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Super Bowl Halftime Show: One Year in 12 Minutes

PLSN Staff • Features • March 11, 2017

LD Bob Barnhart on the Long Path to Lighting the Super Bowl Halftime Show

Super Bowl LI took place in Houston on Feb. 5, 2017, and while the world will never really know if the halftime show’s patriotic themes gave the team from New England the edge they needed for their come-from-behind second half victory, the general consensus was that the show itself was a marvel.

Lady Gaga was credited for an impressive performance. Photo by Brad Duns

Packed with spectacle, including the first big televised event to feature a large-scale formation of LED-equipped drones, it retained its sharp focus on the star of the show, and its superb execution was something that everyone involved could take pride in.

Most remarkable, perhaps, was how the performance managed to win favor from both sides of a politically divided audience. Seen by 117.5 million viewers in its initial broadcast, and eventually viewed on all platforms by some 150 million viewers, the NFL deemed it the most-viewed U.S. musical event in history.

Strictly FX was in effect everywhere. Photo by Brad Duns

Months of Preparation

The 2017 event marked the 19th year lighting designer Bob Barnhart of 22 Degrees Entertainment Design Group has lit the Halftime Show. An extensive amount of time goes into pre-planning for the 12-minute spectacle, as PLSN discovered, speaking with the multiple Emmy award winning Barnhart, while he finished final focus on yet another production.

“Each year is unique,” says Barnhart. He and the team at Touchdown Entertainment begin looking at each year’s chosen stadium venue in early April, long before a concept is created or artist chosen, “to see what the building will bring us,” says Barnhart. Of prime importance to the NFL is discovering lighting positions that will not obstruct the viewer’s enjoyment of the game.

This year, even though Houston’s NRG Stadium has a massive roof with incredible weight capacity, the NFL wanted the option to keep it open, since it is a retractable roof. With that essential bit of information in hand, “we knew there would be no overhead rigging, so with that we kicked around ideas internally about what technology we want to use and how we would approach implementing those ideas.”

2 Gaga lands after appearing to jump off the roof. Photo by Brad Duns

Once Lady Gaga was chosen as the artist, the next real productive stage occurred, and “a vibe for where and what direction to go” developed between the artist, her longtime production designer LeRoy Bennett, and Bruce Rodgers of Tribe Inc. Bennett and Rodgers shared production design credits for the Super Bowl LI halftime show, entrusting Barnhart with fixture choices and other key design decisions.

Barnhart notes that production design renderings give him the “first indication of where a mood or a moment is heading,” as envisioned by Lady Gaga, Roy and Bruce. “I then of course take that as great guidance to see how I will achieve that moment, and create the lighting plot as I see fit,” choosing fixtures that will allow for diverse looks, but also fit into one united lighting design.

“Roy and I have known each other for quite some time,” Bob says, noting how Bennett’s trust makes “the process easy for us — from a good communication standpoint, I let Roy know where I am placing lights in the stadium and which fixtures will populate the scenery. Roy is an experienced-enough designer that I do not need to justify the type of light or why I am doing it. He understands my intentions.”

Rows of Claypaky Sharpys and Mythos provide beams. Photo by Brad Duns

The Details

PLSN pressed Barnhart for details.

“Very high up in the stadium, I have trusses with a mixture of PRG Best Boy HP Spots and VL 4K BeamWash [fixtures]. I chose the Best Boys for their shuttering capability, and they have a very good long throw of distance on them. I needed to be able to backlight the main dance stage with good color and handle the big dance moments. I also needed shuttering lights to pick up scenery.”

These fixtures were placed on trusses upstage, downstage and in the four corners over the end zones. Barnhart also had a tool chest at his disposal in terms of positions to help with whatever he might be trying to pull off, enabling him to use the Vari-Lite VL4000 Beam Wash fixtures to light the crowd of spectators at certain times.

Two rails in the stadium were equipped with an array of Claypaky Sharpys. These lights bolt to the front of the concrete fascia on the 400 and 300 levels. They are small enough to not block seats — a big priority for the NFL. Barnhart adds that the Sharpy’s nice hot beam helped as well. “That gives me great width and scale for a show of this size.”

4 Tribe designed all the scenic elements. Photo by Brad Duns

Barnhart’s design also filled the field trusses, which are right up against the upstage wall, with Claypaky Mythos fixtures. “These give me scale and a lot of energetic dynamics in the background for close-ups,” he says. “That is where I get most of my tempo on the head-to-toe or closer shots for the dancers and Gaga.”

