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Thursday, July 7, 2005
Where cameramen can't go

By Craig Lamb
ESPN Great Outdoor Games staff

RENO, Nevada — Of the 650 collective people working behind the scenes of the ESPN Great Outdoor Games presented by Dodge, the most fun is arguably had by Jamey Fishman and his crew of techno wizards.

Fishman heads the production team responsible for what is known in television jargon as "on board video." The most recognizable example of his team's work is seen in the form of the "car cams" that are fan favorites on motorsports racing circuits like NASCAR.

Viewers of the Great Outdoor Games will get to see all the action close-up — as in the props, such as in the weave poll camera.
The job of rigging tiny high-resolution cameras on the front and rear bumpers of stock cars is a mundane chore by comparison to the unlimited opportunities Fishman and his handymen have at the Great Outdoor Games.

"We get to have fun at this event because there's really no limit to what we can try and do," he explains. "The bottom line is we can put cameras in places where you can't put a cameraman."

The miniature cameras are remotely operated by joy sticks interfaced with computers wired into the ESPN mainframe editing systems. Producers call Fishman on a production communication line and "order up" the various shots that are best described as eye candy.

When the coverage of the Great Outdoor Games begins July 19, viewers will be treated to some mind-boggling camera angles that are being conjured up in Fishman's mobile trailer tucked in the production compound at Rancho San Rafael Park. Following are a few examples of what viewers might see during the telecasts.

Weave pole cam

In the Sporting Dog Small and Large Agility competition the canine contestants weave like greased lightening through a tight maze of 36 poles, dash through a pipe tunnel, and sail through the air across three sets of hurdles in less than 25 seconds.

For the first time a tiny high-resolution camera will be mounted inside the last weave pole in the series at a height of one foot above the ground. The lens will be concealed from view by a special transparent window. The "point of view" angle will show the dog as it passes through the maze of poles, spaced just six inches apart.

Endurance cam

In the Timber Sports Endurance event, one of the competition phases involves an axeman severing a 12-inch aspen block set in a horizontal cradle. This unique camera will be mounted flush with the stage between the contestant's feet and the block of wood. The dramatic view, obviously, will make it appear as if the heavy ax is being swung down at the camera.

Top o' the pole cam

Mounted at the very top of the 65-foot tall spar pole used in the Speed Climb will be a tiny camera that will capture the quick ascent and faster decent of the contestants.

The camera lens is about the size of a quarter and can pivot 360 degrees to capture the movements of the contestants below, regardless of the direction they choose to climb or descend. The image is transmitted from the camera to the operator by a low power microwave signal.

Bird's eye view cam

A camera mounted to a crane head some 80 feet above the venues at San Rafael Park will have the perception of being riding aboard a blimp. The powerful camera is capable of providing a peripheral view of the entire Great Outdoors Game spread at the park. Or it can zoom in to provide tight shots of subjects as small as the Jack Russell Terriers that will fly through the agility trial course. The camera will be operated using a joystick interfaced with a laptop computer in a production trailer.

Splash cam

For the Big Air competition, a camera encased inside a waterproof housing and mounted beneath the launch platform will give viewers a water level view of the dogs' entry. Again, the view is priceless since the angle is inaccessible to a cameraman with a shoulder mounted camera.