quattro media Gets Creative With Drone and Cineflex Cams at FISA WRCH 2017
The venue itself had been setup to fulfill all requirements for an 2000m racing course integrating a 1600m long wave attenuator, that could be used as a tracking road parallel to the racing lanes, and a solid Finish Tower building at the end of the course, providing perfect logistic environments for a high standard sport event.
With a new venue setup at hand, that had never hosted an international televised event with such complex production requirements, FISA commissioned its long-term media and broadcast production partner quattro media to host-produce and coordinate all live and news content from this exciting event. 3 years passed from the first meetings and site-visits in 2014 until the cameras were finally setup along the course at the end of September 2017.
FISA and quattro media joint media production venture: World Rowing Production (WRP)
Since 2011, FISA has made quattro media responsible for producing the Live Signals as Host broadcaster for its World Rowing Championships, World Cup regattas and European Championships, when no EBU member is involved. As World Rowing Productions QM is also mandated to oversee all rowing host productions, in particular to ensure that the sporting aspects have been covered correctly with camera setup and creative coverage.
Dedicated producer Steffen Rapp works as TV Consultant and Executive Producer at all regattas. In addition, WRP have developed plans and requirements for FISA’s new camera set-up and overall broadcast strategy, as well as a production-philosophy and camera-storyline for the directors to follow and tell the racing story through start - 500, 1000, 1500 meters and finish.
The experienced quattro media consulting crew have steered FISA’s RFO process for timing/data-servicing and graphics and are now developing new elements with the federation and related service partners, to help deliver a better understanding of rowing to FISA’s global TV audiences. In particular, Steffen Rapp and his quattro media colleagues were the Host broadcaster for the 2013 World Championships in Korea and then a year later mandated by IHB Korea to produce all world feed signals for the Rowing and Canoe/Kayaking competitions hosted with the Incheon Asian Games.
With all of this experience at hand, quattro media certainly was the most experienced company to become host broadcaster of the Sarasota/Bradenton World Rowing Championships.
Limitation of weight: Coverage with tracking camera vehicles along a wave attenuator road
Even though the Benderson Park venue provides perfect rowing conditions for the athletes, some of its setup was quite challenging when it comes to the desired TV coverage setup: Especially the 1600m long wave attenuator section that went alongside the course even equal to water level had a payload restriction of vehicles tracking on it, that made the use of standard pickup trucks hosting the two Cineflex gyro camera setups for the live-production impossible. Together with NEP and Cineflex servicing partner AVS , WRP finally came up with a solution that allowed full gyro camera setup integration on minimum weight but fast enough tracking gear: The lead side-tracking gyro camera, mounted on a 3 m jib-crane, could be attached to an ATM off-road buggy that provided enough space for the camera and jib operator along with the driver, while the second gyro-camera, following the first one on the road found its mount fixed on a SMART mini car providing space for the second operator and driver.
Power generators and 1080 60i wireless transmission antennas were also attached to both of the vehicles. With the international A-Finals coverage on the last 3 days of the production the two side tracking gyro cameras were operated all through the 2000m along the course from start through to finish to enable the essential master-shots tracking with the crews on a 90° side angle while on the first days of heat racing offering only short time intervals to return from finish to the start position each of the two gyro tracking setups were used for a 1000 m distance section. The jib on the lead Cineflex vehicle was used to create stunning transitions from low water level to high overview movements that allowed a better overview of the positioning of the crews. With the requirement to have the essential master angle from the side as stable as possible, WRP creative executives choose the Cineflex gyro camera system for the job as its stability tracking down in fast speed allowed up to 40x lens integration with the camera that enabled zooming onto the boats and athletes at closest levels to provide emotional details during racing.
Dedicated Partner AVS did a great job providing both Cineflex camera systems of the latest generation including wide and 40x zoom lenses, all mounting on the vehicles, RF transmission to the OB-truck and all related operational crew. With AVS’s experience at hand WRP coverage could follow the racing boats always on the right angle from start right into finish, showing the emotional battles for the positions in every detail and judgeable angle on positions even with very close racing until the boats crossed the lines. The second gyro camera system on the SMART car following behind the lead ATM buggy mainly produced emotional close action and details from the battling boat crews that allowed great composition intercut sequences with the lead gyro camera. This camera was also used to feature on close and interesting racing action on positions that were not in the lead.
