Every four years, we watch. We marvel at badminton and wonder about the modern decathlon. With more than 300 gold medals awarded across 37 disciplines, our lives are suddenly much less productive. But enough with the obscure sports, for now.
In this edition of “know your Olympic sport,” we focus on the technology enhancing our viewing experience (plus a darn cool video clip of a dog show).
Ever heard of Garret Brown? You should have. Forget about Bob Costas, 2000 Chinese drummers or the incomparable Michael Phelps; nobody has effected your enjoyment of the Olympics in Beijing more than Brown. Pick a sport, any sport, and you have Brown to thank for camera angles you so rudely have taken for granted. Brown holds fifty patents worldwide for camera devices used in every sport in the world since 1972 (and the filming of_ Rocky_). We honor Brown with our own gold medal of broadcasting and hope you remember his name, at least till the end of this article.
Steadicam: It seems logical now to see a cameraman with his camera mounted around his torso. Designed in 1972, the Steadicam started it all by isolating the movement of the cameraman from that of the camera. A gimble design with a counterbalance that strapped around the waist, keeps the camera steady when the operator is not. Before that point, a complicated dolly or shaky hands were the only options for filming. For better or worse, the NYPD Blue _television series would’ve looked more like _The Blair Witch Project without the invention. With his patent now expired, Steadicam knockoffs are everywhere, including Beijing.
MobyCam: Michael Phelps should give one of his 37 gold medals to Brown (or at least some endorsement money). Swimming became more engaging to the general public with the introduction of the MobyCam in Barcelona in 1992. The two-feet-long submarine rides between lanes four and five (closest to the top seeds) on the black line at the bottom of the pool. The movement of the camera is controlled by a terribly simple mechanical pulley system. According to Brown, this kept away any “jumpy electrical inspectors” from keeping his invention out of the water in Spain. The camera is moved by hand using a crank wheel allowing the camera to stay right beneath the action. Brown says he drove it 19 miles himself in Barcelona.
DiveCam: Brown describes the DiveCam, first introduced in 1996 in Atlanta, as “very elegant but simple.” A tube filled with air and a wide lens camera is held up a track by a wire and a pulley. At the exact moment the diver leaves the board and operator releases a wire allowing the camera to drop. Thanks to that gravity phenomenon, both reach the water at the same time traveling at approximately 33 mph offering viewers a trip alongside, and into the pool, with the diver. The camera is remote controlled to pan up or down slightly.
“It’s an astonishingly long time between when a diver leaves the platform and splashes,” said Brown. “It’s 1.4 seconds which is a hell of a long time. It lets the operator correct for timing.”
Consistent with the more evolving times, that footage filmed in Beijing has been in high definition.
Sportvision is to digital enhancement as Garret Brown is to cool camera technology Famous for its First and Ten line and infamous for the glowing puck, Sportvision has a variety of technology that also deserves a bit more love.
Stromotion: Powered by Dartfish, Stromotion gets its name from the strobe like effect it creates on replay footage. A series of static images along an objects’ trajectory creates a flipbook-like effect for anything from baseball pitches [left] to gymnasts flipping through the air. In Beijing, the enhancement has been used in everything from diving, to baseball to equestrian. From truly watching the break on a breaking ball or analyzing the toe point on a gymnast, broadcasters and viewers can’t seem to get enough. For some Stromotion clips from Beijing click here.
Simulcam: The older brother of Stromotion, Simulcam takes athletes competing on the same course at different times and allows them to compete simultaneously on the television. In track it provides a unique view on the progression of a race, while diving lets viewers compare jump height, angles of entry and even the splash in impressive side-by-side footage. Also powered by Dartfish, the technology combines footage from two different shots automatically compensating for differences in pan, tilt and zoom. It’s even cool for dog shows (see below).
Video Overlay: Even your most obsessed Olympic aficionado might confuse the flags of Kazakhstan and Mozambique after a few beers on Saturday night. Arguably Sportvision’s simplest technology is also its most effective. Video overlay blankets perfectly colored flags onto the lanes [right] of a track, a swimming pool or a river without blurring the event in the least. For distance events, Sportvision will even throw in a virtual line so we know just how far they have to jump for gold.