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Fox Sports’ Overhead Camera Accident at NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway

charlotte-motor-speedway-accident

I’m not trying to be tardy to the party with this one, I was actually waiting on Fox Sports to announce what exactly happened at the Coca-Cola 600 on May 26, 2013.  However, as of the weekend it seems like no answer has gone public.

On May 26 during the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Fox Sports’ “overhead flying camera” lost a drive rope or cable, causing that drive rope or cable to come whipping through the stands.  There were reports of around 10 people being treated for wounds and cuts from the cable, as well as a few burns from that drive rope or cable being retracted suddenly.  Something to keep in mind, and it looks as though most news agencies got it wrong — but the rig that fell DID NOT ORIGINATE FROM THE COMPANY SKYCAM. It came from a company called CAMCAT from Austria.

From Yahoo News:

Fox Sports said on Monday it still had not determined why an overhead TV camera cable snapped during the Coca-Cola 600.

The network says a full investigation is under way and use of the camera is suspended indefinitely. Earlier, NASCAR said it would wait for Fox Sports to conclude its review before deciding if such technology would be used in the future.

Charlotte Motor Speedway said 10 people were injured when part of the drive rope landed in the grandstand; three were taken to hospitals. All were checked out and released soon after.

In a statement, Fox said it was “relieved and thankful to know that the injuries to fans caused then CAMCAT malfunctioned at Charlotte Motor Speedway were minor.”

The network again apologized for the disruption.  Several drivers, including then-leader Kyle Busch, reported damage to their cars from the rope.

NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp told The Associated Press on Monday that there were no plans to use the system at upcoming races “so we’ll have ample time to review.”

The network said the system was provided by Austrian company CAMCAT. The rope that failed was certified for a breaking strength of 9,300 pounds and was only bearing less than 900 pounds of force during the race, according to Fox Sports.

This isn’t the first time that this has happened, but it’s not an everyday thing – once back in 2011 at the Insight College Bowl Game, an overhead camera system fell onto the field as well, missing everyone this time but still interrupting gameplay (obviously).  Watch:

Looks like in the place it fell, it barely missed some players and officials on the field. I’m really grateful for that! In Charlotte, however, a bunch of people were treated for minor to medium severity injuries due to the camera system.

insight-bowl-skycam

In Charlotte, it looks as though the system was manufactured by CAMCAT out of Austria.  CAMCAT has some amazing systems, one of which sports an 80 mile per hour camera head!  From the CAMCAT website:

Developed in the Nineties and continuously improved the CAMCAT® System provides unique and stunning images from otherwise unobtainable perspectives, indoors and outdoors. Over the years its reliability and high quality have been proved on many occasions in sports, entertainment and documentary as one can learn from our references.  The CAMCAT® System is a fully remote controlled cable camera system which achieves precise camera motion over distances up to 1000m at any conceivable angle and at speeds up to 130km/h with maximum stability and smoothness. Since the CAMCAT® System is based on a modular construction it can be adapted to a wide range of shooting situations.

The camera buggy runs on two independent guide ropes made of heavy duty synthetic material and can accept a range of payloads from open platform stabilised mounts fitted with film cameras, to HD stabilised mounts with integrated camera and lens.

The latest RF technology is utilised for picture transmission, camera and head control data to and from the camera buggy with an onboard battery providing seamless operation.  The computerised remote controlled system is backed by an especially developed software that enables the two operating CAMCAT® technicians to pilot the CAMCAT® System either manually or in a preprogrammed automatic control mode.

As safety is a top priority the CAMCAT® System complies with highest standards and is certified by German based TUV Health and Safety Group, one of the strictest industrial safety authorities in the world.

It certainly could be theorized that perhaps poor maintenance played a part in the failure; I’m not making a claim that there was any kind of malfeasance, but with the schedules that these races are under, like anything else in entertainment, equipment does take its wear and tear.  Something that was posted on the Associated Press caught my eye though:

The network said it’s reviewing with CAMCAT equipment maintenance records, history and installation information and plans to share its findings with NASCAR and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The network said the system was used successfully at the Daytona 500 and was set up and working at last week’s Sprint All-Star race in Charlotte. Fox’s final NASCAR telecast this year comes Sunday at Dover International Speedway.

