Getting CrossFit with G-Technology
In the years since the Reebok CrossFit Games launched in 2007, the series of grueling events that test the physical prowess of some of the fittest people on earth has become a phenomenon. Unlike all other marathon sporting events — from Ironman triathlons to NFL football games — CrossFit tests the full range of a person's physical fitness. Forbes called it "one of the fastest growing sports in America." Thousands of elite participants compete for a chance to be called one of the 100 fittest men and women in the world at the CrossFit Games in July.
The CrossFit season gets rolling in February with five weeks of intense but secret workouts during the worldwide Open competition. In 2014, nearly 210,000 athletes participated in the Open, and the fittest men, women and teams from each of the 17 Regions face off in their respective Regional finals. From there the top 100 individuals and the top 43 teams advanced to Carson, California, to compete in the Games.
Capturing, Managing and Sharing Footage Worldwide
It's a daunting task to capture it all on camera, stream it out live to fans around the world via the CrossFit Web site, and produce additional broadcast packages for partner ESPN at the height of the action, all the while managing that media in the interim. Just before the Games this past July, Coordinating Producer Joe Novello and his team turned to G-Technology® (whose parent company is HGST), makers of Thunderbolt™-enabled RAID as well as desktop and portable drives for audio and video workflows, to help solve his mounting issues with the masses of data collected during the Event.
"We're already starting to capture in 4K," says Novello, "but the majority is HD. We live stream from all the events and we archive everything. The archiving that's done on-site at every single event we film is done to mass hard drives, so we're looking to use the G-Technology drives and RAID at the upcoming Regionals next spring to recover and archive all the material shot on site."
The 10-member field team typically shoots with feature-style cameras like Canon EOS C300s and Sony NEX-FS700s, but are starting to incorporate even more RED cameras into their extremely wide range of event coverage and documentary-style field interviews for personal interest stories along the way. Wireless and other broadcast camera systems are used for the live event coverage. "Because we produce our own material for our own events, a fair number of our people cross over from the production side to the event side," says Novello. "The numbers get even larger once you start to include the full event and broadcast team for the Games themselves."
At the Games in the StubHub Center in Carson, California, last July, Novello's on-site team of 12 — four producers and 10 editors — integrated a suite of G-Technology storage in their Mac® OS-based ingest and Adobe® Premiere Pro and After Effects editorial setup: 2x 24TB G-SPEED® Studio with Thunderbolt using Enterprise class drives, 2x 8TB G-RAID Studio with Thunderbolt using Enterprise class drives and a 1x G-DOCK® ev with Thunderbolt docking station. They also used 12 G-DRIVE® ev SSD drives for their MacBook® Pro laptops and to pass data to and from the truck and mobile production teams and camera crews on the ground.
"They were very responsive to our needs, right on down to the portable G-DRIVE ev SSDs — which by the way never failed, because of the very high reliability of G-Technology drives."
"Almost everything we shoot is converted to ProRes as we ingest the drives," explains Post-Production Supervisor Will Duncan. "The G-DOCK ev and cards coming in from cameras were migrated to a server named Odin, which was a Mac mini file server setup with one of the G-SPEED Studio with Thunderbolt 24TB units." The smaller 8TB G-RAID Studio with Thunderbolt 2-bay units, he explains, were set to RAID-1 for mirroring and used to ingest athlete profile and interview footage during scheduled interview times. "It's hard to estimate how much we'll shoot over one day! We have a lot of athletes to cover and only get one pass at it, so we mirror the units for redundancy and transfer them back to the stadium each day for backup."
The team is on-site for a full week before, during and after the four days of competition, covering events in StubHub's soccer stadium, tennis stadium, common areas and at the track and field stadium. "Last year we rolled out probably the biggest, baddest mobile truck out there," says Novello, referring to the four-trailer-long truck also used for Monday Night Football. "We used every bit of it. We do a daily update show to our Web site in the days before competition starts, and then we really gear up. It's a quantum leap from only doing our daily seven-minute report to doing that, plus a studio show, 'Day at the Games' segment previews and recaps (new in 2014), and streaming for 12 hours continuously throughout the day."
