World-Class Aerials for The World Cup
COW Library : Event Videographers : Matt Downey : World-Class Aerials for The World Cup
The 2010 FIFA World Cup was the most-watched television event in history: broadcast to over 70 countries, averaging 400 million people for each match, with over 700 million watching the closing ceremony alone.
This year was the first time the World Cup included helicopter footage, and it was shot exclusively with our Cineflex V14s. Our helicopter coverage was live for the opening and closing ceremonies, 2.5 hours of pre-match coverage, the kick-off of all matches, and during game play of the final between Spain and the Netherlands. Helifilms Australia was established in 1989, as a specialized aerial film production company. We own and operate six gyrostabilized camera systems -- five Cineflex V14s, and one Cineflex MSII with daylight as well as infrared cameras -- across our offices in the US, UK, Australia and South Africa.
As this was the first time FIFA had used aerial footage in a World Cup, we had to demonstrate the creative capabilities of the camera system, and the skills of our specialized aerial DPs to the match directors. They wanted to see how they could incorporate this new perspective into FIFA's "narrative" of a football game and the 10 cityscapes surrounding each stadium.
We worked on the bid with our partner company, Helimedia, who are based in South Africa. In the lead-up to the World Cup, we supplied the aerial footage for the Confederations Cup in South Africa in 2009, which is run and televised as a test event for the World Cup.
We then handpicked our specialized crews from around the world for the World Cup coverage: film pilots, aerial DPs, producers, directors, aerial coordinators, engineers and production assistants. The aerial unit crew was a total of 31 people, and then an RF unit of 11, organized into six teams. (The RF company supplied, integrated and managed the radio frequency technology on-board the helicopters and at the receive points at each stadium.
This enabled us to downlink the footage live from the air to the ground-based broadcast units.) In recent years, we have managed the complete aerial units for the 2004 Athens Olympics, 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games and 2006 Doha Asian Games. Additionally, we have been involved with the aerial coverage for feature films such as "District 9," and TVCs and documentaries such as the BBC's "Frozen Planet," "Human Planet," "Planet Earth" and "South Pacific" TV series.
This event was quite different from all of them, in that our six aerial units were simultaneously dispersed across the entire country. Aerial Unit Commander Jerry Grayson and Aerial Producer Sara Hine had three days of initial briefings with the entire aerial unit en masse in Johannesburg, before the teams were sent to their respective cities: Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban, Port Elisabeth, Rustenburg, Polokwane, Pretoria, Bloemfontein and Nelspruit.
Each aerial unit worked on different schedules and for different directors, so their daily requirements could vary greatly. Rather than the entire group having daily briefings together, each team had daily briefings by mobile and email. Edited footage would also be shared so we could see the way in which each team would shoot their stadiums and cities, to maintain consistency between the teams.
The Stadium at Sunset
Well in advance of the World Cup even beginning, we had developed flight plans and daily schedules for each of the 64 matches, in order that the security forces controlling the airspace over each of the stadia were aware of our daily shot list and flight path.
For the opening and closing ceremonies, we liaised with the ceremonies production department, the South African Air Force and the Police Air Wing to manage the myriad of aerial assets that were within the stadium's airspace.
We also coordinated with the Ceremonies producers and directors on the safest and best film positions during the ceremonies, which involved an intricate firework show and elaborate fighter and acrobatic jet displays. Prior to each match, we carried out reconnaissance flights over each city and environs to understand each stadium's specific shooting requirements, RF boundaries, and to find spots for landing and refueling.
Tests flights were also important to gauge changing atmospheric conditions which would affect the helicopter's flight paths or clarity of the shot, due to cloud/precipitation or high winds, smoke from bush burn-off, etc. After our test flights we would refuel, make any necessary flight changes, and then again get airborne for the team bus departures.
One of our Cineflex gyrostabilized V14 cameras, with 42x lens as described in more detail above. The aerial coordinator, working with with the technical director in the control room, liaised with the aerial DP in the helicopter, guiding colors to match the other broadcast cameras.
We were tasked with visually linking the stadium and the surrounding fanfare within each city in order to give the audience geographical context. During the lead-up to the matches we shot a variety of establishing shots for each stadium, including the city or rural surroundings, football fan parks, and wildlife: wild rhinos, elephants, giraffes, lions, etc. We also shot each team's buses departing and arriving from the hotel to the stadium.
Freestyle footballer on Lions Head, shot for FIFA Feature Film, Cape Town.
The aerial footage we captured was incorporated into the 31-camera live world feed from HBS (Host Broadcasting Services). Broadcasters from around the world then purchased this general "overview" feed.
However, larger broadcasting companies (BBC, ESPN, etc.) could have their own director and production crews onsite, taking an isolated aerial feed to cut within their own coverage, focusing on their national teams.
