole new dimension to the show’s design.
Barnhart remembered: “It was about two weeks before we loaded in when Mark made them available to me and showed me some videos. This was certainly something new in terms of a strip light, particularly with the tilt option, and I knew it would enable us to produce some very different effects. We had a good spot lined up for the Bar, although we relocated the X4 XL’s to the band stages, where we placed them on the risers to help outline the bands.”
On the back of the Super Bowl show’s phenomenal success, Barnhart enthused about the merits of the X4 Bar and was in no doubt that he would add them to his tool-box on many of his future shows: “I look forward to using them again,” Barnhart said, “and hopefully in some new and exciting configurations!”
Ayrton were the LED fixtures of choice for Barnhart, for whom the new, compact MagicRing-R1 and NandoBeam-S6 played a significant role in enhancing the overall effect of the show’s considerable lighting design: “I used the MagicRings on the band carts to give some energy and movement to the background,” said Barnhart. “While the NandoBeams were perfect in providing an additional layer of effects and eye candy.”
A total of 12 Ayrton MagicRing-R1 beam projection fixtures were incorporated into the band carts and 10 Ayrton NandoBeam-S6 beam / wash fixtures were rigged on a truss positioned directly upstage from the stage that Lenny Kravitz and Missy Elliott were performing on.
Roaring, losing control and finally getting her freak on, Perry delivered her eclectic set list with the help of ATK Audio, who backed her up with robust and uncompromising sound reinforcement. Deploying its custom-designed, cart-based audio system, equipped with Harman’s JBL Vertec line array loudspeakers, ATK furnished the halftime show in style, with the addition of pre-game performances of The Star-Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful from world-renowned artists Idina Menzel and John Legend.
For the event, ATK Audiotek provided 18 carts, each loaded with four Vertec large-format line array loudspeakers and two Vertec dual 18-inch subwoofers. “We rely on JBL for the Super Bowl because it is a tried-and-true solution,” noted Kirk Powell, Engineer in Charge for ATK Audiotek. “Vertec provides very predictable results even when we are in challenging environments and [FOH Engineer] Pat Baltzell is comfortable with the system.”
Because of the inclement weather in Glendale in the days leading up to the Super Bowl, the roof on the University of Phoenix Stadium remained closed, which made rehearsals a challenge since the roof on game day was open, leading to different acoustical conditions.
At the end of the day, the reliability of the Vertec loudspeakers enabled ATK Audiotek to provide an unforgettable experience for the live audience of more than 70,000.
Lenny Kravitz’s contribution - electric accompaniment to Katy’s performance of I Kissed A Girl - was delivered through an Audio-Technica Artist Elite 5000 Series Wireless with an AEW-T6100a hypercardioid dynamic handheld microphone / transmitter.
“I feel that the audio design more than lived up to the high standard ATK has set on previous Super Bowls,” commented Kirk Powell. “This is an amazing event to be part of. So much happens in such a short period of time that when it sounds as good as it did, I feel really proud of what the entire production, cast and crew were able to do. I’m really looking forward to topping the show this time next year!”
“The special effects portion of the production was remarkably flexible,” explained Mark Grega of Strictly FX. “We made changes on Super Bowl Sunday, because of the camera shots. We tried to maximise the best shot that the Director, Hamish Hamilton, was going to take and the best effect at that moment.”
From a design standpoint, the camera was a critical player in the halftime performance: “With Perry’s songs, she had a lot of great cues. Normally we take every cue, but in the Super Bowl Halftime Show, we don’t have that luxury. There are certain moments that are dedicated to camera shots, and on those camera shots, there’s no point in doing an effect if it’s not going to be on camera, so we tend to design around those camera shots to maximise the exposure,” said Grega.
Grega also had to consider the venue itself, since the field had to be cleared of any smoke approximately six minutes after the finale. “We went into the University of Phoenix Stadium in December and did a full demonstration of what we were proposing to shoot with the roof open and with the roof closed. At that time, we found it was somewhat acceptable amount of smoke, and we decided that we would put more of the resources on the roof to make the show bigger outside,” he added.
The team with Grega on the field were also a critical part of the production. “This time, we had a lot of veterans on the show since this is our third year, but we also had a couple of new guys, and it was a great crew. Everyone stepped up,” he noted. The crew included Programmer / Field Operator Adam Biscow, Rooftop Crew Chief / Resident Cowboy Ron Bleggi, Rooftop Pyro Operator John Lyons and Effects Carpenters Brock Blakely and Dave Gauthier. “Year after year, Mark and his team bring not only their considerable effects expertise to the Super Bowl Halftime, but they also bring a positive attitude,” concluded Production Designer, Bruce Rodgers. “And that is exactly what you need on a high profile, high stress show like this one!”
FLYING WITHOUT WINGS
A team of three Foy Flying Directors, from the company’s Las Vegas office and led by Joe McGeough, began the load in on 18 January 2015, followed by an extensive rehearsal period up until 31 January.
The flying rig was a multi-point Inter-Related Pendulum system using three Pegasus DW-V4 7.5kW winches capable of lifting up to 150 kg at up to 2.5m per second, with 100-metres of lift capability each. The system used synthetic 4.7mm Tech-12 for the system wires and 20 custom fabricated pulleys to divert the flying wires from the winches to Perry’s flying location.
A 3D flight path was generated by Aereographer prior to rehearsals. Aereographer is Foy Flying’s first 3D design tool to help map out and show all the dynamic moves beforehand, which was particularly useful for showing Perry and the creative team exactly what’s going to happen during the routine, whilst allowing McGeough and his team to make any changes quickly, which was particularly useful considering the show’s tight rehearsal schedules.
All Access Staging Productions were tasked with designing the large oval projection screen, which was laid out over the field and all around the stage. Given the scale of the show’s lighting design, this also entailed the production of a series of custom lighting carts to facilitate the large 100ft by 150ft staging area.
“The mainstay of the production was a complete LED video floor, which included all the surrounding stairways,” explained All Access President, Erik Eastland. “These were a challenge to put together as we had to go up and down a 60ft ramp from the concrete to the portable field. The low clearance was unavoidable because we had to make sure there were no imaging gaps from the projection to the video stage and it was very delicate to work with.”
“For the runway and the Missy Elliott stage, standard carts were used, but the drop-down-angled facias were all hinge activated. We inflated the VER Blades into the Missy stage edge.” All Access also supplied the turf tire system for the Lion puppet.
Photos: Rob Carr, Getty Images, Brad Duns