Biggest production of the year features six trucks, 200+ crew, 50+ cameras
After producing more than 100 games over a grueling 20 weeks, the Fox Sports operations team ends this season’s NFL effort this weekend with the NFC Championship Game. After hosting a divisional game at Levi’s Stadium last weekend, Fox stayed put in Santa Clara, CA, while preparing for its biggest show of the year — with a half dozen mobile units, 200+ crew members, and more than 50 cameras.
“We do more than 100 games a year and have seven crews on the road each week,” says Ted Kenney, director, operations, field and technical, Fox Sports. “It’s a very long haul. Each week, we get on a call with all the producers and directors, and they let us know how things are working and what new technology they would like to try. It’s our job to look into that technology and see how we can give them the best possible [tools] for the job. What we are putting out there this weekend is a culmination of all that hard work week in and week out.”
Having delivered the most-watched Saturday NFL Playoff game on record with last weekend’s Packers–49ers divisional matchup (averaging 37.5 million viewers), Fox expects plenty of eyeballs on its broadcast this Sunday and is shooting the works when it comes to production technology.
Fox Pulls Out All the Stops With 50-Plus Cameras
As has been the case for the broadcaster’s A and B games all season, Fox will produce Sunday’s game in 1080p HDR (the broadcast will be upconverted to 4K HDR for distribution to participating carriers).
According to Kenney, the 50-camera complement in Santa Clara is on par with its recent NFC Championship production — with a few extra bells and whistles.
Four native-4K cameras have been deployed, giving Fox the ability to frame and extract specified HD scenes at any size. A pair of Sony HDC-5500 goal-line robos will capture pristine images of key scoring plays, and two HDC-4800’s will be positioned on the rooftop looking down the near sideline (right to left) and at the left high–end-zone slot. These two 4800’s are outfitted with a Fujinon SK20x35-ESM 8K PL-mount box lens and Fujinon 20-1000mm 8K zoom lens, respectively.
“This offers us more flexibility and range while maximizing the clarity of the image,” says Kenney. “Our field of view can be much larger in order to extract a clear precise image of the area we would like to extract. The game comes down to inches, and that’s what we’re able to see with these cameras and lenses.”
After first rolling out 8K goalpost cameras (provided by COSM) for the Wild Card and Divisional Round games, Fox is deploying them in both end zones this weekend. This gives the production team a wide field of view to see the entire end zone and extract a specific area during a key play or replay (for example, to see whether a foot was in bounds or a catch was made on a scoring play).
PylonCams are also being provided by COSM for the both the goal line and back line of each end zone. Each PylonCam system contains two cameras: the Dreamchip Atom One Mini Air and the Dreamchip Atom One 4K Mini 7. The Mini Air provides a long throw and narrow field of view to get closer to the players within the line of scrimmage; the 4K Mini 7 provides a 185-degree field of view. Fox can use the wide field of view to pan, tilt, and zoom within the immersive high-resolution capture.
“Obviously, the end zone is the most important area on the field,” says Kenney. “With the goalpost cameras, the PylonCams, and the goal-line robos on top of all our other cameras, we think we are covering that really well.”
Fox’s arsenal also comprises a whopping 14 high-frame-rate cameras, one wireless Steadicam and one Megalodon shallow–depth-of-field camera roving the field, and an army of robos and POV cameras (in the tunnels, locker rooms, coach cameras, up in the booth).
Fox will be using AR graphics on its Skycam wired aerial system as part of its ongoing push to bring viewers relevant statistics during the game.
On the audio side, A1 Jamie McCombs and his team will implement six parab mics to cover the field audio, and all cameras — including hallway cameras — will be miked. Fox has also deployed extra crowd microphones to capture fan excitement.
For Your Amusement: Fox Makes History With Drone at Nearby Theme Park
In addition to the Skycam and a fixed-wing aerial, Fox has received clearance to fly a live drone during its coverage. In the past, a Santa Clara city ordinance prevented Fox from flying a drone during games, but, after several weeks of planning with the NFL, the 49ers, and the Santa Clara Police Department, during the Packers-49ers Divisional game last week, Fox became the first NFL broadcaster to fly a live drone at Levi’s Stadium.
As part of the agreement with the city, the drone must stay at least a half mile from the stadium. With that in mind, Fox has opted to fly it over California’s Great America Amusement Park, which is just down the street and closed for the season.
“It worked out beautifully [last week],” says Kenney. “You have this theme-park shot with rollercoasters all lit up with different colors in the foreground, and then you move past that to reveal the stadium. I thought they were fabulous shots. We’re excited to have [the drone] back this weekend. Plus, it came in handy last week because the cloud coverage was lower than 3,000 [ft.], so our normal aerial shot was grounded — meaning that drone was our only aerial view.”
Mobile Studio Provides Big-Event Feel at Levi’s Stadium
As is typical for the playoffs, Fox Sports has once again partnered with Filmwerks to create a mobile studio set on the field, at the near-right 20-yard line for pre/postgame and halftime shows. Before kickoff and the start of the second half, the 20- x 17-ft. set is collapsed in just two minutes and moved against a wall near the stands. It can be set up again in just 2-3 minutes.
“Levi’s Stadium has a fairly wide sideline, which helps us store the set without too much issue,” Greg Pfeifer, director, remote studio engineering, Fox Sports. “The Fox Studio operations and engineering teams working on this project have put a lot of effort into this show, setting us up for success.”
In the Compound: Encore Stands Pat; Moonshine Joins the Party
The truck compound in Santa Clara is headlined by Game Creek Video Encore A, B, and C units, which were already onsite after working last weekend’s game. This week, Moonshine A and B and Edit 4 rolled in to serve the onsite studio show, and four support trailers are on hand to house Fox’s various offices and an executive lounge.
“Going into Saturday,” recalls Kenney, “we knew the game could be in Detroit, Tampa Bay, or San Francisco. We were talking to all three [venues] and prepping for all three cities [complete with] full compound drawings for Detroit and Tampa. As soon as San Francisco won and we knew we were staying here, we immediately got going on setup here and had a huge call Sunday morning with over 30 people, including the 49ers, to go over all the plans. A lot of people don’t see that pre-planning process, but a tremendous amount of work goes into it.”
In addition to its onsite presence, The Vault at the Fox Sports Pico facility will be used to remote four EVS replay positions tied into the Encore trucks.
“It has been a great year, and I can’t speak highly enough about the job that the ops team and the technical managers do on a week-to-week basis,” says Kenney. “The overall production of these games — announcers, graphics, audio, images — are a testament to the craft and professionalism of those out there on the road week to week.”