Live From Super Bowl LIV: Skycam’s Daredevil-Like Rigging System Delivers Unique Live Angles
One of the two four-point aerial camera systems is rigged to the 357-ft. spires above Hard Rock Stadium
“You’re going to think that I’m crazy, but hear me out.”
Super Bowl LIV was still more than half of a year away when Stephen Wharton, COO/CTO, Skycam, called Fox Sports SVP, Technical and Field Operations, Michael Davies with a wild idea.
Skycam, the popular four-point aerial camera system has become so prevalent in live sports television production these days that simply having one (heck, even two, or three) isn’t enough to differentiate a major championship broadcast. Wharton wanted to do something eye-catching for Fox Sports’ latest swing at the Big Game.
To make that splash, Skycam has deployed a pair of its Wildcat units, rigging one of them not to the base of the roof as is standard but rather to the top of the 357-ft. spires that tower over Hard Rock Stadium following its 2016 renovation.
The rigging allows the higher Skycam to essentially move in and out of the building through the roof, playing an entirely new role as a cinematic scene-setter. It hovers above the roof opening, grabbing shots of the Miami skyline before descending into the stadium and diving toward the field. It’s pulling in shots unlike anything before seen on a Super Bowl broadcast.
“With the 100th anniversary of the NFL, it’s cool for us to be able to deliver this and do something that’s never been done before,” says Wharton. “I think everyone tries every year to outdo the previous [Super Bowl], and we wanted to have a really big highlight that is impacting game coverage but is also a huge entertainment factor on [pre/postgame] and halftime shows.”
Logistically, Skycam hired a third-party engineering firm and held multiple meetings and site visits with Hard Rock Stadium; the stadium’s architectural designer, Populous; Fox Sports; and other entities. They also went through the processes of ensuring that power, RF capabilities, and safety gear for operators stationed on the roof were all in place.
The spires were climbed by Skycam’s Hector Keeling and Jason Curl, with the roof installation managed by Eric Van Gorp, Brad Eisele, and Josh Thompson. Naturally, Skycam and Hard Rock Stadium had to take extreme safety precautions with the rigging and in the regular maintenance of the system this week in the event of rain and/or high winds (both of which have occurred in the days leading up to kickoff)
There are about 25 Skycam staffers onsite for the Super Bowl, and about a third of them are the company’s top-level riggers, which are dedicated to the safety of the system.
Each Skycam is driven by a pilot and a camera operator. Given the length of the Super Bowl broadcast window (hours of pregame, a highly technical halftime show, and trophy celebrations postgame), the company is rotating those positions throughout the day.
For the game broadcast, the low Skycam will be piloted by Alex Milton and operated by Vinnie Scaffidi; the high version will be manned by pilot Sam Walker and operator Darin Haggard. For surrounding coverage, the low SkyCam will be taken over by pilot Raubyn Pointer and operator Mike Miller; the high Skycam, by pilot Rian Weigart and operator Ed Martino.
As for the cameras themselves, the high Skycam is a Sony HDC-P50, capable of shooting in 4K. The low version is fitted with a Sony HDC-P43, a POV camera also capable of shooting in 4K and at a high frame rate. Both are outfitted with lenses from Fujinon.
Note: Fox Sports has deployed a third aerial camera system here, pulling in a shot that takes viewers from the parking lot of Hard Rock Stadium through the roof’s structure, revealing the stadium bowl and field of play. That shot is provided by a Flycam two-point cable camera system.