Tharp said NASCAR would let the network determine what went wrong.

“We’ll sync up with them on what they have learned this week and go from there,” he said.

The network explained how the drive rope moves the camera back and forth and failed near its turn one connection. The camera, it said in a statement, did not come down “because the guide ropes acted as designed.”

The rope, Fox said, was made of Dyneema, which it described as “an ultra-strong synthetic that has the same approximate strength of a steel wire with the same diameter.” It said the rope was less than a year old, had been factory-tested by its manufacturer and its breaking strength was certified before shipment. The rope was also inspected by CAMCAT when it was received last June.

According to OnlineRopes.com, Dyneema has the “highest strength-to-weight ratio of any manmade material in the world. On weight-to-weight base, it is up to 15 times stronger than steel.”

The pictures such cameras provide can be extraordinary. But in this case, the failure brought confusion and chaos to the racers and the fans.

You know what, it’s all fine and good that a year ago the rope was inspected.  It’s even better that the rope they use, Dyneema, is the same strength as steel in the same diameter.  But still — why did this thing fall?

skycam_gantry

One of the SkyCam gantry configurations — typically there would be four of these on a SkyCam rig

skycam_reel

One of the reels that Skycam uses in their system — doesn’t it remind you of a huge fishing reel?

As far as our industry goes, CAMCAT’s rig isn’t terribly complex as far as rigging goes — it’s an XYZ position camera that is fed by an X-axis winch, a Y-axis winch, and a Z-axis winch, all of which feed through the camera to stabilization points around the arena.  Check out the diagram below, even though this particular rig shows a CineFlex camera.  After Skycam‘s patents ran out, exactly what you thought would happen happened — everyone else came out with their own rigs!  Does that sound familiar with the history of automated lighting?

cablecam_diagram

Not thinking about the fans who were hurt just for a second — can you imagine the hell that this must have caused the drivers of those cars just below the camera’s guy-wires?!  From the AP:

Coca-Cola 600 winner Kevin Harvick thought he was imagining things when he noticed the black rope on the track. He was among the lucky ones who escaped without damage. Busch said he heard a “thunk” when he ran over it and knew he’d have problems.

Busch used a cellphone to take a picture of the mangled metal around his front, right-side wheel so his team could figure out how to repair the damage.

Marcos Ambrose dragged a piece of the rope that got caught up in his car behind him on the track. Mark Martin also reported problems after driving over the rope.

I can only imagine that the rope falling caused less damage than it had the potential to cause, and I’m pretty grateful for that.  All of this aside, this camera system is pretty darned cool.  Check this out — a quick video on how an stabilized overhead camera system like this works:

Well, one thing is for sure — Fox News won’t be using their rig on the next gig.

800px-Skycam_Husky_Stadium

Thanks to Fox Sports, ESPN, Yahoo! News, That’s Racin!, SB Nation, F-StoppersThe Daily Apple, Wikipedia, and a HUGE thanks to Digital Producer for the SkyCam parts photos!

The Hebrew Hammer’s JimOnLight.com USITT Review. Outstanding!

I am proud to have a smart young guy like Aron Altmark on the JimOnLight.com Team – Aron is a lighting designer/programmer in the Vegas area, and if you’ve been around to LDI or USITT in the last few years, you’ve met Aron.  We very affectionately refer to him as the Hebrew Hammer, because, well, Aron’s awesome.

I’m bummed I was unable to get Jax out to the USITT show this year, but you can count on seeing her at LDI in Orlando in all of her beautiful tattooed glory!  I was only able to be at the conference this year to give my session, and let me just say that I am bummed on all I missed by having to leave early!  This is our lives though, and we all know and do it.

I want you to give a big ol’ JimOnLight.com Community welcome to Aron – and his awesome USITT Wrap-up!

Aron?


Good day all of you out in the creating and entertainment world!

