As the last seconds of the first half of Super Bowl XLII came to an end and the two teams prepared to head to the locker room for halftime, another team consisting of hundreds of crew and volunteers prepared to race against the clock themselves. They ran onto the field where, in less than seven minutes, they assembled the stage for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ halftime performance. In those seven minutes there was no margin for error and no time for technical problems.
Lighting designers Bob Dickinson and Bob Barnhart and production designer Bruce Rodgers depended on PRG to pull it off.
“This event is truly the most intense 20 minutes in show business,” says programmer Mark Butts. “Every year it gets more ambitious. The amount of gear and the number of electrical and data connections are staggering.” Butts programmed the equipment on the floor of the stadium, which included 600 Color Kinetic ColorBlast TR units, 250 Element Lab Versa® Tubes, 20 Martin Atomic Strobes with scrollers, and 10 Vari-Lite VL5 Arc fixtures. To control the equipment, Butts used PRG’s Virtuoso® lighting control console and Mbox Extreme™ media server.
“The main challenge for the Super Bowl is the lack of time,” explains Butts. “We get precious few opportunities to see the full production on camera before the actual show. That’s why it’s essential to have equipment that is flexible and reliable. I’m really pleased with the improvements that PRG has made in the Virtuoso console, especially with the V6.0 software,” he adds. “I made extensive use of multiple cue stacks, wave-based effects, and bump/flash features, all of which are new features in V6.0.”
PRG’s Mbox Extreme media servers were used, in conjunction with the Virtuoso, for control of the ColorBlasts and the Versa Tubes. “We used the Mbox pixel map software for the ColorBlasts under the stage, all 600 of them,” says Butts. “Utilizing a pixel map, rather than running the units directly from the console, saved a lot of time both in troubleshooting and in programming. It reduced my channel count so programming was faster and more efficient. I really like the ability to crossfade on a single layer on the Mbox. It saves time, not having to manage intensities and media on multiple layers. I also love the ability to quickly create thumbnails on the server, load them into the Virtuoso and see them in the media window. This is a unique feature of these two products and a lifesaver in the television world.”
Lighting director Matt Firestone operated a second Virtuoso system, which controlled several hundred automated fixtures and effects, including Mac 2000 Washes, Vari-Lite VL3500 Washes, and Vari-Lite VL5Arcs. Some of these fixtures were mounted on trusses suspended 120’ over the end zones and some were mounted on the balcony rails in front of the top seating sections. There were also VL5 Arcs on two 70' vertical trusses that were hung to the left and right behind the band.
At halftime, 60 carts (35 of which contained lighting equipment) were pushed onto the field to create the stage for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ performance. Two PRG Series 400Ô Power and Data Distribution Systems were also provided. “We isolated each cart for Tom Petty’s stage and, in most cases, fit it with a single Series 400 cable, which meant that most carts required only one cable (for power and data) connecting to the S400 rack,” says PRG’s Tony Ward, vice president, Television and Special Events. "To make the lighting system work, nearly 150 separate connections needed to be made, including trailing four 150’ sets of 4/0 feeder. Using the Series 400 on the field was the right choice because of the limited time we had to make all of these connections, and because it’s so reliable.”
After Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers brought down the house, all the connections were quickly undone and the carts were swiftly removed from the field. Over the following 48 hours the crew loaded the gear into nine 53’ trucks. “I’m not surprised that it went well,” comments Butts. “The PRG technical crews have really become experts at this. The show would simply not happen without their expertise and dedication to this project.”
Don Mischer Productions and White Cherry Productions produced the Super Bowl XLII Halftime Show.