Live From Super Bowl LVIII: Behind the Scenes With Director Mike Arnold, Producer Jim Rikhoff, CBS Sports Production Leaders
Execs talk front-bench mentality, power of AR/XR graphics, pregame show plans, and more
We had a chance to catch up with some of the leaders of CBS Sports’ production and creative teams at the Super Bowl LVIII CBS Media Day event at the Mandalay Bay this week. Below are some highlights of those conversations with Lead Game Director Mike Arnold; Lead Game Producer Jim Rikhoff; The NFL Today Producer Drew Kaliski; Executive Producer/EVP, Production, Harold Bryant; and VP, On-Air Graphics and Design, JP LoMonaco.
Directing the Super Bowl: ‘If You Don’t Have Butterflies, Something Isn’t Right’
CBS Sports Super Bowl LVIII Director Mike Arnold discussed what it means to direct the Big Game and the sense of anticipation, nervousness, and butterflies on game day.
“It’s all of the above,” he says. “It’s my seventh Super Bowl. If you don’t have butterflies, something isn’t right. I will have them until kickoff, and then I’m in my comfort zone.”
His preparation for the Super Bowl is very similar for any game, he says: meeting with the teams on Wednesday and Thursday, rehearsals on Friday, and a final prep production meeting on Saturday. One of the most important meetings takes place on Thursday: the camera meeting. Although about 165 cameras will be used during the week and all around Las Vegas, the core that he directs is around 50.
“I don’t direct things like the cameras in the pylons,” he explains, “and we’ll have four or five extra people to look at replays and monitor things like the goal-line camera, the additional low-end-zone cameras, and the minis. Somebody needs to see it before we can get it on-air.”
For all the hoopla around the Super Bowl, Arnold tries to treat it like a regular game: “Like Sean [McManus says], once the kickoff happens, it’s still 11 on 11. The things you aren’t used to doing are in the pregame, like the anthems and the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.”
At the Front Bench: Being Prepared for ‘That One Special Moment’
With 165+ cameras and 48 total high-speed systems, CBS Sports Lead Game Producer Jim Rikhoff will have plenty of weapons at his disposal to tell the story playing out on the field. Among them are the new “doink cams,” 24 PylonCam systems, a Super Bowl–record 48 super-slo-mos, and 24 cameras with 4K-zoom extraction capabilities.
“A lot of the [cameras] we have here are to specialize that one moment,” he says. “We have a couple of new things that may not get on the air unless they pertain to the game. As we know, [at Super Bowl LIII,] we didn’t have a lot of offense, so it all depends. It’s all dictated by the game but especially with the 4K cameras.
“Our operations department has done a great job of putting us in a position for that one special moment,” he continues, “and we’ll have it covered, knock on wood. The 4K [cameras] can zoom in and give you [shots] down the lines, on the sidelines, in the back of the end zone, and in the front of the end zone with the [PylonCams]. Sometimes, those angles become the definitive angles on the crucial play of the game. It’s not the quantity of what you get in; it’s using them at the right time and hopefully being able to capture that quintessential moment in the game.”
A Super Bowl With 200 Cameras? 300 Cameras? Never Say Never…
CBS Sports Executive Producer/ EVP, Production, Harold Bryant‘s first Super Bowl was in 2001, when the New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens faced off in Tampa Bay. The CBS show this year is hitting new heights in terms of camera complement, and Bryant says he is amazed by how the technology has advanced but isn’t surprised.
“If you said to me, in another 20 years, that we’ve doubled the cameras again and there are 200 or 300 cameras, it’s not going to surprise me because it’s going to happen some way somehow. Maybe there’ll be more remote production, where people can be sitting in their homes operating cameras. At some point, we’re going to want every player isolated, and each network likes to one-up the next one.”