Technical Partnership with NEP/AVS
With a host-production at hand, that required a complex setup and signal flow throughout the 9 days of planned production WRP executives required a strong and flexible technical local US service partner that not only could provide all basic OB requirements, but also integrate other external vendors needed for the special camera and RF transmission needs. Quite soon quattro media contacted NEP US, being a leading facilities provider with all required host needs I the portfolio. With a wide network of specialized sub-vendors at hand and an outstanding reference in sport broadcast production at hand, it soon became obvious for WRP that the Pittsburg based provider would be just the right choice to go with for this demanding project. NEP did their best to provide all needs to serve outstanding coverage during the 9 days of onsite production that required an 18-camera live setup on the international produced last 4 days of Semi and A-Final racing, while staying with the given rather tight budget. WRP executive producer Steffen in retrospect believes, that it was just the right choice to go with NEP for the realization of this project: “All involved NEP executives and technical crew did a fantastic job to setup and coordinate all technical basics from their side, giving our WRP crew the chance to focus on establishing creative coverage ideas.
Setup along the course
WRP deployed two different setups for the production period: A limited setup of 7 cameras covering the first four days of heat racing providing feeds for web-live-streaming and the onsite video screens. Still this setup integrated one side-tracking Cineflex camera vehicle along with a super-slow-motion position (SSL) in the finish area.
Due to short timing intervals (5min) between the individual race starts on the first four event days, WRP executive producer Steffen Rapp together with main TV director Jürgen Thaller used EVS replays from the start to ensure coverage of all essential parts per race, that usually lasts 6-7 min until all boats have crossed the finish line. At this stage of coverage, the side-tracking gyro shot could only be used from 1000m into finish but still provided this essential angle to judge positioning in the important parts of the racing.
The second 4 days part of the host production, providing the live-feeds for the international transmissions used a 19-camera high standard layout, that included 2 Cineflex stabilized camera systems, 2 catamaran mounted orbiter operated RF following the racing boat crews from behind, 2 virtual graphics enhanced long lens cameras along with a live drone unit that delivered stunning aerial images.
Four cameras at the start area ensured that all details and emotions during pre-start presentation and the essential start period could be covered up to the point. All cameras were setup to display the crews for graphical introductions in their individual lanes. The cameras were positioned to provide the same angle shooting from the right side. A 100x lens attached to the camera in center position behind the 6 racing lanes ensured to stay close on selected crews racing out of the start area.
To provide good visualization at the split timing points along the 2000m course (500, 1000 and 1500m) WRP used maned tripod hard cameras placed on 4m platforms on the wave attenuator at each of the timing positions to achieve a good overview angle when the crews passed the split-time positions. All of these cameras were equipped with 86x lenses that allowed stable zooming on the boats once they had passed the timing points.
Around 1900m, at the final stage of the race course the creative team positioned a “low-boy” mounted hard cam working in SSL mode almost flat on the ground. Using another 100x lens this angle ensured exciting close action and emotion images from the boats and enabled replays for analysis.
The finish line shot operated 17m high from a balcony platform within the finish tower and provided a picture with enhanced virtual line and flag graphics that informed the audience on ranking while the crews passed the line.
A head on shot using another 86x lens continued to deliver close up expressions from the crews, once they had passed the line.
An ENG wide-angled camera positioned on an external section behind the finish-area delivered beauty shots with a wide view on the finish-tower and grandstand section looking down to the start section of the course.
Two handheld cameras with wide-angle lenses were added on the award podium setup in front of the finish grandstands to be as close as possible with all emotional moments at the medal awards that were held directly between the sportive events.
NEP setup the complex camera positioning along the 2000m long course with a fiber-optical cabling solution that was based on certain fixed signal installed installations along the wave attenuator and the finish tower section of the venue that had invested to support multi events.
Using NEPs TS 2 A/B unit
During the logistic planning for the production it soon became obvious that space-saving was required, to allow placing all external vendors and international and unilateral uplink facilities in the TV compound section. NEP approached the WRP executive producer and the LOC to deploy their TS 2 A/B unit, that had bene used with many complex sports productions before.
While main OB tender A hosted comfortable working conditions for the WRP core creative team being integrated with the EVS operation crew in the truck’s central production room, tender B was used to house Swiss Timing main live and virtual graphics crew and equipment along with a spacious office section for the WRP executive producer and onsite production management. Both units were connected providing the full range of required intercom connections.
