Garth Brooks’ production teams are used to putting on live extravaganzas above and beyond their normal roadshow — which is already one of the best in the business.
That was the case for two nights in July 2016 at Yankee Stadium in New York City, where the team was tasked with creating a once in a lifetime concert experience for fans lucky enough to make the show and capturing it for the ages with the best technology available.
While Brooks was on stage each night, behind the scenes was All Mobile Video with “Zurich,” their largest and most powerful HDR and 4K production truck, supported by a number of other units to record this epic event. The AMV team used a full complement of Sony technology — 22 Sony HDC-4300 cameras, 4 F55 live production systems, BVM-X300 4K OLED reference monitors, an MVS-8000 production switcher and PWS-4500 production servers — all deployed in this landmark production.
For Producer/Director Jon Small, this project was the culmination of over 20 years’ work with Brooks. Known for his video of “Walk this Way” with Aerosmith and Run DMC, his client portfolio is a who’s who in the industry including Reba McEntire, Blake Shelton and Billy Joel. The showcase event he produced for Brooks in the 90’s was shot on film, then the best possible production medium. In the 2000’s, he broke ground with HD video.
These Yankee Stadium shows now further established Sony 4K as the production technology-of-choice for premier events.
“When we started our planning, AMV suggested we consider using their new Sony-powered 4K truck,” said Small. “Garth always looks to the future since it may be as long as five years before the video comes out in some bundled package. It was soon obvious that the investment in Sony 4K was the way to go.”
The choice of Sony 4K cameras was already apparent to Small’s team before he green-lit AMV for 4K. His longtime Technical Supervisor, Kent Green, had just gone through a competitive camera selection process for another 4K project. The HDC-4300s won handily over others in the marketplace.
“The HDC-4300’s are well-designed and have familiar controls,” said Green. “We demo’ed three other brands of 4K cameras and there was no contest. None at all.”
To capture every nuance on the enormous stage for these shows required many more cameras than a typical concert. In addition to the HDC-4300s, Sony F55’s were also in the mix for handheld and Steadicam use. Given that 4K is bandwidth-intensive, the technical infrastructure needed to carry this much data would have to be significant.
“The PWS-4500’s XAVC codec is lean and beautiful, but the extraordinary scale of the event demanded the development of a new end-to-end workflow,” Green said. “We worked closely with AMV to design, implement and test a system that could handle this and AMV rose to the challenge by rethinking the boundaries.”
“We had to go for a broader scope than just acquisition,” said Tom D’Angelo, Director of Production Services at AMV. “In HD, our on-site services are often stove-piped and limited to acquisition, but with 4K on this scale we needed to develop a methodology for delivering many large files to archiving and post.”
The first thought was to simply purchase and swap out solid state drives (SSDs) after opening night with fresh ones. But that would add around a quarter-million dollars to the budget for media. Next, they explored the possibilities for dumping the data from the drives each night, overnight. Each option had issues.
“We got into tapeless to step away from buying media, and ultimately offer our clients greater cost-effective solutions,” said Eric Duke, AMV’s President. “Simply replicating a tape-based workflow with SSDs defeated that purpose. Our other option of dumping the SSDs to a SAN daily would take too long so we had to find a new approach.”
AMV’s workflow innovation was to push 4K content to multiple locations simultaneously. Here, Sony’s PWS-4500 production servers acted as the catch-all, pushing files to multiple networked destinations and speeding delivery of show content for post and archiving. For Green, the real question wasn’t whether or not to go with the PWS-4500’s, but how many were needed and how best to configure them to soak up the deluge of data.
“We did the math divvying up the data from all of the cameras,” said Green, “but we had to be sure the PWS-4500’s could hold up under sustained recording. In our testing we found that these are as robust as the specs claim. We had all of the pieces gathered and now had to put them together in a tight schedule.”
For AMV and the productions teams, the PWS-4500 answered the question of “How do we get many large 4K files to post production, to the archivist, and how do they move around the country efficiently?”
“With the 4500 server, we could record 4K in XAVC, which is very efficient, but also record and then push the files to multiple locations simultaneously,” said Leandro Blanco, Director of Engineering at AMV. “We could record internally to the PWS server but also push the files to portable SAN’s for the clients to take with them. This way, the client is protected with multiple copies of the show files in multiple geographic locations. Some of the other solutions we looked at only allowed us to record one file, one iso per hard drive, in a less efficient codec. That left us with a situation where would have had essentially 54 1TB SSDs at the end of a given shoot night, all containing material that would need to be copied to a SAN for post and be archived to LTO. Then multiply all that by two nights of shooting.”
The Sony server allowed us to cut out hundreds of hours of work from our schedule, which of course results in cost savings, money and time,” said AMV’s D’Angelo.
Initial setup happened over the 4th of July holiday with crews working non-stop till showtime. Then, the rains came.
“We’ve worked in rain before, and Garth put on one of his best performances,” Green said. “It was a hard thing for us all, especially when the audience on the second night had to wait through a three-hour delay. He rewarded them for it. We’ve been to this rodeo before, and the team worked through this flawlessly. Once again, AMV and Sony exceeded expectations under the most challenging conditions.”
“Working in Sony 4K was amazing,” said Small. “The X300 reference monitors just popped. The rain actually added a poignant, dramatic touch to the look.”
The entire concert system was designed as one integrated unit, including the lighting and the large screens for IMAG. According to Bob Peterson, designer and lighting director, this was the first time Garth Brooks’ team used large screen 4K visuals and 4K IMAG as part of his show.
“Garth has always preferred a direct personal connection as opposed to a screen presentation,” Peterson said. “Given the scale of this production, dependence on screen content became more important than in the past. It was a leap of faith for Garth to go into the realm of large-screen imagery as deep as we did but I think they were well rewarded. 4k was a critical part of what made it stand out.”
While very familiar with 4K, these shows were Peterson’s first experience with fully integrated live 4K production, and the capabilities of the Sony cameras allowed him to create an entirely new type of look for the concerts.
“It was massively different than what we could have done if we just limited ourselves to HD,” he said. “With 4K you get a lower bottom and a higher top. I can use 4 or 5 more stops of range than HD and that is valuable. These cameras now are so capable, especially in terms of highlights and contrast ratio, you don’t compromise at all. In other types of production, for example, you might have to chop down the high end to not blow things out, or work on cleaning up the bottom. We didn’t have to do any of that. It was a much more honest process.”
When the show ended, a long night of Q/C and checking data integrity began. Everything was backed up, packed up and transferred to Nashville for post. Despite the adverse conditions, everything went according to plan with the end-to-end Sony 4K system.
“This is truly a landmark production, showcasing Zurich’s Sony 4K-enabled capabilities,” said Duke. “As the power of this new format along with HDR takes hold of audiences, we’ll look back and see that this show was a turning point. 4K is here and soon it will cross over from being an aspiration for visionary producers like Jon Small to an expectation of audiences everywhere.”