Live From X Games: Tech Vendors, Service Providers Unite in Tight Compound

As is always the case with sprawling, complex X Games productions, a horde of tech vendors and service providers were on hand in Aspen, CO, last week to lend ESPN a helping hand. Here’s a look at some of the leading providers’ contributions to ESPN’s record-setting Winter X Games show.

NEP Rolls With the Pro Bowl Punches
When the NFL moved the Pro Bowl from its annual home in Honolulu to Glendale, AZ, this year, it created a conundrum for NEP and ESPN. NEP’s EN1 Monday Night Football trucks, which were expected to once again serve as the home of ESPN’s X Games production, were needed by ESPN at the Pro Bowl. Despite the change of plans, NEP was able to come up with a hodgepodge solution to meet all parties’ needs.

The NEP team on hand at ND4's C unit

The NEP team on hand at ND4’s C unit

“This year, we had a conflict with Pro Bowl being the same week as X Games. EN1 does the entire Monday Night Football season, so that took the top priority for this week for that truck,” says NEP Supershooters Account Manager Michael Pean. “We wanted to come up with a solution for X Games to at least equal the real estate, as far as the working space within the trucks.”

SS22’s A unit was paired with ND4’s C unit to work Venue A because SS22’s B unit is a straight truck and ESPN required an expando to accommodate its large-production needs. SS22’s B unit was also onsite to serve as a utility unit for ESPN’s overflow.

“Sometimes, we have trucks available to come up with different combinations,” explains NEP Engineering Manager Nic Romano. “With golf not being in season right now, we have a wide variety of good trucks to choose from to make the best combination for the client, and we were able to do that with ESPN here.”

In addition, NEP’s SS32 and ST32 served as the home of the Venue B production, and ST28 housed ESPN Event Productions videoboard shows. All six mobile units were packed into a tight footprint along with office trailers and BSI’s mobile unit, the truck compound having shrunk slightly because of upgrades made over the past year at Buttermilk Mountain.

“We had some great meetings with ESPN after [the SVG Summit in New York in December] to talk through what we all wanted to accomplish,” says Romano. “We went over the connectivity with these [mixed] trucks, this is how much we have, this is what we’re going to need to add to the trucks to make this work. And then we came up with an outline for the guys in the NEP shop, and they built it. If you have to add to the infrastructure of a truck, you have to plan for it. You can’t just show up onsite and say, Okay, we’re going to do this.”

Among the custom solutions NEP provided for ESPN were several fiber kits built specifically for the needs of each venue at Buttermilk. In addition, NEP’s The Wall iPad, which enables fast and easy configuration of complex monitor walls, was deployed. Also used was an end-of-show rundown, which NEP has provided for NFL on Fox, that indicates how many times each camera was taken, allowing a director to review and use the data plan for future shows.

“The customization of coming up with the real, the ideal solution for the show — that is what we’re really proud of,” says Pean. “We are always working on those types of things to try and better our client’s experience and the show in general.”

BSI Manages RF All Over the Mountain
Longtime X Games RF vendor BSI was on hand at Buttermilk, supplying a variety of wireless cameras and mics and handling ESPN’s complex RF coordination and wireless comms infrastructure.

BSI's Eric Pfeiffer shows off one of the company’s digital return-video system monitors for on-air talent.

BSI’s Eric Pfeiffer shows off one of the company’s digital return-video system monitors for on-air talent.

“We’re covering more of the mountain than we ever have before,” says BSI EIC Eric Pfeiffer. “We put a site up at the very top of the X course, and one at the bottom to allow them to do interviews and audio heads.

BSI provided linked transmitters for three FollowCams (camera rigs that allow operators to capture a unique moving shot from right behind the athlete), a Steadicam (with a Sony HDCP1), two Flycams, and four handhelds, along with the receive infrastructure for the new GoPro-Vislink live HD RF cameras, which were debuting.

On the audio side, BSI delivered nearly 30 wireless mics, including 16 parabola mics, seven Blue Steel MIC1500 wireless units with integrated on-air and talkback functionality, and a snowmobile helmet mic and “Madonna” mic for talent, both with MIC1500 beltpacks.

For communications, BSI supplied ESPN and ESPN Event Productions 15 PL intercoms (including one for the Vortex Aerial drone team) and 11 IFB intercoms.

BSI brought along its digital return-video system, in which a single transmitter in the truck sent the signal to as many receive points as necessary throughout Buttermilk Mountain. Via a miniature receiver on the RF camera, an operator could see return video on the viewfinder to help in framing shots. BSI also fed the return video to monitors so that talent could view the program feed while announcing.

“It basically just allows the producers to feed the talent whatever they want, seamlessly,” says Pfeiffer. “Which is a huge advantage for them.”

Fletcher Keeps Specialty Cams Special
Fletcher Sports, the longtime provider of specialty cameras for ESPN’s X Games shows, was in Aspen.

Fletcher provided two NAC Hi-Motion II ultra-slo-mo camera systems (switching among hard, handheld, and jib configurations) and nine robotic cameras, which were repositioned in 13 locations during the week-long event’s various competitions. Three of the robos were outfitted with longer, 40X lenses, while five of them served as booth cameras: two Venue A announce booths, two Venue B announce booths, and the athletes lounge.

The Fletcher team supporting ESPN's robotics, NAC ultra-slo-mos, and more in Aspen

The Fletcher team supporting ESPN’s robotics, NAC ultra-slo-mos, and more in Aspen

“At this event, more than almost any other, the robos give more coverage in spots that you can’t easily access with scaffolding and manned cameras,” says Fletcher Lead Technician Nick Serna. “It changes your perspective and adds a really cool element. This year, we have a robo 70 ft. in the air; you just can’t put somebody that high on the mountain. And we have an overhead shot over one of the curves on X Course; [it] adds to the whole new feel of the show.”

Among the other vendors on hand were MUSCO lighting it all up, VER renting out all kinds of equipment (from fiber solutions to lenses and more), Vortex Aerial’s drones, GoPro and Vislink’s live mini RF cams, Sony’s army of HDC cameras.

For more, check out all of SVG’s Live From X Games coverage:

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