Closer to the stage, Barnhart deployed 12 of the new VL6000 Beam fixtures from Philips Vari-Lite. These intelligent fixtures, based on the old-style beam projector, are loaded with the modern technology of gobos, color, pan and tilt. “We put these on the upstage pyrotechnic truss just to get a bigger beam and a different level of dynamics.”

The 30-foot-high towers provided by All Access Staging, which rolled into position at upstage positions left and right, primarily held the GLP GT-1 Spot fixture and the Ayrton MagicPanel-FX.

“I chose two completely different types of lights for this location on purpose,” says Barnhart. “The GLPs give me a very dynamic beam, while the other [the MagicPanel-FX] has LED capability of flickering and imaging. It also has a really cool zoom-to-spot offering and just a totally different face-of-light on camera.”

5 Gaga perched on one of Bruce Rodger's set pieces. Photo by Brad Duns

Inside the stage deck, all the graphic lines were created by a combination of GLP impression X4 Bar 10’s and 20’s. Barnhart peppered the rest of the scenery pieces with Sharpys and 5000 feet of LED tape from Elation’s Acclaim Lighting division.

He also placed over 200 Chauvet COLORDash fixtures on the scenery and towers. “I used the Chauvets as strobes, so we could turn all of the scenery off in a darker moment and just create sparkle all over the field,” he notes.

The “piano look,” making use of a rolling staircase leading up to a dome, also provided by All Access, included 81 Ayrton MagicDot-XTs, “which was a Bruce Rodgers design overall. In the middle of the ball of MagicDots, we placed one [Ayrton] CosmoPix-R, acting as another nucleus to the entire ball.”

Aytron MagicDots and GlowMotion torches surround the piano. Photo by Brad Duns

All the speaker carts also had GLP GT-1’s placed around them which, when seen from the overhead shot, produced another oval of lights.

Barnhart will admittedly overstock in order to claim as much real estate as possible, to help avoid boxing himself in later. “For example, I have to acquire all followspot positions that I want by October, even though I may not use all those positions, so I will give some back at the first of January, allowing the NFL enough time to still fill the seats.”

He ultimately settled upon a combination of 16 long- and medium-throw Arc Light Efx Brite Box followspots for Gaga.

Super Bowl LI Halftime Show photo by Brad Duns

“I also have a system that I refer to as a “long throw soft light system,” which uses a series of Best Boys from downstage. Sometimes, I will blend them with my key light; other times they are the key light. This creates a nice, soft look, almost like a photo shoot, for those moments when she is looking directly downstage and I don’t want her in a followspot.”

During the show, as Barnhart sat in the truck beside show director Hamish Hamilton, calling followspot cues, his lighting directors ran the show on two separate consoles, a PRG V676 and a grandMA2, inside the stadium. The V676 drove the moving lights, Solaris Flares, COLORDashes and LED tape while the grandMA2 controlled the pixel-mapped GLP X4 Bar 10s and 20s along with the Glow Motion battens used on the field.

Super Bowl LI halftime photo by Intel, showing logo of Pepsi, sponsor of the haltime show.

About Those Drones

“Gaga has a relatively small team in the creative world,” said Barnhart. “When the teams first met in September, Gaga told us she would love to find technology that blows peoples mind; something the audience didn’t necessarily understand how it happened, but is beautiful.”

For several years, Barnhart has been interested in trying to find a way to use drone technology in a choreographed fashion, and wanted to be among the first to do so. One of his programmers, Jason Rudolph, who is heavily involved with organizing robotic completions for colleges, knew Bob had been searching for an answer.

Super Bowl LI halftime show photo of drone formation by Intel

“He showed me the Intel 500 drone YouTube program, and I thought, maybe we have a shot at this,” Bob says. After the creative team at Touchdown reviewed the link, executive producer Ricky Kirshner gave him the go-ahead to reach out and see what could be done. Barnhart, after a barrage of emails to Intel, finally hit upon the right person to talk with about his proposal.

“Looking back on that call to Anil [Nanduri], the head of the Intel drone program, I realize how funny it must have sounded,” recalls Barnhart. “I told him, ‘I have a TV show shooting in February. I cannot offer much money, but I can offer a lot of exposure.’ He asked me, ‘What’s a lot?’ ‘Maybe like 110 million television sets,’ I say. I hear a ‘Hmm…’ on the other end of the line. ‘What show are you talking about,’ he asks. ‘The Super Bowl Halftime,’ I tell him.”

