Producing Live Athletic Events with NewTek's TriCaster | Print |
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Written by Patrick Morrow - Carlson High School   

High school athletics can be one of the most challenging pieces of programming to capture. There are no rehearsals, no dry runs, no "take two" or "Can we run that play again?" Its live, its now, and every shot has to count. Whether you are capturing basketball, hockey or soccer, concepts and camera layouts are same.


Patrick Morrow, TV production teacher at Carlson High School, Gibraltar, MI says, "Using NewTek's TriCaster has made game capture easier. It's portable, lightweight and easy to set up and use. It allows for live switching, roll-ins and class prepared pre-recorded features. In addition, TriCaster includes on-screen graphics and over-lays that can be used to identify players and coaches during the game." The unit is so easy to use and set-up that students can manage the complete shoot with minimum, if any, teacher supervision. Away games are easy to do, as TriCaster is almost a full production trailer in a portable case that can fit into the trunk of a car.


Class Activities. During the week, TV production students interview players and coaches from the home team and prepare short features that can be shown pre-game or during half time. This gives the students experience in ENG and editing techniques. If possible, interviews are conducted with opposing team players at the conclusion of the previous game before they head home. These features give a professional feel to the broadcast and significantly increase production value.


As the games are broadcast on public access TV and the school channel, PSAs and other non-athletic information can be included and disseminated to the viewing audience. Game highlights are also prepared for other uses.


Pre-Game Set-up

Prior to the game, all player numbers, names and positions are edited into one of the TriCaster's lower third graphics. The home team is stored in a play list as it is used every game. By having both teams ready, it is very easy to identify players during the game with their information. This task is done by the CG (Character Generator) operator who also controls the graphics during the game.


Any segments that have been prepared by the class are also put into TriCaster's playlist. These can be inserted according to the order in which they might be played at game start or half-time.


If time permits, a player list is provided to each cameraperson to ease identification of "heroes" during the game. A rough shot list is also provided to each camera station.


Key to success is a short crew meeting to insure that everyone understands their respective duties during the game.


Camera Set-up and Position

Three cameras are typically used, with Camera One being the game camera capturing wide shots, zooming in for a specific play.


Camera Two is for tight shots, usually a two-shot, and can pull back as required by the play. These two are usually placed in or above the press box mid field. Camera Three is very useful for on-field shots providing there is enough cable to get down to the field (make sure you have a spotter to protect the camera person! Many a camera has been lost or the operator has found themselves suddenly involved in a play!) Although TriCaster is designed for three-camera input, it is possible to add a fourth camera and use an A/B switch. In this case, each camera would cover half the playing field. Toggle to the appropriate camera which would then show up in the TriCaster preview monitor.


If field capture is not possible, placing all three cameras high in the stands or in the press box is recommended. Game camera should be mid-field and the other two in line I with the 30 yard line, or roughly bisecting the distance between center field and the goal.


Having cameras at field level also makes half time activities easier to shoot. Very dramatic shots can be captured of the marching band, cheerleaders, and crowd reaction shots. Pre-game live interviews, time permitting (and coaches' willingness) can also be conducted.


Live Production and Staffing

Having experienced staff is very important to good production. A director that is familiar with the sport can anticipate plays and set up shots appropriately. Likewise, camera staff can react quickly to direction and the CG operator can get graphics set up in anticipation of hero shots.


Typically, the director would do the mixing using TriCaster's video mixer. Staff permitting, the Director might have a Technical Director to work the mixer leaving the director free to set up and call shots. Next to the director or TD would be the CG operator using the mouse to push graphics, cue TriCaster's VCR (DDR) and make audio adjustments on TriCaster's audio mixer. The CG operator can also make on the fly camera adjustments using the proc amp (camera setup tab). This is especially useful for an outdoor event where the sun may be setting.  The Director should also advise camera operators to adjust iris settings if the cameras are so equipped.


If the game is being broadcast on local radio, it is recommended to pull a feed from their audio mixer into TriCaster. If color commentary is being provided, separate mics can be fed into the second mic input. Make sure there is a shotgun mic for picking up ambient crowd noise.


In addition to the TriCaster control monitor, it is highly recommended to have a glass program monitor so the director can see the final output. This is very useful when making camera adjustments.


During the game, make sure that any batteries or media that need changing are refreshed and labeled during halftime.


Post Game

Although TriCaster can hold up to 10 hours of video content, it is recommended to have an external capture device, either tape or disk, recording live output. In most cases, the program is ready for broadcast immediately following the game. Any post production can be done using TriCaster's editor. Having an external capture device also provides a measure of security in the event something unforeseeable happens to the internal hard drive.


Patrick Morrow is a 28 year veteran of TV production in the Detroit area. He can frequently be found behind a camera at a Red Wings or Detroit Lions game. Mr. Morrow is the recipient of 10 Jelly Awards for excellence in commercial production. He is currently head of TV Production at Carlson High School in Gibraltar, MI.