in Production Profile
When the clock ticked down to 00:00 at the end of the first half of Super Bowl XLVII, more than 700 people began a well-choreographed and meticulously rehearsed process to get the Pepsi Super Bowl XLVII Halftime Show onto the field. In under eight-minutes, the field was transformed into a fully realized concert spectacular. Beyoncé, along with a reunion of Destiny’s Child, entertained the 75,000+ football fans in the stadium and over 108 million people watching worldwide. Twelve minutes later, the field was just as quickly cleared and the game resumed. (Okay, for only a short time before an unscheduled break, but that is not our industry’s story to tell.)
Executive producer Ricky Kirshner of RK Productions reassembled the all-star creative team from the last four years including director Hamish Hamilton, production designer Bruce Rodgers of Tribe, Inc., and lighting designer Al Gurdon. Helping to realize the visually stunning designs for the lighting, video, and stage, the creative team tapped Full Flood, PRG and Arc Light Efx for lighting; All Access Staging & Productions for staging; VER and Mobius Productions for video; and Strictly FX for pyro and lasers.
This year’s production design meant moving 41 carts onto the field. No easy feat, especially in the Superdome, where that means entering right down the center so you have to carefully avoid hitting the goalpost or else the game is suspended and they call in an authorized agent who can re-certify the goalpost before the game can resume. All Access Staging & Productions, returning for a third consecutive year, was selected to build the stage for the Halftime show. They needed to figure out how best to dice it up into pieces, put it on wheels, and reassemble it, really, really quickly. Coordinating with Rodgers and his team from Tribe, All Access worked with all of the production vendors to make sure that the lighting, video, and special effects were all integrated into and onto the stage and field carts so the show load-in and performance would go off flawlessly.
Rodgers’ stage design was comprised of an up and downstage area along a central spine, which was shaped on either side to be profiles of Beyoncé’s face. There were two circular wings that also created runways on either side surrounding two pits that held 1,000 fans during the show. The negative spaces of the fan areas completed the facial profiles. Helping define the stage design were LED puck lights, pyrotechnic effects, lighting units, and a video floor—a portion of which rose up to a standing video wall. There were also three lifts in the stage for performers to appear from below.
Being veterans of the ultimate gridiron gig, All Access has some of the elements ready to roll, with a blend of stock and custom elements including specially designed turf tires and a unique way to piece together stage elements, which debuted this year. “One of the big issues is, with each cart meeting up and docking, in making sure the floor seam is flush,” notes Erik Eastland, president and co-owner of All Access. “There’s just no time to deal with leveling on the field. So we came up with a tongue and groove design for all carts with a triangular shape of UHMW [Ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene]. It was simple, old-fashioned technology but you just have to find the right way to do it. That was really one of the best things that came out of this year’s show. It sounds silly, but it’s huge, especially if you have to dance on that stage.”
Once the carts are together, the next concern is making sure the technical elements are connected and working. Eastland points out, “As the Super Bowl events become loaded up with more technology—pyrotechnics and all sorts of effects—the loads are much heavier as well as the rapid deployment connections of everything. You can imagine as we go around the set—all the connections that have to be made: lighting, audio, fans, pyrotechnics, as well as our elements like the lifts. Plus you have to do it all with the considerations of the NFL in mind, like you can’t use hydraulics on the field.” Since there’s a ban on hydraulics, All Access went with an old-school counterweight approach for the toaster pop-up lifts for Rowland’s and Williams’ entrance from below the downstage area. Beyoncé was revealed at the top of the show on a brand new lift. He comments, “We debuted a new lift called the X-Lift, a single-mast star lift that goes from stage level to roughly 16 feet above stage. It’s super-strong and super-sturdy, much more so than the previous ribbon lifts that have been used.”
Another moving element that took careful planning was the section of the video stage floor that rose up to form a video wall behind the performance. The entire video floor measured 24 feet deep by 32 feet wide and spanned three carts. The rear 8 feet of the video floor was hinged, but because they’re not allowed to use hydraulics, All Access had to come up with an alternative method of automation. “The most challenging element to me would be the flip-up video wall,” Eastland explains. “It was very heavy, and without hydraulics, you’re dependent on gears and motors and power. If it wouldn’t come down after being put up, the show is destroyed. We were tilting up 6,500 pounds; that cart was really heavy. We used a 10hp electric motor with a rack and pinion system. We had redundancy for the power and the control system in case the drivers went down; and a winch system if it went down, where we could actually release shafts and get it down safely. The other two video carts, which weighed in at 7,000-8,000 pounds, were just static video floor.”
