The artist currently known as Prince put on a truly royal performance at the Super Bowl XLI Halftime show on February 4 at Dolphin Stadium in Miami in spite of a torrential downpour that left the performers and the lighting and stage crews soaking wet. But at a major televised event such as the Super Bowl, with more than 93 million viewers worldwide, there is no time for a rain delay, and this was definitely a case of “the show must go on.”
Quarterbacking the design of this show were LA-based LD Bob Dickinson of Full Flood Inc. and scenic designer Bruce Rodgers of Tribe Inc. East. Even without the weather situation, they faced some interesting challenges. “On these productions, there is usually precious little to light,” says Dickinson, pointing out that the only real visual density is the crowd in the stands. “There's not too much vertical interest,” he notes, quoting Don Mischer, the producer/director of the show, as saying: “This is a variety show with a football game as opening and closing ceremonies.”
In past years, towers have served as key lighting positions, as well as providing the camera something to shoot into. This year was different. “We knew early on that Prince was doing the show,” says Dickinson. “But the producers said no big towers. They wanted the field as open and clear as possible. In doing so, they took away one of our best tools.” As a result, almost all of the lighting positions were around the perimeter of the field, with the light thrown from rather long distances.
The basic challenge for Rodgers was creating a stage that could be assembled on the field in just a few minutes. His concept was a modular set in the exact shape of the symbol that Prince formerly used as his name. “We didn't want an LED floor,” says Dickinson. “That's been done. There's nothing refreshing about it, and Prince wanted to approach this in a very straightforward manner.”
This meant an open environment for the production, with the shape of the Prince symbol a major visual element. To accent this shape, the edge of the stage was outlined with an 18"-wide light box that sat below the stage, with 250 12" Color Kinetics LED ColorBlast® fixtures covered by frosted Plexiglas® at stage level. In addition, a single row of Element Labs Versa® Tube units ran along the perimeter on the top edge of the stage, and a High End Systems Catalyst v3 media server was also used.
“This gave us a lot of flexibility and programming opportunities,” says Dickinson. “The Versa Tubes are very refreshing. I think there is a response against so many screens and content-driven sets. The Versa Tubes have an architectural reference and can be used as a detail on the set or with content. They do not yell ‘screen’ at you, and they are not pixilated like some other LED sources.”
Mark Butts was the programmer for the LEDs, working with Dickinson to create visually compelling effects such as white pulses that whipped from one end of the stage to the other. “These are dense video files with color and effects,” says Dickinson, who dealt with additional challenges during the design process from the total lack of overhead lighting endemic to a show such as this, and the fact that the gear could not block any seats in the stadium.
“Lighting director Bob Barnhart had done a Super Bowl show in the same stadium several years before and was familiar with the venue, so that was helpful,” Dickinson notes. To create lighting positions, Stage Rigging of San Francisco spent seven days drilling into concrete around the balcony edge, along the sides of the field (avoiding the scoreboards at the 50 yard line), and hanging a custom bracket that they had designed. “This then held a series of mini beam trusses, to which we hung the lights,” says Barnhart. Hung on this truss were various automated fixtures, including 98 Martin MAC 2000 wash units, 194 Vari-Lite VL5 arc fixtures, and 66 Martin Atomic Strobes that did not survive the rain.
The lighting rig also included 12 7kW Strong Britelights with automated heads and 12 of the new 7kW Xenon Alpha One Falcon™ Beam searchlights distributed by TMB. “We needed a vertical statement other than the audience,” says Dickinson. “We fell back on good old Xenon technology.” The Britelight units were placed along the sidelines of the field on dollies, while the 7kW Falcons were placed directly on the field on dollies enclosed in custom truss pods. “The dollies were placed at the two, five, seven, and 10 o'clock positions around the stage,” Dickinson explains, noting that he was intrigued to try the Falcon units on the Super Bowl. He also used them on the Grammys and Oscars, taking advantage of their flower effect. ProCan PAR64s, ETC Source Four ellipsoidals, Strand Orion one-cell cyc lights, and Mole-Richardson 24“ 10kW Fresnels rounded out the rig.
