Daytona 500: Fox Sports Extends Use of ‘Megalodon,’ Improves Drones for NASCAR Season
A Sony HDC-P50 with Canon’s 20X5 lens will be attached to a heavy-lift drone
Fox Sports’ live mirrorless camera, dubbed the ‘Megalodon,’ first captured the eyes of television viewers during Week 15 of the NFL regular season and returned for the NFL postseason. Now, for the first race of the new NASCAR season, the broadcaster is deploying different variations of it for shots in close-up and far-to-reach areas.
“We’re expanding upon the Megalodon that we used for NFL games,” says Kevin Callahan, VP, field operations and engineering, Fox Sports. “In addition to having it on a Ronin-S handheld, we’re also experimenting with it on a DigiBoom [gimbal-stabilized rig] to give us different angles.”
On the Track: Megalodon, High-Speed Devices Highlight 74-Camera Complement
The Megalodon has become a tech craze over the past two months, but it has been experimented with only on a football field with people. In Daytona, both man and machine will be in front of the lens. The relatively simple setup, consisting of a Sony a7R IV mirrorless DSLR camera and Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM lens, is intended to provide a cinematic vibe new to a NASCAR telecast. Since cars will be blazing down the track at more than 150 mph, capturing the desired shot will be extremely difficult, if not impossible. In an effort to use these stellar live shots, the broadcaster is placing the operator in an area with still subject matter.
“We’re looking to get different crew chiefs and teams in the pits,” Callahan explains. “We’ll try to get those shots that we haven’t really been able to get with a shallow depth of field.”
The camera will be swapped with the Ronin-S handheld, which viewers are normally used to seeing in the end zone of NFL telecasts, to grab tight shots of individuals when applicable and with the DigiBoom, which can be used to hang over the barrier wall for shots of the pit crew during tire changes and other activity. Prior to green flag, the Megalodon will be located in the garages as drivers prep for the race.
The camera complement for this event will hit a grand total of 74. Every nook and cranny of the 2.5-mile track will be covered by 16 Sony HDC-4300’s (with more than one at 6X speed), 16 Sony HDC-P50’s, two Sony HDC-4800’s at 16X, and a Fletcher high-speed robo at the finish line. The Sony HDC-4800’s will be outfitted with two Fujinon 8K lens to capture crystal-clear shots after the sun sets in Daytona.
Prior to Sunday’s race, Fox Sports covered the action-packed NASCAR Speedweeks leading up to the main event. Among the events was the first-ever Busch Clash, which ran on Daytona’s 63-year-old road course, permitting Callahan and the operations team to deploy a handful of cameras that haven’t been used in quite some time.
“The road course gives you many opportunities for different camera placement, so we’re able to return to a position that we haven’t been able to use for a bunch of years,” he adds. “Due to safety concerns, we’re putting a robotic camera in there that is going to be remotely operated by someone on the other side of the turn. The operator will still be outside of the [main] track in a safe area behind the barrier, so we should be getting some spectacular shots.”
Reach for the Sky: Heavy-Lift, FPV Racing Drones Provide Shots From the Air
Having made its NASCAR debut at last year’s race, aerial drone coverage is being improved dramatically. Capable of 85 mph, the FPV racing drone, operated by Los Angeles-based production company Beverly Hills Aerials, is covering the straightaway near the starting line and other areas around the track. Having experience at this specific location, the operator will hover the drone over the cluster of cars and detail the progress of the race from above. To display synchronization with all broadcast cameras (excluding the Megalodon), Fox Sports is installing a CyanView Cy-CI0 to this drone for appropriate camera shading.
The heavy-lift drone will be carrying extra cargo: a Sony HDC-P50 equipped with Canon’s new 20X5 lens. More traditionally, the Goodyear Blimp will also be on hand for shots near the clouds.
