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03-16-2023 - Gear

Sony VENICE 2 and FR7 Captures Sports Biggest Halftime Show 2023

By: Victoria Graham

Sports biggest Halftime Show took entertainment to new heights as the production team delivered one of the most innovate and complex shows we have seen to date. Rihanna’s halftime performance averaged 118.7 million views – making it the second-most watched in Super Bowl history – only behind Katy Perry’s 2015 performance with 121 million views. We spoke with the technical geniuses at Funicular Goats and Digital Cinema Collective who helped bring Hamish Hamilton’s vision for a more cinematic style of storytelling to life over the past three years – with last year’s show earning an Emmy award.

Credit: Brianna Resuta, Digital Cinema Collective

From the outset, the team knew they would again be turning to the Sony VENICE camera to craft their visual storytelling narrative. That decision allowed them to focus on building the best show possible. As Supervising Producer Aaron Cooke described, “The halftime show is a moment. It is the thing that people are tuning in to see. It's as much a part of the Super Bowl as the football game itself, if not more so... It's just incredible to watch it happen. It's really a special thing to be a part of.” Cooke was right. The 2023 Halftime Show did beat the game’s overall rating and set new records as the most streamed event in history as well as the third most watched television show of all time.

Before knowing who the musical artist would be, the team realized they would need to rely heavily on the massive overhead rigging system at State Farm Stadium in order to protect the delicate field. While the flying, LED-lit platforms were arranged in different positions ranging from 15 to 60 feet off the ground, Rihanna moved through twelve #1 hits ranging from “Bitch Better Have My Money” to “Rude Boy.” Not only was it an incredible visual effect, it also fulfilled a very practical purpose: keeping Riri and her 80 backup dancers off the grass.

The production used 15 Sony VENICE 2 cameras and an FR7, Sony’s new cinematic pan-tilt-zoom camera. The main camera for the shoot was a special rig designed by Tait Towers called a descender cam. According to Project Lead Aaron Siebert from Tait Towers, “This was, in my opinion, the most technically advanced Super Bowl Halftime show that’s ever been done because of the amount of tech used to move the platforms.” To accommodate all this tech, the team used the VENICE 2 in Rialto mode for a smaller footprint. The Rialto allows a production to separate the sensor block of the camera from the camera body, for a compact, lightweight build. Cooke explained,

We had to live within the parameters that the NFL gave us, so we adjusted the size of the platforms, the number of platforms, but the concept was always to fly these platforms over a stage. The rigging was so complex, the only company in the world that can do that is Tait Towers. Tait is brilliant at flying stages and flying elements…. We could say with confidence, “There's no way that these platforms are going to be unsafe.” It was a brilliant system that Tait developed. 

Credit: Brianna Resuta, Digital Cinema Collective

Technical Coordinator Morgan Kellum expanded,

We at Funicular Goats lean heavy into the cinema aesthetic and try to find solutions that achieve the vision of the creative.  Our engineering systems are designed to be smaller, modular, and transportable, which keeps us nimble and allows us to work fast and be adaptive to any environment. We work with a lot of great people to accomplish these goals, including manufacturers like Sony. Our Engineers are well versed on the traditional Cinema workflows and have combined that knowledge with traditional Broadcast engineering to bring the best of both worlds to these types of special events.

When it came to camera selection, it was a no-brainer for the creative team to choose the Sony VENICE 2. While last year’s show battled unexpected brightness, this year’s challenge would be quite the opposite. Knowing the talent would be suspended in the air - away from any light source – the team knew the VENICE 2 could provide extra latitude for the low light environment while maintaining a cinematic look. 

For the Big Game’s Halftime Show, it was equally important to make sure Rihanna was able to present her creative vision in the way she wanted to. She needed to buy in to the cinematic creative vision as well, which is something Funicular Goats has helped establish with musical artists in recent years. This was the only camera that could handle the complex demands of this project.

Director of Photography, Dylan Sanford, explained how Sony’s VENICE 2 camera made for a more seamless broadcast integration, “it's just kinder to yourself to go with Sony because it's just so much easier to match cameras and to integrate it in that environment where Sony is dominant. Then you add to that the high-base ISO and paying no price for adding doublers. That's been a game changer for cinematic capture of live events because that was always the thing that we were working against…. It provides a freedom for these types of shows that we never had before.”

Credit: Brianna Resuta, Digital Cinema Collective

In addition to the cinema tools, like technocranes, and Steadicams, the team used a new e-mount box lens from Fujinon which was specially configured for the VENICE 2. Using such a lens on a cinema camera would typically result in a two-stop loss, but the dynamic range of the VENICE 2 make that easy to manage. 

Technical Director James Coker explained, “Using the new box lens on the VENICE 2 gave us the flexibility to tie in other tools to these cameras which I couldn't have done on any other camera. I would’ve needed to add other adapters to make it function - which adds more potential failure points. The adaptability of the VENICE 2 made it so much smoother all around.”

Another major benefit of the VENICE 2 was the higher base ISO for the aerial cameras. As Cooke described, “We spent so much time trying to figure out how we were going to cover the show at different altitudes. We literally were at different altitudes in the stadium at different times and had platforms moving. On the ground, it's easy for the lighting team to focus on the stage, but when you have people tracking and moving, that's where the higher based ISO saved us.” While Rihanna was 70 feet in the air, her key lighting was limited. Cooke elaborated, “Using the higher base ISO for those aerial cameras delivered a really clean product all the way through because we had a lot of lighting focused on the stage. It helped us create a very consistent product that looked beautiful.”

To round out the production, the team turned to Sony’s cinematic pan-tilt-zoom camera, the FR7, to capture a wide exterior shot of the stadium when the pyrotechnics went off. The FR7, which features a full-sized full-frame sensor, was outfitted with a 16-35mm zoom lens and integrated seamlessly with the rest of the production.

This is the third time Funicular Goats has been tasked with the cinema camera workflow at the Super Bowl Halftime Show. By all accounts, the game was a huge success. It’s mind blowing to think the show took just 7.5 minutes to set up and about six to take it down. The bar for future performances has been set a little higher now that gravity is no longer a limitation for live broadcasting. There is no limit to what this team of creatives can deliver, and we will be looking forward to seeing what they have in store for us next year.

Cameras and lenses provided by Abel Cine.

All photos by Brianna Resuta, Digital Cinema Collective.

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