“The Falcons have a very tight beam with a lot of lumens and a nice field when they flood out,” Dickinson says. “We got a lot of vertical statement from all the Xenon fixtures.” Yet on a clear night, even those strong shafts of light heading skyward might not have read well on television. “We didn't have a lot of other resources, so we used smoke to make them pay off.” The smoke machines were 14 High End Systems F100s placed on the dollies with the Britelights and on two of the Falcon pods.
By the Thursday night prior to Super Bowl Sunday, the show was programmed — using two PRG Virtuoso consoles — and ready to go, after a three-week setup and preprogramming period. “Prince's music is very kinetic and lends itself to frenetic cueing,” notes Dickinson. In addition to Butts, who programmed the LEDs and the Falcons, the second programmer was Matt Firestone, who was responsible for the moving lights on the balcony rail and the Britelight units.
“We felt pretty good after the rehearsal on Thursday and knew there was a chance of rain on Sunday,” Dickinson says. “We used instruments that were more resistant to rain, such as the VL5 arcs, which do not have fans. We also put Martin's ‘rain hats’ on the MAC 2000s and suspected the VL3000s would hold up. We had never tried the Atomic Strobes in the rain though.” There were also 17 Strong Gladiator followspots, which Dickinson figured he would bring up and leave on if it was indeed raining during halftime.
Super Bowl Sunday — cloudy, then a drizzle. “Just before game time, the rain picked up and picked up,” Dickinson remembers. “The crew was working in the rain to get the instruments on and face them where the rain would affect them the least. We had no idea what would work until we plugged them in. By this time, it was pounding with rain, and everything was soaking wet.”
After the commercial break at the end of the second quarter, the crew started plugging the lights in. “The Atomic Strobes were all non-functional. There were no Versa Tubes,” says Dickinson, noting that the first cue was meant to be an explosion of the Versa Tubes to define the shape of the stage. “But in the final countdown, the Versa Tubes came on, but we had no Falcons and no strobes,” he adds. “But then something magical happened. The density of the rain created fabulous beams of light, and the motion of the rain was like a lighting effect. It was rather beautiful.”
It turns out that the Falcons were off because one of the cables had been severed, and the Britelights were not on because a distro box had been submerged in water. “They pulled it out, and as the water drained out, the Britelights went on,” Dickinson explains. As for the Falcons, one of the lighting techs stripped back the severed DMX control cable and held the bare ends into the female DMX connector — in the rain — and the units came up by the second song.
“It was a potential for disaster, but the rain actually made it a more viable and more tangible experience for the viewers at home,” Dickinson adds, pointing out that the emergency backup system to light Prince in the rain would have been to use the stadium lights. “But it really was a performance that needed the theatrical lighting,” he adds, especially for a number where Prince is seen playing a guitar solo in silhouette against a billowing white silk cloth blown straight up from one end of the stage by powerful electric fans, the shadow created by a 20kW incandescent Fresnel that had been stripped. “We took the reflector out, painted the housing black, and used a plain glass lens for a very crisp light,” says Dickinson. “Everybody went home soaking wet, but we felt great about what we had accomplished. When it all gels, it makes it worthwhile.”
MAKING THE BAND
In addition to the fans that traditionally surround the Super Bowl Halftime show stage, this year there was also a marching band — the 250-member Florida A&M Marching Band. In order to see them as they marched in time to Prince's music, their pants, jackets, and hats were sharply outlined in a brilliant aqua color, creating a surrealistic animated stick-figure effect in the dark rain. Marc and Marcy Rosenthal of LA-based Personal Creations created the illuminated effect using battery-powered electroluminescent (EL) light tape from Electro-LuminX Lighting Corporation that had been “supercharged” to make it brighter than normal, ensuring that it could be read on camera and across the stadium in the steady downpour.
