Silent House Founder/CEO Baz Halpin On Turning Fantasy Into Reality

Awakening Baz Halpin Orr RGB
Silent House Founder/CEO Baz Halpin

Silent House founder Baz Halpin didn’t always aspire to become one of the most in-demand production designers in the world.

He started out as a classical musician, working part-time setting up chairs and risers for orchestras at the National Concert Hall in his hometown of Dublin, Ireland. After being recruited to go out with Bandit Lites on a Jethro Tull tour in what he calls a “trial by fire,” he left home and never looked back.

Now he operates an all-in-one studio, production house and creative hub, and has designed lighting for shows by Queen + Paul Rodgers, Cher, P!nk, Tina Turner, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and many more.

POLLSTAR: You describe Silent House as being three distinct businesses in one. Can you explain that?

Baz Halpin: The first division is Silent House Studios, which deals with everything creative – lighting, production and set design, choreography, creative direction, creative producing, video content and anything that goes into the creative side of putting a show together. Silent House Productions is a traditional broadcast production company. We produce mostly variety, but a lot of concert specials and some documentaries. Silent House Events is everything from original shows, like “Awakening” or corporate events or immersive experiences.

Can you describe the initial creative process? Where do your ideas come from?

The initial concept always comes from some sort of inspiration, whether it’s seeing a piece of architecture or art or something in nature that you don’t expect. Or you can be working with an artist that has a very specific concept. Katy Perry, for example, has a very clear sort of art direction. That, in turn, then will influence the lighting and how anything is lit; it all has to be complementary.

How does the inspiration go from idea to execution?

It evolves from an idea to a paint sketch on a piece of glass or pencil sketch on paper, to a computer illustration, to a 3D rendering, to a CAD drawing and then through various stages of approval process with the client. But the idea can come from anywhere. There’s no defined method for how an idea comes about. We’re all creative people, and creative people suddenly have ideas in the middle of the night.

Putting first-time effects into a high-profile show like a Super Bowl halftime must be especially challenging.

The Super Bowl is fraught with restrictions. You have this incredibly finite amount of time to get it on the field and get it off the field. You have a finite amount of rehearsal time on the field. Most artists who do it only get one shot at it, and they want it to be the high point of their career. Katy Perry is incredibly ambitious, and we wanted these 12 minutes to have many different features, moments, vignettes.

We wanted a projection – a huge carpet on the [stadium] floor that has to be rolled out and projection mapped. There’s this giant lion sculpture, and there’s 400 dancers who transition onto a projection map field. There’s the infamous beach scene with Left Shark, and then a guest star with Lenny Kravitz and then Missy Elliott, and then Katy takes off and flies around the stadium. That was an incredibly ambitious 12 minutes, given the restriction of rehearsal time and how much we could physically put on the stage.

Anything can happen in a live environment. Have you had any close calls beyond your total control?

Katy’s Super Bowl show was incredibly tricky with lighting. We had this enormous projection carpet that covered most of the field. You can’t point lights at that if you’re projecting on it, but you’ve got to light the people on it. And then the first two quarters of the Super Bowl, which was in Phoenix that year, were played in record time.

We’re 20 minutes away from taking our places and the sun is still sitting high in the sky. The projection wouldn’t work if the sun was up. My heart sank to my stomach. But the last two minutes of the half took 20 minutes to play. The sun was still kind of up as Katy’s performance started but, right as she stepped onto the projection surface, the sun set, darkness fell and the projection worked. It was an abject miracle.

There’s countless times where we’ve sort of pushed the boundaries of what can be done or what should be done. Fortunately, they usually come off. I can’t think of any that didn’t. We’ve been very lucky.