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ESPN ‘Monday Night Football’ to enhance production techniques

Throughout its long history, “Monday Night Football” has served as a showcase of new television technology. With the 39th season of the long-running series airing now on ESPN, the tradition continues with a new suite of production upgrades.

This season, the enhancements include ESPN Axis technology, a new complement of high-speed cameras and a streamlined graphics package tailored for HD viewing.

ESPN Axis is a graphic enhancement developed by the Swiss company LiberoVision with additional elements by ESPN’s production enhancement team. It is being used for the first time on “Monday Night Football” and in various studio programs this season. ESPN introduced viewers to the technology during the summer’s UEFA European Football Championship.

It creates “virtual” replays using video captured by cameras covering the live action. Images fed from the game cameras are processed via computers to create virtual freeze frames from multiple angles. The viewing angles can be tilted upward by 90 degrees — from field level to direct overhead shots — creating 3-D, bird’s-eye views of key plays from multiple vantage points.

Within the 3-D frame, “Monday Night Football’s” Ron Jaworski uses graphic telestrations to highlight the locations and movements of players on the field to better explain how plays develop and what leads to touchdowns and other key events. Jaworski can also highlight players and graphically move them on the screen to demonstrate how a play developed, or even how it hypothetically could have gone if a player (or multiple players) had reacted differently.

ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” coverage is produced using four production trucks. The star is an HD 53ft mobile production unit, and some 30 cameras catch every movement on and around the field. In all, ESPN’s camera complement includes seven high-speed cameras designed to offer more close-up shots of replays while eliminating motion blur.

There are three 120fps “slo-mo” cameras; two new 180fps “super slo-mo” cameras; two new 300fps “super slo-mo” cameras; and a Skycam, which provides aerial views above the field.

There’s also an RF Steadicam, a 75lb wireless camera that is strapped on a harness to a camera operator. The cameraman is allowed on the field when the clock is stopped, and he can move from either end zone to the 35-yard line. The wireless camera — introduced to “Monday Night Football” in 2006 — brings fans closer to the players on the field, particularly after scoring.

The four production trucks require two days of setup and are each staffed by 60 personnel. In all, some 300 people are credited for each “Monday Night Football” game, including studio shows.

The trucks work in a tapeless environment, with everything server-based, enabling faster turnaround of replays and montages.

ESPN Creative Services has revamped the graphical presentation of the games. A horizontal bar across the bottom of the screen replaced the lower center-third scoreboard graphic. The new look, dubbed “MNF Dashboard,” eliminates the use of lower-third graphics, giving an unobstructed viewing experience throughout the game. All player statistics and other game data are displayed on or below the horizontal scoreboard line.

“Monday Night Football” is using virtual down-and-distance graphics for the first time in 2008, displaying information as if the data is painted on the field, similar to the computer-generated yellow "1st and Ten line,” which ESPN introduced in 1998.