“Using the light tape has several advantages,” says Marcy Rosenthal. “Normally, costumes would be created with EL wire for detail work and flexibility. For a spectacle event, to ensure that the light effect can be seen from a distance, and at the same time read well on camera, a broader, bigger look than the wire can give is required. The ½”-wide light tape fits the bill. It has enough flexibility to allow the performers to move and creates a strong image that will be easily seen at a distance. We tested it on one of our mannequins in front of the studio at night, walking down the street to look at it from a block or two away. It was quite impressive.”
The Rosenthals were on site with the Super Bowl wardrobe department in Miami for two weeks prior to the annual sports event, fitting the light tape to the band costumes. A production line was developed to produce more than 300 complete kits within two weeks. Each kit included a color-coordinated fanny pack, drivers for the EL light tape, integrated switch, custom wiring harnesses, and battery packs. A total of 6,000' of ½" light tape, more than 600 drivers, and almost 10,000 batteries were used, with some of the wiring provided by Cool Neon.
“The existing uniforms were owned by the band and could not be altered, so the light tape had to be attached with industrial-strength double-stick tape and several tack stitches at key points to allow easy removal after the show,” says Rosenthal. “It was a temporary effect. The costumes were dripping at the end of the show.”
“We had six minutes to set up the stage for a 12-minute show, then five minutes to strike it all,” says set designer Rodgers, who made his first Super Bowl appearance with this show. “Many of the rehearsals were in the parking lot, as you can only put it on the field twice.” The special sod put down for the Super Bowl was as much of a challenge to the design process as the incredibly short time in which it all had to happen.
“I designed the show as if Prince had asked me what I would do,” says Rogers, who studied the stadium and listened to the music — a medley of Prince's songs and covers. “When we went to Miami with the producers — Don Mischer, Ricky Kirshner, and Glenn Weiss — I showed them my concept and presented some sketches. I even had some Prince music. In the end, 80% of those original ideas were on stage that night — from the big blast of pyro to open the show to the marching band filling the space around the stage. There were 2,000 fans, 250 bandmembers, and about 600 techs.”
“We let the stage illuminate itself,” says Rodgers, “and we let the surrounding lights beam into the sky. The rain added atmosphere. There were some pretty magical moments.” The stage itself comprised 18 sections built to fit through the tunnel leading to the field and assembled in no-time-flat. “It was all timed to the nth degree,” Rodgers notes. “We rehearsed moving the set more than Prince rehearsed the music.”
Brian Sullivan and B&R Scenery in Camarillo, CA, built the set pieces, using a special slip-axle system that did not rip up the grass. “The cart with the lift that brought Prince to stage level was designed like a limo with seats in it,” Rodgers explains. The sections had steel and aluminum frames with the metal light boxes built in and were covered with a wooden dance floor surface.
One of Rodgers' concepts was to make sure the show looked great live as well as to the home viewers. With this in mind, it was conceived more as a show-in-the-round than facing the traditional international camera positions on the field, where rock shows generally face. Yet there almost was no audience to watch the show from the stands. Says Rodgers, “For Billy Joel singing the national anthem and the Cirque du Soleil pre-show, there was light rain. At the end of the second quarter, it was really coming down, with the rain moving diagonally and wind velocity like a vortex. I said, ‘This is the biggest show of my life, and it's pouring rain.’ I come from Texas and was raised on football. This was a big deal.”
As the first half ended, many of the fans left their seats and headed for cover where they might dry off a bit and get coffee and food, escaping the rain. “Mischer asked Prince what he thought, and he said, ‘Let's do it.’ So as soon as the crew started rolling the puzzle pieces out, the people in the upper tier saw it and wondered how we could do a rock show in that kind of rain. The audience started clapping and cheering during the six-minute load in. It's as if they were saying, ‘If you're going to do it, we're with you,’” says Rodgers.
The initial pyro blast — all of the pyro in the show, including a 40'-diameter fire ball, was created by Ron Smith of Rialto, CA-based Pyro Spectacular — looked like an explosion, and some of the audience members thought there had been an electrical problem. But from that moment, when they realized all systems were go, the audience stayed in their seats as Prince, with just a few dancers, back-up singers, and musicians, proved he knows how to please the crowd, even in the most demanding circumstances.
