As far as historical events in the United States go, the Presidential Inauguration is perhaps the most treasured and honored of traditions. There is so much at stake and a lot of pressure to “ get it right” That said we recently had the opportunity to talk with Sascha Kunze, Broadcast Services Director, MRMC.
MRMC was tasked with providing Robotic heads, Nikon cameras, and lenses on the central tower, a most strategic camera position.
PH: For those who might not know who MRMC is, can you give us a quick background about MRMC? What are the roots of the organisation?
Sascha Kunze: Mark Roberts Motion Control (MRMC), a Nikon Company, is the leading manufacturer of cutting-edge solutions for motion control, broadcast, volumetric/mixed reality and remote image capture. From live broadcast and film productions to e-commerce solutions, we offer our clients the ability to capture their visions via a ground-breaking suite of award-winning innovative hardware and software. The company was founded in 1966 and had its humble beginnings making rostrum tables for animation, before we started to develop more intricate camera control technology for motion control and broadcast use. In 2016 MRMC was acquired by Nikon
PH: The inauguration of the president of the United States is one of the most watched live events around the world. How were you contacted and what was your first response? Who "found you" and thought MRMC would be a good addition and what was that like?
Sascha Kunze: Our Nikon counterparts in the US have been working with journalists and press agencies for some years and worked on a number of high-profile sporting, social and now political events.
The planning for the inauguration started last year as part of Nikon’s preparation for large events. Due to the global pandemic situation, we have been planning and providing remote operations solutions in both broadcast and photojournalism. As part of this effort, a number of our clients were able to plan a socially distanced production without the need to compromise on quality of their output and production value.
PH: Where was the MRMC installation located in particular, and did you have more than one?
Sascha Kunze: Working in tandem with our clients and the inauguration media team, the installation of all 3 Robotic Pods was completed on the central media tower (center stand) at the US Capitol. All Pods were equipped with Nikon Cameras and Lenses. These controllable Robotic heads were installed in conjunction with the various clients who were able to connect them to their own production infrastructure. They were able to control these heads remotely from anywhere that they had network access. For example, one customer was located in a separate building in the compound, while still being able to have a through-the-camera view and real-time control.
PH: What was your timeline from the first call to the actual inauguration?
Sascha Kunze: Nikon / MRMC had been planning to support the Presidential Nominating Conventions, and the advent of Covid-19 made remote operation and robotics even more appealing to allow safe and socially distanced coverage. As these events were cancelled, the planning shifted to the inauguration. When Covid-19 related protocols restricted the amount of personnel covering the inauguration were implemented, customers reached out to Nikon USA to secure Robotic Pods to cover positions where a photographer would normally be stationed, but were now restricted from. We provided demonstrations and training to interested parties in order to familiarize them with the set up and operation during the couple of weeks leading up to the event date. As this was a secure event, the required security clearance that time also had to be obtained.
About a week prior to the event, the units were shipped to DC and installed on the center stand platform in a single day. The Robotic Pods have a modular structure that is simple to install by a single person, comprised of 3 main components and 2 connector cables. After this, we integrated the operations into the customer’s network and performed connection and operation test leading up to the day of the inauguration. We were up and running.
PH: I know MRMC has extensive experience in the film world. Other than working with the Boston Red Sox, what other live sports experience do you bring to the mix? Does that experience help with other live events? Were there any hiccups the day of the production?
Sascha Kunze: In terms of major sporting events, one of the first marquee events we were involved in was the Olympic Games in London 2012. Nikon engaged with MRMC to provide remote robotic photography solutions for the international photo press. Since that event we have worked at every Olympics that has taken place. We have continued to develop and refine the Robotic POD to a point where it is now the most versatile, easiest to install and operate robotic photography and video solution available on the professional market.
Other major live events that we have covered include Film Festivals such as Cannes, to the FIFA World Cup, Wimbledon and even Underwater at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
Customer’s participation is either done remotely or on site depending on the event. Being cutting-edge technology, we have certainly had our fair share of learnings over the years and have been working with our customers to improve on the solutions we offer and cover off all eventualities. In PyeongChang for example, we developed additional temperature control measures to counteract the extreme cold the units would be in, up to -30C at night and did not have any failures. This is one of the advantages of the weather proof design of the POD.
The Robotic POD and MRMC robotics are not only used for Photography. They can also use the Nikon D5 and Z series cameras in video mode to provide high quality video content for live and OTT content. We also have applications in professional sporting leagues such as the Bundesliga - whilst we use broadcast cameras on an MRMC PTA-1 pan tilt head in this example, we also use robotic PODs in the same application.
PH: I have had the opportunity to work on and in secure locations. Was that a first for you? Did you ask yourselves how are we going to make this happen? Can you talk about the vetting process?
Sascha Kunze: All major live events that we work are always conducted using secure location protocols. The inauguration had an even more secure layer of security level due to recent events that our counterpart in the US Nikon team had to work with.
PH: When you were getting ready to do the inauguration did you ever think we (MRMC) is part of history?
Sascha Kunze: The nature of these large live events always means that you are part of something that creates a once in a lifetime moment and feeling. It is always special. The inauguration felt especially so. We were very honoured to be able to support the coverage and be there live. I was sitting in my home office in England at the time working remotely supporting the US Nikon team on the ground in an effort to produce great coverage.
PH: Can you tell us about your technical set up? What products and what Nikon cameras/lens were being used? Was the robotic arm stationary or on tracks? What goes into the programming?
Sascha Kunze: The Robotic Pods were equipped with Nikon D5 cameras and 80-400 NIKKOR lenses to allow a wide-to-tight point of view. The Pods were mounted statically on the center stand, and the operator has full remote control over each of the axis, pan, tilt, roll, zoom and focus.
MRMC, in conjunction with Nikon, developed a control interface that gives the operator full control over the robotics and the camera in one interface. This allows the quick change in capture settings and modes. You can manually adjust your ISO, focus and mode, manual controls including aperture and shutter speed, or switch these to full auto with a simple touch. The photographer can operate with nearly the same level of control they would have when normally standing out in the cold and on a crammed platform
Images are delivered to the news/press rooms via a client defined FTP server to allow speedy delivery of images in a just in time publishing workflow, or you could shoot to card and retrieve images later. FTP is the preferred choice in almost all applications.
PH: What should our readers know about MRMC and the production that may not be readily apparent?
Sascha Kunze: If you have a camera, we have a solution for most applications - be that in video, film production, virtual production and stills photography. As part of our product portfolio now we can even create virtual humans as stills, video or avatar through our latest innovations called Polymotion Stage.
PH: Any personal thoughts or being involved with this once in a lifetime production?
Sascha Kunze: This was a particular honour as it was an event of such multi-facetted importance and the eyes of the entire world were on it. I personally love the build-up and excitement leading up to the moment and being there, even if remote is always an honour. It’s the best feeling in the world to see the images the customer is then able to publish and we were part of that moment in a way that will exist forever now. There is very little that can beat this feeling.
Photo credit: Molly Riley, Nikon Inc.