grandMA3 for Superbowl Half Time Show

Rihanna’s show-stopping Half-Time extravaganza for the 2023 Apple Music Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, USA, kept the WOW factors flying and the excitement buzzing for 13 minutes, thrilling crowds watching live and TV audiences alike.

The show has earned multiple levels of acclaim for its visual audacity and ambition, catapulting the artist back to the live performance arena in superlative style after a lengthy break.

Lighting for the event was designed by Al Gurdon. Eric Marchwinski and Mark Humphrey from Earlybird were tasked with lighting direction and programming on grandMA3 full-size consoles, and Earlybird provided pre-visualization services and onsite support, working closely with Al, his two lighting directors, Harry Forster and Ben Green, plus others on the creative team.

Eric chose to use a full grandMA3 system running grandMA3 software as both he and Mark have become familiar with its power and flexibility over the last 18 months on numerous other productions.

Earlybird had originally taken a fully grandMA3 route for Katy Perry’s Las Vegas show in 2021, and before that used it to program “Awakening”, one of the newest shows in Las Vegas, this time at The Wynn. They’d also used grandMA3 on a number of other high-profile events like the Country Music Association Awards (CMAs) and the American Music Awards, and Eric and team used it recently on a large stadium tour that is touring the US through this summer.

So, it was an obvious choice to follow on by running the Super Bowl LVII Half Time show on grandMA3, controlling around 600 fixtures, mostly moving lights plus 170 individual LED pieces through four consoles.

Three grandMA3 full-size consoles and a grandMA3 light with 6 x grandMA processing unit Ls were used in total, all provided by lighting vendor PRG, supported by ACT Entertainment, MA Lighting’s exclusive North American distributor.

Two consoles were located at FOH, one on the lower bowl area perpendicular to the field, and the fourth could be used as a tech desk, when and where necessary.

grandMA3 features that improved the overall programming workflow for Eric and Mark specifically for this event included Track Grouping inside the timecode pool, the Phaser Generator, Recipes, and Parent Child fixture relationships.

“We really needed to remain organized with the large amount of programming involved in this fast-moving 13-minute experience,” Eric commented, adding that he really leaned into this essential ‘under-the-hood’ facility.

With a relatively long show, they broke the performance down into 2 song segments, so having that additional adaptability in the timecode pool helped make the management of the programming data quicker and more easily accessed on-the-fly.

He also notes that grandMA3’s new Phaser Generator and Recipes are powerful and dynamic in their own way.

“You can achieve so many things with this new architecture that were simply not possible on a grandMA2,” he notes, adding that the learning curve although at times a bit different or steep, “is very much worth the effort required.”

Parent / Child fixture relationships were another grandMA3 feature that the team utilized when implementing the zactrack realtime tracking control channels on each of the approximately 220 fixtures connected to that specific system. These lights tracked the seven moving platforms plus two moving camera positions.

The Parent/Child feature allowed any updates to the zactrack fixture channel-set to be made once, compared to editing each fixture type which needed these additional control channels. The “zactrack Fixture Control” luminaire was added as a ‘child’ to each ‘parent’ fixture as required. Selecting the Parent fixture with this hierarchy gave immediate access to all zactrack presets as well as all lighting presets without having to switch between the fixtures.

This made the whole zactrack management “more intuitive and organized,” elucidated Eric.

Programming the Superbowl show was a complete team effort by Eric and Mark. During the rehearsals in the stadium, to ensure that they both had the best perspectives, Eric was located in a perpendicular position to the set, while Mark had the ‘parade’ view looking down from high above, and directly across and along the set stage right to left.

This way they could see exactly which lights were needed where and when, a set up that aided the process of updating multiple focuses very quickly with the two perspectives.

They assume similar roles when working on TV spectaculars, one programmer is tasked with lighting people, faces, key lighting and specials while the other concentrates on the wider environment lighting and how the bigger integrated picture looks in relation to effects lighting.

It’s an approach that’s been highly successful for creating the cohesive lighting picture for which Al Gordon is renowned.

The show’s cueing and programming structure was developed over five days pre-viz at the Earlybird studio with additional time onsite at the start of the two-week rehearsal period.

All elements including dancer choreography, automation cues, and camera moves were included in the previz model to give the team the full context of the show that was being created.

Due to the operational requirements of the stadium, only around 9 hours of ‘in situ’ lighting programming time on the field was available complete with the actual set, cast, and cameras in place. This short window made it essential for Eric and Mark to show up with all their “homework completed” in order to adapt the programming to the reality of the environment during these rehearsals.

grandMA3 was also used to trigger Adobe Premier Pro via OSC to provide a local source of timecode which was synched with the master feed from the broadcast truck … should a backup have been needed!

Rhianna’s unique Superbowl Half-Time show started with the star and some of the dancers performing on the seven flying platforms together with more dancers on the pitch below moving around a bold red runway / dancefloor that was rushed onto the pitch in the first seconds of the break.

Choreographed by Parris Goebel, the show concept was originated by Willo Perron and Rihanna with creative direction and production design from Tribe Inc’s Bruce Rodgers. Cameras were directed by Hamish Hamilton, and the lighting design was created by Al Gurdon..

Photos: © Earlybird


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