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Super Bowl Weeknd

Debi Moen • March 2021Production Profile • March 4, 2021

Tait built the 3D city-scape.

Six Months to Start, with Six Weeks to Spectacular

Production designer Bruce Rodgers was concerned. There were six weeks to go before this year’s Super Bowl LV Halftime Show featuring The Weeknd, and the design that he and the Halftime creative team was pushing was not working. Changes had to be made on this late December date as the clock steadily ticked toward the Feb. 7 kickoff.

“After seeing a spectacular show like this, many might think the design they saw was from one original specific vision. It wasn’t,” Rodgers said. “But what is true is that it took a great team once again to bring everything to life on Super Bowl Sunday.”

Now in his 15th year helping create the Halftime Show spectacles captivating millions around the world, Rodgers knows what makes a great live event. Sometimes that vision is enhanced by natural forces. When cloudbursts poured on the field during Prince’s halftime show in 2007, climaxing during “Purple Rain,” the world watched a breathtaking effect from Mother Nature that made the performance live on in halftime and music history. Embracing the moment, Prince had asked, “Can you make it rain harder?”

Nature again called the shots this time around, with the pandemic affecting the design parameters. “Each Halftime show is different. The artists have their own visions, and each stadium has its own built-in architectural nuances that make this spectacle a custom design every year,” Rodgers said.

The cast works the end of the field

‡‡         Six Months Out

Planning for the 2021 spectacle started in August. Executive producer Jesse Collins and the Diversified Production Services (DPS) team were already developing ideas related to Super Bowl LV’s Pregame ceremonies and the Halftime show. Limits were imposed for audience capacity, and with on-the-field staging elements declared off-limits, the whole halftime show had to be re-imagined.

“We surveyed [Tampa’s] Raymond James Stadium in September to get a feel for what 15,000 people would look like in a 60,000-seat stadium,” Rodgers said. From there, the architects at Populous and the NFL designed a ‘Covid-spaced’ seating layout that provided empty seats between ticket holders. The idea was to zip tie the empty seats shut and place cardboard cutouts of fans who donated to charities and submitted their photo for ‘virtual inclusion’ in the audience. The cardboard people filled approximately 40,000 seats.

“When you squint your eyes and see the fans and cutouts there, you ‘lose’ the empty seats,” Rodgers said. “With that, we had a better feel for the live and semi-live audience component of the design.”

PixMob flares held by the dancers

Other limits included the number of tunnels the HT team was allowed to use and proximity of show cast and crew space requirements. For example, safe distances were calculated between the stadium audience and the field sidelines, requiring the first eight rows around the field perimeter to be vacant. “Instead of applying graphic vinyl covers over these dead seating sections, Dave Meyers, executive in charge of production, suggested using LED tiles for a more versatile surface than fixed graphic covers. He was right! With this, we would have a raked 20-foot-high by full-perimeter surround of video, an exceptional video surface for any event.” The NFL loved it, using the surrounding LED covers for graphics, ads and logos. “That Covid necessity was a plus. Screens producer Drew Findley and team did a great job including it into the full show canvas,” Rodgers noted.

“The Covid challenges also included the NFL’s request for a Halftime show spectacle without being on the field. Luckily, the stadium has the big platform on the north concourse where the Buc’s pirate ship is located. We figured we could put a substantial set design up there as a basis for an epic live production, which could translate perfectly to the TV audience with the help of our team.”

The stage was set in the end zone

One month into creative development The Weeknd’s team joined the group. Bruce informs us, “The Weeknd has a strong, passionate creative team. The core group is La Mar Taylor and Al-x Lill and the Es Devlin Design Studio. To support the After Hours album, Al-x and La Mar created The Weeknd’s character and the Las Vegas setting seen in their music videos and TV performances over the past year. The evolving character was to continue the After Hours storyline to the finale of that journey: the Super Bowl Halftime.”

“To tell the story of ‘After Hours Vegas,’ they wanted an elaborate movie setting on the field and concourse. All the ideas were cool and inventive. La Mar, Al-x and Es and her team, led by Jack Headford, were incredible. They had been designing the next tour for The Weeknd prior to the world shutting down, and Es’ team jumped in to help define what this movie set was and to help translate The Weeknd team’s desires.

“I could tell the performance design would be amazing for the TV audience but not so much for the live audience, who would be unable to fully see the performance inside the movie set,” Rodgers continues. “We worked for weeks to make the movie set compelling and more practical, but I couldn’t shake my concern of ignoring the live audience. Part of my job as a production designer is to help create a spectacle. The HT show with its massive audience of 100 million people tuning in is the perfect setting to pull off something big and live.

