System Showcase: Delivering 175 Camera Production For The Repco Supercars ‘Bathurst 1000’

The Bathurst 1000 is a massive production by anybody’s standards, with 175 cameras, 10 OB’s, 250 crew and 31 miles of fiber cable. Here is how the team at Gravity Media Australia pull it off.

Like the souped-up racecars they have helped televise for audiences across the country for years, production facilities provider Gravity Media Australia’s team of engineers, technicians and support personnel work like a well-oiled machine. Also producing the highest profile events in the worlds of cricket, horseracing, tennis, golf, swimming, and yacht racing, the team has learned a thing or two about efficiency and on-site workflows that make the most operational and budgetary sense.

In a world of IP infrastructures and decentralized remote production system designs, which Gravity Media have helped pioneer, this massive production is produced the way crews have done for decades - with a few technical innovations included each year to captivate viewers as well. Even 4K is not on their clients’ list, at least not at the moment.

The workflows the Gravity Media Australia team have developed over time work well for all types of productions, both big and small. Among the largest is the annual Repco Bathurst 1000 Supercars race, which takes place over four days (in 2023 it was October 5-8, the 60th anniversary of “The Great Race” at Bathurst) and - working closely with host broadcaster Supercars Media for TV outlets Fox Sports and Seven Network - involves 10 OB Vans on-site. The production team consists of 250 people across Gravity Media and Supercars Media.

Field-Tested HD System Reliability

Sticking with tried and true production methods has meant laying dozens of kilometers of broadcast fiber cable by hand days before an event, connecting and configuring multiple OB Vans to work as a whole, deploying hundreds of cameras and RF receivers around a venue to achieve the best coverage and managing a 1080i/24 fps HD infrastructure that has kept its clients coming back each year for more than a decade.

“We’ve done 4K projects back in 2018 as a proof of concept, just to test the waters” said Ben Madgwick, Director - Media Services & Facilities at Gravity media Australia. “But the problem we often run into is that every racetrack is fairly isolated and there's no telecommunication infrastructure to get the signal off site, so to do 4K we’d have to do most of our signal distribution from the racetrack or street circuit via satellite link. Also the back end of the edit & archive in native 4K is a challenge that our client is still assessing on when is a good time to ‘jump’ to the higher format. That's a lot of bandwidth/storage and a lot of cost our clients don’t want to incur unless there are tangible returns.”

Coordinating A Full Arsenal

There are some 175 cameras including; Sony HDC-3500's and Sony HDC-4300s for 6X slow-motion image capture, and an array of camera types across the track, in the pits, in and across cars, on driver helmets, mounted in race walls and track curves. This can include portable and specialty extreme super slo-mo cameras, live helicopter coverage and overhead cabled camera systems of various varieties each year (cameras on a wire covering 700 meters (2,300 feet) across the property at Mount Panorama, in Bathurst, New South Wales).

Add in 40+ kilometers (25+ miles) of SMPTE & Single Mode fiber cable (enough to lap the circuit more than five times), and one can see the complexity and effort that goes into these live sports productions that are seen by a global audience that reaches into the millions.

The Bathurst event is the culmination of 12 rounds of racing at 12 different racetracks around the country, starting in February and running through to the first week of December. Gravity Media helps produce them all.

“This [Bathurst] is an event we plan an entire year for,” said Madgwick. “Getting all of the people, and systems to work together as a cohesive whole is the major challenge and every year (since 2013) we’ve improved our efforts to make it all go smoothly. We’ve evolved and grown with our clients and each year a few more elements get better.”

All of the various video feeds are managed through 378 input x 630 output GVG/Miranda NV8576 3G SDI hybrid router broadcast control and monitoring systems. All HD video signals are handled as baseband SDI.

Madgwick said the plan is to move to IP-compatible production trucks in the near future, “so it can cope with more expansion and more growth.”

Specialty Cameras Provide Unique POV Angles

Gravity Media Australia’s Globecam unit is tasked with creating high-definition digital miniature live broadcast devices that entertain and engage viewers with footage captured from exciting new angles and perspectives. The team is behind a number of world-first innovations, including specialty in-car camera technologies that are used for the Repco Supercars Championship in Australia, HelmetCam and UmpireCam which are now a key component of cricket coverage, the NetCam tennis solution which has been used at all four Grand Slams since its launch in 2018, and the Live JockeyCam which has been beaming horse racing images around Australia since 2019.

They place up to four miniature cameras in each race car, the feeds from which are captured with the dozens of RF receivers mounted round the track. These HD signals, as well as telemetry data from the car’s performance, are sent back to one of the production trucks on-site and immediately fed into a Vizrt graphics system, for incorporation into the live telecast.

AI-Assisted Replays

The big innovation at the 2023 Bathurst event was the addition of an  EVS XtraMotion AI-based super slow-motion system, which can generate super slow-motion replays from any camera angle. Working on-site, replay operators can clip any content from anywhere on the network, render it to super slow-motion and play it back in seconds from an EVS replay server. “This allows the production team to have every angle for every incident at their fingertips,” said Madgwick.

Wireless Network Captures Fast-Moving Data

For race events, a 2.4 Gb/s RF fiber-optic network is set up on-site and frequency coordinated all the way around the racetrack. This supports all of the cameras in the cars as well as those mounted around the venue, in addition to the specialty cams, the onboard receive system, and also car performance and timing for race marshals.

Audio Networking And Comms

The Gravity Media team also helps manage the wireless comms system or each race team. A portion of these communications are often used during the live telecast to give viewers a better sense of what it’s like to be in the pit area listening to the team discussions during the race. The audio signals are distributed over a  Riedel AES67-compliant network. This audio infrastructure includes a Riedel Artist comms matrix and a blend of Riedel Bolero & UHF Radios wireless intercom system capable of supporting up to 250 beltpacks and 100 antennas in a single deployment – to support all the race control guys and everyone running around in the pit lane. There are also 300+ FX microphones of different types mounted out on the track and everywhere else important audio needs to be captured.

This audio technology is part of a new replay Review System developed by Gravity Media. It’s a multi-camera review system based around the EVS Xeebra system. The system, which is used by the motorsports judiciary and race control in the management of every on-track moment in the Repco Bathurst 1000 and across every race in the Repco Supercars Championship, allows the user to select and review every angle of an action in detail - synchronized with the live broadcast - from up to 40 channels of video.

All of the wireless audio resides on a  Wisycom network and is mixed on three Lawo mc256 mixing consoles and they have up to six stage boxes around the venue supporting 288 channels of audio sources.

Committed To Excellence

“Gravity Media Australia is a leader in specialized broadcast services and Supercars is driven by innovation,” said Madgwick. “We are both committed to ongoing developments in the coverage of Supercars and the Bathurst 1000, and how we continue to evolve and develop our broadcast technologies and production capabilities that take audiences closer to the action.”

That innovation doesn’t come easy. At each venue the production team puts in a hard day’s work, but it’s all worth it, according to Madgwick. The team has grown along with the requirements of the production. He notes that coverage of the Repco Bathurst 1000 has expanded dramatically over the years. The first race saw three television cameras cover the event in 1963. The first “live” in-car camera coverage was delivered in 1979. Now they have “sometimes too many to count” and are making it all work perfectly. It takes a team effort.

“Everyone is pretty happy to be out there, but it’s also quite a struggle at times,” he said. “Once you get in your flow, everyone just settles in. And everyone works well together because you are traveling for 12-15 weeks of the year together, right? 

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