Some of you may know me from past JimOnLight appearances, such as Laser Graffiti and the random tweetup run-ins Jim and I tend to have. I just got back to Las Vegas—my home base for the past year—from a fantastic, fun, and enlightening conference known as USITT (the United States Institute of Theatre Technology, for those of you who don’t already know). I was there walking the floor, attending sessions, and talking to everyone I could for a solid four days in the lovely Deep South city of Charlotte, North Carolina. Here’s what you missed if you weren’t able to go, and if you were there here’s what you may not remember after the nighttime festivities…

USITT is first and foremost geared toward students. Even though most of my time in Vegas has been taken up by working nightclubs and programming, I am still in school part-time at both UNLV in Las Vegas and another school online, so I can definitely appreciate things from a student’s perspective. At the closing ceremony, it was reported that over 4,000 people attended the conference, not including exhibitors. I’d be willing to bet that at least half to two-thirds of these were students, judging by the amount of young faces on the floor. This conference’s biggest advantages, in my opinion: how close and hands-on students from all over the country can get to industry-leading technologies,, the wealth of learning opportunities through sessions, and the ridiculous amount of networking possible.

Students everywhere, if you don’t already practice it, get on this networking train. It’s THE MOST VALUABLE skill to have in our industry now, as touted by every single industry pro I’ve come in contact with at LDI and USITT in the past few years. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn are all such valuable tools to use, especially in such a technologically saturated world. Case in point: while interviewing an exhibitor about a product, Richard Cadena walked up to me and said hello. He remembered me from last few conferences, and perhaps from our brief exchanges on Facebook—if you don’t know who Richard Cadena is, GOOGLE NOW. The connections you form at these things can be kept going for years, and it may only take so much as a tweet every now and then. You never know where it’ll get you.

As far as sessions go, I have been somewhat less than satisfied with those offered at past USITT and LDI shows, as they seem to be rather hit-or-miss with which are amazing and which aren’t worth the time. Many presenters, from what I’ve been told by other attendees, weren’t prepared well enough and based their entire time on Q&A. Some sessions are purely life stories, which can be nice, but I am a big proponent of teaching practical trade skills at conferences. After a few sessions in a row of life stories, I tend to be begging to learn a console or a new method of using color. Don’t get me wrong—learning from the successes and mistakes of those before me is a fantastic thing, and I do love it. It’s just that I think that at a conference where students have access to more technology at one time than most universities will be able to afford in four years of budget, shouldn’t students get some hands-on time with the expensive toys?

Speaking of expensive toys, here’s a brief run-down of some of my favorite—some new, some updated—products found on the show floor at USITT:

Desire LED by Electronic Theatre Controls:
This brand-new fixture from ETC is the next iteration of their extremely-popular Selador LED fixtures. It is a wash-light that uses the Selador’s X7 color system to provide beautiful color palettes hard to attain with standard RGB LED fixtures. I spoke with Novella, the creator of the Desire, who told me that it sports three different models—the D40 and D40 XT (outdoor), as well as the D60, the bigger and brighter version. You can order your Desire in six different styles: Vivid for amazing color rendering, Lustr for more theatrical punch, Fire/Ice for extremely hot reds and cool blues, and three Studio models for TV/Film applications. The Desire sports a 30-40% increase in brightness over Selador, dimming curves to match incandescent or other LEDs, adjustable output frequency, and they use a whopping 125W per fixture AT FULL. Also, get this: the Desire has an Amber Drift function built in, so your colors will stay consistent with those of your tungsten fixtures. Definitely on my wish list.

Reveal LED Studio Fresnel by Prism Projection:
LEDs are all the rage now, especially with the green revolution we’re undergoing all over the world (and which I’m a huge supporter of). Prism Projection won awards for their LED Profile (that can use construction paper gobos) at LDI 2010 in Las Vegas, and are following it up with this beautiful Film and TV-aimed LED Fresnel. The good people over at Prism hand-picked their LEDs for wattage and color to create the best color rendering possible. The LED Studio Fresnel spits out 7600 lumens with a tunable CCT of 2700-8000K, 20-70 degree zoom, silky smooth 0-100% dimming, and features plus/minus green/magenta for calibrating to other craptastic light sources. It sips power at 180W on full white, and has a hi-amperage DC connector on the side that allows you to run the light off of existing camera (or 9-Volt) batteries. One user ran it for two hours using a belt pack battery.