PRG GroundControl long throw fixtures in use

“In mid December we needed to start the build, and I presented a version of the design that I felt would solve my concerns. I wanted at least 80 percent of the show to be presented to the live audience. We needed a large stadium concert kind of presentation, and I was pushing for a look that had several uses in one setting to save money. My rough idea was enough to convince La Mar and Al-x to say, ‘Okay, we get it, we will come back to you with the look and the feel.’”

Days later, La Mar, Al-x, Es and team presented the concept that clicked all the boxes and led to what the world saw on Super Bowl Sunday. “Together, we finessed this new design. Wind was a major hurdle to design around, and ‘people flow’ before, during and after the HT show was critical. We needed tunnels through our set design for people to get to the concession stands and the restrooms during game time,” Bruce explained. “Think of a massive opera and, before and after the show, you had to provide walkway aisles through the opera to get to the restrooms. That sounds crazy because it is, but we made it work! Ultimately we made it through the design journey and had a show design we all loved and were ready to take to the next steps of fabrication and installation.

“Stage fabrication began with only five weeks to show date, and we needed to go fast,” Rodgers recalled. All Access built the biggest chunk consisting of the major truss structures, the base foundation staging, the Splitting Stage Reveal effect and the interior mirrored surfaces of the underground Infinity Room. Atomic and Tait built the scenic eye candy — the 3D cityscape of buildings, the LED signage, and the interior signs of the Infinity Room. “It took these three great shops to pull off a massive 130-foot-wide by 75-foot-high setting in such a short timeframe. It helped to have guidance from staging supervisor Tony Hauser, KP Terry, Lila Nicole, Dionne Harmon, Chris Covin, Aaron Cooke, Carsten Weiss, Joe at FOY, Bob and everyone at Pyrotecnico, PixMob, FUSE, PRG Lighting and all the vendors that came together to make this such a great show.”

PRG employed 35Live! multi-camera system

‡‡         Cameras and Lighting

The cinematic quality of the visuals — most evident when The Weeknd dashed through the Infinity Room holding a camera — was envisioned by director Hamish Hamilton of Done and Dusted. PRG helped him achieve that film look with its 35Live! multi-camera system.

Light shafts adorn the stage

For lighting designer Al Gurdon’s massive plot, PRG supplied more than 700 lighting fixtures, eight GroundControl Longthrow units, two GroundControl Best Boy luminaires, 140 Icon Edges and 64 Best Boy Spots.

Overall, PRG provided lighting, rigging, LED, video, networking, camera, projection, broadcast equipment, truss and gear rental for the Super Bowl event.

Pyrotecnico provided the fireworks

‡‡         Pixels and Pyro

While the staging couldn’t be on the field, the lookalike Weeknd cast wearing the same outfits and sporting head bandages were allowed. Special effects from PixMob were necessary to add some dynamic to their marching dances and other elements of the production.

“It was a collaborative process with Bruce and team,” said PixMob president Jean-Olivier Dalphond. “As the stadium was not going to be full of people, it made sense to have it full of lights.” PixMob deployed 22,500 LED wristbands for live audience members (and some 30,000 adapted LEDs for the cardboard cut-out ones), 500 powerful LED “flares” for the performers on the field, 75 LED masks, and 150 “light-up eyes” on face shields for the choir. Every object was controlled through timecode in the lighting console.

“We loved that we were challenged with creating the LED masks for the choir,”
Dalphond added. “We collaborated with Lila Nicole on that. For the handheld flares used by dancers, we sent an idea to Bruce and it fit with the vision being developed. We also suggested using the PixMob Moving Head to create massive waves of light that travelled the length of the stadium.”

For nighttime sky effects, Pyrotecnico’s fireworks punctuated the show during player introductions, the national anthem, halftime and the post-game victory celebration. Pyro was positioned at the north and south scoreboards, at all four LED boards, and on top of the stage video wall. “We used approximately 6,200 pieces of pyro on the show,” said Pyrotecnico’s Rocco Vitale. “It is a large production, and it is the Super Bowl, so it is super-sized in a lot of aspects.”

‡‡         After Show

All of this was done with another requirement: keeping all departments at a minimum. Having 1/3 of the usual number of stagehands (and missing so many familiar faces with years of expertise) was another sad Covid reality.

“I was proud of the work we all did and was proud that our industry that has been hit the hardest in this pandemic was able to present something special,” Rodgers said. “Special thanks to Jesse Collins, Hamish Hamilton, Hayley Collett, LD Al Gurdon, Dave Meyers, everyone at DPS, All Access, Atomic and Tait, Aaron Cooke, Chris Covin, Seth Dudowsky and my Tribe Inc. team of art directors Shelley Rodgers, Maria Garcia, Lindsey Breslauer and Lily Rodgers.”

Watch The Weeknd’s Pepsi Super Bowl LV Halftime Show at www.plsn.me/LVshow

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