At last year’s U.S. Open in Shinnecock Hills, Fox Sports found itself faced with a dilemma. There was simply not enough room in the compound for all of the operational areas to exist and, as a result, the decision was made to build a second area, called the Technical Tent, that was located about half a mile away. This year the distance is a little longer (closer to a mile) but the goal is the same: to house camera, audio, and RF support as well as the robotics operators and AR operations closer to the course and in a single facility that minimizes the need for production trailers and B units in the broadcast compound.
“The more we looked at it that model made more and more sense and now we may think about it for some other shows,” says Mike Davies, Fox Sports, SVP, technical and field operations.
Tommy Lynch, Game Creek Video, technology lead, oversees the operations at the tent alongside Tim Jobin, Game Creek Video, engineer. Davies says the bespoke facility gives the Game Creek team a chance to move beyond the truck facilities the company is known for.
“It underscores the four corners that Game Creek Video puts around this show as flypacks aren’t their forte, but it doesn’t mean they can’t do them when they have to,” he says.
Lynch says having teams like all of those involved with AR and shot tracking under one roof (or tent) works a lot better than being located in different production trailers.
“With all of the different entities that need to talk to each other it’s a lot easier to walk over and talk to somebody as opposed to using a comms panel to try and find someone who may not be sitting in their location,” he says. “I believe you still can’t beat walking and talking to somebody in person.”
The tent is a little bit smaller than the one used less year but the 40-50 people (and upwards of 70 when maintenance is in full swing working on cameras, lenses, and audio gear) have plenty of elbow room.
New this year in the tent, says Jobin, is support for the hole microphones, more robotic operators, and quality control. A visit to the Technology Tent also gives a better understanding of some of the next-generation production tools that are constantly evolving, and the tent gives the breathing room to expand those operations.
“Pebble Beach is one of those courses that calls for everything and you can just unload,” he explains.
For example, Jeff Silverman, president of Inertia Unlimited is working with six Dream Chip ATOM one 4K mini 16 cameras that way 123 grams each and are being used for as Bunkercams. Fujinon and Zeiss lenses are mounted to the cameras.
“The really neat thing is it’s a 4K 60fps HDR camera with dual outputs and genlock,” says Silverman. “They can also use a normal Sony RCP to paint the cameras and the images are originating in 4K and then downconverted. It’s stunning that they can fit a 4K global imager in a box this small.”
Silverman is also overseeing control of his xMo super slow mo cameras, and drop cameras that can be moved around the course and dropped in different locations.
“We’re dealing with some distances on the robotics that can reach a few miles of fiber but it’s all working great,” says Silverman.
Davies says the original plan was to rely on RF but from a practical standpoint that didn’t work. “With 124 other cameras on the course we were able to predict where we wanted coverage and put in drops,” he says.
Also located in the Technology Tent is the team from Virutal Eye which this year utilized a Shotover G1 gyrostabilized gimbal platform from JITAcam. Ian Taylor, Virtual Eye, managing director, says the Shotover rig is located on a Towercam that can be used for coverage on holes 4, 6, 14 and 17 and provides a new angle for shot tracking.
A new development from Virtual Eye is that it can now put realtime AR graphics over lives shots from any camera without the need for calibration.
“Now we can start to talk about doing AR with drones, blimps and crane cameras,” says Taylor. “We know TV budgets are limited so we are trying to design products in a way so that we can use the resources that are already here. Shotover is the one exception here at Pebble Beach.”
Virtual Eye is also once again using artificial intelligence to drive the insertion of golf hole maps that will slide into the screen when players tee off on 10 of the 18 holes.
“The computer communicates to the radar system in the field and when the ball is hit it knows to slide the graphics slab in from the side, adding the graphic to the replay without any operator needed,” says Taylor. “Tee shots that are covered live still have an operator so that he can do different things. But the automated system means that all of the shots will be able to have a slab.”
Taylor says working with the Fox team always has his company, and others, stretching their boundaries.
“It’s quite cool working with them and, yes, sometimes something might not work but it usually does,” he says.