Our live coverage started 90 minutes before kick-off. It was transmitted via an HD downlink microwave system (supplied by a company called Riedel) on board the helicopter to each stadium's broadcast compound. From there, it was transmitted to the International Broadcast Centre in Johannesburg, and beyond by satellite around the world.
The stadium at Rustenberg, flying South Korea, FIFA and New Zealand flags.
Before the live channel was open, we often also shot what would become establishing shots for an extended broadcast feed. In this case, we would use an AJA Ki Pro to record ProRes 422 HQ to solid-state hard drives. For FIFA's historical purposes, and for our own quality control, we also recorded on HDCAM, uncompressed HD 4:2:2, using a Sony HDW-S280 recorder.
Prior to our daily RF test flight, we would ingest this footage at the stadium broadcast compound for the slow motion and multi-feeds producers. They would then cut this into their daily extended broadcasts and highlights packages.
The main gallery at Soccer City, Johannesburg where I was based as the aerial coordinator with the French broadcast production team.
The Cineflex Camera Systems we use are made by Axsys Technologies, a division of the defense/intelligence system manufacturer General Dynamics. The Cineflex V14 is the integration of a Sony 1500 HD camera, housed within a fully digital, 5-axis gyrostabilized gimbal. It includes the stabilization control motors, gyros, processors, electronics, zoom lens and CCD block adaptor at around 14 inches, or 350mm, in diameter.
The gimbal is usually fitted near the nose of the helicopter onto specially built mounts. Two cables connect to the rest of the system, which is placed internally in the helicopter. Its sleek design and small size allows shooting at airspeeds of up to 140 knots. Powerful motors enable the gimbal to move dynamically through its impressive range.
A joystick in the operator's laptop console provides controls for pan, tilt and roll axes, with numerous user-defined fine adjustments. Zoom, focus and iris, as well as the camera's menu settings, can also all be adjusted at any time from the laptop console, which has embedded in it the Sony RMB750 remote controller.
All of Helifilms Australia's Cineflex V14 laptop consoles also have special modifications allowing in perfect and repeatable moves. A separate focus/iris controller can be connected to the console to allow another pair of hands to make adjustments when the operator's workload is high. Connected by two cables from the gimbal, the Aux(illiary) Box contains circuitry, cabling, power supplies and power filters to protect the sensitive equipment while also providing connections to system components. We then connect the Aux Box to a recording unit such as the Sony S280 or AJA Ki Pro.
A gyrostabilized mount which is as remarkably stable as the Cineflex V14 can easily service long zoom lenses. We used the Fujinon HA 42x9.7BERD: 9.7mm - 410mm. The lens is fitted with an optical doubler which can be operated at any time with a switch on the Laptop Console. Additionally, there is a built-in digital doubler allowing up to 4x magnification, providing 1640mm, or 4100mm in 35mm equivalent terms.
The Stadium with jets flying overhead
THE FINAL SCORE
One evening, after 2 hours of trying to solve problems with our broadcast feed on several channels, we still had RF issues that we could not resolve. We did everything we could. We recycled the camera system and RF units in the helicopter, and at the stadium RF receive point. We also changed the RF frequencies, but nothing could help.
We eventually discovered that there was a nondescript white van jamming our radio signal! South African secret service agents subsequently traced this back to a foreign security agency during the England vs. USA match.
Such interruptions are actually very typical at large international events like this, and as a supplier, we have to make sure the broadcaster is aware of the possibility. For example, we experienced the same thing when covering the sailing competition at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
Another of the many challenges we had to meet was dealing with language barriers across all our production crews, whose members spoke languages including French, German, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. One of our crew members also only narrowly avoided a highway carjacking.
As we look back at our coverage, we find that solid state hard drive recorders such as the AJA Ki Pro, which can deal with the high and low frequency vibration environment of the helicopter, are very advantageous. The Pro Res 422HQ format allows seamless integration for editing with Final Cut Pro. It also allows the operator to quickly review footage, as well as an editor to select clips easily as they ingest in these fast paced, near-live edit environments.
With the improvements in footage codecs, and the ability to immediately edit or ingest, we are also finding that we may require data wranglers in the near future. This will allow easier immediate access to our footage, which can often be lost among a very large team in a broadcast production. It can also give wide access to departments which previously have not imagined that they could incorporate this into their deliverables.
Speaking of our work on the World Cup, "It's true," said Geoffrey Mason, Head of Production Planning for ESPN. "The aerial coverage is the best I've ever seen -- at any event, worldwide."
As you can imagine, this was quite an exciting experience to coordinate and manage. Despite the atmospheric, logistical, and linguistic challenges with such a large scale international event, the coverage was ultimately a great success.