World Cup Venues Offer Production Crews Room to Grow

When it comes to setting up World Cup technical facilities at a venue, an important goal is to make sure production staff have all of the editorial tools and capabilities they need to work at a level worthy of the world’s biggest sporting event.

So when Host Broadcast Services (HBS) Director of Production Dan Miodownik and the rest of the team began contemplating the production of the 2010 World Cup matches in South Africa they knew the challenge: how can they replace the absence of World Cup-quality OB units that can be found in Europe, and could not realistically be shipped to South Africa, without compromising the production?

“This was a departure from 2006, where we used standard OB vans in Germany, and a return to 2002 where we used flyaways,” says Miodownik. “But we wanted to go for something more than just the traditional flyaway-based [facility]. Rather than make an editorial workflow that was led by the technical installation we wanted to build a technical infrastructure that supported the editorial workflow.”

Flyaways are typically know for being a little down and dirty: highly functional but often lacking in some of the comforts of an OB unit and often feeling like a high-tech tool shed as truck trailers are linked together side-by-side, each measuring 2.5-meters wide by 6 meters deep. So in an attempt to up the wow factor, HBS and its technical partners have built first-class production cabins at the nine World Cup venues; each identical, spacious, and very much designed to not feel like a production truck or trailer.

“We reproduced the feel of a studio gallery so that all of the directors and production technician are squeezed in cheek to jowel,” says Miodownik.

The result is “HBS House” (a name that hearkens back to the World Cup in Japan when the Japanese referred to the flypack-based facilities as houses). Each of the nine venues has identical facilities: a long corridor of rooms, approximately 18 feet deep and of varying length depending on the needs of the personnel (for example, tape playback is much wider than camera shading). Most areas are at least 5 meters wide and one side of the corridor has two story houses while the outer has one story houses.

The design and set up of the cabins has been a long time coming, from initial drawings to a test at Ellis Park last summer with 20 cameras. That is short of the full-scale, 32-camera productions currently airing but big enough to know the concept would work.

“It’s an effective way to get the best working conditions for the production team,” adds Miodownik. “It removes the excuse that the working conditions affected the way they could do their jobs.”

Each of the HBS Houses are run by different technical teams from leading remote production facility providers. Alfacam handles four venues: Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durbin, Ellis Park in Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Stadium in Port Elizabeth, and Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria. CTV OB is responsible for Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane and Mbombela  Stadium in Nelspruit. MediaPro is in charge of Bloemfontein’s Free State Stadium while Studio Berlin is working in Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenberg and Soccer City in Johannesburg. And French provider VCF is handling Green Point Stadium in Cape Town.

For the most part the technical facilities at the venues stay put with only some of the big lenses moving from one stadium to another.

Given that it has been four years since the last World Cup there have been some changes in the equipment complement, however Grass Valley, as always, predominates for camera and the production switcher needs.

The biggest change is the use of super slow-motion systems and high-speed camera systems. Grass Valley super slow-motion systems are on hand for recording at 150 frames per second.

“The images are extraordinary and we have had some really positive feedback on the pictures coming out of those systems,” says Miodownik.

On the high-speed camera system side HBS did a lot of testing before selecting two companies: DVS (which is providing two systems, the Arri high-speed camera and the Antelope system). The third system is from German manufacturer LMC. The Arri system is being used by the production team from the UK while the LMC will be used by the German production team because they are both already familiar with the systems.

Miodownik says the key for getting the most out of the high-speed camera systems is focusing on getting shots that do more than just follow the ball.

“There are more than 30 other cameras pointing at the ball,” says Miodownik. “You need to get shots that are more emotive because they are stronger and have an aesthetic quality.”

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