This solution meant that other costly external working trailers or cabins were not needed and the side-expanding TS-2 A unit was even able to host an additional unilateral production unit if required.
The solid Grass Valley Kayenne K-Frame switcher with its 160 input and 4 M/E mixing option provided more than enough creative options for the director and producer to perform their complex visual concept integrating multi source spilt screen coverage along with virtual and extended data graphic integration.
All audio operations including IT/FX and English commentary full mix for the worldfeed and isolated commentary audio for the BBC were operated out of the TS 2 A unit truck. Using one unit for multiple host and unilateral tasks onsite during production helped WRP to offer a wide range of unilateral core services to overseas broadcasters at a reasonable price without the need to bring in external sub-vendors.
Working with two gyro camera based tracking vehicles on a small road
It took WRP executive Steffen Rapp quite a long time to establish a usable dual side tracking setup in RF mode, that was able to go with the fact, that each of the two vehicles needed to run under a total weight-limit of only 1600 KG going over the wave attenuator sections. This was required as venue owners from Nathan Benderson Park feared that high weight capacities tracking heavily on the wave attenuator road could damage its functionality and payload in retrospect. Together with NEP WRP found the right vendor to provide what was needed: AVS a US based provider specialized in aerial camera tracking and RF transmission gear setup two individual low weight tracking vehicles just right for these limited road conditions while still supporting the fully stabilized gyro needs of the creative production team.
The lead tracking vehicle consisted of a Polaris ATM buggy that had the Cineflex attached to a 3,5 m jib arm mounted on the back that allowed live on air up and down camera movements from lowest, water-level equal angles that went straight into higher overview positions in one shot. The Polaris also hosted space for the gyro camera and jib arm operators, driver and last but not least all RF transmission equipment and the power generator needed to allow live on air camera tracking on the full 2000m course.
The second and also independent tracking unit focused more on close coverage on the boats from a fixed mounted position on the tracking vehicle. Here AVS used a standard “Smart” mini car with the Cineflex unit mounted directly to its roof that allowed low weight tracking while providing smallest turning circle lock. To ensure best zoom range this gyro camera was equipped with the longest lens available for the Cineflex camera: A 40x HD zoom lens. Passengers on the Smart were to the limit of what was needed, Camera operator and driver only.
The very narrow layout of tracking space on the attenuator required good driving and coordination skills especially on the turning points behind finish and on the attenuator right in front of the start-line. The AVS crew did a very good job here always getting the Cineflex vehicles back in time to the start position to go with the next race coverage.
Throughout the entire production period of over 8 days the RF signal transmission from the two tracking vehicles stayed clean over the full range of 2000m without major noticeable signal lost – an essential basis to provide the master-shot angle for the live-coverage. To provide best audio with these high-quality video signals several shot-gun zoom microphones, aligned in the direction to the racing crews, were mounted on the tracking cars and in addition at essential other sections along the course.
Integrating a live drone-camera system for race coverage
Integrating a live drone aerial signal into rowing coverage, has lately been a strong demand with international host-productions. Together with its long-term partner FISA, WRP established and executed a live drone-aerial solution to be used in a WRCH event for the first time, that not only added stunning beauty angles, but provided angles on closest range to the racing crews that up to this event had only been provided by complex and expensive wired fly-cam setups on previous productions.
Full integration of all required event safety aspects and no disruption of the boat crews at any stage of the racing were the key requirements to be fulfilled going with drone integration with this FISA event.
Only a limited extra budget for the drone was finally found in cost-share between LOC and FISA. Thus, the drone could only be used within the last 4 days of international coverage.
With Measure, another US local provider specialized in aerial drone shooting was found, that deployed a DJI Inspire 2 drone setup into production providing a fiber-optical live-feed from their base station in a tent at the end of the finish area. Both, the drone pilot and experienced camera operator, were positioned to control aerial and camera movement along the course remotely through high resolution video screens.
The Inspire 2 system used, with 20-40 minutes of battery life per cycle, allowed to cover two races in one go before a quick one-minute only battery change had to be done directly on the floating road.
The WRP creative director outlined the possible drone flights over and along the venue, before it took off for the first time: Low movement and shooting directly over the spectating crowd at any point was not allowed. Also tracking directions and limitations in height were agreed. Apart from covering dramatic flyovers on the spectacular outdoor venue WRP wanted to setup a creative approach that used the drone as a cost-effective solution to really provide new stunning image angles on the race action itself, that have not been seen before.
