Blockers, Bruises and Broadcast: Gotham Girls Roller Derby Go Live

A ten player game. Each team has four blockers and one jammer. Blockers form up in fast moving packs to clear a path or create a blockade, while the jammers weave and dodge at full speed behind, around, sometimes over and often straight through anything in their path.
Gotham Girls 1
Put these ten players in an oval roller derby rink, flying around at top speeds in front of screaming fans for 60 minutes, and you get one of the world’s fastest growing and most exciting sports: roller derby.

The athletes, fans and coordinators of modern day roller derby give a whole new definition to what it means to be dedicated. Players and coordinators are all volunteers and work for the love of the game. The fan base is loyal, enthusiastic and growing. And like any group that has found something they love, members of the roller derby community want to share.

The Gotham Girls Roller Derby League is part of New York City’s only all female, do-it-yourself, skater-operated roller derby league, and is one of the most successful roller derby leagues in the world. Part of that success comes from being able to bring high quality live event technology to each match in order to show the game to as many people as possible outside of the rink.

This has been made possible through professional level live broadcasting of the Gotham Girls’ matches: live streaming and post match rebroadcast on NYC life that includes HD screens, live commentary and up-to-date game and player statistics. One of the technology cornerstones making this possible is Blackmagic Design’s ATEM 1 M/E live production switcher and control panel.

Victory Laps, Bruises and Live Broadcasting

Gotham Girls’ matches are shot in HD, and each match generates a live video webcast streamed internationally on the Derby News Network portal. Matches are also rebroadcast on NYC life, the flagship station of the official TV, radio, and online network of New York City, and videos and DVDs are created for post match distribution.

When it comes to roller derby, broadcasting and running a live event is not a simple task. The sport is not about a single point of action. In addition to the on track action in the pack, the jammers require attention from multiple cameras, both stationary and remote. Coaches and commentators bring their own drama, with their own A/V requirements to match.

Gotham Girls 2The ATEM 1 M/E Production Switcher comes in a two rack units size and includes eight total inputs of SDI, HDMI and component video, and three auxiliary outputs, with a single Multi View for monitoring. This gives the Gotham Girls’ technical staff the flexibility to build a broadcast and live event that captures everything the casual and long time fan needs. Audio and video is fed directly into the league’s ATEM 1 M/E production switcher and is controlled through an ATEM 1 M/E Broadcast Control Panel.

“League members and fans are passionate about the sport, and it is our dream to nurture derby’s growth via well-produced content. In order for it to grow, we need to pull together high quality live production and broadcasts that capture the fun of the game, and also educate viewers on rules and strategies. And we need to do this all with volunteers, on a very small budget. The ATEM is a huge part of helping us realize our dreams for the Gotham Girls, and the sport as a whole,” said Tammy Walters, Executive Producer, of the Gotham Girls Roller Derby televised show on NYCTV, and blocker for the Queens of Pain team.

Match Day
For each match, the team’s technical director/producer, Franklin Zitter, sets up the video workflow centered around the ATEM 1 M/E, which is integrated into a range of gear used for both in match work and post production.

Cameras are always focused on the jammers, the pack and bench, with other cameras focused on the pack of blockers or in the stands for crowd shots. For each Gotham Girls match, Zitter normally has up to five Canon Vixia HF S200 HD cameras running into the ATEM 1 M/E. Two cameras run inputs directly from a camera’s mini HDMI to the HDMI inputs of the ATEM using a pair of Gefen Super Booster HDMI cables, which allow extended runs of HDMI cable. The other three cameras integrate with the ATEM via SDI inputs and Blackmagic’s HDMI to SDI Mini Converters are used to get those cameras’ footage into the ATEM. Finally, each of the cameras also record footage directly to an SD card.

The ATEM 1 M/E’s other inputs are used for video playback and graphics. A pair of Mac Mini computers is used, both of which are running into a pair of the ATEM 1 M/E’s HDMI inputs and handling a number of different production tasks. The display preferences of the two Mac Minis are setup to see the ATEM 1 M/E as a second monitor.

