SMT’s 1st-and-10 Line Takes Flight on Skycam Wildcat During NBC’s Sunday Night Football
NBC Sports’ Sunday Night Football has been on the cutting edge of production technology since its inception, and this season continues that streak. After introducing Skycam’s new Wildcat aerial camera system in its first game, NBC worked with SMT to integrate that company’s virtual 1st-and-10 line into the system. The technology debuted on Wildcat in Dallas on Sept. 13, when the Cowboys hosted the New York Giants.
“People have become accustomed to seeing a virtual first-down line over game cameras when they watch football games. It’s just a standard feature at this point,” says Hans Weber, VP, R&D, SMT. “We provide that for Sunday Night Football on all of their standard cameras, but they also wanted that over their aerial cameras. So, a few years ago, we developed technology to provide a virtual first-down line over the aerial-camera footage.”
SMT introduced its virtual 1st-and-10 line on NBC’s Cablecam in 2010. With viewers expecting the yellow marker from every camera angle, including aerial, NBC called on SMT to develop the line for its new Skycam Wildcat.
Because the four-axis stabilized Wildcat system can move more quickly and stop more cleanly than Cablecam, SMT worked with Skycam to develop a virtual 1st-and-10 line that would appear stable and clear.
“You can keep it on camera when you’re going through very fast moves, and the image is very stable,” says Weber. “In addition, it’s a much lighter system, and that allows them to rig it in different ways than they had to with the Cablecam. They can go into many different stadiums that they couldn’t go into before and set it up more easily and with more flexibility to provide shots that they haven’t been able to provide before.”
To control the 1st-and-10 line, Skycam Wildcat sends several pieces of information to the operator — camera position, where is it pointed, how it is zoomed and focused — who uses that information to drive SMT’s image-based tracking system, stabilize the line on the field, and produce a smooth line on screen.
“The normal workflow is, you would see, on the first replay, the EVS [server] playing back footage from a Skycam through our system and our system lays down a virtual first-down line,” Weber explains. “Our system also allows [NBC] to go back to any point in the game and play any footage from Skycam, and we would automatically render whatever the first-down line was at that point in the game over that footage.”
In addition, SMT provides feedback from an anemometer installed on Skycam that provides the Sunday Night Football team with wind speed and temperature.
SMT also moved to an all-digital interface this season, enhancing the precision, stability, and accuracy of the 1st-and-10 line on all of NBC’s cameras, which were recently outfitted with new Canon digital lenses.
“The biggest change that I’ve seen so far is, they have a little bit more flexibility in how they cover the game,” says Weber. “They can go to some places they couldn’t go with the Cablecam and get some shots they couldn’t get before, in terms of keeping up with the play and moving around the play as it happens. A lot of that is at the discretion of the director of the show, but, certainly, I think there were more challenges given some of the limitations, and now they seem to have the flexibility to do whatever it is that the director of the show wants them to do. Now it’s a matter of everybody figuring out the best way to cover the plays.”