I'm going to Disney World!”
Ever since Phil Simms of the New York Giants first hollered those famous words into an NFL Films camera 20 years ago, viewers have come to anticipate this climactic moment — the true finale of any Super Bowl broadcast.
This year, when Hines Ward of the Pittsburgh Steelers was selected Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XL in Detroit, the wheels behind the scenes truly started turning. While viewers watched the celebration on the field, the real story was the three camera crews sprinting onto the field to capture the Steelers' wide receiver announcing his travel plans to the world. This footage was dashed off to an editing crew waiting in a truck to make quick cuts and edits and lay in the customary “Wish Upon a Star” soundtrack. While the traditional Disney spot normally airs the morning following the game, this season's version had special meaning — the 20th year of creating this on-field spot. In fact, portions of the captured footage were broadcast later that same night.
Super Bowl XL
Super Bowl XL in Detroit was just the most recent opportunity for NFL Films to apply the latest technology and techniques to help provide the best coverage of professional football. ABC Sports was responsible for providing the broadcast feed, and NFL Films' played its usual integral role, providing footage for team and league highlight films and, in probably the most unheralded role, coordinating and producing the program seen by the rest of the world. By combining the feeds provided by ABC with footage of its own, we produced content for more than 20 international broadcasters.
The demand for HD programming has drastically changed the way football games are shot and edited. Prior to the 2004 season, all film footage was transferred to SD video format for both online and offline editing. But now, all source material must be transferred to HD for post editing. Then, the HD master is then down converted to create the SD version.
Using high-tech solutions
NFL Films crews are experts in capturing game footage. To ensure that every shot is captured, as many as five cameras are located in the press box, all shooting at different film speeds. Cameras are positioned at each end zone and on the 50-yard line. Another camera is positioned on the opposite side of the field shooting the reverse angle, which captures scenes the other cameras might not be able to see.
At ground level, there are a handful of super slow-motion cameras shooting film at 120fps. In addition to these ground cameras, sound cameras move up and down each sideline to capture in-game audio.
After capturing the action with film and video cameras, the material is transferred to digital videotape and servers using fiber links in the stadium. From there, the images can be used immediately for replays or simply archived.
The world broadcast feed requires a split from ABC's NEP mobile production truck. We turn it around as clean video, adding international effects audio. Multiple Leitch X75 multiple-path converter/synchronizers provide the frame-rate conversion for 20 countries. A Videotek TVM-950-E multiformat video and audio signal analyzer provides QoS monitoring.
While being responsible for producing a program watched by nearly 1 billion people is exciting, it's much more exciting after it's already been seen by those billion people.
Gary Reed is chief engineer of NFL Films.