Drawing Back the Curtain On Madonna’s Super Bowl Halftime Show

How multimedia studio Moment Factory mixed projection mapping with Cirque Du Soleil and Madonna for an epic halftime show that we actually watched.

Drawing Back the Curtain On Madonna’s Super Bowl Halftime Show
Ezra Shaw/Getty

Madonna enters Lucas Oil Field vogueing on an angular golden throne, which is pulled across the 50-yard line by a legion of Roman Centurions. The Super Bowl XLVI halftime show has just begun and it is already an immense spectacle. Once onstage, Madge starts dancing, and the Romans follow suit. Then something curious happens.


The ground beneath their feet begins to change; not just onstage, but on the field too. Suddenly the floor appears to be made of hundreds of squares which flip over and morph into covers of Vogue magazine, an image of Madonna looking out from each of them. These images aren’t stationary, though. They are continually overturning, rearranging, pulsating, alive.

Projection mapping, that is, transposing 3-D visual effects over physical spaces, has been used in public spectacles before, but not on this scale. Over the past year, the eye-popping effect has become a more mainstream sight, evolving from art installation favorite to starring in big brand events, like the recent Nokia Lumia event that combined the music of Deadmau5 and a projection on London’s Millbank Tower. Jordan Brand used projection mapping last year to conjure apparitions of NBA stars over the Hudson River.

The Super Bowl show took the technology to a new level, and to the largest possible audience. The well-received halftime show was not just a live music performance, tightly choreographed dancing, or mind-blowing visuals, but all of those things blended together seamlessly for an immersive experience. The show was the result of several parties’ collaborative efforts, but overseeing it all from behind the scenes was the crew from multimedia studio Moment Factory.

“Putting large-scale events like this together is part of the DNA of Moment Factory,” says Eric Fournier, partner and executive producer at the studio. “In terms of being seen, the halftime show is at the top of our list. But preparing in advance and adjusting on-site and making sure that everything works from the get-go is something we’ve done many times.”

Launched in 2001, the Montreal-based company has developed, designed, and produced hundreds of new media installations around the world, fusing video, lighting, architecture, and sound effects in an effort to leave lasting impressions. Last year, the company was approached by Cirque Du Soleil to help create Madonna’s forthcoming Super Bowl performance. It was not the first time the two groups had worked together, having collaborated on the Microsoft Kinect launch at the 2010 E3 expo in Los Angeles.

“When we came to the project, Madonna’s team had already selected songs,” says Fournier. “Then, from the selection of songs, there was the choreography, and the mise en scene, and figuring out how the visuals would come up to support each of these elements. It all came from the decision at the beginning to make a show out of it, not just a performance. Madonna’s a perfectionist, and she wanted to do something extraordinary, so that was the objective of everybody.”


Moment Factory worked closely with Cirque Du Soleil, Madonna’s team, and the NFL to conceive and produce the kind of show that would impress a Super-sized audience. Once the core concepts were decided for each song (the shifting magazine covers for “Vogue,” the intergalactic boombox for LMFAO’s cameo, etc.), it all came down to preparation and rehearsal. Fourier and his team prepared most of the content before getting on-site, and then they watched the rehearsals closely so they could adapt that content to the choreography. A lot of adjustment and reconfiguration was done on-site. “Really from the beginning to the end, we created a linear process by which the show would run very well,” Fournier adds.

The entire visual ensemble required 32 HD projectors. Moment Factory had about 10-12 team members on the field working on the project at any given time. Ever given a PowerPoint presentation, and worried that you might have misplaced a slide by mistake? Imagine your simple human error derailing the effect of Madonna’s Super Bowl stage appearing to suck up the grass and chalk from the football field like milk at the bottom of a cereal bowl.

“That’s in essence the main challenge of this project–having to set up and tear down on the field,” Fournier says. “In that sense, you don’t have any rigging points, you don’t have anything to attach yourself–you need to have everything prepared in advance so that whatever happens it’s all going to perfectly fit. On that front, the NFL has done I don’t know how many halftime shows. They’ve got a pretty disciplined team that knows the drill. We were very well supported by that group.”

When all was said and done, the show went off without a hitch. Unfortunately for us viewers at home, it sounds like we didn’t get to see the whole thing. “On TV there were a lot of closeups of Madonna and the dancers, but from the audience in the stadium, the show covered 50 yards,” says Fournier. “That was the idea: that the show, in essence, must eclipse the size of the stadium.”

Below are some behind-the-scenes videos that show how Moment Factory works their magic, including a glimpse at Arcade Fire’s now-legendary ball-dropping finale at Coachella 2011.