Live From MLB All-Star: Fox Sports Puts Focus on Slo-Mo, Onsite Studio Programming; Yogi Makes ASG Debut
Fox’s presence features eight high-speed cams (including two 16x Sony HDC-4800's) and two C360 cameras
For Fox Sports, the MLB All-Star Game is not only a chance to deploy its proven production tools but also an opportunity to test out technologies that are just coming of age. This year’s edition in Miami is no different: Fox has rolled out one the most robust high-speed-camera complements and on-field audio setups ever for a baseball game, along with Game Creek Video’s newly launched 4K-capable, IP-router-based Yogi mobile unit. On the bleeding-edge side, Fox is deploying a pair of C360 Technologies’ 6K camera systems with the ability to pan-and-scan without losing resolution.
“As always, the All-Star Game brings a chance to try new technologies out and see what sticks for postseason baseball and our other [properties],” says Mike Davies, SVP, field and technical operations, Fox Sports Media Group. “And we have amazing and very flexible operations and engineering teams here that can roll with the punches when it comes to [new technology].”
However, with Fox Sports 1 now nearly four years old, this week is about much more than just the All-Star Game for Fox. FS1 is onsite in full force with shoulder programming in the days and hours leading up the game itself.
Yogi and the Power of Ultra-Slo-Mo
Game Creek’s Yogi 4K production truck (A and B units), launched in March, is primarily serving Fox Sports’ RSN YES Network during the MLB season.
However, the cutting-edge 4K-capable mobile unit, which features an IP core, is also being deployed for Fox’s All-Star Game and will serve as the primary truck for its World Series coverage come October. The powerhouse truck, which can support up to 20 Sony HDC-4300 cameras running in 4K, lends itself to Fox’s high-speed-camera–heavy All-Star plans this year.
“Yogi [affords us] all the ability to have several 4300 cameras as well as our 4800’s,” says Francisco Contreras, director, field operations, Fox Sports. “It enables us to do all the 4300 and 4800 high-speed cameras that we want to [deploy] today but also [prepares us for] 4K or 1080p HDR or anything else in the future. And the footprint is much bigger for us, which is very nice.”
Game Creek Video’s Edit 2 truck is serving as the C-unit for Fox’s All-Star Game production.
In all, Fox Sports will deploy eight high-speed-camera systems for tonight’s All-Star Game: three HDC-4300’s in 6X slo-mo mode (all in centerfield), two HDC-4800’s shooting at 16X (mid first and mid third), a Fletcher robo with a Sony HDC-P43 POV cam (at mid home), and two Phantom cameras running at roughly 2,000 fps (at low first and low third) provided by Inertia Unlimited. Despite the 4K-cutout capabilities of the 4300 and 4800, Fox plans to primarily leverage its high-speed capabilities rather than zoom functionality at All-Star this year.
“We’re not doing as much 4K cutout this year,” says Davies. “Frankly, we have found that our camera operators are so good that we actually don’t need the cutout very often and that we’d rather have the 16X on the 4800 than the cutout capability at the lower frame rate.”
C360 Ushers in New Pan-and-Scan Era
Fox Sports is bringing back the C360 Technologies 6K camera system that it debuted at Super Bowl LI here in Miami with one camera in the first-base dugout and another overhead shot in the rafters above the field. The C360 system features a single panomorph lens that captures 180-degree 6K images and allows the production team to zoom in on up to four independent areas with up to 2X zoom without impacting resolution. The technology allows the operator to dive into the image virtually with pan/tilt/zoom and extract a flattened and normalized image.
“This has been something that we’ve been fostering along with C360 and playing around with for the past few months,” says Davies. “It allows you to pan-and-scan not only in high resolution but also in 180-degree panorama. I don’t know how useful it’s going to be for baseball, but All-Star is a perfect place to try it out.
“We’ve got some of the best robotic operators in the country on this,” he continues. “If we do it right, we could have a reaction shot, like a high-five at the dugout, that we would not have been able to get otherwise. You can imagine it for something like net-cams for soccer or even putting it on the Skycam, which is something that could be really special. We’re trotting it out at a lot of [events] to see where it works best.”
In addition to the high–frame-rate cameras and C360 systems, Fox’s 33-camera complement also includes three wireless RF cameras (provided by CP Communications) including one mounted on a MōVI three-axis gimbal, as well as an RF RC car. The DirecTV blimp is also on hand to provide aerial coverage.
FS1 Is About More Than Just the Game
Although first pitch won’t take place until tonight, Fox Sports programming has been in full swing in Miami since Monday, with live editions of The Herd airing from an onsite set at Marlins Park.
“Everything’s getting bigger at All-Star with FS1’s expansion each year,” says Rod Conti, VP, technical operations and production management, Fox Sports. “We have The Herd onsite as we did last year. But the big difference this year on the pregame side is having MLB Media Day on the field for the first time. That expanded our format into a two-hour show today. Much like we’ve done in the past with the NFL [for Super Bowls], we’ve had MLB-sourced [robotic] cameras come to the truck from each of the player [interview locations].”
Located roughly 75 ft. from Fox Sports’ primary pregame set is the Herd set. The Herd production is utilizing resources from Game Creek’s Maverick and B4 mobile units (which is serving the primary pregame production) and a dedicated 2M/E Grass Valley Karrera switcher to create a streamlined production model. The Herd requires a small onsite crew, and all graphics insertion is done downstream at Fox Sports’ Pico Blvd. Broadcast Center in Los Angeles.
In addition, the Fox Sports team has revamped Fox Sports Florida’s centerfield set at the ballpark: the footprint was expanded so that the set now hangs over the outfield promenade, and the desk has been enlarged. In addition, Fox added a JitaCam to allow a jib look on the set.
“In March, we took over the RSN stage [in centerfield], and we decided we wanted to make it bigger,” says Contreras. “We worked with Filmwerks to cantilever it and made the footprint a lot bigger, so we would have room for the bigger desk. Normally, you can’t have a jib on a stage that size, but the JitaCam gives you that space you were looking for. It’s very cool, and we are all pretty proud of it.”
The redesigned set will remain intact for Fox Sports Florida as Fox looks to continue to leverage its RSNs during All-Star Games.
“This is the second All-Star Game in a row that we’re utilizing an RSN’s set, after San Diego last year,” notes Conti. “We are really reaching out and finding ways to work together for All-Star and at the World Series as well. And our presence can leave a lasting footprint: in Cleveland, our World Series set stayed in play for them, and San Diego has the polarized film on their window looking out onto the park. We’re using all of our resources across the board in order to cover all of our FS1 programming in the best possible way.”