PL1 & PL3 LED by Philips:
Last LED I’ll feature, I promise. These amazing fixtures use the light engines from the industry-changing VLX LED moving light that Vari*Lite released a few years back. The PL3, aimed at replacing a 1.2kW Fresnel, uses three VLX light engines, while the PL1 uses only one. The PL1 is aimed at museums and galleries, with pre-programmed color and color temperature presets. The RGBW source is beautiful in its color rendering, and the addition of white into the LED engine makes it possible to use very saturated colors while still maintaining the integrity of the artwork on display. The coolest thing I found about this fixture was that museums are attempting to discover what time of day, month, and year paintings were done so that they can use these fixtures to replicate the EXACT light the painter had when creating it. Essentially, you could one day soon see the Mona Lisa as Da Vinci did.

DMX Goodies by Enttec:
Enttec probably had one of my favorite booths this year. I spent a good hour each day playing with DMX toys and talking with Jeremy, Enttec’s sales rep for the show. Enttec is making the world of lighting control really affordable, with their DMX to USB and DMX to Ethernet interfaces. These run from a “You’ve got to be kidding me, that doesn’t even pay for parts” $60 DMXàUSB  dongle to the “Okay, seriously, does Fleenor know you’re doing this?” $90 4-Port DMX Opto-Splitter. These things are great quality and priced JUST RIGHT FOR STUDENTS. HINT HINT. Just think, you could spend under 100 bucks, download Chamsys’ MagicQ console software, buy a $50 dongle, and you have a lighting console on your PC. Just like that. Jeremy was also showing me their new DMXIS software, which is a really nice piece of software that is aimed at being a very simple but powerful lighting laptop-based lighting controller. It’s loaded with features, and I can almost promise you’ll see more about it from me very soon. Enttec also has a new DataGate, which is an 8-port DMX opto-iso that supports RDM, Art-Net, and uses a web browser interface…which means you can use its wealth of features from ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD. Again, I’m sure you’ll see more on this from me soon. Enttec is a great company to get to know, they’re in it to win it.

Green Hippo Hippotizer by TMB:
My friend Loren from TMB was showing me the highlight reel they had running at the show, and includes some ridiculous gigs. You may have seen the Academy Awards recently, which used a total of 53 Green Hippo Hippotizers. That’s right, that’s over 74 HD outputs. The cool thing about TMB’s media server platform is how flexible it is. The UberPan system they have now allows for easy manipulation of content across multiple displays, while VideoMapper allows for crazy mapping onto LED screens, as seen in last year’s Super Bowl Halftime Show with The Who’s performance.

Pandora’s Box by Coolux, Ltd:
While we’re on the media server soap box, I went by the Coolux booth to take a look at their powerhouse media platform, and it has some stupid neat stuff going on as well. The coolest thing about Pandora’s Box, in my opinion, is the Widget Designer feature. As someone who is on the verge of lighting, video, and interactive applications, I’m always looking for more ways to incorporate external inputs and sources into media. The Widget Designer has 700-800 widgets currently available, and being a node-based platform makes it easy to incorporate many widgets into a project. Pandora’s Box does amazing projection mapping as well via the Warper, which allows for 10,000 individual nodes (points) per video output to map to. This allows you to set up a projector and do live warping to you subject. See their website for some ridiculous highlight reels.

