Panasonic, Apple fly high for National Championship Air Races

Production company Big Moving Pictures, Inc. (BMP) of Las Vegas, NV used a
fleet of Panasonic high definition cameras – including five AJ-HDX900 multi-format
DVCPRO HD, three AG-HVX200 P2 HD and six AG-HSC1U AVCHD camcorders – to capture
all of the high-speed aviation maneuvers at the National Championship Air Races
Reno, NV
last fall. The final race telecast was edited in Final Cut Pro and is set to
air on the national cable sports network VERSUS in spring 2008; it will also be
made available on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Organized by the Reno Air Racing Association (RARA), a
non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of authentic air racing,
the races brought together around 220,000 aviation and sports enthusiasts for
five days of high-performance air racing by six classes of aircraft, including
Unlimited, T-6, Sports, Biplane, Formula One and jets. Held since 1964 near
Reno , the event also
features an air show that includes top aerobatic performers.

BMP was selected by RARA to produce a two-hour sportscast of
the races that would include complete coverage of each race event, interviews
with pilots and celebrities and feature segments covering aviation racing
culture, history and technology. According to BMP CEO David Knight , who also served
as the project’s executive producer, Panasonic’s professional HD cameras were
the perfect fit for this production.

“Panasonic has a wide range of products that had all the
features we needed,” said Knight. “From durable, HD handhelds that could be put
on aircraft wings to high-quality 1080i/720p cameras, we were able to use every
acquisition tool we needed from one company.”

Director of Photography John-Paul Beeghly — whose 17 years
of experience ranges from IMAX films and major studio features with producer
Jerry Bruckheimer and cinematographer Darius Wolski, to commercial campaigns
and documentaries — directed and produced the sportscast.

“In order to build a story around the races, we had a team
dedicated to basic race coverage and another team that captured material for
feature segments, including interviews with pilots and background technology
pieces,” says Beeghly. “We wanted the first part of the sportscast to include
interviews and profiles of pilots and the last portion of the show to cover the
race more closely, with a live reporter and a studio host.”

Beeghly says that for general racing coverage the team sets
up four to five HDX900s on tripods with studio lens at various points of the
race field. Back at the show grounds, two to three crews used the HVX200s to
capture b-roll and to interview pilots, celebrities, team owners and audience
members for the lifestyle feature segments.
“We really wanted to capture high-definition
point-of-view aerial shots to integrate into the show, so we mounted HSC1Us on
the wings and in the cockpits of several aircrafts during the race,” he adds.

According to Beeghly, the production faced many challenges
because the course was spread over miles of open desert space. “In addition to
the challenge of shooting aircraft moving at speeds of up to 500 miles per hour
from a variety of different angles and areas, we had the physical challenge of
quickly moving camera equipment across miles of terrain to different points of
the race, with only 10 to 20 minutes to spare between each shoot.

Back at the show grounds, the HVX200 proved to be a flexible
workhorse camera. “One of the things we love about the HVX200s, besides its
performance, is its small size,” explains Beeghly. “As the crew shot the
lifestyle features and interviews, they were able to keep a low profile. People
are used to seeing this size of camera around, so there was less commotion and
we were able to capture real lifestyle without changing the environment too

Sumesh Thakur, BMP’s executive producer of content and head
of the sportcast’s post-production, described their P2 workflow. “One of the
HVX200 camcorders was hooked up with the Focus FS-100 Firestore, which we
connected directly to our laptops via IEEE 1394 to download recorded content.
For the other HVX200s equipped with P2 cards, we would either transfer footage
from the cards to the 500 GB LaCie hard drives for later use or bring them
directly into Final Cut Pro for viewing on our MacBook Pro laptops. The ability
to transfer on the spot, instead of having 80 to 90 tapes to scan through at
the end of each day, cut the whole process down. It was great to not have to
worry about digitizing.”

For high-flying HD footage, the production team didn’t
hesitate to put the HSC1U AVCHD camcorders right in the middle of the
high-altitude action, taking advantage of the cameras’ long-recording times.
“We put wide-angle adaptors on the HSC1U cameras by
retro-fitting the adaptor to get as close to the lens as possible, and it
worked out very well,” says Thakur. “It was nice to be able to record beautiful
high-definition point-of-view aerial shots on the spot with a camera small
enough to put in a cockpit.”

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