What if you could visually experience very steep freeform in the countryside from an elite snowboard perspective? The view represents the speed, known and unknown terrain below as the rider navigates through trees, and the gaping through a 70-foot jump, plus that first image of a landing after falling blindly from a cliff. Now, what if this experience was in real time? This was the request of the production crew of professional skaters Travis RiceLast Snowboarding natural event In Jackson Hole. The solution has proven to be a multi-year technology endeavor involving more than 100 production experts who come from every direction – live TV producers to professional drone racing pilots (first person perspective). Everyone was asked to push the limits of their expertise, and yes, to do so in a harsh, high alpine wintry environment with all the weather variables it holds. The result was a viewing experience that put the audience in their right place.
Within snowboarding, Rice is known as the ultimate catalyst, and his nickname is “The Optimistic President,” indicating his willingness to push himself and others to achieve extraordinary results. Rice is running with a kind of forward momentum that sweeps through whatever obstacle stands between him and the finish line. Chris Stplay was the lead in resolving this live endeavor and POV contestant as Creative Director and Producer at Uncle Toad’s, a live-focused production company with roots in action sports. Steblay was up to the challenge, and ready to break through with what he saw as a bit of indolence in some action sports productions. “We and our crew took on a responsibility to do so because the rewards outweigh the risks if we can achieve them,” he says. Plus, he adds, “It’s Travis Rice’s request, we’re all big fans. When he says, ‘That’s what I want.’ Well, there’s not much room for maneuver besides giving it to him. We got it right.”
For Steblay, the solution boiled down to one need: to develop static racing drones with live, HD video feed to be used as the primary camera from the top of a mountain in winter.
Unmanned racing aircraft
The first step was to partner with professional drone pilots who have the skills to build fast and agile drones. Unlike the traditional one A consumer drone“Racing drones give you something like the experience of flying on the back of a bald eagle – they are fast, fast, agile, and allow you to approach riders, like 10 feet behind and a few feet above our heads.” The goal: to get the angle of the video game.
They also needed these same pilots to fly drones equipped with cameras during a snowboarding competition. The tour has reached Gabriel, the world drone racing champion “Gab707” Kosher. Kocher proved to be a perfect fit, and a resident pilot in Vancouver, British Columbia earned his Ph.D. In physics he’s also an emotional snowboarder. Kosher brought on Jordan “Jet” Timken Fellow world champion pilot and also powerful skater. Involving pilots in skiing and snowboarding is critical for them to have that instinctive eye to anticipate riders’ movements and speed. Rice shared, “Frankly, I don’t care how good a drone pilot is if you can’t anticipate the lines these riders take or the way they ride. It just won’t work.”
The pilots flew drones known as FPV drones, which operate remotely using video glasses that offer first-person vision. Racing drones are not sold off the shelf, but rather are crews that have been expertly built, balanced, engineered and modified by the pilots themselves. For the event, the pilots had five full-fledged racing FPV drones ready to fly. (If you’d like a bit more of a FPV’s cinematic capabilities, check out the recently released short film One Time! Right above our alley From the pilot / jaybyrdfilms films)
The Natural Selection drone corners have been complemented by a pair of Freefly Alta-X drones that fly higher in the air providing a stable angle over the head. Yes, a second fleet of drones.
While pilots were designing racing drones, StepPlay focused on finding the perfect compact, high-resolution cameras for filming from the drone. Cameras must be compatible with antennas that transmit live footage. And with this live footage, the need to know how to mount the camera arose to avoid what Steplay describes as the effect of seasickness (this step is usually dealt with in post-production). The crew added a camera pivot mount – a first for a racing drone.
Finally, antennas are installed to allow the camera to transmit footage directly. Bring in Steblay RF Wireless to create a 100 percent wireless event up the mountain with receiver towers to bring the footage straight to the live broadcast.
The final results
The coverage was a true achievement for broadcast engineering (and a new milestone for kinetic sports coverage). It should also be noted that the production was all done in an extreme mountain environment over the course of a week during which the resort was exposed to a height of five feet of snow. Not only were the conditions set for the Festival of Shovel to keep the equipment (found in flimsy ice fishing tents up the mountain) visible and accessible, but it also required a capable, perceptive, and able crew to spend many hours at work. Freezing temperatures in the avalanche region – not to mention the effort involved in maintaining many of the drone batteries warm and charged. And yes, even thought has been given to keeping the drone pilot’s hands warm, with little to no personal hand warmers installed on the drone’s controllers. And let’s also admit that despite navigating the forest path hundreds of times throughout the two-day event often in high winds and snow, there was not a single hit to a drone tree. Props for skilled pilots.
It was previously thought that a live production like this was only possible at the Olympic or NFL level, but Natural Selection has proven that it was possible with a graded crew, in a remote environment, completely wireless, with Travis Rice breathing down your neck.
The tour of natural selection continues
Kocher will be on the remaining two stops of the Natural Selection Tour in Canada and Alaska, capturing stunning video game-style camera angles, albeit minus the live broadcast, as well as a remote location.
The featured show from Bronco Natural Selection at Baldface Lodge in Canada featuring top rider lines and notable action of the week will be broadcast on March 19 on Red Bull TV.
The The Natural Selection Tour It will conclude with the Super Finals at The HempFusion Natural Selection at Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, Alaska, from March 20-27, 2021.
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