“Well! We have to do that!” Anil told Barnhart. Though the company is not really in the business to market itself for television shows, they were anxious to show off the work the two brothers Tobias and Daniel Gurden had created.

“When I came back to show Gaga the drone video in November, I told her I think we found it. I felt that, in being able to bring this technology to her, it was a great example of two creative teams coming together and finding what she was looking for,” Barnhart adds.

“Roy, as her overall production design consultant, is a face of comfort for Lady Gaga,” he continues. “Anytime an artist performs on the platform of a show this large, they want to look around to see some familiar faces. The artist is more at ease knowing someone close has their best interests at heart. Of course, we all have that intention, but it simply does not compare with the years of familiarity Roy has with her.”

8 All Access provided the staging and custom fabrication. Photo by Brad Duns

After all, Lady Gaga was about to make the greatest entrance on a stage in her career.

“It is a long, long painful story from there to the point of setting up an American flag behind Lady Gaga,” says Barnhart. “It proved to be a very difficult, and a technically monumental achievement. Luckily, we did not know that going in, or it probably never would have been attempted. It was quite an experience and education just to pull the whole thing off, as seen on TV. This being our show opener, which did not fully come together until the 11th hour, was really wearing on me. Not to mention, I had another eleven and a half minutes to light.” (For more on the drones component of the show, see sidebar, page 43.)

Super Bowl LI Halftime Show photo by Brad Duns

An Elaborate Set Design

TV in itself is always on a tight schedule. Practically everything creatively is done on site, by necessity, and needs to be accomplished quickly. The halftime show makes this exponentially harder. “Only half of the time we have the field is actually useful to me. Without question though, the physical scenic elements on the field probably are the most difficult part of the show. “

“The amount of scenery this year was more than we have ever had in the 19 years I have been doing this,” says Barnhart. All Access made it look seamless, as if they do this every day. The custom set carts came in quickly and safely, and the crew was extremely efficient, making a fast exit from the field.

“The unique aspect to the Halftime Show is that not all the elements can be brought together until almost the final hours. There is not a rehearsal studio, anywhere that can accommodate the full stage setup. Likewise, you can’t get 1,200 people with hand torches inside Gaga’s rehearsal site in L.A.”

Barnhart is referring to the cast members on the field around the stage carrying the torches — actually LED battens — created by Glow Motion. The custom devices were DMX controllable, which allowed board operator Jason Rudolph control from his grandMA2. “K.P. Terry, our field choreographer, did a fantastic job of choreographing what could be done with them by virtually creating another version of a three dimensional light.”

For the closing song, “Million Reasons,” Terry took Barnhart’s idea of wanting to create “veins of light” from the stage to the audience by choreographing the cast in snake like patterns towards the stands, whereupon 72,000 cell phone flashlights lit up to create the epic last look. “I still don’t know how she does it,” Barnhart says of Terry and her company, Tall Order Productions, even though the two have worked together on 19 years of Halftime shows.

72,000 cell phones added to the finale. Photo by Brad Duns

A 12.5 Minute Sprint

“The hardest thing about this show is, I am never comfortable until they hand me the ball by saying, ‘The whole system’s working; it’s yours,’” Barnhart adds. “The next words I hear are, ‘We are live in 5, 4, 3, 2’ …and twelve and a half minutes later, it’s over!

“I’m so busy wrangling 16 followspots, making sure she stays lit right, that when people ask me, ‘How was the show?’ I honestly have to say I have no idea,” Barnhart says. “It’s just the oddest show to work on,”

Super Bowl LI drones flew in flag formation. Photo by Intel.

Lady Gaga Shares Halftime Show’s TV Spotlight with 300 Intel Drones

During the Pepsi Zero Sugar Super Bowl LI Halftime Show, Intel collaborated with the NFL, Pepsi and Lady Gaga to create a unique drone light show experience to kick off her performance. Three hundred Intel Shooting Star drones lit up the sky in a choreographed aerial performance, marking the first-ever drone integration during a televised event and a Super Bowl.

Intel had first used the drones to flash their company logo and create other looks with 100 LED-carrying drones flying in formation during the Vivid Sydney light festival in June 2016. The company has also featured 500-drone formations, wowing holiday spectators at Walt Disney World’s Disney Springs shopping, dining and entertainment complex in Florida late last year.

Intel’s Shooting Star drones are compact in size — measuring only about one foot by one foot, according to reports. Made from bendable plastic and foam for low flying weight and also safety, they weigh in at only a bit over eight ounces. But they’re able to carry onboard LEDs and fly them in a dizzying multitude of formations, flashing a spectacular variety of colors and programmable lighting effects — weather permitting, of course.

