When the whistle blew after two quarters at Super Bowl XLIX, the producers of Katy Perry's halftime show had less than 10 minutes to set up. More than 600 dancers rushed the field, in an arrangement they had practiced twice a day for two weeks, and held glowing beach balls above their heads. When the commercial break ended, the beach balls appeared on screen, forming the final shape. A ripple of color went through the orbs, the crowd of dancers parted and Perry made her entrance into a sea of cascading light.
"It was one of the coolest things we've ever done," Justin Roddick, CEO of Glow Motion Technologies, told Mic. Roddick's company created the beach balls that made Perry's entrance so spectacular using a technology that was designed on PCs to bring light to live events in new ways.
Although the Super Bowl halftime show was Glow Motion's highest-profile exhibition, the Nashville-based company has made its mark around the country, from arena concerts to sporting events to corporate conventions. Their unique lighting technology, powered by LEDs, is bringing the concerts to a new level.
Light-emitting diode technology is used in almost every electronic product that exists. LED monitors are prominent among PC computers, and the LED lighting technology often gives computer users a sharper image when looking at the screen than the competing LCD monitors. When you take that powerful lighting technology and disperse it across a concert venue through wristbands or other props, it has a completely different effect.
At a Glow Motion event, staff hand out light-up devices — beach balls, wristbands or lanyards — to people in the crowd. Using a standard lighting console, the kind found in music venues nationwide, the engineer is able to control each individual device, lighting it up like a pixel and turning the entire crowd into a video screen. It is a stunning innovation in stadium special effects that only became available three years ago, when a pair of British inventors who had developed something new approached Roddick.
"It was a AAA battery connected to a wire lead and a board," Roddick said. "They proved that they had individual control over each pixel. We were floored by the idea of being able to control not only the audience, but each person individually. You can create amazing effects."
The genius of Glow Motion's design is that complex effects can be created by someone who has just been introduced to the software — a testament to the elegant simplicity of the technology, which was created to be run on PCs.
"All of the development tools required to compile code to run on the wristband was designed for PC," Glow Motion co-owner Pete Bailey, one of the inventors who designed the technology in the first place, told Mic. "I think [it] has a lot to do with the fact that electronic engineers use PCs for development," he continued, and so his team used PCs "for expedience."
How these effects can be used is limited only by the imagination of the client. At a concert, 50,000 screaming fans are crowded into an arena, waving their fists in the air. On each arm is a wristband whose constant shifts in color allow the concert's producer to send waves of light cascading across the crowd. It puts a traditional laser light show to shame.
"It truly makes you part of the show," Roddick said. "It brings the fan right into the stage. Everyone's trying to figure out how to engage the audience and make it more of an experience. An experience is what gets people talking and gets people coming back for more."
For now, Glow Motion, founded in 2012, is focused on large-scale events like the Super Bowl and other major concerts. Garth Brooks fans may have noticed the large light-up orb that surrounds his drummer, which Roddick describes as a "six-cylinder spinning drum container that goes up in the air and rotates on multiple axes."
Five years ago, Roddick could not have imagined designing such a complex product. Now, he recognizes the potential of the technology. When Brooks' designers, SetCo, approached Roddick about the new innovation recently, he knew it could happen.
"We're a small, boutique company that's very flexible," Roddick said. "There's a lot that can be done."