Keeping Pace With Sports Editing

Internet graphics help drive the look of daily sports highlights on TV.

LOS ANGELES When it comes to post production for network programming, news is supposed to be delivered straight. But covering sports events lets editors and post production supervisors take advantage of the full spectrum of visual communication tools available to them. Or, as Bryan Burns, vice president for strategic business planning and development at ESPN, told the opening seminar at the DisplaySearch HDTV conference in Los Angeles last month, "HD is only the most recent example of how sports historically has and always will drive new television technology."


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Jennifer Pransky, a feature producer for Fox Sports, works with an editor to create the final product. With 24/7 cable programming, the CBS College Sports Network, a division of CBS Sports, is busier than ever this year showcasing top teams and matchups from across the country. They have found their six staff and four freelance editors can leverage the increasing capabilities of software-based NLEs for almost all of CBS College Sports' post-production needs.

"We are Apple Final Cut Pro-based pretty much all the way through," said Clive Hayes, director of post production and media services for CBS College Sports, "although we do use Building4Media software on Apple X-Serve servers for our media management and studio play-to-air. Our graphics servers are hooked directly into our 4 M/E Sony DVS-9000 switcher using VDCP protocol so we can maintain a file-based system within a QuickTime wrapper throughout our network from ingest to play-out."

To keep up with the pace of post production for live sports presentations, over the summer the CBS graphics department built high-end graphics templates that Hayes' editors can incorporate into their timelines on Final Cut Pro. This enhances the look of their sports packages.

"To me they have become very 'eye candy' oriented," Hayes said. "Before it was just lower thirds. Now we're talking about a lot of graphics integration which is why we depend so heavily on templates for opening and closing titles, banners, and anything needed to provide information about a given play within a very short time. It's very similar to what people have become accustomed to on the Internet with knowledge communication from a Web portal."

Often, it's the pacing of the editing itself that distinguishes feature stories from highlight packages. "It is more acceptable these days to have a discontinuous editing flow since continuity is not as important to the viewers as it used to be," Hayes said. "Before, we were leading people down a road to convey a story. Now it's more like the way people scan a sentence when reading fast. They only need to pick up part of a word and can fill in the rest themselves, and I think that is the way the visual conveyance of our stories is evolving. It's a personalization of the way the audience relates to a story."


Jennifer Pransky is a feature producer for Fox Sports working on, among others, the Fox NFL Sunday pregame show, NASCAR, and the NCAA Bowl Championship Series (BCS National Championship Game, Fiesta Bowl, Orange Bowl, and Sugar Bowl). Although they have used some Panasonic P2 cards for acquisition, most of Fox's field production is shot on DVCPRO HD tape. Back in the studio, Fox also uses Final Cut Pro for most of its editing, adding high-end graphics in an Autodesk Smoke bay while also calling on Adobe After Effects when needed.

"When we moved from tape-based editing to NLEs three years ago it let us edit much faster," Pransky said. "At first, we fell into the habit of doing only a line cut in Final Cut Pro and then taking the output to a graphics bay to add the extras. But over the past couple of years we have found we can get just as good results out of the Final Cut systems. Not only have new tools been added to its software, but our editors have enhanced their own skill sets to take maximum advantage of them."

Pransky has five to 10 editors she uses on a regular basis, and credits them for increasing their creativity while depending on less hardware. "There has always been a sense that an edited feature for air cannot look like a highlights package," Pransky said. "It may have speed changes, color modifications, or additional graphics, and each of our editors lends the story their own special style. For example, one of our top cutters likes to utilize color isolation to pull out the green hues in a story about the Green Bay Packers and black-and-white every other color. It gives that kind of a package a striking look."

Another of her editors often gives his stories a staccato look by dropping every 10th frame. Others favor adding textures to a piece to integrate it into the overall graphics look of a live broadcast. "It is a subconscious way of tying the whole broadcast together," she said, "and it gives a differentiating look to the pieces we are producing. The editors who know how to push the technology, the 'preditor' [producer /editor] types, are the ones we want to keep around the most."


ESPN has decided to center its day-to-day sports editing around Quantel systems, with more than 30 Qedit seats at the ESPN Plaza in Bristol, Conn., although they do have some Avid Symphony systems for special projects. Usually, production assistants scan through the more than 200 hours of material ESPN ingests each day in a 57-station screening room using Quantel's Qcut proxy editors, and then take their cut to one of the craft editors running the Qedit systems.

"When we were in a tape environment, it used to take hours just to add a simple arrow over an offensive lineman," said Missy Motha, coordinating producer of sports highlights for ESPN, Inc. "Now with the power of the Quantel systems it takes seconds. Even in just the last year, the quality of the visual effects in our packages has gone up tenfold."

This accelerated productivity extends to lower thirds, banners and even telestrations. "With this equipment we can glow a person to bring them off the screen, give them a fancy spot shadow and put circles around them for emphasis," Motha said. "Before we changed to a tapeless environment this was still possible, but it would take forever to do it."

The pacing within the editing has also benefited. "It is so easy to take an element from one timeline and plunk it onto another timeline that reusing a shot sequence has become much more efficient," Motha said. "With all the different shows for which our packages need to be conformed, this lets us easily repurpose sequences from, for example, Sports Center to highlights on ESPN News. Our craft editors are all on staff, so we provide the necessary training to get the most out of the Quantel systems."