CrossFit produces all event coverage for its own site and ESPN. "We put together all of the resources and basically share it with ESPN for their various outlets,” he continues. “We're on ESPN3 for the entire day, from start to finish. This past year we shifted over to ESPN2 every evening of the Games, and some of that content is exclusive for them. We obviously up the ante when we're on the big network, but it's basically the same exact workflow for us throughout. I'm not even sure how you would quantify all the data moving through our pipeline. We've got a lot of different stuff going in a lot of directions."
Add 4K to the mix, and the scales tip even more. Duncan says the second G-SPEED Studio with Thunderbolt on-site at the 2014 Games was reserved just for r3d and 4K footage. "Those r3d files are the only things not converted on the fly," adds Duncan. "This past year we held them and exported them as melts in ProRes in case the truck crews or production teams needed access to those files at any given time."
Social media is an integral component of CrossFit media coverage and audience engagement, and the G-Technology drives helped the video and still photo CrossFit production teams. "Most of the teams in the field had two G-DRIVE ev SSD drives with their MacBook Pros, and if they had time or needed to drop an edit to Instagram or for some other social media, they would drop there and the drive would be delivered back to the ingest station," explains Duncan. "We'd put that in the G-DOCK ev with Thunderbolt and just give them new drives." CrossFit's photo department had a similar setup and used another G-SPEED Studio with Thunderbolt on their own server for file-ingestion. "It's really incredible: They shoot something like 100,000 photos during the nine days at the Games," Duncan says. "It's a lot of files to be sifting through for edits."
The G-DRIVE ev drives were lifesavers more than once, reports Novello. "Those docking drives were invaluable for being able to take some of that material and exchange it from different areas. Sometimes our shooters can't make it back to the truck in time and have to offload cards in the field and keep on grinding. It just made it all so simple and easy. Our workflow had been a lot clunkier in the past." Novello uses CatDV to manage assets and generate proxies and plans to roll out CatDV tagging on site in 2015.
The CrossFit production team begins the season by live streaming the worldwide announcements of each weekly Open competition workout from one of CrossFit's affiliated gyms or "Boxes." "That's when it all begins for us in terms of our media output and intense storage demands,” says Novello. “We had upwards of 250,000 people watching those live streams last year, so that's a pretty intense way to start the season for us." For the Regional productions, teams use NewTek TriCasters to stream the content for Web viewing on the CrossFit Games site. "With our production facilities and crews in the field, we record everything on-site and bring all that material back to our main facility."
Previously on Apple Final Cut Pro 7, the team upgraded to Adobe Premiere Pro prior to the start of the season last year. "Our editorial workflow has changed every year, but that's reflective of the enormous growth of the CrossFit Games," says Novello. "In the past four years alone, it's entirely scaled up to a different level due to our involvement with ESPN. It's been very, very successful, and everyone's been thrilled with the response we've gotten from ESPN. They're extremely happy with the content."
Novello attributes a huge part of that success to the team's ability to gather, ingest and send footage from the field, something the G-DRIVE ev SSD drives easily and robustly supported this past year. "The fact that the HGST and G-Technology folks made it happen so quickly and so close to the Games really saved us," he says. "They were very responsive to our needs, right on down to the portable G-DRIVE ev SSDs — which by the way never failed, because of the very high reliability of G-Technology drives. Their products were terrific and proved to be a great addition to our workflow. Being able to get it into our system and share and transfer it easily and quickly, but above all efficiently organize, was really critical to our operations. It just gives us the ability to get more good stuff into the broadcast outlets and beyond.
"CrossFit's goal has always been to crown the fittest athlete on earth, and also to shed light on the community aspect of CrossFit that allows these exceptional athletes to evolve," says Novello. "When something helps us tell that story better, and it's designed to fit seamlessly into our workflow, it's a perfect fit."
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