Al Gurdon Lights Super Bowl LVIII Halftime Show

Lighting designer Al Gurdon of Incandescent Design in the UK returned to the field for the 2024 Halftime Show, executive produced by Roc Nation and directed by Hamish Hamilton and Shawn Carter. Here in his own words, he shares his challenges and solutions for this year's show starring Usher at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on February 11, 2024:

"Every Halftime Show and every stadium have their own challenges but, given the need for the Halftime Show to fit in entirely with the needs of the game itself, what this usually means in practice is a restriction on the number and the type of lighting structure and the fixtures themselves, because of the need for very rapid deployment and limited weight. Inevitably there is a significant trade off between what I would ideally want, and what is possible logistically to deploy, either on the field or in the stadium, and this tends to push the design into familiar patterns and procedures. The challenge for me is to try to work within these restrictions but, at the same time, fulfill the brief and bring something new to the show.

Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Roc Nation

My actual fixture choice is determined by function. Does it need to be a shuttering fixture? How bright is it? What is its CRI value (a much neglected question)? Is it lighting people, or set, or nothing at all? Is it designed to be seen as background? How effective will it be at the distance from the subject? 

For this reason most of my designs will have quantities of fixtures which will have been chosen by asking and answering these questions.

Alicia Keys, photo by Ryan Kang/Getty Images
(Alicia Keys, photo by Ryan Kang/Getty Images)

Our main fixture for ‘air’ looks, on the lighting carts as well as in the North end just above the field level suites, was the PRG Icon Edge, For shuttering it was the Vari-Lite VL3600 and VL2600 depending on distance and weight, and for strobing it was TMB Solaris Flares. We also used Acme Pixel Line IP around the band, X-4 Bars along the East side as background for the main performance angle, and a handful of Ayrton Diablos fixed to the stage itself, chosen for their small size and weight as well as for their shuttering capability. We did use the house lighting system, but it is generally used not as a critical part of our show, but more as an addition when we need it. The main reason for this is that it is not focusable for our needs, so it is a pretty broad brush. Where it is most useful is when we have very large numbers of cast across the whole field. Here it was very useful to boost our level and to increase our coverage area.

When I am asked about lighting design, the question is often framed from the presupposition that I start with a blank slate and wait for unique ideas to come to me. But this is very rarely how it works in practice. There are many stakeholders in the ‘look’ of the show, not least the artist, and the team who work with them. Much of the creative impetus comes to us, the Halftime team, from them, the artist’s team. Ultimately we are all one big unified team, but it would be very rare for an artist to come to the show without some pretty concrete ideas about how they wanted to be presented.

Similarly, my color palette is rarely ‘my color palette,’ because there are many other visual elements to account for, such as costumes and screens, and the overall concept, which tends these days to be, if not actually dictated, at least driven by the artist’s camp. I am a strong believer that lighting does not exist in a vacuum, and there is no single ‘correct’ way of doing things. Of course I have an opinion and, I hope, a bit of taste, but I place a lot more importance on something looking visually coherent and cohesive, and supporting the musical and performance dynamic, rather than it being in red, or blue, or green, or whatever. Sometimes there is an obvious push in one direction or another, but often there is not.

Photo by Johnny Nunez/Getty Images for Thomas J Henry
(Photo by Johnny Nunez/Getty Images for Thomas J Henry)

So the lighting and the screens and the costumes all need to feel like they are coming from the same idea, and not fighting each other. Or they are all subservient to a controlling idea. For example "Yeah," the final song, was heavily influenced by the look of the original promo video, in its’ color palette and in its use of lasers.

Programming is always strictly related to the music, otherwise it’s just random light flashing, which I don’t think we ever do. Although it is always driven by the music, that is not necessarily my first priority. I would put the lighting of the people above everything else, followed by the set, but the dynamics are never accidental, or random, or for their own sake, and always motivated by both the tone and the rhythm and beats of the music." --- Al Gurdon

Read all of Live Design's Super Bowl LVIII Halftime Show coverage including light plots and gear list.

Related story: Al Gurdon: Lighting The Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show starring Rihanna.