An inside look at the monumental task of Champ Car TV production
by Mark Cipolloni

 October 10, 2006

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Part 3

International Trailer

What these guys do, they're sort of like video/audio bandits. What they're doing is taking our feed. When we go away, they suddenly are asked to pick up the production at exactly when we leave and carry it on for the international audience.

So Gary Elghammer is responsible for the international booth, which is a set of announcers, Jeremy Shaw, James Hinchcliffe, and for any additional effects or music or audio sources that might come only into the international show.

For instance, today they'll be doing certain preproductions; for instance, the starting grid. They will package that so that they can show that to the international audience.

Any of the other kinds of things that they feel they may need to get, that the producer and director team that's up there feels they need, then they package that. Gary is responsible for all of that audio.

I talked about the complexity of audio. I think this setup is certainly one of the most complex I've ever been involved with. Part of the issue is trying to get all of the communications talking to one another. When you have two divergent trucks that are trying to communicate with one another at different times at different levels, it becomes very complicated.  Gary is an expert at patching these things together and making them work so that you can talk to whom you need to talk to and you won't hear who you don't need to hear.

Q. So in international, do some countries take Jeremy Shaw's and James Hinchcliffe's voice and other countries put their own announcers on?

JOHN MULLIN: Yes. At that point we call it a scratch track. They treat the Jeremy Shaw and James Hinchcliffe narration as a scratch track, then they put their own announcers on using whatever their language is.

Which, by the way, is an interesting skill to develop. When you're listening to an Englishman in one ear, and you're trying to do an Italian call, translating in your head nearly simultaneously, it's quite a skill for those people.

Jack Sedlack is the director who takes over from Gary and me when we go to commercial. He, in fact, was cutting the practice session today because we were doing preproduction next door. When we get into qualifying, we'll take it back because we're doing a qualifying show.

It's seamless as far as the international. They have power to change coverage. If they feel there's a battle they want to show that we can't show because we're in commercial, then they go to it. I then will let them know, okay, we're coming back in 30 seconds and I need to look at this or we're going to stay with where you are. They then get the cameras back to where it is we want or leave them alone, as it happens, then we come back, we rejoin and take it back from them.

I mentioned to you the two graphics devices that we use, that was way back when in the domestic truck.

The Deko was one of them, and the Duet was the second one. This is the Duet. It has a completely different look than anything that's generated by the Deko. This is here because of two things. One, Jack and Sharon, the International producer, use a limited number of graphics off of this machine, as this has a second load which is identical to the one that's in the Deko. But, two, this is the one we use for any show that we're producing, like the Atlantics that is produced solely for SPEED.

In other words, the Atlantics only air on SPEED, so we use the SPEED look. However, the international feed gets the Champ Car look from the Deko.

Each network, Mark, has its own look. We use the SPEED look. That all generates out of here. There's an operator and a coordinator, just like you saw next door.

Remote BST Camera Trailer

All of our RF equipment is supplied by Broadcast Sports Technology (BST), a vendor that specializes in wireless systems. These guys have their roots in Australia. The partners are John Porter and Peter Larsson, who developed the in-car camera. They won the Emmy award back in the '70s for CBS at the Daytona 500. They've now turned into a company that has about nine of these. They do all of the major motorsports events. They do Champ Car, they do NASCAR. If you're a major event -- they do the NHRA -- you work with these guys. They also do an awful lot of golf.

Q. They developed the miniature camera, so to speak?

JOHN MULLIN: Yes. The founding father of this thing is a guy by the name of John Porter who is a genius in making microcameras. One of his current involvements right now is working with NASA getting the little cameras that they can see from up on the moon.

Doug Parr is the engineer in charge for this unit. Out of here comes both our RF pit cameras and -- which would be numbers 21 and 22. All the in-car cameras, plus all of the wireless communications.

DOUG PARR: Each onboard camera costs in the neighborhood of $100,000. The cameras broadcast 700 lines of resolution, making the clarity of the video comparable to a standard broadcast camera. In '92, the cameras captured only 450 lines of resolution, making the picture prone to static.

