D2 Breaks New Ground in Sports Production

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On the weekend of May 13-15, 2011, D2 Productions teamed up with longtime partner Kitay Productions to produce cutting-edge experimental coverage of college baseball for Conference USA.  Our mission: to produce network-level HD sports coverage within a budget roughly one-third to one-half that of comparable broadcasts.  We headed to Rice University in Houston for a weekend series against Memphis.  We built the production system on Friday, and then produced games on Saturday and Sunday which aired on CBS Sports Network.  Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how we did it.


Rather than hire a conventional HD production truck, we built an entire production system onsite from the ground up.  The heart of the system was a suite of products from Newtek: the TriCaster TCXD850 HD switcher, the 3Play replay system, and LiveText graphics.  For cameras, we used four Sony PMW-EX3’s.  We also built a full audio system based around the Mackie Onyx 1640i 16-channel mixer, with standard announcer headsets and effects mics.  Rental gear was supplied and shipped in from six different companies around the country.


Here’s the TriCaster TCXD850 switcher with the main interface monitor and new “CS” control surface.  This control surface emulates the usability of professional switcher control panels, and is really what enables a TD to be able to switch the fast-paced action of live sports with the TriCaster.


Here’s a look at the cabling we installed behind the “front bench,” which includes the TD, director, and producer stations.


This is a close-up look at some of the wires going into the TriCaster.  We used seven of the available eight external SDI inputs on the TriCaster.  This included four cameras; one channel from the 3Play; and the scorebox bug, which used two inputs, one for video fill and one for the key channel.


Steve Shaw operated the 3Play, Newtek’s replay system.  The 3Play is a 3-in system, meaning it can record 3 different camera feeds simultaneously.  It is capable of running in either 1-out or 3-out mode; we ran it in 1-out mode because we didn’t have enough available switcher inputs to support all 3 channels.


Graphics operator Rene Ray running LiveText, Newtek’s graphics system.  While the TriCaster has an internal version of LiveText, in a sports producton environment a standalone graphics machine and operator is required.  In this situation, the LiveText software is installed and run on a standard Windows laptop.  The LiveText machine supplies its graphics to the TriCaster via a gigabit-ethernet network connection.


We put the audio position and the scorebox bug at the back of the control room.  Here’s the Mackie Onyx board and a standard CBS Sports Network scorebox bug.


We used four Sony PMW-EX3 high-definition cameras and put 40x lenses on two of them.  Here are the local camera operators mounting a long lens on one of the cameras …


… and here’s Camera 3 in position at high first.  The homemade viewfinder shade makes it easier for the camera operator to see the viewfinder in sunny conditions.  We were able to use HD-grade coax cable to connect three of the cameras to the control room.  Because coax can’t deliver HD-SDI over the 1000′ distance from the center-field camera position, we used a fiber line for that camera.


Audio operator Bill Williams configures the intercom at the director station.  We used an eight-channel ClearCom system, including four wireless stations.


Bill Williams, EIC Rick Buffolano, and A2 Deb Partin working on the intercom system in the announce booth.


Producer Joel Kitay (center) meets with play-by-play announcer David Saltzman (left) and analyst David Brady (right) in the announce booth.


Director Adam Hinsdale checking out camera shots on his multiview monitor.  In addition to the main interface monitor, the TriCaster has a separate multiview monitor with several different view configurations.


When you’re on a budget, you find out that lens cases make perfect control room speaker stands.


We employed another fiber line to run our HD-SDI signal to the satellite uplink truck outside, which beamed the show back to CBS Sports Network master control in New York City.  Saturday’s game was live-to-tape, meaning it was recorded live by CBS in New York and aired a few hours later.  Sunday’s game was aired live.  In addition to feeding the uplink truck, the TriCaster also recorded the program in full HD resolution, and encoded a live Flash webcast stream.  All in all, the show looked great on-air, and we accomplished our goal of producing a professional HD sports broadcast in an innovative way!


Matt & Kim at the House of Blues, Boston

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D2 Productions’ staff produced and shot the Matt & Kim interview and day-of-show montage for “Backstage with Lands’ End Canvas”.

From the Lands’ End Canvas page:

“We recently presented the Punk-rock duo Matt & Kim at the House of Blues in Boston.  The concert was the last show of the duo’s Sidewalks Tour.  Before the doors opened we threw an exclusive VIP concert for 50 fans to attend the sound check, personally meet the band and take pictures prior to Matt & Kim’s headlining set.”

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Backstage with Lands’ End Canvas  – bringing you closer to the music we love: Matt & Kim



Shipping Up to Tsongas

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On March 19th, we had the pleasure of producing a seven camera IMAG (image magnification) show for the Dropkick Murphys at Tsongas Arena in Lowell.

Given our long history of live concert production and the number of shows we’ve worked with DKM in the past, D2 was approached by the band’s management to produce the live video to accompany the concert at one of the last shows of their US tour promoting the new album “Going Out in Style”. This wasn’t to be a straightforward production, though – we were asked to put together a show that was gritty and “old-school” – think black & white, grainy, frenzied and paced to match the band – fast. Stylistically and technically, the challenge was to create a post-produced feel but shot live show.


Camera locations were worked and re-worked, finally settling on two hard cameras at front-of-house (where the sound and light boards live) with long (33x and 35x) lenses, three hand-held cameras on the downstage edge between the barricade and the stage, and two hand-held cameras upstage looking back toward the audience.This would provide for excellent up-close coverage of the action on stage and the two cameras at FOH allowed for “safety” coverage of Ken Casey and Al Barr, who trade lead vocals.


Using a mix of our Sony DXC-D55 and Sony BVP-70is cameras turned out to be a fun and fascinating dilemma – mixing analog and digital and attempting to have all the images match – we wanted the show to feel gritty and we were able to achieve that with increasing the gain on the older 70is cameras to 18db, crushing the black levels, over-saturating the colors and over-exposing the whites. But, the SDI D55s proved to be a problem. Even at 18db, the cameras looked too good! Dialing up the gain in-camera to 27db took care of that – the seven cameras matched nicely; all with the grit and noise that was going to give that old-school rock-n-roll look we were going for.


The idea of shooting the entire show in black & white ultimately gave way to using that effect more sparingly and we used a switcher effect on our Sony DFS-700a to remove all the color and add additional grain with overlays from DVD playback. Using it on just a few of the songs in the 2-hour set was met with rave reviews.

The end product was exactly what we had hoped it would be: a gritty, old-school video that supported (and, dare we say, enhanced?) the audience experience.