Whether you follow American football or not, you sure as hell always know when the Super Bowl is happening.
Appealing to music as well as sports fans, the acts performing at the notoriously elaborate half time shows usually ram so much pizzazz/attempts to stay relevant down your throat that you will inevitably hear about it: Janet Jackson’s ‘wardrobe malfunction’, anyone?
Spare a thought for the technical team and technology making these stupendous shows possible.
After Beyoncé’s much praised and technically spectacular 2013 half time performance, it transpired that so much power was used that the Mercedes-Benz Superdome suffered a power outage for more than 34 minutes after she sass-walked off the stage.
Keen to create a show that would set tongues wagging just as much, but for the right reasons, for 2015 the AV team needed media servers that could handle the scope of the production, as well as projectors and lighting systems that could be relied on to bring that all-important wow factor.
As expected, the Super Bowl XLIX proved as popular as ever, attracting an average audience of 114.4 million viewers.
Katy Perry’s 12-minute pyrotechnic extravaganza (see the end of this article) went further, hauling in 118.5 million viewers, making it the most watched half time show in the Super Bowl’s 49-year history.
Super Bowl XLIX marked lighting designer, Bob Barnhart’s (of LA-based Full Flood) 17th big game and his fifth as the primary or sole lighting designer.
“The Super Bowl is different from anything else I do,” he begins. “The halftime show had an amazing entrance and exit and a lot of different things happening in between – all in 12 minutes, stuck in the middle of the world’s largest sporting event.”
The first two-and-a-half minutes featured 600 glowing orbs, a giant lion and a moving chessboard. “That was a lot of eye candy that kept viewers wondering where it all was headed,” he grins.
“We went from end zone to end zone twice: Katy started in the north end zone, joined Lenny Kravitz and Missy Elliott in the south end zone, then went back to the north end zone for the flying rig. The show was physically very large and very ambitious in all areas – the production design team did a great job; it was quite amazing!”
Even before the halftime talent is selected, the venue sets the scene for the production and lighting design. “It all depends on what creative options the stadium offers,” he explains. “If the University of Phoenix Stadium didn’t have a roof we couldn’t have done the projection, for example. Potential weather conditions are also a factor.”
Lighting director Pete Radice controlled the 1,340-plus channel moving light system, whilst Jason Rudolph, the lighting director in charge of the video system, used an MA Lighting grandMA2 light console to control the projection and inflatable, illuminated orbs.
Bob 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 lion puppet to add some light and texture.
The Sharpy has been used in Super Bowl rigs since the fixture made its debut in the US.
“Sharpys are great for their white-hot beams; they’re really good for giving air graphics in a large-format venue,” he enthuses.
“One of coolest things about the three Clay Paky fixtures is the amount of light they generate compared to the amount of power they consume,” adds David Grill, one of the show’s lighting directors.
“Gone are the days of using vast quantities of power. Power has huge implications on a production: paying for it, acquiring/generating it, not to mention the quantity of cables required to connect a cart. With the chosen fixtures, we had 14 fixtures on a cart with only one power connection. We don’t need to plug in three cables when we’re moving fast and every second saved helps you.”
Bob points out that the halftime stage set posed a unique lighting challenge. “It was a projection surface, but it had a lot of dancers on it. I had to light them but not the surface. And when there were no dancers, I wanted to provide dynamic air graphics. I positioned the Mythos fixtures around the perimeter of the projection surface on giant rolling carts so I could light the dancers and fill the air with beams of light. I had custom gobos to use like shutters and cut off the field.”
Heavy Duty Media Servers…And Sock Puppets
The size and scope of the Super Bowl Halftime Show might seem daunting for some media servers.
However last year d3 Technologies media servers performed flawlessly at the annual Eurovision Song Contest, seen by 180 million TV viewers in 45 countries.
Knowing they were up to the task at hand, Jason used eight d3 4x4pro media servers to map the football field around the stage with content from 80 Barco projectors.
The d3 servers also sent four feeds to control the LED stage, transforming the floor from a perspective-bending chessboard to a tropical island paradise and a dynamic graphic platform for an airborne finale.
VER provided the d3 media servers, grandMA2 control consoles and all projection and LED gear.
“Super Bowl XLIX was one of the first big American shows run on our award-winning 4x4pro hardware; a very powerful platform,” states Ash Nehru, technology director at d3 Technologies. “It marked our acceptance by the American market. With Eurovision and the Super Bowl behind us it shows the industry how serious we are about handling projects of this size and complexity.”
Jason has deployed d3 media servers on various projects over the years, but thanks to the introduction of SockPuppet DMX in r.11.2 he has increased his d3 usage.
SockPuppet enables those who want to tap all d3’s mapping, playback and projection features to do so while using their preferred control surface, including most lighting consoles.
In Jason’s case that meant the grandMA2 light, his desk of choice.
“The d3 media servers were great – and there were a lot of challenges on the Super Bowl,” says Jason. “Ash was on site with us and created some custom tools that helped us pull off a show that would have been significantly harder without d3.”
d3 played a key role in the prepro process, too. Cincinnati-based Lightborne used a d3 4x4pro media server from Upstaging, Inc. in Los Angeles to previs the LED animation and projection effects it created for Katy’s performance.
Ben Nicholson, video content director for Lightborne, began using d3 in the prepro process. “I know it’s called a media server, but I see d3 as the world’s greatest simulator,” he says.
“Integrated into our workflow it gives us real-time pixel-accurate information about what our content will look like. When you can’t get to the venue until the last minute, it’s important to visualise everything before you get on site.”
Over a three-week period Lightborne mimicked the stadium inside the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena using eight projectors to map the basketball arena’s floor to scale.
“We were able to take the CAD image of the stadium and the camera plots and plug them into our 3D file and calculate all the angles,” he reflects. “We had the virtual hero camera parked in the d3 system a month ahead of time. When we arrived at the stadium for three days of rehearsals we saw how close to the actual camera we really got. We didn’t have to re-render everything to match the real camera, which was a huge time saver.”
He notes that being able to accurately plot the camera view, including set pieces from the production CAD, turned d3 into “a prepro tool for director Hamish Hamilton and the choreographers, too.
They were able to see how the audience would view the show from all angles and it clarified the whole concept of projection mapping for people who might not have known what it is.”
Back at the stadium Jason was taking advantage of d3’s QuickCal calibration feature, a tool for quickly aligning projectors on site.
QuickCal reduces the time it takes to line up a single projector to just nine minutes; a handy feature when 80 projectors are involved.
Ash devised a custom solution, enabling technicians Matt Waters and Kris Murray to realign the 80 projectors in four batches. “The second we were given control of the field we got ready to adjust the projectors,” says Jason. “We’d grab a quarter of the projectors, nudge them in a certain direction to make sure they were aligned, then grab the next quarter and align them to their companions. Matt and Kris did a heck of a job – in less than seven minutes.”
Rudolph and his team also benefited from d3’s Dynamic Blend feature, which eliminates the need to draw blending masks by hand for all the projectors in the grid. “That probably saved two full days,” Ash estimates.
Bruce Rodgers did the production design for the halftime show, Baz Halpin was creative director for Katy Perry, Lightborne designed the video content and Michael Curry Design crafted the giant lion.
J.T. Rooney of Lightborne was responsible for implementing d3 during rehearsals; Eric Marchwinski of Earlybird Design Katy Perry’s lighting programmer, ran the d3 from the grandMA2 light during rehearsals.
Zak Haywood, d3 Technologies’ technical manager, worked with Matt Waters to build the system and was the technical support lead.
ACT Lighting is the exclusive distributor of Clay Paky and MA brands in North America.