It takes a village to do a lot of things, but in this case it takes a tribe: Bruce Rodgers’ Tribe that is, a design firm that scores big every year when Rodgers turns his talents to the design of the Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Show. This year with the double-barreled talents of Jennifer Lopez and Shakira on the field at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, FL, on Sunday, February 2, Rodgers met with some unique challenges and came up with innovative solutions. Live Design chats with him about this year’s show, which was seen by almost 100 million television viewers. Check out a fly-through of the staging.
Live Design: Tell us about the design process for this year’s Super Bowl LIV Halftime show.
Bruce Rodgers: The creation of any Super Bowl Halftime show is a perfect example of a "team effort." Ricky Kirshner and his production team lead the process, starting with a smaller group, and as the design develops, more and more team members join in to support the show design. It’s a herculean effort with thousands of details and logistics supported by a massive team of caring, passionate people who take a lot of pride in the show. I can’t say enough about everyone that works behind the scenes and never gets credit in a story like this.
This year’s production was very unique and challenging for many reasons. The Hard Rock Stadium is the site of my first Halftime Show starring Prince, and my fourth starring The Who, so we were somewhat familiar with the location. Except on our first survey in June, we found several upgrades and modifications in and around the stadium including the addition of a rain and shade roof over the stadium seats and changes to the pathways onto the field. The single most important detail of a Halftime Show design is understanding the access to the field, and here we were faced with one path that led directly into the east-end goal post. During the install, our staging teams would have to pivot the set carts around the goal post onto the field, and this aspect hinders a quick install.
The grass at this stadium is real, not artificial, so time on the actual field was more limited than ever. Our staging and artist and choreography teams rehearsed offsite and on a huge parking lot across the freeway from the stadium. Rain was always a factor; although, we had beautiful weather on show day, unlike my first Halftime Show many years ago. And there's the addition this time of not only one artist camp but four: Jennifer Lopez, Shakira, Bad Bunny, and J Balvin, with their near 170 member cast of musicians, dancers, and performers, not to mention our 800-member field cast, director Hamish Hamilton’s 25 cameras, and near 800 field team members and stagehands, and lighting, video, audio, FX, technicians, choreographers, talent coordinators, and costumers.
Early in the process, the team studied the stadium and thumb-nailed ideas, as we learned who the artists would be, making assumptions on how the show might develop. Design development started when the artist camp’s creative directors joined the process. It was a little like herding cats, fielding a multitude of exciting ideas from very enthusiastic and creative people, including JLO and Shakira, their managers Benny Medina and Jaime Levine, and their creative directors Tabitha Dumo for JLO, and Jaquel Knight, Nadine Eliya, and Maite Marcos for Shakira. These teams never stopped thinking, dreaming, and creating, so it became our challenge within the RK team to weave ideas together. Our task was to find a way to create a 12-minute show with a balanced performance of our two stars and their two guest artists, one that would need to entertain not only 70,000 in the stadium, but over 100 million watching on television. I think we pulled it off.
LD: How do you collaborate with the producers, director, LDs, creative directors, choreographers, and artists in the creation of a Super Bowl Halftime Show?
BR: As the production designer, I have to listen, gather info and ideas, and then dissect and weave together the artistic and technical needs of every person and aspect of the show design. Each person I interact with has particular needs and expectations, and since, for example, I’m not a director, cameraman, dancer, producer, or lighting designer, I have to understand enough to sculpt every idea into a show design. I try to involve and include everyone in my decisions. Sometimes it means saying no to a great idea, or shaping an idea to fit a special need, shaping an idea for better lighting or camera shots, etc. It’s important to let others on the team share in the set design creation. It takes weeks to blend everything together and every idea needs to be validated and processed, especially on a show like this one.
LD: Talk about the technical design of a production that has such a strict install, performance, and strike time.
