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Redefining Mobile

By Christine Bunish

mobile production

Although the big trucks may still leap to mind when mobile production is mentioned, there’s been a redefinition of what it means to be mobile. Today, Mobile Studio USA offers ADR and webcasting in a 14-foot unit; CCI has taken its small-footprint HD trailer on the road; Motion Picture Marine and its Perfect Horizon system bring picture stabilization to anything that moves, including camera boats; and Island Century Media is providing fixed-wing live aerials to previously unserved areas.

Mobile Studio USA Takes ADR and Webcasting On Location

While most mobile services tend to focus on picture, the sound side of the equation also is available “to go.” Mobile Studio USA (www.mobile
studiousa.com
), a division of Voice Over There Inc., brings a mobile ADR booth to the set whether on the studio lot or on location. The same unit, which is outfitted with a greenscreen virtual studio, also can be deployed for live broadcasts or webcasts.

The control room of the Mobile Studio USA trailer features an  Avid Pro Tools 9 and Digidesign 003 controller.
The control room of the Mobile Studio USA trailer features an Avid Pro Tools 9 and Digidesign 003 controller.

“Ours is the first unit of its kind,” says Tony Schmitz, director of marketing for Mobile Studio USA (www.mobilestudiousa.com). “Others have built ADR trailers that sit on location for the duration of a series, for example. But our compact, soundproof unit can move around daily: We’ve done as many as five or six shows a week.”

Veteran director/technical director Amir Soleimani, company president and CEO, designed and manufactured his first ADR trailer in 2007 and launched it at NAB. The 14-foot soundproofed unit is outfitted with an ADR booth and control room. It features an Avid Pro Tools 9, a Sennheiser shotgun, Audio Technica mic and Sanken lavs and offers audio, video and FireWire interconnectivity between the rooms and to the outside.

“We’ve done over 250 episodes of primetime ADR,” said Schmitz. The unit was on the Paramount lot when it was refitting its stages; did work at LA Center Studios, where there is no ADR stage for Law & Order: Los Angeles; and goes on location for Bones to record ADR. At press time, it was servicing the series Happy Endings and Ringer, the latter at Culver Studios, which has no ADR stage of its own.

Mobile Studio USA also was at L.A.’s Nokia Theater for the 2008 Primetime Emmy Awards, where it recorded celebrity voiceovers for video roll ins at rehearsals. During the live telecast, the unit was used as the main VO booth; it also did the live mix for the singer and pianist featured on the show.

Some other highlights for the unit have been recording Sean Penn’s voiceovers for The Tree of Life at his Malibu home; Willem Dafoe’s voiceover for a Jim Beam commercial while he was on location in downtown L.A.; and a song track with Katy Perry for a music video duet with Elmo for Sesame Street.

Keeping his eye on the trends, Soleimani saw the explosion of web content and the rise of VOIP and webstreaming. The advent of NewTek’s TriCaster “gave budget-conscious producers the ability to do HD-quality video, but what often gets short shrift on location is sound quality,” notes Schmitz. By equipping Mobile Studio USA with a greenscreen and TriCaster, the unit can now provide studio-quality sound in a virtual studio that enables producers to “significantly improve the professional look of web content,” he says.

Soleimani notes that the unit offers webstreaming for international broadcasters, corporate events, minor league sports, red carpets and behind-the-scenes coverage. “We can also act as a little brother to the big trucks sharing feeds and hooking up to any outside source,” he added. “By keeping ourselves versatile and ready to change, we’re able to open a lot of doors moving forward.”

Mobile Studio USA director of marketing Tony Schmitz (standing) and CEO/owner Amir Soleimani in the unitís control room.
Mobile Studio USA director of marketing Tony Schmitz (standing) and CEO/owner Amir Soleimani in the unit’s control room.

Schmitz points out that Mobile Studio USA is essentially “an HD broadcast studio that you can put anywhere.”

The Mobile Studio USA trailer sets up on location for a recording session.
The Mobile Studio USA trailer sets up on location for a recording session.

“We bring what’s traditionally been provided by a TV studio and remote feeds to producers right on site,” says Soleimani. “We do it all right there and send out the actual produced show. It saves producers money on crew and facilities, and gives them a chance to step up their look. They get the look of a studio-produced show without the expense.”

He explains that the modular approach to the unit’s design means that “nothing is locked into place – everything is made to change. It seems that every year you feel your equipment is outdated. We’ve made it easy to replace equipment and integrate different technology.”

The only constant, he notes, is the unit’s soundproofing, on which he spared no expense, as the company’s roster of Hollywood A-list clients can attest.