“God gave us a rainstorm, and the lights looked like diamonds in the sky,” says Rodgers. “It was quite amazing watching the strong diehard football audience live in the stadium and across the world embrace and appreciate what Prince did that night, and in connection what we all did. We stood in the face of a storm to lift up the audience because that was our calling, it seems. And for a few minutes, the stadium audience saw themselves in Prince, and our production and the television audience saw themselves in all of us, and we all felt heroic, connected for a brief moment — maybe forever.”
HALFTIME SHOW PERSONNEL
Don Mischer, Executive Producer
Ricky Kirshner, Executive Producer
Glenn Weiss, Executive Producer
Rob Paine, Line Producer
Robert Dickinson, Lighting Designer
Bruce Rogers, Production/Set Designer
Tony Hauser, Staging Supervisor
Cap Spence, Staging Supervisor
Kristen Perry, Choreographer
Ron Smith, Pyrotechnics
Robert Barnhart, Lighting Director
David Grill, Lighting Director
Matt Firestone, Moving Light Director
Mark Butts, Moving Light Director
Sean Dougall, Art Director (Tribe Inc.)
Matt Steinbrenner, Art Director (Tribe Inc.)
Mai Sakai, Art Director (Tribe Inc.)
Brian Sullivan, Set Fabrication (B&R Scenery)
Doron Gazit, Silk Fan Effect Fabrication (Air Dimensional Design)
Paul Bell, Gaffer
Brian McKinnon, Gaffer
Joe Faretta, Gaffer
Rob Minnotte, Head Tech
Mark Klopper, Tech
Matt Geneczko, Tech
Zac Kromwell, Tech
Greg Smith, Spot Tech
Tony Ward, Account Manager (PRG)
If you watched this year's Super Bowl, then you saw Tait Towers outwit the elements, having installed a deployable roof and grid structure for the broadcast booth on-field. Because the weather decided not to cooperate, the structure kept the on-air talent, the crew, cameras, and lights dry.
The 4,000lb., 48'×32' unit, built to deploy and retract in minutes, rose 25' high, holding the lighting grid and a roof for the pre-game broadcast, halftime, and post-game coverage. The structure also incorporated a rain gutter to channel the water off to the sides and away from the camera shots so viewers didn't see sheets of water pouring off the roof.
“From the time the game clock goes to zero at the end of the half, we then had the first commercials to deploy everything for a 30-second spot that Jim Brown used to introduce Prince,” says James “Winky” Fairorth, president of Tait Towers. “Then you immediately have to close it so that you are not blocking the view of Prince's show.” Tait used a servo control system to sync their Zip Lifts at the corners of the unit to raise and lower the structure quickly.
Tait started onsite setup for the roof system on January 16 in Dolphin Stadium. This structure had to be engineered to take into account any weather issues that might arise. “At 25-mile-an-hour winds, the tarp had to come off the structure; at 30-mile-an-hour winds, the whole thing had to come down,” Fairorth says. Fortunately, the wind stayed calm. Once the stage was in place, the lift mechanism was installed on the outside of the stage. The broadcast desk and the cameras moved downstage to allow for the roof to close. “The structure was not allowed to block any seats, so when it lowered into its down position, it created a perfect sightline,” says Fairorth. “It was down to the inch. In fact, we had to adapt to an issue on site where we actually had to rebuild the four corners and drop it down an extra nine inches after we set it up for the first time; that is how critical the sightlines are for the game. You have to be able to see the sidelines from every seat.”
It took a few days afterward for everyone to dry off. “The water was overwhelming,” says Fairorth with a laugh. “It was the longest, most constant rain that I have ever worked in.”
· To see more of scenic designer Bruce Rodgers’ sketches, visit the Design Gallery.
· For more Superbowl behind-the-scenes sound information, visit Mix Online's Shure Tackles Super Bowl XLI