BR: Thankfully, the RK team has expert staging and technical leaders who work with us, and the set fabricators at All Access to design each aspect of the build. Blending the creative ideas into a set that has to be broken into hi-tech carts is an art in itself, and the thinking behind this art is unlike anything else in the entertainment design realm. Erik Eastland, Tim Fallon, Tommy Rose and the design / fabrication team at All Access have built the last nine Halftime Shows and dive deep into the details that help the carts lock to the next in the puzzle build of a Super Bowl set. The stage technical design team includes all departments like power, lighting and FX, video, and sound, and a great deal of time is spent figuring out how parts connect and break apart, where technicians post when the carts are locked (many technicians are under the stage controlling lifts, etc.). Our stage install team, led by Cap Spence, Doug Cook, Tony Hauser, and their staging supervisors, find ways to install the set as efficiently and quickly as possible. Their interaction with the fabricators at All Access is key to a set like ours. Producers, stage managers, and art directors and other supervisors are involved in discussions that continue to show time all in the effort to get the show successfully on and off the field.
LD: Any technical challenges?
BR: This year, with the variety of dance and effects, we had to develop several one-of-a-kind details, all technical challenges. For example, Shakira wanted a mirrored dance floor that would tilt up for a performance piece, and she wanted smoke to breathe through the cracks in the floor. All Access worked with Adam Biscow at Strictly FX and us to get this effect to work. Another example is the quick deployment of six self-illuminated dance poles. All Access' Brett Walker and team worked with us to design and build six spinning pole bases built into the stage. David Mendoza and Peter Wessel at ShowFx designed and built six self-illuminated dance poles that were handed up to each dancer who would plant the poles into the bases and strike each pole after the scene. It sounds easy but it took a lot of design work. The input from the dancers helped a lot.
One other example was the need for an illuminated antenna for JLo’s reveal. We were in the process of designing a replica of the Empire State Building antenna per an earlier meeting for a King Kong type pose. We had a mock up built by the Telemundo set shop in Miami to help validate the levels and heights for dance and camera posing; but during their dance rehearsal, JLo, Tabitha, and their designer Kley Tarcitano, sketched what I would call a Miami Beach "club-inspired" antenna, which was a great look that I was happy to include in the design. All Access built the final antenna to quick deploy and power up, and we added it to the install cues. All examples of a well-organized team of people.
LD: What are the final details that are being worked out on the day of the show on Super Bowl Sunday?
BR: In between the last rehearsal and the actual Halftime Show, many behind-the-scenes meetings are taking place. The hard-working production assistants and coordinators never stop organizing the lives of the entire staff, cast, and crew. Field cast producer KP Terry and her field team leaders, along with lead stage manager Gary Natoli and his team of stage managers and staging supervisors, are watching films of the last rehearsals, looking for ways to improve the show, mentally rehearsing show moves, etc. Director Hamish and Assoc Director Haley Collet, vision mixer Rod Wardell, and others are in the truck studying shots and prepping for the live broadcast, and the talent department is busy shepherding the multitude of performers in preparation for the live show.
I have been lucky to sit in the TV truck during the rehearsals and show for the past 14 years, watching the monitors and communicating to my art directors on the field. I sit behind Hamish, Haley, and Rod, and lighting designer Bob Barnhart sits to my left. In front of us is a wall of monitors for every camera in the show. To our far left is the audio mixer behind glass; to our far right is the tape operators and video control and slew of other technical managers led by Bob Muller, a legend of the live TV broadcast world. In our headsets, we are all in contact with those on the field, including supervising producer Jesse Craine, and with Ricky and KP in the stadium comparing notes and checking all the boxes to ensure a great show. The combination of all these people and the weight carried on the collective shoulders of everyone involved is as epic as the 12 minutes we are about to present to the world.
LD: What has been your most challenging Super Bowl experience to date, from Prince through last year?
BR: That would be a three-way tie between the rain-soaked performance of Prince, the massive shield stage design of The Who that only worked on show day, and the show we put on last Sunday with JLo and Shakira with its high-energy, multi-artist, mega-cast presentation. All three shows at the same stadium, all with a single tunnel access, all three where the stakes and challenges were highest.