[photo courtesy of Tim Shahan]
For many in the states, the year is divided into two parts: the football season, and the rest of the year. The season starts with an effects filled televised celebration called the ‘NFL Kickoff’ that includes a concert, expert game analysis as well as the season’s first official NFL game. For this year’s event, which took place in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, Executive Producer Ricky Kirshner of Touchdown Entertainment turned to the talents of the effects team at Strictly FX of Chicago. It’s their second consecutive NFL Kickoff with Touchdown Entertainment and Production Designer Doug ‘Spike’ Brant of Performance Environment Design Group. “To give the home town fans something special it was decided to have a visual spectacular tribute to the Ravens in the Harbor. Special effects were a key element of this,” notes Brant.
The concert, which literally took place on a specially constructed barge in the Baltimore harbor, featured entertainment by country superstar Keith Urban. “Due to our location, and the fact that the production was a celebration of the city and the Super Bowl winners, Ricky Kirshner wanted to utilize some sort of water based effect, so we worked our new water screen, which is visible both in daylight and after sunset, into the production,” explains NFL Kickoff Special Effects Designer/ Strictly FX partner Mark Grega. The 50’ high 125 wide water screen, which made its television debut at the event, worked in conjunction with several 40K projectors. “It appears out of nowhere and has a ghostly appearance, and the scale of it is amazing,” Brant says.
Pyro in almost every form, provided by Ultratec, was part of the event as well. “The show featured 25 of the new 275’ 57mm Gemini mines—it’s a cluster of comets that look like a mine, then a giant comet that goes right through it. It’s a very unique look that offers designers a variety of visual options, since the colors can be the same or different,” Grega notes.
The Gemini mine was part of what was called ‘the championship moment.’ To those outside of the production, it was the music and effects laden finale- a finale that included 250’ silver lace comets, 275’ comets and mines, 200’ mines- yellow with tails, red with tails, purple with tails, white with tails and 140’ comets. “We used over 800 pieces of product for the show, with the majority of it being shot during the championship moment,” notes Grega.
That moment also included four 30 watt RGB high powered diode lasers that were positioned in four locations around the harbor; one of those positions had to be changed at the very last moment. “We had a giant schooner block our lasers. In all of our drawings, we never showed this ship in a slip, since it’s usually at sea. Then it came into port and docked the day before the show, just before rehearsals. It was like the USS Bounty dropped anchor in front of our lasers,” he says. Last minute adjustments were made, and laser systems were located on stage left and right, over the top of the stage, on one of the piers and near the National Aquarium. “The system near the Aquarium was on the opposite side of the harbor, and provided a deep atmospheric effect,” Grega notes. Working in conjunction with the lasers were four Hazebase Base Touring Foggers and four Base Hazer Pro’s.
While the finale took place over the harbor, there were effects on stage with Urban as well. Grega explains, “For Keith’s set, we had a 40’ x 25’ silver waterfall that appeared during “Even the Stars Fall for You,” as well as 20’ and 30’ mines on stage.” Shooting pyro during a live musical performance takes expert timing; shooting them during a live performance in front of a television camera also requires a certain amount of technical expertise; Grega and his team are well versed in the techniques that are necessary to make sure that the effects appear on camera despite the problems of speed and height.
The production also featured flame effects from eight LeMaitre Chameleon Flame Cannons located off stage left and right. “Initially, we brought our MK II Venom Flame cannons; however after looking at the fabric of the roof, which was somewhat thin and transparent, I was concerned I was going to melt them. So I switched them out with our Chameleon’s, which worked just as well,” says Grega. That attention to detail is only one of the traits that Grega brings to the table as an effects designer. Brant notes, “Mark has a calm confidence that allows you to push the limits without fear and it was nice working with him in a very collaborative way. ”
The laser programming was done by David Kennedy, while the on stage pyro programming was done by Adam Biscow and the finale pyro programming was done by John Lyons. It was done using six Pangolin Beyond Computers, two FireOne FireLite Controllers, two PyroDigital Controllers and an ETC Smartfade. Grega concludes, “It was a tremendous production that took place in a location that was never meant to hold an event like this, and it came off flawlessly.”