To eliminate the possibility that severe winds could have served as a flying drone show-stopper, Intel’s drone show seen on TV was pre-taped and broadcast as the lead-in to Lady Gaga’s live show. TV viewers could see a show that included the drones in a backdrop of colorful formations in the sky — twinkling stars that transformed into red and blue moving stars and a representation of the American flag. Visuals showing the drones forming the logo of Halftime show sponsor Pepsi was then seen at the Halftime Show’s conclusion.

After the Pepsi Zero Sugar live show was over, Intel also ran a 10-second spot featuring their drones in a design that morphed from the Pepsi logo into the Intel logo.

“Lady Gaga and the Super Bowl creative team wanted to pull off something that had never been done before, and we were able to combine Intel drone innovation with her artistry to pull off a truly unique experience,” said Josh Walden, senior vice president and general manager, New Technology Group, Intel.

“The potential for these light show drones is endless, and we hope this experience inspires other creatives, artists and innovators to really think about how they can incorporate drone technology in new ways that have yet to even be thought of,” Walden added.

Super Bowl LI Halftime Show photo by Brad Duns

The Sjuper Bowl LI Halftime Show

Crew

  • Executive Producer: Ricky Kirshner
  • Director: Hamish Hamilton
  • Production Designer: Bruce Rodgers/Tribe Inc.
  • Co-Production Designer: Roy Bennett
  • Lighting Designer: Bob Barnhart/22 Degrees
  • Lighting Co: PRG
  • Lighting Directors: Pete Radice, David Grill, Jason Rudolph
  • Assistant Lighting Director: Megan Seibel
  • Gaffer: Tony Ward
  • Best Boys: David Serralles, Keith Berkes, Dean Brown, Joe Faretta, George Clayton
  • Techs: Robb Minnotte, Lead Tech; Matt Geneczko, Jeff Anderson, Techs; Chris Conti, Network Designer; Alex Ward, Fiber Tech
  • Spot Ops: Tim Altman, George Sennerfelder, John Washburton, Lead Spot Ops; Quinn Smith, Lead Spot Tech
  • Staging/Sets/Fabrication: All Access Staging & Productions
  • All Access Crew: Erik Eastland, Manufacturing Design; Tommy Rose, Project Manager; Tim Fallon, AA Staging Supervisor; Fidel Garza, Automation Technician & Fabrication Lead; Roger Cabot, Head Carp
  • Staging Techs: Kyle Duarte, Jesus Arroyo, Arturo Martinez, Jeff Haas, Anthony Pozos, Micky Dymond, Julio Rocha
  • LED Techs: Zack Eastland, Blake Chandler
  • Video Co: VER
  • Media Servers: Jason Rudolph, Operator; Tim Nauss, Tech
  • Video Crew: Gary Madura, Luke Pilato, Rod Silhanek, Michael Spencer
  • Pyro/Effects: Strictly FX
  • Drones Co: Intel/Anil Nanduri
  • Drones Crew: Daniel Gurden, Lead Technical Engineer; Tobias Gurden, Programmer; Natalie Cheung, GM of Drone Light Shows; Madeline Ong, Project Manager; Clay Coleman, Drones Pilot in Command; Tobi Lang, Hardware Engineer
  • IATSE Crew: Local 51 (28)


Gear

  • 1         PRG V676 Lighting Console
  • 1         MA Lighting grandMA2 Console
  • 72      Philips Vari-Lite VL4000 BeamWashes
  • 12      Philips Vari-Lite VL6000 Beams
  • 96      PRG Best Boy HP Spots
  • 60      GLP impression GT-1 fixtures
  • 170    GLP impression X4 Bar 20s
  • 14      GLP impression X4 Bar 10s
  • 126    Claypaky Sharpys
  • 56      Claypaky Mythos
  • 81      Ayrton MagicDot-XT fixtures
  • 40      Ayrton MagicPanel-FX fixtures
  • 1         Ayrton CosmoPix-R fixture
  • 46      TMB Solaris Flares
  • 50      Chauvet COLORDash Accents
  • 50      Chauvet COLORDash Accent Quads
  • 60      ADJ Micro Wash RGBW Mini Pars
  • 15      Arc Light Efx Brite Box followspots (8 medium throw, 7 long throw)
  • 300    Intel Shooting Star Drones (for pre-taped segment)
  • 5,000’   Acclaim Flex Spectrum exterior LED tape
  • 1,200    Glow Motion hand held LED battens

 

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