Minutes before Bruno Mars took the stage to rock MetLife stadium and the 115 million fans watching from home, Halftime directors were understandably nervous. After months of planning and preparation, the penultimate moment was upon them – but there was a problem. PixMob directors were also experiencing a fair amount pre-game anxiety. The Montreal-based firm that lit up crowds at music festivals like Coachella and Osheaga with state-of-the-art crowd activation technology had a new challenge worthy of the grand stage that is the Super Bowl.
Rewind several months: In March 2013, David Parent, CEO of PixMob, decided to pick up the phone and pitch the NFL on a brand new technology being developed by his company, PixMob. Formerly known as Eski Studio, PixMob is the brain child of Parent and his business partner, Vincent Leclerc. The creative minds at the Montreal-based company develop innovative ways to connect crowds and reinvent the fan experience. PixMob VIDEO, the most recent invention, was what Parent was bringing to the NFL.
Intrigued by the concept, the NFL booked Metlife stadium in New York for a demonstration. The PixMob crew arrived with test equipment, test pixels and a team of technicians – but, as with many new technologies, there was some nervousness as to whether the technology would work as planned. The team armed themselves with four hours of video content to show the production team. In the end, it took just ten minutes to convince NFL producers that they were looking at the technology for the next Halftime show.
PixMob VIDEO : the preparation
Over the next six months, the PixMob crew worked feverishly in its Montreal studio to build and perfect infrared transmitters destined for Rutherford, New Jersey. The result was PixMob VIDEO, a technology that allows show producers to create live video effects using the audience as a canvas. This patented and ground-breaking technology allows for real-time transmission of colour information onto any number of mobile pixels, in the form of wearable LED objects, at hundreds of thousands of individual locations. The entire system works off a run-of-the-mill Mac computer connected to a video server, which sends a video signal to pixels in the crowd, telling them what combination of colour they have to be at any given time. The effects and content displayed on this human video screen is limited only to the imagination of the designer sitting at the controls of this complex remote control system.
Still, the transmission of invisible data is only one piece of the puzzle. The next issue to tackle was the design of a wearable object that could house each pixel, or LED circuit. PixMob designers eventually settled on a ski hat (or “tuque” in Canadian parlance), which would serve the dual purpose of protecting both heads and batteries from sub-zero temperature conditions.
The hat turned out to be a good choice. When PixMob technicians and programmers descended upon their new home away from home two weeks prior to the Super Bowl, so too did 2014’s longest snow storm.
For two weeks – nearly right up to game day – the NFL and PixMob were concerned that the driving precipitation would force the game to be postponed or moved. For PixMob, the snow and cold weather wreaked havoc on the relatively delicate process of dialing in powerful rays of invisible light. Still, the team stayed in good spirits, appreciating the moment and enjoying the experience. “No fun allowed” was the cheeky slogan of PixMobians during their two week adventure, playing up the otherwise stressful environment they were working in.
When PixMob began this adventure, they weren’t sure of the fan reaction to the mysterious ski hats placed at each seat in the stands, enclosed in a package labelled with instructions to put the hat on for Halftime. As the key moment approached and the first effects were sent out to the pixels, the show directors and PixMob officials became concerned by the lack of, well, anything. People were not wearing their LED hats! Without them, the effects and content preprogrammed to go along with the onstage performance of Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers would look less than ideal.
D-Day : PixMob VIDEO at the Super Bowl Halftime Show
The PixMob team sprang into action, using the video server to create sweeping colour effects across the crowd. As the effects began to move around the stadium, catching the attention of fans, those not yet wearing hats rushed to put them on to become part of the largest video screen of all time. The show itself was a smashing success. Social media buzzed as fans took to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to post pictures and comments about their LED hats..
As the rest of the PixMob crew proudly watched from a local pub in Montreal, a collective sentiment of joy and relief was felt amongst all the members of the staff. The relatively small company had grown exponentially as a result of this game-changing Super Bowl Halftime Show, opening a new chapter in its history. The whole team was excited to get back to work, looking for more ways to innovate and reinvent rituals – but first, it was time to celebrate.
Special thanks to :
Executive Producer RICKY KIRSHNER
Supervising Producer ROB PAINE
Director HAMISH HAMILTON
Hippo Operator JASON RUDOLPH
Cast Field Director KRISTEN TERRY
Lighting Director DAVE GRILL
Multimedia Developers JAMES PATTEN
& JEAN-SÉBASTIEN ROUSSEAU
Industrial Designer SÉBASTIEN DALLAIRE
Lighting Designer BOB BARNHART
Rigging Coordinator STEVE THOMAS
Production Designer BRUCE RODGERS