Based in Santa Clarita in suburban L.A., Mobile Studio USA currently covers the Southwestern states. Its partner, VO2Go, provides voiceover talent on location. The company plans to have mobile studios available in every region of the country, including New York, Dallas, Miami and Chicago. “We’re already getting calls from New York,” Soleimani reports.

CCI Offers Versatility via Compact HD Mobile Production Unit #7

Communications Concepts, Inc. (CCI) in Cape Canaveral, Fla., (www.cciflorida.com) has dubbed its compact HD Mobile Production Unit #7 the “lean, mean production machine.”

“From time to time, we ran across HD jobs for small units and there were no small units out – just flypacks to assemble on site and the big trucks,” says CCI President and Senior Producer Jim Lewis. There were few options for sports that needed coverage of preliminary rounds of play or dual-language broadcasts, he notes.

A niche definitely needed filling. A niche for an HD mobile unit with a small footprint for pre-, halftime and post-game programming; multiple-language telecasts; and to support larger trucks side-by-side.

Interior of CCIís Mobile Production Unit #7 during red carpet coverage.
Interior of CCI’s Mobile Production Unit #7 during red carpet coverage.

So CCI introduced its Mobile Production Unit #7, a self-contained 15.5-foot trailer only. The company originally built and outfitted the unit for Windfall Films’ coverage of the last Space Shuttle launch in July 2011 for Discovery Networks. CCI re-equipped the truck in its present configuration and put it on the road last October.

“We built our first truck in 1980 and know you have to be versatile,” says Lewis. “You have to be able to handle everything from a sporting event to a corporate meeting to a rocket launch.” At the heart of #7 is a Blackmagic Design 40×40 Videohub, “a fairly large router for a compact mobile unit,” he notes. “It can route any signal from the truck anywhere, and it’s all under IP control so it can be controlled from any laptop or PC.”

The mobile unit boasts five Panasonic AG-HPX500 HD cameras with Canon and Fujinon lenses; JVC and Panasonic HD monitors; a Datavideo HD single-channel character generator; and a 32-channel Behringer audio board geared toward live sound. The equipment complement is customizable for projects, and the surprisingly spacious interior can accommodate a crew of six. “There’s a lot of workspace,” says Lewis.

CCIís Mobile Production Unit #7 on location at Cape Canaveral for the launch of the last Space Shuttle.
CCI’s Mobile Production Unit #7 on location at Cape Canaveral for the launch of the last Space Shuttle.

He notes that “big events will always need big trucks to accommodate their needs and the number of people who create the truly amazing things you see in playoffs, the Super Bowl, on the Academy Awards. But you’ll be seeing more compact units, too. There are inherent issues with flypacks, which are not pre-tested and require a lot of time to set up. A compact unit can roll in and be making pictures an hour or two later.”

CCI’s Mobile Production Unit #7 is ideal for conventions and corporate meetings, he points out. He’s been getting calls from TV stations with new secondary channels dedicated to news, local sports or community service programming. “They need a cost-effective way to produce content with a high-end look and feel, and we fill the bill.”

The unit has done red carpet pre-shows for large hospital and university fundraising events, which are distributed on local TV and the Internet. It also has covered Division 2 and 3 college basketball, furnishing a switched feed for Internet sports subscribers and recorded material for highlights reels.

Lewis expects most of the bookings for #7 to come from Florida and the Southeast; a van drives to the venue, disconnects the unit and leaves it onsite reducing costs associated with a crew of engineers and drivers required by the big trucks.

“We’re very excited about our approach,” he says. “It’s something we believe in. It’s the right thing at the right time.”

Motion Picture Marine Stabilizes Cameras in Motion

Marina del Rey, Calif.’s, Motion Picture Marine (www.motionpicturemarine.com) has coordinated maritime services for almost 1,500 shows, providing camera boats, skippers, crew and stunt services for TV series and feature films. It has access to an array of camera boats from 20-footers to 32-foot custom power catamarans and 75-foot fishing/diving boats.

Motion Picture Marineís Perfect Horizon system was used on the historical drama, Nova Zembla, which shot in Holland.
Motion Picture Marine’s Perfect Horizon system was used on the historical drama,
Nova Zembla, which shot in Holland.

President David Grober notes that there are far fewer maritime productions these days, however. So his company has reinvented itself and now garners most of its business from its Emmy- and Academy Award-winning Perfect Horizon camera stabilization head. Mounted between the tripod and fluid head, the camera-agnostic Perfect Horizon counteracts pitch and roll, and creates a perfectly stable horizon. The digital camera stabilization head saves production time and money, and promotes creativity in shotmaking – even in the harshest of filming environments.

