Live From MLB All-Star: Fox Sports Continues To Innovate With MōVI, Expanded DirtCam
Fox Sports’ busy summer of high-profile events continues this week in Cincinnati, the MLB All-Star Game following the massive productions at the FIFA Women’s World Cup and the U.S. Open golf tournaments. As it does every year for the Midsummer Classic, Fox has trotted out a few innovative production elements at Great American Ball Park, headlined by a cinema-style MōVI three-axis gyro-stabilized handheld camera and a revamped version of Inertia Unlimited’s DirtCam deployed at three infield positions.
Although the All-Star Game is among the largest annual shows on the live–sports-production calendar, the increased role of Fox Sports 1 since its launch two years ago has increased the scope of the production.
“There are a lot of moving parts, but [MLB] Postseason made us get to where we are, and now we know what to expect,” says Francisco Contreras, director, field operations, Fox Sports. “And, to be quite honest with you, it’s gotten kind of easier because you have a great team in every department — production, video and the tape room, camera people, audio people — and we’ve been building out a great operations team for baseball. We’ve been together for two years now, and it is truly all gelling together.”
MōVI To Debut on the Diamond
The Fox Sports team opted to use the MōVI M10 three-axis gyro-stabilized–camera gimbal to create cinematic opening tracking shots at the NFC Championship and FS1’s MLS primetime opener after seeing Fox Sports Netherlands create similar shots for its Dutch Eredivisie soccer coverage. Similar to a Steadicam, the unit allows a single camera operator to create sweeping long shots or low-angle handheld shots during the game.
“We are looking at using it for the opening, but it’s going to be very cool when [a player] hits a home run and [we capture] him trotting to first with the pitcher [in the background],” says Contreras. “We’re going to try to use it during our MLB Whiparound [Monday on FS1] and [pregame shows], so the operator will be out in the outfield as they are shagging the balls, following the catch. We think it’s going to be really, really cool.”
DirtCam: The Next Generation
Although Inertia Unlimited’s DirtCam has been a staple of Fox’s MLB All-Star coverage for several years, the network hopes to take the RF in-ground system to a whole new level. Fox plans to deploy a record three DirtCam positions: the traditional home-plate spot and first and second bases. In addition, Inertia Unlimited has added remote pan and iris control. This not only makes for a higher-quality image but allows the Fox production team to create ground-level angles never possible before, such as a runner sliding into second, a runner leading off at second, or a shortstop’s millisecond-fast snag of a line drive.
“The combination of having a better-quality image with the fact that now, when a runner leads off, [we] go with the runner makes me terribly excited about the possibility of what we’re going to see,” says Inertia Unlimited President Jeff Silverman. “And, when he runs back, we can go back to the bag.”
He adds that after the conclusion of last year’s MLB Postseason, he went to work “rebuilding the system entirely.” He enlisted Integrated Microwave Technologies to provide an RF Central microLite transmitter, which will allow the operators in the truck to pan and paint any of the three dirt cameras through a single data channel. UK-based Bradley Engineering also provided circuitry for the robotic and iris remote controls. The revamped system still features the same nearly invisible aboveground profile and lens, but it is now capable of rotating up to 200 degrees and boasts improved resistance to reflections from stadium lights.
“I think that, over the last year or two, the dirt cam has kind of come of age from being a bit of a gimmick camera to something that you can actually work in with production,” says Mike Davies, SVP, technical and field operations, Fox Sports. “And now that Jeff has enabled the panning of the camera, pan left and right, that would be great.”
Keep an eye out for two of these new DirtCam systems (one pan-capable, the other not) at St. Andrews later this week for ESPN’s coverage of The Open Championship.
No Surprise Here: Plenty of Ultra-Mo, Slo-Mo
In addition to the MōVI system and trio of DirtCams, Fox’s 35-plus camera complement five high-speed systems from Inertia Unlimited, including a Phantom 4K Flex outside the dugout (running at 1,000 fps into an AJA Corvid Ultra with TruZoom), and an X-Mo Phantom running at 2,000-3,000 fps at low first and low third, respectively. Three traditional X-Mos will also be shooting mid angles. In addition, a Sony HDC-4300 camera will be operating at 8x-slow-mo in centerfield.
“[High-speed cameras] are a very big part of what we do and I think people have come to expect that from us,” says Contreras.
Other specialty cameras include a roving RF handheld on the field, the DirecTV blimp providing aerial shots, two robos at each dugout (inside and outside), and a Panasonic P1 robo overlooking the Ohio River just beyond the outfield walls.
Statcast Takes Over at All-Star, More Virtual Fun on Tap for Postseason
Fox began using MLBAM Statcast player-tracking and analytics system at the beginning of the season, and viewers have gradually seen more of these elements integrated into MLB on Fox telecasts. That will continue tonight, but plenty of Fox’s own virtual graphics will likely return come the postseason, including use of ncam augmented-reality technology.
“We are probably saving [ncam] for postseason,” says Contreras. “With [Statcast], everything that we’ve tried in the past – tracking the ball, tracking the distance – we’ve given that to them. And I think they’ve been doing a good job this year. With the pace of [the All-Star Game], you have so much that they can show with the data they have, like histories with [Albert] Pujols and the older players. I think it’s going to be pretty cool.
Usual Suspects on the Set, in the Compound
Fox worked with Filmwerks (which recently acquired Fox’s longtime studio-set constructor, Kernwer) to create its All-Star Game set in the centerfield stands. Centered between Great American Ball Park’s PNC Power Stacks (steamboat-style smokestacks that blow out pyrotechnics and fireworks after big plays and Reds victories), the set is built into the structure of the ballpark using ModTruss. The base is 20 x 24 ft., the roof overhanging at 30 x 20 ft. (which came in handy during the torrential downpours Monday afternoon).
Game Creek Video’s FX trucks (A and B units) are on hand for the All-Star Game production, with Game Creek Glory (A and B) handling the studio shows throughout Monday and Tuesday. Game Creek’s Edit 1 truck is also on hand for Fox’s features and postproduction team.
“With this show, we always try to reinvent it each year,” says Davies. “However, the recipe that we’ve been developing over the last 10 years is paying off, and the people and the crew are really what makes the show. It’s a big, big show, no question. But, at the end of the day, it’s just a baseball game, and we cover it in the way that we would any other game by telling the best story we can, just with a few more bells and a few more whistles.”