For Big Plays, a Big Facility

NFL Films Tackles Historic and Future Footage With Lineman-Sized Studio


By the time the 2002 NFL season kicks off, the 280 people who work full time at the headquarters of NFL Films here will have completed their relocation four miles down Route 38. What was once a soybean field is quickly becoming a fabulous new 200,000-square-foot film and TV production and post-production studio.

The new facility is slightly larger than the area covered by four football fields, and is more than three times larger than the existing NFL Films production facility, which has been in service since 1979.

(click thumbnail)The new 200,000-square-foot facility is designed for a quarter-century or more of NFL Films' needs.
NFL Films executives describe this as the start of a new era at NFL Films where, among other things, a dramatic shift from linear post production to NLEs will occur, including large-scale HDTV editing along with a substantial increase in telecine-related activity in a state-of-the-art post environment. Few others will match the size and volume of this operation.

"Five years ago, we realized that we were running out of room," said Barry Wolper, senior vice president and COO at NFL Films. "The challenge was to build a facility with a lifetime of 25 years plus and still have more room for future growth. We also needed to create an infrastructure that was flexible enough to accommodate any number of new technologies that might emerge."


More than 400 hours of new NFL programming is produced annually, spanning all media including film, SDTV and HDTV for broadcast and cable TV, Internet Webcasts, home videos, DVDs and CD-ROMs. The public's appetite for this NFL content is enormous. For example, the New England Patriots' victory over the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI on DVD is already the all-time bestseller in the history of sports video.

The NFL is a streaming and Webcasting powerhouse as well via, (its broadband companion site) and the individual NFL team Web sites.

"The goal is to deliver content to our partners in any way they want, while at the same time, having the ability to grow the facility with the least amount of pain possible," said Jeff Howard, vice president of Operations and Engineering.

Keep in mind that in addition to whatever is shot on any given Sunday by NFL Films, the league owns the copyright of the networks' live broadcasts. This translates into 150,000 feet of film per week plus whatever the networks beam in from stadiums nationwide.


The new Mount Laurel facility is an OC-12-equipped POP on the Williams Vyvx fiber network, and there are 12 fiber circuits in and three out.

In addition, a trio of 5.5-meter satellite dishes with Motorola and Wegener satellite receivers is available. NFL Films produces 60- to 90-second highlight packages that are rapid turnarounds. Raw footage comes into NFL Films and sent back out as part of each stadium's halftime big-screen viewing experience.

With NVision HD-capable super-wideband routers in place, the entire plant is geared for distributing uncompressed HD material.

"We are future-proofing," said Howard. "A large portion of our new SDI facility is HD-ready, although we thought the industry would be further along with HD by now."

The new soundstage control room is built around a Sony MVS-8000 multiresolution switcher. Two soundstages - one measuring 60 x 80 feet, and a smaller one at 22 x 30 feet, are equipped with Sony HDC900 and HDC950 cameras.

In the large edit suites, a Miranda Kaleido virtual display feeds five of the eight Digital Projection Power 10SX DLP projectors. Sprinkled throughout the building are 9-, 14-, 20-, 24- and 32-inch Sony BVM D- series multiresolution/HD monitors.

Editing is done in 12 edit suites, including a pair of linears and 10 NLEs. Five are HD-capable using Avid DS/HD and Discreet's fire HD running on an SGI Onyx 3000 series CPU. Digital compositing also takes place on Discreet's flame running on SGI Octane CPUs. In the graphics department is a Quantel HAL Express.

The nucleus of the telecine activity revolves around four Thomson Spirit Datacines with Pogle MegaDef and daVinci 2K color correctors, along with a pair of Sony Vialta Telecines that also use daVinci 2K color correctors.


Because sound is so important in a 5.1 world, the pursuit of acoustical perfection is evident across every square inch of the new NFL Films facility. Dallas-based Russ Berger Design Group served as architects and acoustical design consultants.

"Each edit suite, for example, sits on an isolated concrete slab with acoustic-isolation walls and spring-isolated ceilings," said Howard.

Next year, NFL Films will start migrating all 16mm film footage transfers from 480i on Digital Betacam, and from 1080i on HDCam, to 1080p/24 fps on HDCam.

Field cameras are 16mm Aatons and ArriFlex SR2s and SR3s operating at speeds from 32 fps to 96 fps and higher.

All film archive material will be stored in a vault, and a foot-thick concrete wall and ceiling encases this 3,500-square-foot film treasury of football games dating back to the 1930s and captured on 100 million feet of 16mm film. NFL Films has created its own multidescriptor searchable online database, known as SABER, for full-motion video that dates back to 1993.

With as many as 60 or more clients on site at any given time, this new facility is designed to accommodate visitors. The complex includes a three-story glass-encased film-processing lab in addition to a 165-seat theater.