En route to Norway for this year’s World Ice Hockey Championships, Laurie Frost is thinking about Sydney, Australia in the year 2000. Frost’s company, London-based Camera Corps, is the turnkey supplier of the over 350 specialty camera systems that will be used at the Sydney Olympics.
Camera Corps will provide 120 tons of equipment and 150 technicians to the Games, which will take place next September in Australia. From the lofty 100-foot Akela Crane to the “Mobycam” darting along the bottom of the swimming pool, Sydney’s athletic feats will be captured by Camera Corps systems mounted on boats, bikes, cars and motorcycles; on helicopters and blimps; on cranes, motorized platforms and Steadicams; perched atop skyscrapers and submerged in pools; affixed to hurdles, goal posts and nets; and whizzing along tracks and cables to follow fast-moving athletes.
“We’re always looking for new cameras and perspectives that will bring audiences more in touch with the sporting events and the athletes themselves,” said Frost, whose credits include multiple Olympics and World Cup soccer matches. “And every broadcaster wants something that has never been done before-a signature shot that will be seen for the first time at their event.”
The new camera being unveiled at the World Ice Hockey Championships is a fastmoving overhead tracking camera developed by Garrett Brown (best known as the inventor of the Steadicam), using gear from Camera Tracking Systems. Mounted on a wire that spans the length of the hockey rink, its Panasonic three-chip camera can travel back and forth over the rink at high speeds, keeping pace with the action on the ice.
“Hockey has been a hard sport to cover because the game is so fast and it changes direction so frequently,” Frost continued “There aren’t many opportunities to show instant replays because there aren’t a lot of timeouts or breaks in the game. And up until now, the overhead camera at a hockey game has always been stationary. An over head tracking camera can add tremendous visual excitement to the game.”
For more than a decade, Camera Corps has been providing broadcasters around the world with the innovative cameras and mounts that have become hallmarks of sportscasting. With a core group of just six full-time staffers, the headcount at Camera Corps rises as high as 200 during major events like the Olympics. In the last year alone, Frost’s globe-trotting operation has furnished specialty cameras and crews for the Goodwill Games in New York, the Nagano Olympics in Japan, the Commonwealth Games in Malaysia and the World Cup Football (Soccer) Championship in France.
“Our cameras come from small companies all over the world, so it would be hard for broadcasters to locate and implement all of this equipment,” Frost said. “We coordinate every aspect of specialty camera use, including contracts, freight, personnel, service, and spares. In terms of logistics, it’s like a big military operation. You have to plan for every possible contingency. Your equipment and your people have to be the best. And your gear has to be really rugged, so it can be moved from venue to venue quickly, and so it keeps working if it gets wet or kicked around.”
Frost views the relationship between Camera Corps and sportscasters as a creative collaboration as well as a business partnership. “In the early planning stages of an event, we sit down and talk with the production team about how to cover the eventand how we might be able to bring something new to the coverage,” she said. “We ask the producers and directors what they’ve always wanted to see, and we come up with a `wish list’ of new shots. Then I go out and look for the cameras to make it happen.” As often as not, Frost is looking for a camera that doesn’t exist-yet. So he turns to a band of technology enthusiasts who delight in developing these camera systems. People like Garrett Brown in Philadelphia and Mobycam inventor Rob Brayer in Australia. Companies like Wescam, in the U.S., Egripment, in Holland, and Camera Tracking Systems, in Great Britain.
Once such invention is the ComCam (Commentator Camera), a remote pan-and-tilt head that attaches to a tabletop. “At an event like the Olympics, space is at a premium in the commentator areas, and you can’t get crews in there,” Frost explained. “But today’s sports commentators are personalities in their own right, and the TV audience wants to see them as well as hear them. So we developed the Commentator Camera, that can shoot the commentators and pan around to show the action on the field. We use it at big events like World Cup soccer and the Olympics. We’ll have 70 of them in Sydney.”
Like many high-tech innovations, the R&D process for new specialty cameras is shrouded in secrecy. Although Frost acknowledges that there are “four or five exciting new things” in development for Sydney, he can describe them only in general terms.
“Sydney will have a number of camera systems and shots that have never been seen before,” he stated. “Right now, directors and producers are looking for speed–cameras that keep pace with the athletes at every moment of the competition. And we’re looking to put viewers in closer touch with the athletes themselves, using remote cameras to capture their preparations and emotions without the intrusion of camera crews.”
Although Frost is tight-lipped about the details, one thing seems certain: when the Sydney Olympics get underway in 2000, Camera Corps gear and technicians will capture some of the Games’ most memorable images.