Winter X Games Live: ESPN Rolls Out the Big Guns With NEP’s EN1, Massive Camera Complement
While usually focus on how to streamline on-site ops and reduce staff and facilities, this year, the X Games team has deployed a beast of a mobile-unit fleet in NEP Broadcasting’s EN1, ESPN’s Monday Night Football trucks.
“They are simply magnificent,” says ESPN Operations Manager Larry Wilson. “It is great to have that Monday Night Football [A unit], because this is the first time we have ever been able to have our two control rooms side by side — Event Production and Television Production. Event Production has traditionally been in an office trailer, but now the Event and the TV [teams] can literally open a door and speak to one another.”
EN1 Roars Into Aspen
Three of the four EN1 trucks (A, B, D, and the E support unit) are present in Aspen, producing the Venue A feed (SuperPipe and SlopeStyle courses). Meanwhile, NEP SS21 A and B units, ESPN’s NASCAR trucks, are handling Venue B (X-Course downhill events, Snowmobile, and Big Air courses). And ESPN’s custom flypack is used to deliver three discrete camera feeds from the host set back to Bristol, where the studio show is cut together.
In addition to the sheer space that has allowed the Event Production and Television Production teams to be housed in the A unit, EN1’s fiber-centric infrastructure and massive Evertz EQX router cater to ESPN’s growing reliance on fiber.
“With EN-1 in the mix this year, the new truck infrastructure is all fiber interconnects,” says Coordinating Technical Manager Henry Rousseau. “So, when you walk through the truck compound, it’s much cleaner.”
NEP Engineering Manager Nick Romano echoes that sentiment: “The great part about EN1 is that it is the most current technology, and most of the [X Games] show is done on fiber, which that truck is completely built around.”
According to ESPN Operations Producer Jon Winders, the network is using more fiber than ever before at the X Games, laying down copper only for short runs inside the compound. As for copper, ESPN has rolled out 58 five-wire HD coax looms (totaling 290 HD coax connections). In terms of fiber inside the compound and the Inn at Aspen offices at the base of the mountain, Winders and his team have laid down 29 Tac-12 fiber lines (totaling 348 single-mode fiber strands). Up on the mountain are an additional 45 lines of Tac-12 (totaling 540 single-mode fiber strands, including Delphi).
3D No More
Although much of the Aspen production this year is the same as in recent years, one major element is missing: 3D. Over the past three years, ESPN developed a complex “5D” production model, which allowed shared resources, crew, and facilities and used the left-eye feed from the 3D production to deliver the 2D telecast. However, with ESPN shutting down its 3D operation last year, this ultra-complex, Sports Emmy Award-winning production workflow is no longer necessary.
“3D was a wonderful challenge, and the pictures were tremendous,” says X Games Senior Coordinating Producer Phil Orlins. “But, with 3D, we never really changed our timing plan, so it was very challenging. Just the hours it took to make sure everything was [set up] in the same number of days [as 2D shows] was difficult. So it is a little easier as far as that goes.”
3D or No 3D, Plenty of Cameras To Go Around
Despite the absence of 3D rigs, the camera complement in Aspen remains somewhat similar to recent editions of Winter X. ESPN has deployed a total of 30 Sony HD broadcast cameras (a mix of HDC-2500, 1500, 1000, and P1 cameras).
In terms of specialty camera systems, ESPN is using three Sony FCB–H10 block cameras for its wireless RF Followcam systems (integrated and operated by BSI), with ski-bound camera operators following the athletes racing down the courses. Fletcher Chicago has provided 13 Panasonic robotic camera systems and two Ikegami-NAC Hi-Motion II ultra-slo-mo camera systems. ESPN has also brought back the Flycam two-point aerial system to cover the SlopeStyle course and has rolled out three jibs and a 90-ft.-tall Strada Crane to cover various events across Buttermilk Mountain.
“The kicker is that we have 98 unique camera positions, so we need to move all that gear day in and day out,” says Wilson. “We have to ship in an extra two dozen [camera] SHEDs [SMPTE Hybrid Elimination Devices] to get that done. It’s not only a technical challenge but, logistically, is a huge challenge.”
On to Austin
Aspen is well-travelled terrain for the X Games production ops team, but a new challenge awaits this summer when Summer has its first outing in Austin, TX. After an extended run in Los Angeles, ESPN has big hopes for its new venue, the Circuit of the Americas Formula 1 racing track.
“Austin is just a great city: vibrant, fun, and a huge tech center, which I don’t think a lot of people know,” says Orlins. “We are going at it from a festival angle with plenty of music and excitement both at the track and in downtown. Then you look at that venue, and you can’t help but think it just perfect for an event like X — from both the event side and the TV side. We’re very excited about it.”