In the Cockpit: BSI To Handle 32 In-Car Cameras, Other RF Needs
A staple at the Daytona 500, subsequent races in NASCAR, and even other high-profile auto-racing events like the Indy 500, BSI will once again deploy 32 robotic cameras (four cameras with each of eight drivers) to put the fan in the cockpit of the stock car. The most recognizable of these devices, Visor Cam, will be placed on the outside of a driver’s helmet, including that of No. 23 Bubba Wallace. Along with the device, the customary dashboard camera and a pair of other cameras with pan-and-tilt capabilities on the vehicle’s interior will map the driver’s position in the field.
Besides in-car robos, BSI will be responsible for major RF needs inside Daytona International Speedway. The stands won’t be packed because of the pandemic (a limited number of fans will be in attendance), but cellular congestion can still cause wireless cameras to go haywire. The Megalodon and three Sony HDC-4300’s in the pits will be four RF cameras under the company’s care.
Country-Wide Connection: The Vault in L.A. Headlines Robust Remote Plan
For any production, Fox Sports is willing to leverage its Pico facility in Los Angeles. This year, with the pandemic ongoing, members of production and operations teams will work from the Vault, a former tape library that now houses numerous remote workflows. Based on the EVS Live Production Anywhere infrastructure, the workflow has been improved since last year’s NASCAR schedule to allow replay and graphics to originate in Los Angeles.
The concept of a “connected compound” will be in full force for the NASCAR season, with contributors scattered across the country, including studio support from Fox Sports’ NASCAR hub in Charlotte, NC.
“We’ll have operators working in NEP’s facility in Pittsburgh,” Callahan notes. “We’ll also have a radio mixer at his home in Virginia, an audio editor at his home in Georgia, and a video editor at his home in Charlotte.”
Crew in the Compound: Game Creek Video Supplies Onsite Home
Despite hefty reliance on remote workflows, the television compound will be buzzing with mobile production units and other forms of onsite help. Game Creek Video is fresh off Super Bowl LV in Tampa, about 140 miles south. In the compound are its Cleatus A and B units (a familiar sight at the Daytona 500), Edit 1, and Robo 1. Acting in an abundance of caution due to Covid-19, the broadcaster is social-distancing its onsite crew in each truck.
“There’s definitely more room between and within mobile units,” notes Callahan. “In the past, when we were designing compounds and laying out spaces for trucks, we wanted to cram as many trucks as we could in a compound and as many people on a bench as possible. Now it’s the exact opposite.”
Next to Fox Sports’ mobile units, SMT will have an onsite truck to augment the annual broadcast with real-time data tracking and analysis. NASCAR Productions, which is at the forefront of the international feed, is building off the remote-production model it deployed in 2020 and the small onsite team that will work from a shared-resources truck in the compound.
The on-air team of Mike Joy, Jeff Gordon, and Clint Bowyer will leave their stations in Charlotte and join the party in the booth.
Hectic Yet Welcoming Schedule: Fox Embraces the Production Challenges
Following its 20th consecutive season of NASCAR coverage, Fox Sports is off to a hot start with a packed week at Daytona. Tuesday’s Busch Clash, televised practice sessions, and other races keep the team up until the wee hours of the morning. Given this schedule, a lot of the equipment being used on Sunday has been in place for days now and won’t get the tender loving care it’s accustomed to between shows.
“The fact that these races are back-to-back-to back is new for us,” says Callahan. “It’s welcomed, but it makes things a little bit more difficult. There used to be more of a slow ramp-up, where you had some time to rebuild, reset, and make any changes that needed to be made. Now there are no dark days before the Daytona 500 on Sunday.”
Although the pressure is on, Fox continues to find ways to spark ingenuity in every facet of a NASCAR production. Whether it’s implementation of new equipment, relying heavily on remote production to maintain the teams’ health and safety, or covering storylines imaginatively, trying and doing seems to be the broadcaster’s mantra. This Sunday’s race at Daytona is only the start of a long road of broadcasts, but, after the past 11 or so months, getting back to the blacktop is welcome.
“It’s great to have the NASCAR season again because we’ve missed bringing live races to our viewers,” Callahan says. “Everyone is working together to follow all of the guidelines and make this broadcast run as smooth as possible.”
The 63rd running of the Daytona 500 on FOX will begin on Sunday, Feb. 14 at 2:30 p.m. ET.