X Games Wrap-Up: NEP, BSI, Fletcher, and Illumination Dynamics Play Key Roles in Austin
Austin’s second year hosting the X Games proved to be another massive success, with nearly 137,000 people turning out at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) for four days’ worth of action sports, live music, and themed festival villages. From Metallica’s shredding rendition of the National Anthem to Bob Burnquist’s 29th X Games medal, in the inaugural Skateboard/BMX Big Air Doubles event, to the debut of NASCAR legend Rusty Wallace in the Off Road Truck racing event, ESPN was there to cover it all in 26-plus hours of coverage on ABC, ESPN, and ESPN3.
Through it all, an army of technology vendors and service providers were on hand to support ESPN’s production with specialty cameras, mobile units, RF coordination, studio sets, and a variety of other gear.
NEP Returns With SS24, SS21, and SS11
Having launched its ND1 team of mobile units in Austin last year, NEP was back this year with SS24 (A, B, and C) and SS21 (A, B, and E units) at COTA. In addition, SS11 was on hand in downtown Austin to support ESPN and ESPN Event Productions (which handles the onsite videoboard and streaming shows) during the Moto Step Up Thursday night near the Texas State Capitol.
NEP also had the added benefit of being centralized at COTA in a single compound. Last year, its trucks were split between two locations hundreds of yards apart. During X Games planning for this year’s event, however, ESPN and NEP worked to centralize the compound, resulting in additional fiber deployments to tie together the far-reaching parts of the venue (specifically, the Metallica/Nicki Minaj concert stage and Flat Track racing venue).
“The greatest thing about working with ESPN is, they are always pushing technology and making improvements on it. We’re happy to be their partner in getting that done,” says NEP Senior Account Manager Michael Pean. “I feel like that’s the beauty of [this event]: it’s such a collaboration between us and ESPN for all X Games. Every year, all the engineering managers and their tech-ops people discuss what’s going to be the best solution possible, and that allows [X Games] to evolve every year.”
NEP also played a key role in ESPN’s transition to a fully MADI-based workflow for communications and the deployment of DirectOut Andiamo 2.XT AES/MADI AD/DA converter boxes throughout COTA. NEP partnered with VER to test out the Andiamo technology and deployed the boxes live in the field for ESPN at X Games.
“Now everything is through MADI over fiber, so you are getting the maximum potential that you can get over minimal fiber,” says NEP Engineering Manager Nick Romano. “Before, we were using the [Calrec Hydra stage boxes] for comms as well, so now we have increased the amount of microphones and signals we can bring back, because we’ve separated out the comms from the Hydra. We are not taxing the Hydra for comms anymore; we’ve created another intricate, totally separate system.”
BSI All Over COTA
BSI had a sizable presence as always. The RF provider rolled out a full mobile unit in the primary compound and a smaller unit near the Flat Track racing course, as well as eight RF receive sites, several RF cameras, mics, and support for various RF operations at COTA.
“You learn every time you do a venue a second time, and this was no exception,” says BSI Business Development Manager Clay Underwood. “Last year, for example, a lot of the hosts and the EP wanted to go out and mingle with the fans in the fan zone, which was a surprise to us. So we had to accommodate that on the fly in year one, but [this year] we came prepared and set up a receive site out there so that we wouldn’t have to be scrambling at the last minute to find coverage where it wasn’t before.”
BSI provided six wireless RF on-board cameras for ESPN’s Rally Car, Flat Track, and Off Road Truck racing events, which received plenty of attention this year, thanks to the arrival of ESPN VP of Motorsports Rich Feinberg on the X Games production team. In addition, BSI helped support live comms between first-time competitor Rusty Wallace and the announce booth during the Off Road Truck event.
“[On-board cameras] are BSI’s bread and butter. There is more emphasis on those this year from Rich, and he’s got some other things we’re trying to do,” says Underwood. “We are also working with him on driver communications so that they can talk to a driver and the driver can talk back.”
In all for the TV production, host feed, and Event Productions show, BSI provided six on-boards, five RF handheld cameras, the aerial helicopter camera, and RF support for the two GoPro-Vislink POV cameras deployed across several events at X Games.
On the audio side, BSI provided 24 channels of wireless microphone paths, 16 of which were effects mics that could be placed anywhere in any of the venues.
“They can move them around from day to day, so it’s easier for them [than] having to run wires to all those locations,” says Underwood. “They just repo it, and we take care of getting them the signals back.”
In addition, BSI provided talent mics for Venue A and Venue B, two host talent mics, and four for Event Productions.
Robo, Ultra-Slo-Mo Cameras Courtesy of Fletcher
Fletcher Sports was onsite with its stable of robotic and high-speed cameras for ESPN’s coverage.
At Venue A, the vendor provided three robos on Big Air: a bird’s-eye view atop the 65-ft.-high roll-in ramp, atop a super crane shooting a wide shot, and at the landing of the half pipe. In addition, Fletcher provided two robos apiece on the Park and Street courses, as well as two robotic booth cams. Meanwhile, at Venue B, which was primarily motor-based sports, Fletcher had four robo positions throughout the various tracks, as well as two robotic booth cams.
Fletcher also deployed two NAC/Ikegami Hi-Motion II ultra-slo-mo camera systems, which ESPN repositioned to various competitions throughout the four-day event.
“We do have a lot of repos here, which we’re no stranger to: we have a lot of repos at Winter X as well,” says Fletcher Sports Lead Technician Nick Serna. “We learned a lot last year in terms of scheduling and bouncing everything around, but, logistically, the distance is still the toughest part here. Since the crew has been pretty much the same the past few years, it’s pretty much down to a science for us. We all click very well and know what needs to happen. It’s a great group of people, and that is really makes this happen.”
Power by Illumination Dynamics
Longtime X Games veteran Illumination Dynamics (ID) was back in Austin, powering all ESPN television operations with generators across Austin, including at ESPN’s new studio set atop the COTA paddock building. The greatest challenge in constructing the set proved to be lifting the material atop the five-story structure, which ended up requiring a crane.
“It wasn’t until I got onsite [that] I learned that they built our truss structure on the ground and then had scheduled a crane to carry it all up here,” says ID Director of Broadcast Services Rich Williams. “They also were very concerned about the amount of weight that was going up here, and there is a limit of how many bodies can be up here at a certain time, so that went through the whole engineering process. But we are very happy with how it turned out.”
In addition to the set, ID deployed generators at the truck compound and a variety of other, smaller locations throughout COTA. In addition, the company powered the entire Moto Step Up production in downtown Austin on Thursday night — for both TV and Event Productions operations. ID rolled out a tri-pack of 300-kW generators for the truck compound and a twin pack of 175-kW systems downtown. As for the individual course setups, the generators varied in size from as low as 60 kW to as high as 175 kW for the Big Air course.
“We are supplying the television-related power at every venue,” says Williams. “This year, ESPN is down to one primary compound with secondary, smaller compounds being just fiber locations. But we still have to power those and then anything that goes out on the track or in the courses related to TV. It’s a very big [show] for us, but it’s one that we always look forward to.”
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