Winter X Games Notebook: No Shortage of Tech Toys in Aspen
ESPN may have moved a huge chunk of its on-site Winter X Games production operations to its Bristol, CT, home base this year, but plenty of notable technical toys and impressive production workflows were on hand at Buttermilk Mountain in Aspen, CO, last week.
By the time the Aspen festivities concluded Sunday night, ESPN had presented 20 hours of live X Games content (plus two additional hours on ABC), ESPN3 had streamed 23 hours of live coverage (including three hours of exclusive content), and ESPN 3D had telecast 21½ hours of live coverage. This was all accomplished with a streamlined production model that allowed ESPN to produce the live HD, 3D, and streamed shows with a smaller (and cheaper) footprint than at any previous X Games.
“There has been a vast change in how we approach X Games,” says X Games Coordinating Producer Phil Orlins. “In the past, we had our full production on-site, just like any other remote. But, this year, we reconstructed what we’re doing so that our on-site mobile units are still producing the event coverage but there is no complete show being done in Aspen.
“Essentially, the fully produced and integrated product is being done in Bristol,” he continues. “That feed gets sent out in a various way to spots all over the world. It’s a unique [production model], but something we felt was necessary with the [X Games global expansion].”
ESPN once again delivered its coverage using the 5D production model it pioneered with CAMERON PACE Group (CPG). 5D allows both HD and 3D shows to be produced using the same mobile unit and crew with a mix of 2D cameras and 3D rigs (the 2D telecast is derived from the left-eye feed of the 3D show).
A total of 30 CPG 3D camera rigs and 16 Sony HD cameras were deployed throughout the X Games complex in Aspen. Among the highlights were three 3D StradaCranes (90-ft. cranes covering Big Air jump, SlopeStyle, and Snowmobile courses), a 3D FlyCam aerial camera system (for SlopeStyle course), two I-MOVIX Sprintcam Vvs ultra-slo-mo cameras, a CPG custom ultra-so-mo system (making its debut at Aspen), eight robotic cameras, and three wireless Ski Followcams (racing down the hill alongside the athletes on the Slopestyle, SuperPipe, and Big Air courses).
GoPro as Extreme as Ever
Image-capture specialist GoPro had its largest presence to date at X Games, deploying hundreds of its innovative FollowCam miniature cameras on athletes throughout the various courses at Buttermilk.
“Each year, we’ve grown at X Games,” says Rick Loughery, director of communications, GoPro. “Two years ago, we just had a few of our production people getting some footage that ESPN used during their broadcast. Then, last year, we stepped it up and had our own trailer with more production people. This year, we signed a global [sponsorship] deal with X Games and have a huge production footprint here. Each X Games, we’ve grown a little more, and now we’re scaling up our presence globally — from both a production and a branding standpoint.”
GoPro rolled out a crew of about 20 production people and camera operators to shoot and edit a variety of pieces for ESPN’s coverage. The crew had hundreds of GoPro Hero HD cameras at their disposal, including cameras on athletes’ helmets and bodies, countless FollowCams, the always compelling 48-camera GoPro Array unit, and several remote-control aerial units (including an Octocopter and a Styrofoam glider).
Although GoPros have yet to be used as live cameras during a sports telecast, Loughrey says that this may not be very far off. “[Going live] is absolutely a goal. It’s not something we are doing this year. But it is definitely a goal of GoPro to be able to switch to these cameras live.”
The Power Factor
Of course, someone needed to provide the massive amount of power required to operate all this cutting-edge technology at a remote ski resort, and Illumination Dynamics (ID) was happy to oblige, once again providing power, distribution, and lighting for ESPN and its partners at Buttermilk Mountain.
In all, ID supplied a total of 15 generators (ranging from 60 kW to 300 kW), more than 14 miles of cable, and an army of light fixtures — all delivered by ID’s fleet of tractors and trailers. During a 15-day installation process leading up to the X Games, ID’s six-person crew put the entire television compound and SuperPipe control tower on redundant generator systems and supplied several single generators for the athlete and VIP lounges, press tent, and other areas.
“The less generators running up here at this altitude the better, so we design [the generator setup] to have a small footprint,” says Rich Williams, director of broadcast, Illumination Dynamics. “We have had a lot of success with that. We have been supplying every X Games, with the exception of the first one in [Newport, RI], and a lot of the guys that worked that X Games have worked every single X Games since — both summer and winter. It’s a big project, but we love doing it.”
The Digital Side
The newly redesigned XGames.com was bursting with new features, including an enhanced X Cast second-screen experience that included more behind-the-scenes video clips. XGames.com and the X Games app (for iPhone, iPad, and Android) also featured live results, near-real-time “leaderboard” video of competition runs, and game-cast elements like TrickTrack (which graphically captured trick data in real time) and Hypemeter (a worldwide applause meter that measures, scores, and displays the collective excitement around X Games at any time).
In addition to making every single live competition available via the WatchESPN app, ESPN also live-streamed several on-site and off-site concerts on XGames.com, the X Games Facebook page, and the X Games Livestream Channel.