“I’ve been a marine coordinator since 1977, and there was never a small, lightweight camera stabilization system available,” recalled Grober. “A lot of times we were using the equivalent of a Wescam helicopter mount.” So he started developing a compact system in 1992 and about eight years later brought Perfect Horizon to market. Today, it weighs in at approximately 29 pounds and is about eight inches tall. It fits in a Pelikan case that can be stowed in the back of a car or checked as standard airline baggage.

Grober notes that Perfect Horizon is not only designed for marine applications but also for use with camera cars, bikes, snowmobiles, helicopters and even lengths of dolly track. “It’s an all-around stabilizing device,” he points out. “There are more and more requirements for camera vehicles – there’s a lot more motion and movement in shots than there used to be. And we can make it easy to stabilize cameras in motion.”

Motion Picture Marineís Perfect Horizon system onboard a camera boat for the upcoming feature Of Men and Mavericks.
Motion Picture Marine’s Perfect Horizon system onboard a camera boat for the upcoming feature Of Men and Mavericks.

Motion Picture Marineís Perfect Horizon camera stabilization head creates a perfectly stable horizon on anything that moves from camera boats to yaks.
Motion Picture Marine’s Perfect Horizon camera stabilization head creates
a perfectly stable horizon on anything that moves from camera boats to yaks.

Perfect Horizon has been deployed on the James Bond films, Die Another Day and Casino Royale; the Harry Potter franchise; a water shoot for Criminal Minds; and surf sequences in Blue Crush and Step Into Liquid. The head was used on a stereo 3D rig for the Dutch historical drama, Nova Zembla, about a 16th century arctic voyage. It helped capture marine shots for John Carter and the upcoming feature Of Men and Mavericks, about big-wave surfing.

Wildlife filmmakers also take advantage of Perfect Horizon. It was recently used on the shark-themed Air Jaws IV for Discovery, which shot in South Africa, and will be mounted on a yakcam for a National Geographic program shooting in Nepal.

Island Century Media Brings Coverage to Remote Venues

Tampa-based Island Century Media (www.icm4hd.com), which is known for its aerial cinematography, has helped enhance several recent productions previously limited by their remote locales. Island Century Media’s Director of Photography Rob Gunter utilized Cessna’s Caravan to capture footage in Hawaii and Mexico for PGA events that had never been able to have live aerial coverage before.

He spent 10 days in Kapalua, Maui turnkeying coverage of the Tournament of Champions for the PGA Tour and Golf Channel; the competition annually kicks off the PGA Tour. “No one had ever done live aerials from any golf tournaments in Hawaii until we did it,” Gunter reports. “We delivered low delay, high-data rate HD microwave to the ground where it was switched in realtime like any other source.” He captured footage with gyro-stabilized Sony Cine Alta cameras. The PGA Tour and Golf Channel producers were “over the moon” with the results.

View of Oahuís Hanauma Bay captured by Rob Gunter of Island Century Media.
View of Oahu’s Hanauma Bay captured by Rob Gunter of Island Century Media.

Then Gunter traveled to Honolulu for the PGA Tour’s Sony Open whose coverage also was switched in realtime. He had provided aerials, using the same system, for the last four seasons of the British Open Golf Tournament at Royal Birkdale, St. Andrews, Royal St. George’s and Turnberry for ESPN and the BBC – flying when poor weather conditions didn’t permit the use of blimps.

Island Century Media shot aerials for the PGA Tour at Sea Island, Georgia.
Island Century Media shot aerials for the PGA Tour at Sea Island, Georgia.

“You can see how blimp shots add dimension to coverage that not even a high tower can get,” he says. “A plane gives you access to a much wider area, spreads the coverage and brings it all together. We captured whales offshore in Hawaii and shot B roll off the north shore of Molokai, a remote area usually obscured by low clouds over the cliffs – we caught it on a day when there happened to be very few clouds. For golf we follow drives from the tee to the fairway and shots to the green – or into the rough – greatly enhancing the live coverage.”

Gunter has developed a new mount for the popular Cessna Caravan, which allows DPs to shoot from an easily available plane and ship only a minimal amount of gear on location. “It used to be that you couldn’t go out and use a local plane; you’d have to fly one already configured with a camera,” he explains. His new mount accommodates a Flir Ultra Media HD gyro-stabilized gimbal with a Sony Cine Alta camera and 42×9.7 Fujinon telephoto lens. Offering this fixed-wing package worldwide will open up new possibilities for aerial cinematography, he believes.

In addition to golf, Gunter has captured aerials for cycling races, marathons and triathlons, and NCAA football, the latter in conjunction with the Goodyear Blimp. At press time he was headed to Mexico for the PGA’s Mayakoba Classic whose coverage also will be switched in realtime.


November 9, 2012