Fox Sports Readies New Tech Toys for Daytona 500

Fox Sports heads into NASCAR’s Daytona 500 and the 2013 season with a couple of great storylines. Not only has Danica Patrick nabbed the pole position and also has a developing romance with fellow driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr., but a truckload of new technologies designed to enhance the broadcast give fans and non-fans alike plenty of reason to tune in on Sunday afternoon.

Print“We’re piling an awful lot of new technology into NASCAR,” says Mike Davies, VP of field operations, Fox Sports, “and people have some really new viewpoints for our coverage.”

Topping the list in the use of new technology is CAMCAT. The advanced, two-point flying camera system developed in Austria flies over the tri-oval at speeds up to 85 mph along pit road via two cranes located outside the track. Davies first saw it in action during the Austin (TX) Grand Prix F1 race last November.

“Some of the views I saw from that race were staggering, and we will have it enter from turn one and exit on turn four,” he says. “The run is about 3,000 ft. long. It makes for some dramatic coverage as the camera starts at about 140 ft. high and then dips down to about 50 ft. over the track.”

The use of a Cineplex mount rented from BSI gives it a rock-steady shot that Davies says is nothing but impressive.

Besides the CAMCAT for overhead shots, new Gophercam systems are embedded in the track. This marks the fifth year that Inertia Unlimited has implemented its Gophercam system, but this is the debut of what Davies calls an actual second-generation product.

“It has a complex lens system that allows the camera to be much lower, and now we can put it anywhere on the track,” he says. “We have chosen to put one on the front stretch and one on the back stretch, as we look to pick the spots that will have the most compelling shots. The challenge is that everyone is racing a new car this year, and it’s not completely sure where the pack will run.”

And for safe measure, Fox Sports is improving the in-car–camera experience courtesy of Gyrocam, a gyro-stabilized, in-car camera that is mounted in the center of the cockpit and keeps a level view as cars enter the steep, 31-degree turns that allow drivers at Daytona to reach incredibly high speeds. The level perspective will give a dramatic shot that captures the steep angle of the track and other cars.

“We’ve been working with BSI and NASCAR on developing it for the last six months, and we’re happy about how quickly it came about,” says Davies. The eventual goal, he adds, is to get it small enough to be placed on a bumper or elsewhere on the car.

As if those innovations were not enough, Fox SuperZoom 4K will make its NASCAR debut. Two 4K cameras, a For-A FT1 and a Canon Broadcast C500, will capture shots of the cars and allow operators using an Evertz Dreamcatcher replay system to zoom in on crashes and wrecks for close-up shots with unprecedented clarity.

“We also decided to go with proper 4K lensing to get a wide shot of pit stops and shots of turn one and four,” says Davies. “We would rather have the wide lens than a long lens for that shot, while the other camera is located closer to the backstretch for backstretch action.”

The Evertz Dreamcatcher will also be used for Mosaic, the system that can automatically create six boxes on the screen with six synced camera angles of the same incident. The use of salvos will also allow the six camera signals being sent to the Dreamcatcher to be changed with the push of one button so that the entire track can be covered easily.

“We’re really excited about the possibility of Mosaic for all of our sports,” adds Davies.

And two new graphics systems from Hego are being implemented: a virtual placement system and AKI Paint.

“The virtual placement system looks really good, and AKI Paint [enables] quick highlights as it allows for drawing on a moving image without calibration, and we can key images with halos, circles, or arrows and even stick things to the track. It’s really slick.”

Hego’s virtual placement system will be integrated with Fox Sport’s Vizrt graphics.  This season, Fox will outfit the infield jib with a custom encoder, which sends data to Vizrt system in the truck for rendering and graphic creation. Using the Vizrt encoded camera, Fox will be able to graphically place three-dimensional virtual objects on screen.

“We’ve been doing virtual graphics in studio for the past six or seven months and just really wanted to get it out, take it on the remote, and make the event feel bigger,” says Zac Fields, director of graphics, Fox Sports. “We can key a virtual pit box onto pit row or the restart box onto the track, which is the area that the drivers are allowed to accelerate from after a stop, so it gives the viewer a little extra emphasis visually.”

With a little luck, it will be the only thing slick on this year’s race day after last year’s rain-out and subsequent on-track fire caused by a collision with a track-drying vehicle. The current forecast is for a fairly clear weekend, and all toys, and the Fox Sports NASCAR production team, will be revved up and ready to go.

Additional reporting by Karen Hogan

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