AR and XR Add New Dimension to CBS’s Super Bowl Broadcast
CBS Sports VP, On-Air Graphics and Design, JP LoMonaco explained the creative process behind the XR elements, which were recorded in Kansas City and San Francisco last week. Traditionally, team shoots are done with an LED wall and logos of the teams behind the players. But, for Super Bowl LVIII, the CBS Sports team wanted to step it up.
“We wanted to bring Vegas to the players,” says LoMonaco, “and that’s where the XR comes in. We didn’t want a backdrop that looks like they were on a stage; we wanted them to feel like they were in the city. We created two scenarios. One was called Top of the World, and that concept was that the players were standing on a rooftop overlooking the Las Vegas Strip and everything kind of sprawls out behind them. The other was the Titans concept: we made the players look like giants amongst the buildings. We did the shoot with two tracked cameras — a jib and a dolly camera — and both cameras were ghost-framed so we could intercut between wide shots and tight shots.”
The added bonus technology-wise is that the world CBS created was done with Unreal Engine. “We can apply XR across multiple media types because it’s resolution-independent,” LoMonaco notes. “We can use it as big or as small as needed.”
He and his team also created a number of AR elements that he says allows graphics to break into the picture, rather than simply lie on top of it.
“You are amongst the content versus blocking the content,” he explains. “There’s obviously a wow factor, and you’ve seen many applications over the last few years where you see an AR element. The fan engagement goes through the roof. People love seeing that suspended reality of something happening with a camera. And the announcer can walk into the screen, add their execution of the play right into the drafting as if they’re a totally different experience.”
Adds Bryant, “You’re taking that layer element and seeing the depth and the little marks on the skin, all the blemishes. But the beauty of AR is, it is a way to be more interactive. We are just at the tip of the iceberg.”
The City as Canvas: Vegas Provides Perfect Backdrop for Super Bowl Week Studio Shows
Of course, the camera complement in Vegas goes well beyond the game itself. CBS has set up shop in Las Vegas for the week of Super Bowl LVIII, with the Fountains of Bellagio serving as the backdrop of the broadcaster’s central broadcast location. CBS has a full arsenal of cameras on hand to service its weeklong, multi-platform coverage of the Super Bowl — totaling more than 115 hours.
“We’re going to have jibs, we’re going to have drones, we’re going to be capturing the [Bellagio] Fountains, we have cameras on rooftops going down the Strip,” says The NFL Today Producer Drew Kaliski, who is overseeing CBS’s onsite studio productions. “It’s also amazing what we’re seeing out of [The Sphere] this week. We’ve seen a tremendous amount of logos, promos, and [other content] that you can just put in [the broadcast]. So our cameras will be out in full force at the Bellagio and down the Strip in terms of capturing beauty shots in and out of break and capturing what that area has to offer.”
The main Bellagio set is home to shows from four CBS divisions (CBS Sports, News, Entertainment, and Media Ventures) across broadcast, cable, and streaming throughout the week, with four outdoor sets shared across the various shows.
CBS’s efforts to showcase the city of Las Vegas will ramp up even further on Sunday, when The NFL Today hits the air at 2 p.m. ET with James Brown, Phil Simms, Bill Cowher, Nate Burleson, JJ Watt, and Boomer Esiason live from the Bellagio set. CBS will also have a crew on hand at Allegiant Stadium with Ian Eagle, Charles Davis, Jason McCourty, and Matt Ryan at the desk. At approximately 3:30 p.m., the Bellagio crew will move to Allegiant Stadium and is expected to be in place by approximately 4:15 p.m. to take over the primary set.
“We want to capture the essence of Las Vegas on this show,” says Kaliski. “Coming to the city of Las Vegas is an opportunity that we’ve never seen, and we know how much the city has to offer from an entertainment perspective and from a sports perspective. We are going to be capturing that throughout the day with various interviews with Las Vegas entertainers, who know Las Vegas better than anybody.
“I think,” he continues, “you’re going to get a good feel in this four-hour pregame show of two teams — the 49ers and the Chiefs — and all the storylines leading up to that. But we’re also going to give the viewers a sense of what Las Vegas is all about.”