Carrie Underwood and a Digital Cast of Thousands Kick Off the NFL Season for NBC
After six seasons, Faith Hill opted out and Carrie Underwood was chosen to sing the musical introduction to NBC’s NFL Sunday Night Football (SNF). A new intro video was created and shot with Underwood’s take on the theme song to kick off each week’s prime time game. It premiered Sunday, Sept. 8, before the Dallas Cowboys hosted the New York Giants.
Veteran LD Benoit Richard (George Michael, Matchbox Twenty, YES, Dream Theater) was the lighting designer, programmer and operator for the “live concert” portion of the shoot. Live concert is in quotes, because although the video shows a packed stadium full of fans cheering on the country star amidst lasers, pyro, video screens and towers of moving lights, only a small fraction of the extras that appear in the production were actually filmed on a set for the project.
Morpheus Lights and Hollywood Rentals supplied the theatrical, film and TV equipment for the video intro, which was produced for NBC Sports by New York-based Bodega Studios.
PLSN caught up with Benoit Richard to talk about designing a semi-virtual production with a real lighting rig and a considerable amount of digital magic.
PLSN: How did you get the gig?
Benoit Richard: A mutual friend introduced me to Chuck Ozeas, the director of photography. Chuck suggested that I collaborate with production designer Evan Rohde to achieve a “stadium concert look” for the intro to Sunday Night Football.
Where did the video shoot take place?
We shot the intro at Raleigh Studios
Playa Vista, which is near Los Angeles
International Airport, at the end of June. The hangars are famous — that’s where Howard Hughes built the Spruce Goose! The space we were in has a 50-foot trim height, with a permanent truss mother grid that’s more than 700 feet long by 100 feet wide. I was very familiar with this location after spending much time there last year working on the film, Star Trek Into Darkness.
What action happens in the intro?
Carrie Underwood arrives in town on her tour bus. She enters the “stadium,” goes to her dressing room, then walks to the stage and performs an incredible version of the classic Joan Jett-inspired theme song, “Waiting All Day For Sunday Night.” And she just crushes it!
How were the NFL players in the intro shot?
They were shot the day before our video shoot with Carrie. The shooting crew borrowed some of our Martin MAC Vipers and ColorBlasts to match the lighting vibe of our concert look. They used elevated platforms and green screen backgrounds. With some post-production magic, the players appear to be standing on those giant video cubes.
Much of the intro was CGI, right?
Yes, the pyro, lasers, video screens and the stadium full of fans were all done in post production by the visual effects company. It’s all CGI. Our elements of the intro were shot to be placed in a virtual space. Amazing, considering how the finished product looks so real.
We shot the concert setup with black drapes — 26,000 square feet supplied by Hollywood Rentals — wrapping the inside of the hangar. We only had 150 extras for the fan scenes in the stadium. When we shot the crowd plates, the extras would be shuffled farther and farther away from the stage on every take, so what you see is a combination of real people and a CGI crowd. The visual effects team did an amazing job to make it look like there are thousands of people in the stadium.
The visual effects crew even added “virtual moving lights” under the video monoliths that float above the stage. You can’t tell what type of fixtures those are — they just have a universal black moving light shape to them.
Back to the real world: You were the first LD in the U.S. to spec Ayrton’s MagicPanel LED fixture. Why did you choose an unknown-to-you product?
As this year marks Carrie Underwood’s big debut on SNF, we thought the stage look would benefit from having a new lighting product to coincide with having a new artist performing the theme song.
My concept was to have the MagicPanel arrays look like “TV sports lights” that you see in NFL football stadiums. Our production designer Evan Rohde came up with the idea of vertical “candy cane” trusses behind the stage, and I added the MagicPanel fixtures in four 3x3 square truss arrays that were picked up by eight Tour Lift variable speed hoists from Show Distribution.
These fixtures are the showpiece of our concert look. The MagicPanels are so bright and can accomplish wild moves with continuous pan and tilt and pixel mapping, but we were concerned about upstaging Carrie’s performance, and we made sure that did not happen. I am happy with the way the product was featured in the final edit.
Describe some of your other lighting choices.
I used the Martin MAC Viper Profiles in next year’s film, The Amazing Spiderman 2, so I paired them with [Vari*Lite] VL3500 Wash FX to create big breakups. I also used six Zap Little Big Lites to uplight the MagicPanel towers. We needed truss toners everywhere, so we used Chauvet COLORado Tri-Tour LED Pars in the circle trusses and inside the vertical towers. Then on the face of the verticals, it’s a mix of Atomic strobes, 4-Lite Molefays (with full CTB frames) and Color
Kinetics’ ColorBlast TRX.
What challenges did you face?
We only had two full days to set up the rig and program the song. It was a tight schedule to put together a huge concert rig in that amount of time. The challenge was to use our programming time wisely.
So because of this huge time constraint, I decided against doing any pixel mapping and controlled the MagicPanels on their highest profile, which is 160 channels per fixture! We used 12 universes to feed DMX to the 36 MagicPanels — one universe for every three fixtures equals three universes per 3x3 array).
Combined with the power of the Road Hog’s Effect
Engine and the Copy feature, I was able to create unique and
dynamic looks fairly quickly.
How does lighting for a video shoot differ from lighting a live event?
Our director and DP wanted to capture the live concert look and digital cameras have come a long way in the past 5-10 years, so apart from a few standard “TV tricks,” it was lit just like a normal concert. We had a front of house followspot for all the wide shots, and we used a super soft “light box” when the camera went tighter on Carrie for her beauty looks. Having an upstage truss mounted followspot was also essential to give the artist a daylight edge. We also had lekos on the downstage portion of the circular trusses to give the audience in the front rows some edge lighting.
Any other thoughts?
Everyone at Morpheus was great! Keith Bennett deserves the “Best Timing Award” for sending me promo on the MagicPanel 602 at the perfect time. Mark Fetto put together a great team, helmed by crew chief Jay LeDane. The guys worked so hard to make this project a total success.
LD/Programmer: Benoit Richard
Creative Director: Haley Geffen/Bodega Studios
Executive Producer: Miguel Rodriguez/Bodega Studios
Director: Tripp Dixon/Bodega Studios
Editor: Alan Chimenti/Bodega Studios
Crew Chief: Jay LeDane/Morpheus Lights
Lighting Techs: Pete Jackson, B.J. Smith (Morpheus Lights); Nestor Crespin (Hollywood Rentals)
Executive Producer: Fred Gaudelli/NBC Sports
Director: Tripp Dixon/NBC Sports
Director of Photography: Chuck Ozeas/NBC Sports
Editor: Alan Chimenti/NBC Sports
1 HES Road Hog Full Boar console
3 HES DP8000 console data processors
36 Ayrton MagicPanels (Four 3x3 arrays in 7’x7’ truss pods)
20 Martin MAC Viper Profiles
10 Vari*Lite VL3500 Wash FX
6 Zap Technology 3.5K Little Big Lites
16 Martin Atomic Strobes
34 Color Kinetics ColorBlast TRX LEDs
30 Chauvet COLORado Tri-Tour LED Pars
72 ETC Source 4 Pars
12 ETC Source 4 Lekos (26°)
12 Molefay Four Lite Blinders
1 Xenon Super Trouper followspot
1 Robert Juliat 2.5K truss spot
4 DF-50 Diffusers
8 Show Distribution TourLift motors
To view the official NBC/NFL Sunday Night Football video intro with Carrie Underwood, go to: www.plsn.me/UnderwoodNFLvideo.