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Ignite the Lights: Inside Katy Perry’s Super Bowl Halftime Show

Lighting designer behind most-watched halftime show in Super Bowl history talks projection mapping, lighting and rehearsing with Katy Perry.

Alice Gustafson
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Appealing to music as well as sports fans, the acts performing at the notoriously elaborate Super Bowl halftime shows usually ram so much pizzazz into the albeit brief show that even those who didn’t catch the game will inevitably hear about it.

After Beyoncé’s much praised and technically spectacular 2013 halftime performance, it transpired that so much power was used that the Mercedes-Benz Superdome suffered a power outage for more than 34 minutes after she sass-walked off the stage.

Keen to create a show that would set tongues wagging just as much, but for the right reasons, for 2015 the AV team needed media servers that could handle the scope of the production, as well as projectors and lighting systems that could be relied on to bring that all-important wow factor.

As expected, the Super Bowl XLIX proved as popular as ever, attracting an average audience of 114.4 million viewers. Katy Perry’s 12-minute pyrotechnic extravaganza went further, hauling in 118.5 million viewers, making it the most watched half time show in the Super Bowl’s 49-year history.

Super Bowl XLIX marked lighting designer, Bob Barnhart’s (of LA-based Full Flood) 17th big game and his fifth as the primary or sole lighting designer.

“The Super Bowl is different from anything else I do,” he begins. “The halftime show had an amazing entrance and exit and a lot of different things happening in between—all in 12 minutes, stuck in the middle of the world’s largest sporting event.”

The first two-and-a-half minutes featured 600 glowing orbs, a giant lion and a moving chessboard. “That was a lot of eye candy that kept viewers wondering where it all was headed,” he grins.

If you missed it, watch Katy Perry’s halftime show here:

“We went from end zone to end zone twice: Katy started in the north end zone, joined Lenny Kravitz and Missy Elliott in the south end zone, then went back to the north end zone for the flying rig. The show was physically very large and very ambitious in all areas—the production design team did a great job; it was quite amazing!”

Even before the halftime talent is selected, the venue sets the scene for the production and lighting design.

“It all depends on what creative options the stadium offers,” he explains. “If the University of Phoenix Stadium didn’t have a roof we couldn’t have done the projection, for example. Potential weather conditions are also a factor.”

Ignite the Lights

Bob deployed 140 Clay Paky Sharpys, 120 new Mythos fixtures and 94 B-EYE K20s, all provided by PRG.

Lighting director Pete Radice controlled the 1,340-plus channel moving light system, whilst Jason Rudolph, the lighting director in charge of the video system, used an MA Lighting grandMA2 light console to control the projection and inflatable, illuminated orbs.

Bob positioned 140 Sharpys on the upstage side of the 400-level rail and the south end zone rail and deployed several on a cart behind the lion puppet to add some light and texture. The Sharpy has been used in Super Bowl rigs since the fixture made its debut in the United States.

“Sharpys are great for their white-hot beams; they’re really good for giving air graphics in a large-format venue,” he enthuses.

“One of coolest things about the three Clay Paky fixtures is the amount of light they generate compared to the amount of power they consume,” adds David Grill, one of the show’s lighting directors.

“Gone are the days of using vast quantities of power. Power has huge implications on a production: paying for it, acquiring/generating it, not to mention the quantity of cables required to connect a cart. With the chosen fixtures, we had 14 fixtures on a cart with only one power connection. We don’t need to plug in three cables when we’re moving fast and every second saved helps you.”

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