ATEM 1 M/E allows the league to provide graphic overlays and effects, displaying statistics and combining visual elements through upstream and downstream keyers for an incredible in-person experience. In-game graphics, which are fed to announcers, include player and league facts, live scores from around the league and running game stats and game time.

Used to support these graphics and effects, the first Mac Mini sends live onscreen graphics from Rinxter, a custom third party software used for scores, clocks, lineups and stats graphics, into ATEM.

Gotham Girls 3All of the graphics used in Rinxter are adjusted so that none are using a pure black except for the background. Zitter then sets up downstream keyer #2 to use a luma key to key these graphics over bout footage. Using downstream keyer #2 gives him the option of sending a clean feed, without Rinxter, from one of the ATEM 1 M/E’s aux outputs, saving time and improving production values.

“Choosing which Rinxter graphics to bring onscreen, and when, is controlled on a Mac Mini, similar to how any other graphics system would be controlled separately and then fed into the switcher. The ATEM lets myself or another video crew member handle the cueing of graphics with a few simple mouse clicks,” said Zitter.

Gotham’s second Mac Mini runs the ATEM 1 M/E’s software control panel, which is used to handle video playback, including materials such as the show open, a “basics of flat track roller derby” segment, player profiles and other situational graphics. Zitter has setup each video or set of videos in a different sequence in Final Cut Pro 7 and video output going full screen into the ATEM 1 M/E, so when they are ready to roll a video they can just double click the correct sequence and hit the space bar for playback into the switcher.

For any keyable graphics, such as the title card listing the teams, venue and date, Zitter uses a luma key in an upstream keyer. Zitter has also taken advantage of the switcher’s internal media player for graphics and transitions.

Zitter continued: “We have a 3D spinning logo loop that we bring up for our live stream to play before the bout and during halftime so our online viewers will know that we’re live and their stream is working ahead of the game. This is usually set up in downstream keyer #1 and uses a premultiplied key. The other media player clip is used for a stinger transition that we use when cutting to a player profile segment or to live announcer shots/interviews.”

“In particular, we’ve found the switcher’s DVE effect setup in one of the upstream keyers very handy for having a picture in picture box above our score/clock ticker showing players going into and out of the penalty box during gameplay when we don’t have time to cut away from the main action.”

To bring audio into the mix, Zitter uses two live announcers, whose microphones are run into a small mixer. The outputs of the mixer go into both the ATEM 1 M/E’s audio inputs and into one of the cameras using a BeachTek XLR to 1/8” adapter, with the audio going into a camera hooked fed by the BeachTek and recorded to that camera’s SD card as a backup audio source. The sound configuration also uses a pair of speakers for monitoring audio from the announcers.

For video outputs, Zitter is currently running two outputs from the ATEM 1 M/E. The main Program SDI and Aux 1 outputs are run into a pair of Blackmagic SDI cards in a 12 core Mac Pro. The main program output is sent into Final Cut Pro 7 and recorded footage is sent to an eSATA GRaid drive using the Apple Pro Res LT codec, while the second output is sent to Wirecast, which is used for streaming the game live.

Post matches, Zitter takes switch cut recorded from Final Cut and DVD Studio Pro to create a DVD to play at the after party right after the match for all players and fans.

Getting Trained and Growing

In selecting a production switcher and control panel, the league considered ease of learning and set up to be of the utmost importance. Because the Gotham Girls league relies on volunteers for their technical staff at each event, their equipment has to be learned, used and mastered in the shortest timeframe possible.

Zitter added, “With the large number of inputs and outputs, along with all the other professional features that the ATEM 1 M/E offers, we’ve been able to easily and affordably integrate it into our production and make the jump to HD. We are constantly thinking of new ways we can configure the switcher to bring our show to the next level. Even members of our video crew with no prior technical experience are able to easily be trained in setup and operation of the ATEM.

“In the end, using the ATEM we’ve significantly cut down on our setup and strike time and created a reliable, affordable and easy to use workflow. We’re still trying new things and looking for other ways to streamline our production, but luckily the ATEM 1 M/E makes it easy,” Zitter concluded.