Avolites Titan OS:
Alright, you knew I couldn’t stay away from consoles for long. I’m a programmer. Give me a break. I haven’t been a big Avo fan for a while, but I saw their new consoles getting some great press and decided to take a look at the new Titan OS lineup…I was extremely impressed. They were showing off a prototype Sapphire Touch, a large console with 45 motorized faders and two internal touchscreens meant to rival the grandMA2 Light. It wasn’t quite up to functioning yet, but it did have some pretty face-panel features such as tri-color LEDs under the trackball and encoders to help you determine what attributes you’re currently affecting, as well as color changing to match CMY and RGB fixtures. They also implemented a “Saturn’s Ring” encoder around the trackball which I really loved the feel of for zoom/iris. The Tiger Touch, already in production, was extremely impressive. It is a very capable, well-made compact console with a whole lot of power. The large internal touchscreen allows for drawing of legends so you can label your fixtures, groups, and presets as you would like instead of being restricted to typing names. The Titan Mobile, a four-DMX port, ultra-portable version of the Tiger Touch, is perfect for on-the-go shows. It is powered off of a laptop and can support up to 12 universes via Art-Net. All of the Titan OS consoles can freely exchange show information, and all feature ITC Thumbnail exchange for media servers. I’m going to get my hands on one of these pronto.

V476 by PRG:
This is another prototype console on the show floor, but this one is run on something a bit unheard of in the past few years of console development: Mac OS X. This was a VERY nicely laid-out, well-constructed console. It seems to have been thought about from the programmers’ standpoint, which I definitely appreciate. The console uses a left-hand bias for the keypad, which I was a bit unsure of at first, but I’ve gotten used to stranger things before. For user friendliness and ease of programming, this seems like a good busking console. I’m looking forward to some hands-on time with the Vegas shop.

grandMA2 v2.2 by MA Lighting:
The grandMA2 is a phenomenal console (not that I’m biased…I run two of them in Vegas) with enough capabilities for the most gargantuan of shows—up to 256 universes of DMX and 10,000 possible sequences, presets, and groups. The version 2.2 software came out recently and sports some awesome new features that cater the theatre world specifically, making A.C.T’s USITT appearance a nice treat. There are two blind modes: one that allows for blind edits of cues currently playing, and another that gives you a completely blind programmer for quick programming of looks, groups, and more without live output. Partial show read has been implemented, as well as import/export, allowing you to use sequences, presets, groups, and patch from various shows selectively. RDM and Art-Net in have been implemented, and there is a nifty new iPhone/iPad remote that can speak to both grandMA series 1 and grandMA2 consoles. Layout views, a powerful tool for creating a custom user interface for your show, can take snapshots of your 3-D Stage View for ease of creation of many variations of layout views quickly. The two new features that are my favorite: the DMX Tester, which pops up when you open the DMX Sheet—allowing for live adjustment/testing of individual DMX addresses, as well as quick patching and troubleshooting; and the new Modes for sequences, which introduce two modes of Assert (like an Allfade) and Break (like a Block cue). The grandMA2 is quickly moving from a ridiculously overpowered live/busking console to one that can easily make its home in the house of traditional proscenium theatres.

Check out the photo spread from my USITT experience this year, and thanks for having me, everybody!

Bye, #USITT! See You Next Year!

As quickly as it began, USITT 2011 is over for me – I’m sitting in the airport right now at 6am EST waiting to board my flight to ORD, then on to OKC.  So many O’s, and none of them enjoyable.

Our conference session went really well – lots of audience, good questions, and great conversation!  I found it quite hilarious to hear the comment “it’s so great when someone actually prepares for their USITT Panel session.”  From what I understand there were a handful of people who didn’t bother to prepare for their panel session for presentation, and that is just irresponsible, especially when students are coming to see you speak about what they love the most.

I’ll be missing the USITT Stage Expo show floor this year, but I had a chance to walk around the Expo during load-in yesterday.  Make sure that you go around and talk to people, everybody!  Remember – conversations are your endless doorways to opportunity.  After all, this IS the Entertainment Business!

Just a quick travel note for those of you flying out of Charlotte this weekend – make sure that you have all of your stuff together when you travel through security at Charlotte-Douglas Airport.  Charlotte TSA has no sense of humor, no patience for pretty much anything, and they are very condescending to all.  If you want to get to your flight on time after standing in the very long lines at CLT, then make sure you act like an expert traveler.  Otherwise you’re gonna get called stupid, like I heard Charlotte TSA call an elderly traveler this morning!  Where are we, Germany in 1942?

BE SAFE EVERYBODY!  It was so amazing to see you all again!  Wednesday night’s 2011 #USITT #Tweetup was outstanding this year!  It was AWESOME to see everybody out last night!