Eastland feels that his company and team understand the mindset needed to be successful working on the Super Bowl Halftime show. “If there is anything that All Access stands for it’s de-engineering as much as possible. That is why we really fit well with this show. In the end though, I just had to sit in the stadium and watch them bring it all together. It was nail-biting. I timed the load-in at 7:47 and the out took about nine-minutes. …and no one hit a goal post.”
Back for his fourth Super Bowl, LD Al Gurdon created strong backlight looks to underscore Beyoncé’s high-energy performance. Mixing strong aerial beam work and controlled keylighting with strobes and lightning flashes, along with just enough haze and smoke, Gurdon’s lighting mixed well with the large amount of pyrotechnics and special effects for a very dynamic show. Lighting director/programmer Michael “Oz” Owen, lighting director/gaffer Rich Gorrod, lead gaffer Tony Ward and project manager Robb Minnotte worked closely with Gurdon to realize the design and solve the challenges unique to the Super Bowl production. PRG supported Gurdon and his team by providing the complete lighting package and lighting crew for the Halftime show.
The team worked at PRG’s previsualization suite in the company’s East Molesey, U.K. office, starting the programming, planning, and system layout early. Using CAST’s wysiwyg, Owen programmed using the PRG V676 Lighting Control Console, which was his console of choice for the fast-paced live event. “I would say that 90 percent of it was programmed virtually,” points out Owen. “After doing pre-programming in London, we went to New York and set up our wysiwyg system where Beyoncé was rehearsing. We then took the set up to New Orleans.” Owen also used a new program, Moving Light Assistant, from programmer Andrew Voller, to move data into the V676. He notes, “One of its features allows us to import the 3D locations of all lamps from CAD into 3D layouts in my console. The 3D in the V676 is a really useful tool. I can try out a lot of the effewcts and chases in realistic 3D. I also prefer the effects system of the V676, which takes custom-made groups and applies them to sequences of presets. With a show that is ultimately very tight to time and the tempos are very regular, I like to program all of that with realtime parameters so I can very precisely time things to the tempos of the music. With so much data flying about, the V676 was again rock-solid with absolutely no problems at all and as always, PRG gave us good support.”
Since working in the Superdome required data runs exceeding 1,000 feet from the FOH control position to the numerous lighting locations, Gorrod laid out the power and data networks using the PRG Series 400 Power and Data Distribution System. The team ran DMX over Art-Net along fiber optic cable running a main and back-up fiber lines between locations. “We took full advantage of the S400 system,” comments Gorrod. “It allows us to cut down on the optos we need to boost signal for the data, reduces failure points and cuts way back on the amount of cable needed.” Thirty-eight total streams of Art-Net were sent around to the various lighting positions; just for the stage alone, there were 10 streams of Art-Net.
Gurdon’s design called for more than 1,000 lights, including 160 Clay Paky Sharpys as well as a mix of Robe Robin 600 LEDWash lights, Philips Vari-Lite VL3500 Wash, VL3500 Wash FX, and VL3500 Spot units, Philips Color Kinetics RGB ColorBlasts, iW ColorBlasts, Chroma-Q Color Block 2 LEDs, Martin Professional Atomic Strobes with Atomic Colors and three Hungaroflash lightning strobes. Arc Light Efx supplied the followspots for the show. The followspot package included 16 Strong Gladiator III spots and one of the new Brite Box, Inc. Flame long throw spot for keylighting Beyoncé. During the Halftime show, lighting programmer Pete Radice handled control of the smoke and fans that were a part of the lighting package on an ETC Expression console.
A major component of the lighting design was the two strong walls of beams created with two rows of Clay Paky Sharpys. The row from above was truss flown in at 80 feet with 80 units on it all lined up precisely and a second truss on the sideline that had 80 more units. Ward and his team created the permanent lighting position on the sideline behind the stage with 12”x12” Thomas truss that held the Sharpys along with VL3500 Wash FX units and Atomic Strobes/Colors. The position meant that the team didn’t need to get the lights onto carts to be pushed and bumped out of focus during setup. Owen explains that in the case of the Sharpys, this was a very good thing. “We’re able to get a good manual pre-focus on them; to get all of the beams parallel and get them all nicely tightened down.”