The '92 cameras had three different focal lengths, but changing the point of view meant switching to an entirely different shot before coming back to the onboard point of view. Look at the onboard cameras then and now. There's very little similarity other than they happen to shoot video.

JOHN MULLIN: There's recording devices everywhere you turn. Here is another Elvis. This Elvis lives here specifically for in-car cameras. That's all it's concerned about: Recording all of the in-car cameras all the time.

So that's what gives you those great replays that we can come back with even though you didn't see it happen live. Quite frequently, we have it recorded on the Elvis.

Q. A lot of times the in-car camera will break up the picture because of whatever reasons, going under a bridge, maybe bad weather.

JOHN MULLIN: Yes. You know, it's a wireless device.

At some level, this becomes the innate ability of Doug Parr to figure out that one little thing that he can do that will give us the best possible picture. Right now it's overcast.

If we are able to keep the helicopter up, if it doesn't get too low, if the ceiling doesn't get too low and we can keep it up, I will do everything I can to give us the very best pictures possible.

But because you're so low, your signal is retarded. What it wants to see, what that transmitter wants to see, Mark, it wants to see a big wide cone going up in the air and the helicopter up there someplace. You bring that down, it becomes much more focused and it's much more difficult to make it look good.

Particularly with a track like this which is spread out, so many different pickup points you'd have to have. It will be a challenge.

I like to run my helicopter between five thousand and seven thousand feet.

Q. Do these cameras pan and zoom?

JOHN MULLIN: Yes. Not all of them, but some of them. Currently, we only have a panning camera that is mounted below the rear wing looking backward.

Each car can carry a couple different cameras, depending on the team and what we have available. We have cockpit cams looking at the drivers, shots underneath and away as well as forward facing. Forward facing is the primary. Sometimes we can augment that with a couple other points of view.

Q. Right. I've seen in NASCAR and even the IRL once in a while they use a panning camera. Of course, NASCAR has a much bigger place to put the camera in.

JOHN MULLIN: You'll have panning next year. The reason it wasn't here this year is because of the change to the Panoz next year. It's a construction issue. A structural issue.

Doug Parr was involved in the development of the new chassis with the input, specifically with the onboard camera.

In-Car camera control room

JOHN MULLIN: So this is the control room for the in-car cameras. I'll turn it over to Doug.

DOUG PARR: Basically everything is controlled by a computer, the helicopter, the equipment on the cars. We can change frequencies. We can adjust the audio. We have panning cameras. We can pan the cameras from the computer.

Basically all adjustments are remote by the cars on the racetrack. That's all controlled by this one computer.

I've been working with Scot Elkins. We started back in January, working on different camera placements on the car, including a new camera that will pan 180 degrees on the roll hoop. We're still working on some of the additional angles on the car right now.

We're also looking at possibly adding weighted camera dummies, so that all the cars will be equal with regard to weight. If we want to run a camera, we simply remove the dummy and put the real camera in. It doesn't affect the weight, which keeps the teams happy. Something we're hoping we can get finalized when the car gets signed off.

The new camera on top of the roll hoop will pan almost 180 degrees. You can actually pan over and see the fuel guy when he puts the fuel in. This is another upgrade we wanted to do for the new car.

The beauty of this new one, which makes the wing bigger, when we get weather conditions where the helicopter can't fly where we need it to, the transmit antenna that transmits the signal from the car to the helicopter, instead of being mounted now through the side pod, shooting through a little piece of fiberglass, it then can be mounted up here which gives you a wider signal so the helicopter can fly lower and get good pictures.

So places like Surfers Paradise, real strung out and only have to fly at like five thousand feet, if we get weather conditions, it will improve the pictures off the car.

Each camera unit runs off a lithium battery. These are extremely lightweight. Right now the current system that runs on the Champ Cars, total weight on it is right -- right at five pounds. These will run a Champ Car system for about four hours.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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