Image courtesy of Caleb Denison/Digital Trends
Pre-Game Warm Up
Every year the and the technology for the Super Bowl is both bigger and better. This year, production was broadcast in 1080p and converted to 4K UHD HDR, and even some cameras, including Canon and Sony, shooting in 8K. Audio was a big presence and stylistic new graphics also brought a fresh look to the game. No pressure at all right? Just for kicks (no pun intended) add in that Super Bowl LIV was also the culmination of the 100th Anniversary of the National Football League.
So over the top production values were evident throughout the week. Fox Sports had two locations: Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens and South Beach, which are about 17 miles away from each other. Fox Sports and their broadcast partners did a fantastic job executing all of their pre Super Bowl, regular programs, the game itself and the post game festivities.
On the Field
Let this sink in: over 100 cameras were used at the Super Bowl. Yes, you read that correctly, 100 cameras. High, low, flying, robotic and patented Admiral PylonCams. This included eight 4K cameras and three 8K cameras (Sony UHC-8300s used in their first NFL post-season game ever).
The 4K cameras were positioned in a higher position for the end zone and the 8K cameras were located on the sidelines and benches. The 4K cameras allowed for 6x zoom replays two of the 8K cameras had 12s zoom replays; the other had a wide shot of the whole football field. All pure technology aside one of my favorite camera placements were the Marshall POV cameras placed in the goal line pylons.
The patented PylonCams 2.0 were designed and built by industry veteran Paul “Admiral” Halsey at Admiral Video. Using the brand new Marshall CV503-WP cameras, Super Bowl viewers had the opportunity to get about as close as you can to the action not only across the goal line but looking down the sideline in each direction as well. The Pylon Cams added a whole new dimension to up close in game coverage.
Other cameras included over 70 fixed locations, Steadicams, wireless Movi Gimble handhelds, along with multiple slo-mo cameras as part of the whole broadcast package. There was even one camera that was set up using Verizon 5G who was also part of the entire streaming package! I loved how they got that shot with plug for Verizon on the side of the camera too!
If that doesn’t do it for you Fox Sports had not one, not two, but three Skycam systems. One Skycam set up was lower for field coverage and one way up super way high up and over Hard Rock Stadium. The third was placed outside the stadium near the Fox Sports Compound.
It’s also important to note that even though Fox Sports produced the game in 4K UHD HDR, the game itself was shot in 1080p and then that signal was upgraded so that the audience who was streaming got that 4K experience. Fox Sports explained the process so well. Shooting sports at super hi-res produces a ton of unfavorable artifacts that will degrade the quality. Shooting in a higher res and manipulating the signal will still result in a very good image. Of course, I am also thinking about the sheer amount of data being moved in and out of the total flow. In total, Fox also had approximately 100 AJA FS-HDRs across the Fox compounds between in South Beach and at the Hard Rock location. In 1080p, each converter had the ability to handle four signals, including a color corrector where needed.
But wait what you asked about getting the audio? Hang on; I’m not done with the field part yet! Fox Sports approached the audio with the same over the top approach the used with the video. There was a total of 72 mics along with two full submix boards. Then for good measure add in wireless player mics, and doing the mix for 5.1 Surround Sound.
The Broadcast Compound
Where do we start? In the trucks of course! The Super Bowl Broadcast was like the Who’s Who of the remote production world. A caravan of remote trucks from the likes of Game Creek, NEP and Fox Sports made the before, the after, and the big day all happen with style. Leading the way was Game Creek’s “Encore” Units taking on the most important part of the equation: the game itself. For coverage of a game this big, Game Creek brought out a total of 19 trucks and 45 personel to get it all down cold.
Additionally, think of all the miles (est. total 34) of cabling just to get everyone and everything connected. Tying all the remote units together and getting the feeds back out was a central hub aptly named FATS (Feed Another Truck Something). Can you see yourself trying to engineer and do the “connect” for all these units? Nope. But Game Creek wasn’t alone. NEP also brought some muscle with some 80 production professionals on the ground for pre and post game coverage in South Beach, and for ESPN, NFL Films, International game feeds, exterior LED signage and finally the NEP Denali remote unit for the halftime show.
New Super Bowl Graphics Scored Big
Even though Fox had just redone their graphics six months ago. It was decided to take a fresh approach for the Super bowl and future sports productions. That said honestly if Fox Sports could do a mic drop on the new graphics package for the in game 2020 Super Bowl I would have supplied the mic. Thas how good the graphics were. In my opinion, the graphics design was young, fresh, and fit perfectly. They were just fun. Here is the why.
For starters, Fox was constantly updating the running back and quarterback stats on every play. Updating is not that new except for the speed in which they Fox updating the graphic then moving on to the next play. The other new part of the graphics package was that each star the major players for each team had one or more of their own illustrated stylized graphics.
These new stylized graphics were created by Drive Studio and powered up by Vizrt and Ventuz. The graphics include player illustrations instead of traditional video still shots. It gave the game a super new and different look, more than any other football game I had ever seen broadcast. Lastly, Fox added new software that has improved their Augmented Reality footprint. Sitting on the Unreal Engine 3D game program the technology was coupled with a camera on the goalpost and the closer to the field (lower) Skycam.
The Final Countdown
Overall, the Fox Sports coverage provided for Super Bowl LIV was excellent. Fox Sports and their broadcasting partners did a great job, taking on what some might argue is the biggest single sporting event of the year. It was creative and one more nod to all of the technical innovations Fox brought to the table. Was the broadcast perfect? Let’s just say in my opinion pretty darn close.
Before I sign off a big shout out is in order for the thousands of unsung professionals that made the production what it was. The cable pullers, engineers, shaders, A2s and the camera operators. Let’s not leave out the unsung production assistants too. Much like the game itself, Live Production is a total team effort. Having lived it, you and I know that! Hats off to all of you.