Sports Editors Make Big League Plays

The vanguard of visual wizardry for the feature film industry is usually Sci Fi epics. But in the broadcast world, the cutting edge of video fireworks is often seen in sports programming. The rapidly expanding options provided by digital technology have supercharged the capabilities of sports editors like never before.

At CBS Sports, Fred McGraw edits packages for Sunday’s “NFL Today,” as well as roll-in segments seen during the games themselves.

Since he works on an Avid Media Composer with the Adrenaline DNA (Digital Nonlinear Accelerator) boost and can access 10 TB of storage on an Avid Unity shared storage system, McGraw is cutting sports pieces with editing and effects capabilities usually found in high-end post houses. Although the games are shown in CBS’s 1080i HD, all of his editing is still in the SD realm.

McGraw eagerly tracks sports editing trends by watching similar programs on all of the networks.


“It’s kind of like tap dancing,” McGraw said. “Everyone watches everyone else’s steps, then adapts them to their own style. That way we keep the look of our sports packages fresh.”

This affects what the viewers see at home.

“Editors are putting a lot more jazz on the screen,” McGraw said. “We may use the Avid to freeze a running football star, key him out, and digitally replace him with another player. We never would have had enough time to do that back during the days of linear tape-based editing. The cuts are faster, the pace is accelerated, and everything comes at the viewer more quickly.”

One feature of the Avid system that McGraw uses to enhance his editing is called Add Edit, which facilitates marking edit points based on the beat of a music track. Once the audio clip has been laid down, he can visually identify the beats, select his source video and basically fit-and-fill them into the music.

“It’s almost like a music video, a way to punch up the eye candy so the viewer’s center of vision is always moving,” McGraw said. “You always want the sports fans at home to be searching the screen to keep them interested.”

(click thumbnail)Quantel gives highlight-reel producers at ESPN all the tricks and tools normally used in high-end post.At ESPN/ABC, Missy Motha, coordinating producer of on-air sports highlights and lead producer of ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight,” has been working with sports editors for 12 years.

“The changes in sports editing are overwhelming,” Motha said. “In the old days we would have two tape copies of a game feed to work with that everyone had to share. Now in the digital age, everything is on a server so all the editors, from those cutting promos to others working on highlight reels, can access the same material. As a result, all the edited pieces are more visual. We simply have more material to work with.”

This has resulted in techniques such as spot shadows, glows or even eye flares being added to edited sports segments in seconds rather than hours.


“Technically we are doing things I used to only dream about,” Motha said. “Every editor using an NLE has the capabilities that used to exist only in a single high-end edit bay or a dedicated control room. We are always looking for new ways to spice up the sports viewing experience.”

Sean Quintana is a broadcast editor who works with Motha using some sophisticated Quantel eQ nonlinear edit and effects systems.

“When we put together highlight montages, the pace of the edits can be timed more consistently,” he Quintana. “The highlight clips themselves follow a standard operating procedure during a game. We’ll start with a three- to four-second iso [isolated] shot to set up the play, then we’ll let the play happen, and tag it with another two-second iso. Then we try to get back into the live game action as quickly as possible.”

Working for the pre-game Major League Baseball show on the Fox network, Gary Lang is vice president of special projects for Fox Sports and serves as both a producer and editor.

He says they still use a Grass Valley linear edit controller to put together show reels for broadcast, but most of the segments are edited on six Apple Final Cut Pro software-based NLEs, two Autodesk Smoke systems, and three Autodesk Fire NLE stations. They even boost their effects capabilities with Adobe After Effects workstations.

Fox plans to replace the linear bay with a Final Cut system as soon as its new server is on line so at that point all the editing, from field production to in-studio finishing, will be done with digital nonlinear systems.

“The biggest change I am seeing in sports editing is the treatment of the video’s ‘look’ and the increased use of graphics,” Lang said. “For example, during a NASCAR race we may add a layer of video filter to give the whole event a grittier look. That trick makes high-definition field acquisition look more like film and adds a level of excitement. In addition, the graphics we get are often tracked on the video to provide a sort of movie trailer feel. We may have a driver’s name track over a car speeding by, or position a ‘NFL on Fox’ logo in the middle of a sports stadium being shot from the air. Nowadays, all the head shot ID graphics use moving video. It lets the viewer know we are doing something special.”

Even laying music under a package’s audio track has become more efficient.

“You can download a song directly to your time line,” Lang said. “And with Final Cut’s ability to do quick pull-ups, you can make a three-minute song fit a two-minute piece fast enough to let you do it for every package that needs it. Today’s sports editor has the tools to do higher end post production that makes even watching a spectacular game more exciting.”