There was also a horseshoe truss hung above the field with a mix of VL3500 Wash and VL3500 Wash FX units for washes and lighting the audience as well as VL3500 Spot units for keying the stage. “The 3500 Spots were used as keylights in groups,” comments Owen. “We had groups at the sides; groups diagonally from the front three-quarters; and another group in the middle. This was all quite steep and a minimum of 180 feet away from the stage, so we had to do a lot of shuttering in order for Al to key each position. Around the stadium on two different levels were [Chroma Q] Color Block 2s, which were great because each color is resolved within the LED itself so you don’t see the separate red, green, and blue LEDs.”
The impactful lighting supported the overall production design and matched the excitement of the performance itself. “Although it’s only 12-minutes long, with the number of ideas that go into it, it’s effectively a two-hour concert in 12-minutes,” Owen says.
Breathe Editing, led by Andy Jennison, worked directly with Beyoncé to create and supply the content for the video floor/wall made of WinVision 9.75mm covered with Plexiglas. Video programmer Jason Rudolph of Mobius Productions worked with the video imagery driven from a dual-output Hippotizer HD media server controlled via an MA Lighting grandMA 2 console. “This year, the video elements were pretty simplified, compared to past years,” comments Rudolph. “We basically had the floor and the section that rose up to create a video wall. We also had the LED pucks—a WinVision product called Adecco, an RGB pixel on a string—which outlined the face profiles.”
The LED pucks were a factor in Rudolph’s decisions about how best to handle the video system, he says. “I didn’t control the LED pucks. I actually just helped facilitate it so that Oz, the lighting programmer, could control those off his V676 lighting console. We used a custom piece of software that a partner and I created called FlexNode. It works like a reverse pixel-mapper. It basically takes Art-Net from the console into the software running on a Mac Mini then it goes out DVI, which we send over fiber down to the field to control RGB values of specific pixels. Every three pucks were effectively one channel on the lighting console. When you’re dealing with single rows of pixels, you can attempt to make content for it, but it normally doesn’t come out as you expect, and is never as precise as what you can achieve via a console writing chases and using effects.”
Since Oz and not Rudolph would be controlling the pucks, he switched over to going direct DVI over fiber. Normally on a production like this, they would go HD-SDI, as it is an easier, more robust signal to deal with especially in terms of transmission. “Once we had to have these LED pucks integrated and controlled on Oz’s console, I knew that if we had to convert the signal to HD-SDI to get it down to the field and then convert back to DVI to get to the processor of the product, we would be adding frames of latency,” explains Rudolph. The LED pucks would never match up to the rest of Oz’s lights in cueing if we used HD-SDI. We pretty quickly decided to go DVI over fiber so we had minimal latency. The first time that he ran it, and we checked it at rehearsal, the pucks and the Robin LED lights were pretty much behaving almost within a frame of each other. That’s as good as you can get basically.”
Video supplier VER provided video technicians and all of the video gear; Mobius provided the Hippotizers. The Halftime show was a good opportunity for Rudolph to take advantage of a new feature on the Hippos that he likes—an internal timecode card. “It’s a really good feature to have and I’ve been using it reliably for the last six months. The servers themselves lock to timecode so you don’t have to worry about a console missing a trigger,” Rudolph describes. “There’s also a flywheel function so once it gets code, it locks to it, but if it ever drops, it continues to generate timecode internally so clips continue to play. Overall this year, everything went as expected; yeah, there were last minute changes but there always are. For my part it was a very uneventful year at the Super Bowl.”
Although Strictly FX was the rookie on the team this year for the Halftime show, they played multiple positions — covering pyro, effects and lasers.
One of the many memorable effects was also the spectacular defining image of the design, a 50-foot-tall burning silhouette of Beyoncé. The piece, known as “Pyro Girl,” was originally envisioned with propane flames, but morphed into a flame and spark device that featured 178 charges, a combination of a flare as well as a high output ice fountain. Next FX, the vendor that created the charges for Strictly FX, worked on it for a month to get it to where it produced minimal smoke, as there had been problems at past shows with smoke not dissipating in time for the third quarter.
Artistically, it was paired with four liquid propane Venom Cannons shooting massive 30-foot flames upstage. There were also flame projectors—and a lot of them on the stage. “We had 50 on each side and they were about a foot apart,” says partner Mark Grega, who headed up the Strictly FX team. “The duration of that effect was about five seconds. When you’re shooting a 50-foot distance and every foot is a flame projector, it’s an incredible amount of heat, and it’s duration heat. By the last few days of rehearsals, the flooring on a couple of set carts was not doing too well, so we cut back shooting certain ones at rehearsals to avoid the need to replacing the flooring.”