Throughout the four days of drone live production several tracking angles were tested that followed the racing crews from the side, following from behind and even tracking completely stable in front. Most of them worked out very well and showed perspectives on positioning and rowing technique inside the boats from a top-shot level that has never been covered before.
The briefing was set, to keep a minimum distance of 30 m to the crews in the beginning. This could be lowered down to 15m becoming a really close approach onto the action from above without disturbing or harming anybody.
All of the drone movements during production were operated in very close coordination with FISA commission executives and race-control to directly follow their advice when the drone was in operation.
Going this way together on integrating new and potentially creative gear for an updated coverage approach was a great success. The feedback from involved media, TV commentators and the racing athletes themselves was 100% positive. All of them endorsed the idea to continue with this approach in the future.
Catamaran based wireless camera coverage
To provide close emotional details on the athletes and crews faces and synced body movement in their boats WRP setup two long lens equipped cameras directly mounted on special TV catamarans, following the boats from behind allowing direct shots into the face. The use of additional 5-axis gyro cameras here was too expensive, therefore WRP integrated two lens stabilized OB hard-cameras mounted on a low-positioned orbiter seat system on the catamarans provided by the LOC to get as close as possible to the action in front of them following from behind almost on the full 2000m distance. Using two catamarans in parallel from behind also allowed the use of split-screen coverage of the boats to analyze the crew performance in a head to head comparison. Both signals again were delivered by the AVS RF systems to the main WRP OB van.
WRP creative production crew
Working for FISA as their overall media-partner and worldwide broadcast production consultant, quattro media as WRP has formed a creative production expert team that includes TV director, live run-down producer, EVS and camera operational crew – all experienced with coverage of a rowing race, that come together whenever high-standard rowing coverage is required around the globe.
This dedicated rowing creative team has covered many outstanding FISA elite rowing events since its inception. Production included host-production of the World Rowing Championships in South Korea 2013, World Rowing Cups in Varese (Italy) and Eton (GB) along with FISA rowing sprint events in Zurich and St. Petersburg (Russia).
With this expertise at hand WRP can be considered as the ones to talk to when it comes to setup high quality rowing coverage.
Consulting all FISA international TV productions since 2010, executive producer Steffen Rapp joined with TV director Jürgen Thaller to define a creative production out-line for rowing coverage that soon became a standard guideline of requirements for other international host-broadcasters covering FISA events.
In 2014 the WRP creative core team was nominated by IHB to produce the live-feeds from the rowing and canoe events at the Asian Games held in Incheon South Korea. The quattro media team was the only European live-producer there.
For the Sarasota/Bradenton production the WRP front row in the OB main production room was joined by live-run down producer Tommy Stöckert who coordinated the important timing of the many takes during the long production days along with calls for live graphics and data.
In the preparation period of the complex project it soon became obvious that to fulfill all creative coverage needs, it would be essential to also have the experienced rowing camera and EVS crew onsite.
In the end WRP brought in a team of 26 members (mainly from German) to Florida’s west coast that joined with NEP and AVS colleagues. This worked out very well, as NEP and all other American partners did their best to provide workflows and technical routines that matched close with European standards.
All non-American WRP crew members entered the US with official I-Visa support that had been coordinated beforehand by the quattro media production management to fulfill all official requirements for a non-US media production crew working overseas.
Producing world-feeds for web-streaming and international live-broadcast
As a full-service host-broadcast partner to the event, quattro media not only provided all international live-signals distributed through EBU but also provided the daily live program that was encoded onsite for web-streaming to feed the Olympic Channel and world rowing.com audiences with the race actions during the full eight days period of the event.
The international signals were directly up-linked onsite to EBU for further distribution and were enhanced additionally with a full mix English commentary audio done by the FISA experts team, that was available to all international takers.
Live and virtual graphics integration
To gain highest creative output from the complex and innovative setup WRP updated the Swiss Timing provided live timing and data TV graphics especially for this season highlight FISA rowing event: Enhanced data information gathered by the GPS tracker mounted on every boats, was integrated with the standard timing display on the dirty feed to outline indexes like stroke-rate, speed and distance between the crews to explain the athletes performance in more detail. All of these measurements had been developed in close consultation with the FISA commentator experts to make them available for their analysis.
