Behind the Lens: Gotham Girls Roller Derby ups its game with Blackmagic Design
COW Library : Broadcasting : Debra Kaufman : Behind the Lens: Gotham Girls Roller Derby ups its game with Blackmagic Design
Roller derby is a crashing success in New York City where the Gotham Girls Roller Derby league strides the track to hundreds of excited fans. The league is the best of the best in Gotham City, made up of 60 of the best players from the local borough teams, the Brooklyn Bombshells, Manhattan Mayhem, Bronx Gridlock, Wall St. Traitors, and Queens of Pain.
Gotham Girls Roller Derby league, which began rolling in 2004, started recording its bouts with borrowed cameras. But the audiences have grown, both as online streams from the league's site, edited bouts on NYC life, the flagship station of the official TV, radio and online network of New York City, as well as post-game videos and DVDs.
Suzy Hotrod, Number 55 of GGRD. By Taylor Shaw. This photo was taken on June 24, 2011 in Lower Southampton, Pennsylvania, US, using a Canon EOS REBEL T2i.
That meant stepping up production quality, which the team--Tammy Walters, executive producer of the Gotham Girls Roller Derby TV show on NYCTV; marketing director David Hyatt; and technical director/producer Franklin Zitter--did by adding Canon HD cameras and Blackmagic Design's ATEM 1 M/E Production Switcher and ATEM 1 M/E Broadcast Panel.
One of the first upgrades the Gotham Girls made was to the cameras, which up until then had been a haphazard mix. "Four or five people in the league had nice cameras--they're in the entertainment industry," says Walters. "But they were all different cameras. When we started getting into online switching, we were having a lot of problems with the software recognizing the cameras. Plus each camera had different resolutions, and the look was different: one would be darker; one would be more yellow. It created issues we needed to overcome."
Bunny McBones - Straight Razor - Mayday Malone. Photo credits: This image and title image at head of article: Tyler Shaw on June 24, 2011 in Lower Southampton, Pennsylvania, US, using a Canon EOS REBEL T2i.
Researching cameras had to take into account that they would purchase five of them, not an inexpensive purchase. They ended up with the Canon Vixia HF-S200. "Although these are consumer camcorders, they capture HD and they're tapeless," says Walters. "They also have good optics and are very versatile. The HF-S200 gave us the most expansive set of features we could get for our dollar. They're also small, versatile and easy to use."
Next, they focused on choosing the right switcher. Up until then, the league production team had been using a software solution. "We were happy with it, but we needed to go up another level," says Zitter. "We now had the demand of five matched cameras and we were trying to up the level of production to get the most from the new Canon HD cameras." The Gotham Girls league' team already had a relationship with Blackmagic Design, and after learning more about the ATEM 1 M/E Production Switcher and ATEM 1 M/E Broadcast Panel, decided to test the configuration in action.
"We wanted to create switchers for an under-served market: people who couldn't afford to get into HD switching because of the cost," says Dan May, president of the Blackmagic Design U.S. office. "Now these people can get a great switcher and use off-the-shelf HDMI cameras and have real broadcast quality HD switching."
In the past, groups like Gotham Girls Roller Derby were priced out of HD production, because a broadcast quality switcher could easily cost between $20,000 and $50,000. "Now you can buy a $2,500 switcher and a panel--technically optional although handy--at $5,000," says May. "That's a significant decrease in price. Our technology makes that accessible to organizations that couldn't do it before." ATEM's 10-bit design also means that Gotham Girls would get the highest quality possible from their new cameras, with true 10-bit video quality maintained throughout the signal path.
Bonnie Thunders of Gotham Girls Roller Derby, right front. This photo was taken by Tyler Shaw on June 24, 2011 in Lower Southampton, Pennsylvania, US, using a Canon EOS REBEL T2i.
Whatever new switcher they bought also had to meet the challenges inherent in producing a Gotham Girls Roller Derby bout. "Our league is a bit nomadic," says Hyatt. "There are three or four venues that can support the teams and the crowds. Being nomadic, all of our video and computer gear has to be able to easily pack up, set up and then break down again."
When it came to putting together the best package for producing and post producing games, says Tammy Walters, "versatility was key." "The Mac we use is also our editing system," she says. "We take our editing suite with us when we hit the road. When we're at the venue, we're doing a live stream, switching the game so mom and dad can watch it in Georgia. Then we bring it back to the warehouse, the Crash Pad, clean up what wasn't switched and deliver it to NYCTV."
Bonnie Thunders of GGRD. Photo credits: Taylor Shaw. This photo was taken on June 24, 2011 in Lower Southampton, Pennsylvania, US, using a Canon EOS REBEL T2i.