For the Halftime show, Grega’s team shot 178 pieces for Pyro Girl; 100 pieces for the opening flame chase, and 80 Comets. All of the comets were nitrocellulose based, which is a new product from Ultratec Special Effects. The two little gerbs on the guitar gag for “Crazy in Love” were the only two standard pyro effects that weren’t a low smoke product. FireOne was the main firing system. Strictly FX also provided CO2 jets, flame effects, propane effects, haze, low fog, smoke machines, and lasers, which were used at the very end of the show for “Halo,” when the “hair” was deployed. Air DD designed two large fabric systems with fans to create flowing hair off the stage faces.
“It was incredibly challenging, and there was a learning curve on this one, but everyone was so collaborative,” Grega concludes. “I think that it’s one of those things that you don’t know what it’s like until you do it. That feeling that we all have in this industry—it’s about the show. All the hard work, all the setup time, all the emails; all that doesn’t mean anything until you get to that moment and the lights go out and the show starts. For us on this one, that was certainly the payoff.”
Lighting Companies: PRG, Full Flood, Arc Light Efx
Staging/Scenic Companies: All Access Staging & ?Productions, Tribe Inc.
Video Companies: VER, Mobius Productions
Special Effects, Pyro, Lasers: Strictly FX
Production Designer: Bruce Rodgers
Lighting Designer: Al Gurdon
Lighting Directors/Programmers: Michael “Oz” Owen, Rich Gorrod, Bob Barnhart, Dave Grill, Peter Radice
Lighting Technicians: PRG: Robb Minnotte, Matt Geneczko, Jeff Anderson; Arc Light Efx: Greg Smith, Quinn Smith, Ron Stellpflue; Broadcast: Tony Ward, Paul Bell, Jr., Brian ?McKinnon, Keith Berkes, Jose David Serralles; Followspots: Joe Faretta, Dean Brown, Tim Altman, George Sennefelder
Video: Graham Buttrey, Jason Rudolph, Mike Spencer, Luke Pilato, Dave Osesky, Rod Silhanek, Michael Shaw, Jason Baker, Matthew Waters, David Imlau, Andy Jennison, Kenny Pedini
Staging/Scenic Design: All Access: Erik Eastland, Timothy Fallon, Jr., Roger Cabot, Fidel Garza, Thomas Keane, Julio Rocha, Kyle Durate, Mike Ohsann, Chris Bergtrorm, Bryan Yax, Brett Walker, Greyfin Eastland, Adam Duckett, Jeff Hass; Tribe Inc: Douglas Cook, Sean Dougall, Amber Stinebrink, Maria Garcia, Seth Easter, Shelley Rodgers, Lindsey Breslauer
Special Effects, Pyrotechnics, Lasers: Mark Grega, John Lyons, Eric Gorleski, Scott Allen, David Kennedy, Richard Brisson, Matt Schlager, Tony Alaimo, Adam Biscow, Ron Bleggi, Wes Fiske, Robert Ehrlich, Brook Bloomquist, Shane Johnson
Production Team: Ricky Kirshner, Hamish Hamilton, Rob Paine, Augie Max Vargas, Brad Duns, Amanda McDonough, Shelby Sundling, Tony Hauser, Cap Spence, Kristen “KP” Terry
Rigging: Steve Thomas, Joel Magarian, David Hernandez, Marc Knowles, Thomas Booth, Lyle Centola
2 PRG V676 consoles
1 Leprecon LP-624 console
160 Clay Paky Sharpys
104 Vari*Lite VL3500 Washes
37 Vari*Lite VL3500 Wash FXs
33 Vari*Lite VL3500 Spots
52 Robe Robin 600 LEDWashes
298 Chroma-Q Color Block 2s
272 Philips Color Kinetics ColorBlasts
37 Philips Color Kinetics iW ColorBlasts
56 Philips Color Kinetics iCove RGBs
51 Martin Atomic Strobes w/ Scrollers
3 Hungaroflash Lightning Strobe
16 Strong Gladiator III 4kW followspots
2 Brite Box Flame Long Throw followspots
1,466 WinVision Adecco LED Pucks
192 WinVision 9.75mm? LED video modules
2 Hippotizer HD dual output? media servers
20 Reel EFX DF-50 Diffusion hazers
12 HES F100 and Look Solutions? Viper fog machines
10 Jem ZR33 Hi-Mass? smoke machines w/fans
24 Reel EFX RE 2 Turbo Fan? (Beyoncé’s Hair)
24 LEX Products Slim Dimmer Plus? units