Swiss Timing also integrated some graphic add-ons to enhance the split-screen graphics. Virtual enhance graphics were super-imposed with the start side and finish-line camera images to display the crew’s country flags and lane numbers for the audience.
Innovation: Tracking with the crews from above and Split-Screen data enhancement
WRP coverage philosophy really focused on the idea to always deliver continuous information on the sportive race-determining aspects with the cutting sequences while telling the emotional story of the head to head fights in parallel. The drone (as an innovation) flying in front or at the back of the racing field delivered stunning overviews on the positions of each crew making their way towards finish almost out of “top-shot” angle that only could been covered with complex and expensive fly-cam setups during the Olympic Games coverage by OBS. The WRP director balanced them just right in timing providing the right mix of sportive and emotional action always keeping the audience on the spot, where the crucial movement was happening.
Full unilateral services onsite: Newsfeeds, flash/mixed zone operation
Being the host broadcaster of the Sarasota/Bradenton WRCH event, World Rowing Productions not only delivered all live-feeds from the Nathan Benderson Park but organized and coordinated all unilateral services like commentary positions, mixed and flash zone provision and stand-up presentation production for the related right-holding media. While the onsite quattro media production management tried to serve all last minute additional wishes the WRP own news distribution team produced a fully packed international news-feed contribution on a daily basis that was further distributed via uplink by the EBU.
A special onsite support was given to German Broadcaster ZDF: While the last finals on Sunday where still on with the world live-feed on the Sunday, WRP organized and produced in parallel a second ZDF only isolated camera-feed out of the flash zone at the finish-area featuring first interview impressions from the German eights rowing team on winning the gold-medal. This live feed was exclusively for the German audience.
Conclusion: Setting up new international standards for TV coverage on rowing
When hurricane “Irma” hit the Florida west-coast just 10 days before the opening of the WRCH event, nobody really believed that the 2017 rowing world championships would really see the light of days. Luckily the damage in the Sarasota/Bradenton area kept within bounds and the green light could be given to finally invite more than 950 athletes, officials and media over to the Suncoast to witness medal competitions in 26 different rowing events.
Local organizers together with hundreds of volunteers did an unbelievable job to organize and setup the Benderson Park into a high-class sport event arena that provided best conditions and especially calm and fair wind conditions, staging outstanding competitions that will be remembered for a long time.
It was not an easy decision for FISA and their broadcast production partner quattro media to go with a new approach to update their rowing live coverage with the integration of production tools like a live drone camera that lately received a lot of critical feedback especially out of the sports event perspective.
Although the integration of the new coverage tool first of all put the focus on safety and regulation aspects, it soon became clear that with a drone in production best camera angles still need to be found. This requires testing that often had to be done and approved on the fly while the coverage was on air.
Most of what has been captured worked out very well. The drone delivered stunning venue aerials that were talked about eye catchers during the live coverage. But even more important for its coverage usability in rowing, with its stable performance in the air, the little flying camera delivered really outstanding overviews on the boats positions while travelling with them into finish. Intercut with the multi perspectives from the side-tracking and timing positions, the drone really added a new dimension for the WRP coverage approach.
Still it must be understood that the drone can never been considered the master angle alone, making the side angles redundant. The camera eye in the air can only fly under suitable wind and weather conditions
With a media output serving over 150 takers in 45 countries, with the daily news and live-feeds, FISA and quattro media received a highly positive feedback for the complex production often emphasizing the 2017 WRCH coverage as one of the best ever done from a FISA rowing event.
About quattro media
quattro media GmbH is a global sports producer and a premium supplier of classic and outdoor sports magazines and event programming. The company offers a huge rights portfolio to traditional and new media broadcasters worldwide. Beside licensing quattro media GmbH provides services in the field of TV production, worldwide distribution and rights management. Creative production-wise the company consults and executes media and host production related operations for world-wide clients such as event-organizers, brands, broadcaster and sport federations.
The World Rowing Federation, FISA (from the French, Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d’Aviron) is the governing body of the sport of rowing. It is empowered by its 151 members National Rowing Federations, the National Olympic Committees and the International Olympic Committee to govern the sport of rowing.
FISA sets the rules and regulations for the practice of the sport, in all its forms including elite, para-rowing, coastal, masters and aspects of indoor rowing. FISA oversees sanctioned World Rowing events and provides advice and expertise for the organization of rowing regattas. The Federation also works on coaching, education and other matters relating to the sport and its development.