As it turned out, switching switchers was not a hard task because the BMD ATEM switcher met those requirements--and more. "The Blackmagic Design ATEM switcher was awesome in terms of bringing in all the video feeds," says Zitter. "Using a hardware solution removed so many of the variables we had had to deal with in software. The software solution limited us to Firewire cameras, and there was a burden of decoding. With the Blackmagic Design ATEM switcher, the era of having a switcher that didn't recognize cameras was over."
"It was much easier in the end to have a hardware solution," adds Walters. "The ATEM is so portable. All you really need to run it is a panel the size of two rack units...and it has 18 outputs and is controlled by any PC or Mac. It's incredibly portable, so we can get it up and running easily for a practice or scrimmage, and it feels like a traditional switcher control panel."
Hyatt notes that the production team's set-up time has gone way down with the addition of the Blackmagic Design Production Switcher and Broadcast Panel. "In the past, it was two or three hours of tearing our hair out," says Wyatt. "Our last set up, from beginning to running live, was under 90 minutes, which was a record for us. We want to keep going faster and faster."
In addition to portability and versatility, the gear also needed to have a low training threshold. "We use an army of volunteers," explains Walters. "We never know who will be available. So the equipment we buy need to have a certain level of intuitiveness."
Suzy Hotrod, (55) of GGRD, left. This photo was taken on June 24, 2011 in Lower Southampton, Pennsylvania, US, using a Canon EOS REBEL T2i.
Ease of use came with the Blackmagic Design ATEM switcher and panel. "It's meant for a high school student who can just sit down and use it, as well as someone who's been a switcher operator for 25 years," says May. "It is a broadcast quality switcher and has all the features that people are accustomed to. Yet it's simplified as to how it's used."
The team was also able to integrate live score stat graphics via Rinxter, a custom third party software. "Rinxter is amazing scoring software," says Walters. "We're modeling our format on what you find on ESPN Sports. We're trying to bring new fans into the sport, and this way it'll be easy for them to recognize what's going on with how we package it." With Rinxter on an adjacent laptop, Zitter's team is able to feed into the switcher to key over shots. "Instead of a traditional tape playback deck, we use extra laptops," says Zitter. "It's really easy. Our editors just export a sequence and we have it ready to play back."
Bonnie Thunders (340) in the middle crunch. This photo was taken by Tyler Shaw on June 24, 2011 in Lower Southampton, Pennsylvania, US, using a Canon EOS REBEL T2i.
In the edit suite, the team cuts the shows down, with the ability to swap out cameras for specific shots. "If the switcher took Camera A, we might swap back to Camera B," says Walters. "We'll cut out skater injuries because we don't need to show five minutes of a skater with the medics." Another piece of gear that the team has added is Shure dynamic headset microphones. "We're recording in an arena with a lot of music we can play but not broadcast," says Zitter. "So we can just have the announcer voices and not worry about licensing issues. We explain fouls and talk people through the actions. That goes back to the versatility we get with the switcher."
The extra time that the Gotham Girls Roller Derby production team is gaining from an easier set-up and more robust switching is going to good use. "Now everything works out of the box," says Zitter. "It's solved a lot of technical issues and gives us more time to figure out the creative issues on how to make our show better."
Walters agrees. "Initially, our main goal was to get it working with multi cameras that would stream and air," she says. "That was basic. Now we're turning our streams into an actual show, rather than just cuts between cameras.
By paying more attention to the creative aspects of programming, says Walters, the team has a new goal in mind. "Now we hope to start dialogues with larger media distribution companies and show that this sport is ready for the next step," she says. "We've made a big step towards what a broadcast needs to look like to make it appealing to advertisers and sponsors. There's no shortage of roller derby footage on the Internet but very little of it is something that a big time media outlet or sponsors would want as part of their brand. We hope to be the one that can really take it there and attract high-level attention, because we've got a high-level media product."
The Gear List and SchematicsATEM Switcher was setup in 1080i mode
All Cameras were Canon Vixia HFS200 Cameras (HDMI)
3 Cameras running into Blackmagic MiniConverters (HDMI to SDI) and plugged into SDI inputs
2 Cameras running via HDMI into HDMI inputs
1 MacBook Pro running ATEM Software Controller & Providing Video/GFX playback via Mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapter into HDMI Input on switcher
1 MacBook Air Providing Rinxter (Live Scores, Stats, Clocks software) GFX via Mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapter into HDMI input on switcher
1 HDTV with MultiView HDMI output (multiview replaces the need for a monitor bank and provides 10 output / source previews on a single monitor (Program Output, Preview Output and Input 1-8)
1 Mac Pro with SDI Program Feed going into Decklink SDI input.
1 PowerMac G5 Quad with SDI Aux Feed (Clean) Running into Decklink SDI Input
1 Audio Mixer with Announcer Feeds and Video Playback audio
GGRD Switcher Workflow. Click image to expand to larger version.